“I’ve played with just about everybody.” –Tony Thompson, 2002
Without a doubt, one of greatest ‘groove’ drummers of all-time was Tony Thompson. From his work in the early days with Diana Ross, Sister Sledge, and Chic – to his later contributions with Madonna and The Power Station, nobody came across with more soul than Tony. With a resume that is second to none, some of the most noteworthy tunes to feature Tony’s playing are “Upside Down” and “I’m Coming Out” by Diana Ross, “We are Family” by Sister Sledge, “Le Freak” and “Good Times” from Chic, “Like a Virgin” and “Material Girl” from Madonna, “Let’s Dance” by David Bowie,” “The Fragile” from Nine Inch Nails and “Some Like it Hot” from The Power Station. Tony also held the prestigious drum chair for the Led Zeppelin reunion at Live Aid. Every one of these performances exhibit how a sideman or session artist should play by always complimenting the artist, never outshining them.
Style-wise I was always impressed with Tony’s signature snare which often pushed the music with its echo and intensity. His drum sound was so distinctive; people are still trying to sample or reproduce it today. According to him, “All it basically was, was a brand-new Yamaha kit (which I still play) in a very live, brick, recording studio in London called Mason Rouge. I hit the drums very hard. That’s it!” Tony also used one of the coolest cymbal configurations I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately he left us far too early after dying at the age of 38 from kidney cancer. Still, the legacy Tony left behind still resonates to this day as you can hardly turn on a radio without hearing at least one of the songs he contributed to. Here’s the instrumental backing track for Madonna’s “Material Girl.” Listen to the solid groove and interesting colors Tony paints with his snare fills and tom accents.
(You can read the transcripts of an interview Tony did for Modern Drummer at http://www.moderndrummer.com/site/2005/07/tony-thompson/#)