Grammy award-winner Tom Hambridge’s dual role at a June 15 Hoyt Sherman Place concert leaves little time for rest.
Hambridge is the opening act, singing and drumming his original music. At the end of the set, he’ll meet a few fans, change clothes and rush into his next act: drumming for the legendary blues musician Buddy Guy.
Drumming for Guy is just a fraction of Hambridge’s varied musical career.
His career started out as a session drummer for a variety of musicians. After the recording finished, he’d listen to the tracks and notice things were “off.”
“I’d be disappointed,” he recalled. “A link wouldn’t work. I didn’t want to hand it off.”
Or, he’d drum to “mediocre” songs. He said, “I’d suggest writing a better one. We’d stop and I’d help rewrite it. I want everyone to dig the record. I’d rather keep the bar high.”
Thus, his career in writing and producing other musicians’ songs took off. He’s produced, written or drummed with musicians such as George Thorogood, Delbert McClinton, Susan Tedeschi and more.
For his efforts, he’s won four Grammy awards and been nominated eight times. He’s won countless Blues Music Awards, including Blues Drummer of the Year in 2022. During the 2022 Blues Awards, three of the albums he either drummed for or produced won awards.
“I had my own records competing against each other for the same category for my drumming,” he said. “But they all seemed to win.”
Hambridge began drumming before he was in kindergarten. He started writing songs in third grade, when he played his first paid gig. As he drummed and wrote, he’d suggest the band try his new songs.
“The guys in the band asked me, ‘What are you doing?’ They all wanted to keep playing their Led Zeppelin or Aerosmith songs,” he recalled. “I was constantly the weird guy in the band.”
Today, as he listens to the radio, he may hear six songs in a row in which he either played or produced — yet he doesn’t always get the recognition.
“I’ve been able to play on so many amazing records,” he said. “It’s a secret smile. I like the fact that people don’t realize I’m actually playing drums on the record.”
In his long career, he’s witnessed changes in music. Vinyl records is what Hambridge misses the most about how music is distributed.
“You’d find the record info in one place. If you were a player, your name would be on the album, along with the singer, guitarist. I’d always read the drummer’s name and who wrote the song. I’d discover and learn about new people and buy one of his records.”
He continues, “I feel bad for some young folks with Spotify and streaming — you don’t get all that information when it’s online.”
He also recalls when one of his records hit the Billboard Music Charts, which documented how many fans bought the record
“If I had a song on Billboard, I could do the math and know I’d earn nine cents per record for royalties,” he said.
His latest win was a Grammy for drumming on Buddy Guy’s album.
“We were sitting in Buddy’s limo, and I thought Buddy knocked it out of the park with the win, and thought that was the only one. Then Buddy said, ‘Let’s make another one.’ ”
Hambridge continues to write songs and perform with Guy.
“It’s an honor to play with him. He’s beyond legendary. He commands the stage,” he says. “I hope in 50 years, my music stands the test of time and fans are still loving it.” ♦