Interviewed by Mark Dean (Journalist/Writer/Contributor) Myglobalmind Webzine
Tommy is widely recognized as one of the all-time great heavy rock and metal drummers. With the Imminent release of the new Whitesnake “Purple “album Myglobalmind was very lucky to have been given the opportunity to chat with him. Outside tech magazines Tommy doesn’t do many interviews so I was truly fortunate.
TA = Tommy Aldridge
MD = Mark Dean
Recording begins and salutations are given “Cheers”
TA – Mark?
MD: How are you
TA: I’m good Mark and yourself?
MD: not too bad. Thank you very much first of all for taking the time to do this
TA: Well thank you for your interest I appreciate it.
MD: What are you guys up to at the moment? Are you in tour rehearsals?
TA: Uhh we start this weekend (May 16/2015) actually
MD: Ok let’s turn you up a little – The newest Whitesnake album is a reworking of songs from David’s past. I’m just wondering what your reaction was when he (DC) said to you about doing Deep Purple songs?
TA: Well I was a little surprised but more because I hadn’t heard any rumors and there hadn’t been mention of anything prior. So it was a little bit of a surprise, yeah.
MD: Had David already picked out the songs or were you and the rest of the gang given a choice as to what songs you wanted to do?
TA: Well David decided which tunes that he wanted to do and then we, you know, came up with some rev, and put some kind of rough arrangements together, you know, and then we went in and recorded the basics and then we went ahead at it with the overdub and, you know, solos and stuff. That was the process.
MD: When the songs came out originally I guess you probably would have been playing with Black Oak at that time. I just wonder if you can recall your first introduction to the music of Deep Purple?
TA: Yeah well it was prior to David tenure my experience, of course I was a big Deep Purple fan, you know the early stuff “Smoke on the Water” and the stuff that established that band. And so when a lot of the stuff I had kind of, not moved on but, I wasn’t, once David was in the the band I had already kind of not lost interest but I just didn’t follow Deep Purple until the song Burn came out.
MD: Was it kind of odd to be recording tracks that were recorded originally 40 odd years ago?
TA: A little bit. Because again, I wasn’t that familiar with that particular era of Deep Purple. A lot of these songs this was the first time I had ever heard them. I had never heard “Gypsy”. Of course I had heard “Mistreated” and you know “Burn” and stuff because we had been playing those at the Whitesnake show for yonks now. But some of the other tunes “You fool No-one” I’d never ever even heard these songs. I don’t know that Deep Purple had toured and played a lot of the tunes so… And obviously, apart from “ Burn” and some of the other big hits, you know, the others didn’t get that much exposure I don’t think and then the band just kind of disbanded not long after that, I think or when David left, you know. So it was quite a long hiatus. So I wasn’t familiar at all with the bulk of the tunes that are on this particular album.
MD: Are there any tracks that you can pick out that you particularly enjoyed to play on the album?
TA: Yeah, I was just listening to “You fool no one” is a fun song to play but, they are all a lot of fun to play. Of course Burn is like a drummer’s wet dream. And a couple more of those “Gypsy” is more of a mid-tempo tune and again these songs were not that popular over here because apart from” Burn” there wasn’t that much exposure for those records in America. I’m sure that it was different in Europe and the UK.
They were all fun songs to play. That being said – I’m a completely different drummer than Ian Paice– I have a universe of respect for him, he’s iconic and he has influenced so many drummers and he had a compelling impact on contemporary rock music. It was like Jon Bonham, Keith Moon – those guys you know? So it was a little different approach for me because I have a completely different way of playing and still trying to remain faithful to the top songs – so that some are recognizable – There are probably some real die hard Deep Purple fans that will take issue with all of it and think that its sad that the songs were rerecorded but it wasn’t my idea firstly, and secondly it wasn’t a competition either. It was something that was part of David’s past and it was part of something I think ultimately he had hoped to do with some of the original guys but for whatever reason, that didn’t come to pass. So this was the next best choice that he had.
MD: I must admit as a long standing Whitesnake fan going back to the 80s. I was surprised by the decision to rerecord the old numbers but I really love the album. I mean, the tracks still remain true to their original spirit but now have a more modern twist on them. I really loved the album.
TA: Yeah and like you said Mark, I don’t think that we weren’t trying to redo the songs like Diary of a Madman or Blizzard of Oz – those two Ozzy records. There was some magic there that you don’t mess with and that was not what we were doing. This was more of an homage to David’s past and it has nothing to do with – I mean – how are you going to beat Ian Paice at his own game? It’s not gonna happen you know?
So we just tried to faithfully reproduce as best we can, with a little bit of today’s technology which those guys didn’t have access to when they recorded. Again, there is no touching, it’s not a competition like The Voice or American Idol – trying to beat those guys out because that’s not going to happen. These guys are iconic and those songs are amazing. That was not the approach and that was never the intention.
MD: This by my reckoning is your third time in Whitesnake – obviously your relationship with David
TA: I don’t know if it’s my third time. I’ve had a couple of hiatuses (laughs) – but if you are looking at it that way – there have been a couple of guys since I was and that’s kind of the legacy of Whitesnake
MD: It seems to be yes. How would you define then your relationship with David?
TA: Honest, open. None of our hiatuses or my departures has ever anything to do with music. It usually came down to scheduling in some cases. I mean, the first time, after the 87 album, Still of the Night and all that stuff, we toured for 2.5 years and David just wanted to take off and he didn’t want to do anything because the first tour was 18 months long and we were all just kinda burnt out. Then David wanted to do a new chapter. So Denny Carmassi came in for a bit – I think that was very short lived so – my relationship with David has been a longstanding one and a very respectful one and it’s a relationship I really appreciate and I find it to be and him to be quite a blessing in my life, not just musically but personally.
MD: You have worked with many guitarists in Whitesnake and of course this album marks the recording debut of Joel Hoekstra to Whitesnake. What did he bring both personally and professionally to Whitesnake?
TA: Well he is probably technically one of the top of the bunch. There are just so many awesome guitar players with Whitesnake obviously Doug Aldrich he’s a standalone guy he’s one of the last few honest to goodness guitar heroes. That door has kind of shut. That ship has kind of sailed but he’s one of the last real true guitar hero’s. What can you say about John Sykes? A lot of people in America, particularly the 87 album is when Whitesnake started with a lot of Americans got into Whitesnake they think “Still of the Night”. “Is this Love” and “Here I Go Again” – a lot of Americans don’t even know that Here I Go Again is on a previous Whitesnake record. So in a lot of people’s minds over here (America) the successful incarnation of a version of Whitesnake would be the lineup that was on the 87 album which never ever toured ironically. If its all about a measuring stick – with John Sykes he brought so much to the table and he is very much from a Randy Rhodes school of playing , real technician but has a lot to say, he’s very melodic, very bluesy, he just has so much technique and it just an incredible guitar player and has astounding amazing tone. The same is true also for Doug Aldrich and Moody and all these guys, there were so many amazing guitar players that have been with Whitesnake – Steve Vai – I don’t know if he was one of the best suited – certainly technically he is a great guitar player however maybe not so much from a blues perspective. Just so many different amazing guitar players – and I have played with a lot of awesome guitar players in my career.
MD: Coming from Northern Ireland as I do – Id like to ask you about the album you recorded two albums with Gary Moore, the Dirty Fingers album and Live at the Marquee. Do you have any outstanding memories of working with Gary?
TA: I have some really fond memories of Gary. Yes, I was living in England at the time when I was working for Gary and I remember when I was working for Gary we were rehearsing and that is when I met Randy for the first time. Randy Rhoads was a big Gary Moore fan and Randy came down to our rehearsal space. He has just gotten to England and was just started work on those two iconic Ozzy albums Blizzard and Diary of a Madman they recorded those albums almost back to back – He came down to rehearsal that’s when I met Randy and he came to a show – that was “Live at the Marquee” – Randy was at that show. That’s when I got to know Randy and got to hang out with him a bit and got to hear his playing before he ever recorded anything and I was Aww”– it was like the hair stood up on the back of my neck when I heard him play which was just amazing and I knew then that he was gonna be something really special. Even as short as his fuse was he still just made a massive huge impact on… not just with guitar players but anyone that was into music and particularly rock music.
One of the most memorable things with Randy was when he came down to rehearsal he was just in awe of Gary you know. Gary was just a really sweet, sweet man and we had a lot in common. We liked to rehearse a lot and I had heard a lot of things about him like he was difficult and stuff, but I got along with Gary like a house on fire. We had a good time we liked to get in the rehearsal room. We’d spend hour after hour rehearsing until we got things right and we had similar work ethics in that regard. So we got along really well, we never had any issues. Gary was just a really sweet guy really honest and just funny you know, a really funny guy.
MD: Looking back you’ve played with many bands – do you have one favorite album that you have played on?
TA: One particular album?
MD: One that you have a fondness for?
TA: I’ts probably one that no one has even heard of. It’s a guitar player, I did two records for him his name is Patrick Rondat. Its instrumental music – kinda really outside – not fusion but some different time changes and things like that. It was music that I’m not really traditionally known for. I had a real blast playing this stuff because it was a musically challenging and it was a lot more – not sophisticated – but a lot more complex than other records that I have done and I really enjoy listening to those. I’m not a big fan of my own stuff. Once I have recorded something and then I go back and listen to it I’m rarely pleased with it. That’s probably the way it is with most musicians.
Give me 15 takes and I will want 30.
MD: Do you still actually practice when you are not in the studio and off the road? Do you like to get away from music for a while?
TA: I have a drum room and Ill go in there and just have fun. Sometimes I get blessed with an idea – a little creative thing – and I get in my drum room and I try to find a way to play it because sometimes I’m not good enough to play the things I think about. So maybe that would be called practicing, I don’t know. I play all the time, its just fun. Sometimes go in my drum room and put in my in ears and put a trigger in my rhythm machine and play around it and just have fun. I have not outgrown the drums and my mom still thinks it’s just gonna happen but I won’t outgrow them yet and I’m still just playing them.
MD: Looking back on your long musical career – could you pick out a single time that would have been your proudest moment? A particular highlight maybe?
TA: Proudest moment? Good questions Mark! Maybe it would be before anyone had ever heard of me, it was early on in my career and I was still just a kid I started with (Blackout) when I was 17/18 years old so I was still wet behind the ears. I remember the one thing I was most proud of was my first endorsement with_Zildjan cymbals and Zildjan was like the Holy Grail. Being a young drummer coming up if you got a Zildjan endorsement you were officially in the big time.
So when I got that endorsement, it was the first endorsement I had and I was really proud of that. Not proud of myself but proud of the fact that someone thought enough about whatever it is that I do that they thought, “ this might be a good idea if he played with our stuff”. So that was a very proud moment.
MD: Do you still have any unfulfilled ambitions and dreams and goals?
TA: I do. I have a lot. I would like to do a really cool trio and I’ve got a few things in the works in that regard when I have finish dealing with the Whitesnake stuff towards the end of the year – I’m going to pursue that.
The trio thing, I don’t want to use the words” power trio” but it’s something we have been working on in the studio and Id like to be able to go out and do some touring on that.
MD: Any names? Or are you keeping that a secret?
TA: Yes there are two other guys but we are gonna keep the lid on things. Talk is cheap and we are gonna keep a lid on things until we actually get the record finished.
That would be really embarrassing – I remember like John Sykes saying he was gonna come out and set the world on fire and Mike Portnoy and Billy Sheenan and they went out and did all these interviews and stuff and how cool it was gonna be and then two weeks later BOOM and nothing ever happened.
So instead of putting the cart before the horse – until we get the record done.
We are all the very best of friends and we have worked together in different situations before and it’s something that I’ve always wanted to do so hopefully we will be able to pull it off.
MD: You’ve played with both Ozzy and Whitesnake at the same time at the height of the MTV era and that crazy excess of the 80s. I was just wondering if you were ever at risk of becoming another rock and roll casualty in those crazy days?
TA: Good Question Mark. Not so much with Ozzy but particularly with Whitesnake because Whitesnake was at the apex when the 87 album hit and all that with “Still of the Night “and Here I go again” and we had the # 1 single in the country, we had the #1 video. We were doing 5 nights at every venue and it was really really crazy, and because of that era and because of that exposure on MTV and it was really bad, the culmination of or the beginning of the video aspect with the music. All of a sudden you had this double whammy where people were not only recognizing the way you sounded but they were also recognizing the way you looked so it was almost like how a film star must feel. Everywhere you went people knew who you were – you were being recognized and stuff in certain situations but it went to a whole other level with the success of that album – and the touring – we were out for almost a year and a half on the first tour and it was really really really big. When you are involved in something like that, if you are not doing it for the right reasons, if you didn’t get involved in the business for the right reasons and didn’t have some kind of footing, spiritual or just social footing so to speak when you are kind of connected in ways where you weren’t identified by your job or what people perceive you to be, it would be really easy to lose your way. Not so much just ego, but drugs everything and chicks – the whole 9 yards. So I don’t take any credit for that, and I’ve come out with everything intact but that goes somewhere else but it was an amazing experience and I certainly feel blessed and privileged to have been a part of that.
MD: Tommy, you are identified as being an energetic and aggressive drummer and your drumming style you come with a force and an energy on stage. I just wondered if away from the stage if you are a shy and quiet person?
TA: Actually sometimes I am painfully shy and I’m pretty quiet. Some people think sometimes that I am anti social. I’m a terrible social media person. I’m the worst at shameless self promotion. Id probably be a lot richer – bigger house and fancier cars if I wasn’t that way but I love playing drums and that’s always been the case. I think that because of the interest that brought me into the business and it has seen me through the times we just discussed the real success and stuff. The real reason I got in the business has never changed it was never to make a lot of money or to get pretty girls or anything like that. It was just because I love playing drums and hooking up with like minded musicians, and that has never really changed.
MD: You are coming to the UK with Def Leppard and Black Star Riders – I was just wondering if the touring experience gets any easier or does it get more difficult as you get older?
TA: I’ll tell you Mark. With the stage time which is about 2 hours is always a blast I always get so excited. I never get nervous or stage fright or anything. I do get excited because I enjoy playing so much and I try to maximize the opportunities that God gives me. Every time I put my skinny butt on this drum kit, I do the very best I can do out of respect of the music first and the people who have taken up their time and of their money to come and see and hear. So you can count upon me to do the very best I can do. I take that very seriously. I would hope that if I go to a show that the people up there performing do the same thing.
However, it doesn’t get any easier. The travelling is harder than it’s ever been. It used to before 9/11 you could just go, jump on a plane and you could go and do anything but now to fly someplace. It takes me longer to fly to LA than it does to drive to LA with all the security and stuff. So sadly we have just become more complicated and time consuming. I still enjoy travelling, it’s just that the most enjoyable part of what I do is the two hours on stage. The other 22 are work. I guess if it was all fun I couldn’t really call it work.
MD: What about physically? It must be harder.
TA: Physically? Well I’m not getting any younger, I don’t have any drug dependencies. I’m not an alcoholic, I don’t smoke, I do a lot of cycling – its one of my second passions, I do a lot of road riding, bicycling not motorcycles and I have a very physical style which kind of keeps you fit. I try to pace myself, again I take it very seriously when I go on stage, I try to make sure that whatever I need/have to do in order to perform, I have to make those choices. When I was 20 years old those choices were probably not as confining as they are now. (Laughs) You still have to make the same choices and it doesn’t get any easier.
I think its kind of like buying a Ferrari, Its one thing to get enough money to buy a Ferrari, it’s a whole other ball game making enough money to keep it maintained and to and keep it running.
Its kind of a probably not a very good analogy but it’s not unlike that. Its one thing to get peoples attention and it’s another holding their attention for any more than a year or six months or a week is the real challenge. A flash in the pan – those things are a dime a dozen.
I try to do the best I can with the body that God’s given me and take care of it and it hasn’t let me down yet. I had a rotator cuff issue – I tore my rotator cuff in my left shoulder one time just before leaving on a Thin Lizzy tour and we were going to be supporting AC/DC – a couple of years ago – and I crashed on my bicycle and broke my collarbone and my elbow and a bunch ribs and other stuff. I hit a deer on my bike. There’s some things you can’t help.
Thankfully my body is in good shape and I try to take care of it and do a lot of exercising it just happens to be something that I enjoy doing – and again my drum style is quite physical.
It’s the travel part that takes its toll
MD: Thanks Tommy that was great we look forward to seeing you behind the kit and back in Belfast in December and thank you for chatting
TA: Come back and say hi and we will have a beer or something
MD”I would enjoy that as you are one of my all-time heroes.
TA”Why thank you, there is no accounting for taste.