Berklee Today

Alum Profile: Tom Hambridge '83

Renaissance Man in a City of Specialists


Artemis recording artist, hit songwriter, producer, and drummer Tom Hambridge '83
Photo by David McClister
 

In the course of the two decades that he lived in Boston, Tom Hambridge became a highly regarded musical renaissance man. He had a rep as a top-notch live and session drummer who wrote great songs, sang lead, and could assemble and direct a pickup band for a gig with artists he'd never met before and deliver a great performance. Since moving to Nashville in 1998, he has had to adopt a new business plan to fit the culture of Music City where musicians generally build a career on a single specialty. While he is not yet fully acclimated to exercising only one or two of his talents, he is a quick study.

"I learned that you have to be careful of the professional lines you cross in Nashville," he said. "Down here, there is a hierarchy of jobs and everyone seems to be a specialist. There are players who get on the tour buses and work with big artists like Travis Tritt or Marty Stuart, but those guys don't play on the albums. Those who play on the albums don't get on the tour bus. The studio musicians don't write songs for the artists and the guys who produce records don't play on them. That was all new to me."

In Nashville, record producers and songwriters are at the top of the heap and those are the areas where Hambridge is focusing most of his energy these days. One of the last projects he completed in Boston ultimately became the key to new opportunities in Nashville. Just before leaving Boston, he wrote and arranged songs, played drums, and produced Susan Tedeschi's Grammy-nominated, platinum-selling CD Just Won't Burn. "Rock Me Right" and "It Hurt So Bad," both penned by Hambridge, became the disc's singles. Enjoying lives of their own, those two songs have been included in movie and TV soundtracks and on numerous compilation albums. They also have brought both Tedeschi and Hambridge to the attention of the music industry.

Hambridge jokingly said, "After Susan's record came out, I went on the road with her as a drummer. I never thought, 'Gosh, I'll never be able to produce again if I get on the tour bus.' Down here, that might be a concern for some people."

Growing up in Buffalo, New York, Hambridge started playing drums at five. He played his first paying gig, a bar mitzvah, in third grade and says he has written songs from the beginning. Throughout his school years, Hambridge played in garage bands and in his high school orchestra and jazz band. After graduating in 1979, he came to study at Berklee.

As soon as he landed in Boston, he started playing out and kept a full schedule of local gigs until he received his degree in Professional Music in 1983. After Berklee he worked for three years as drummer/lead singer for the late, great blues guitarist Roy Buchanan. In between road trips, he formed the band T.H. and the Wreckage as a vehicle for his own songs. When he saw the band developing a large and loyal following, he decided to work at breaking his own act rather than continuing as Buchanan's sideman. In 1988 the band released Born to Rock, one of several independent, self-produced albums Hambridge has completed. It earned him the first of the five Boston Music Awards he has received to date. Boston radio also enthusiastically supported the band.

When he wasn't working with his own band or freelancing, he fielded calls from concert promoters asking him to put together a local backup band for people like Bo Diddley, Percy Sledge, Chuck Berry, Gary Puckett, Sha Na Na, and a host of other classic rock artists scheduled for dates in New England and New York. "It was so cool to play songs like 'Dizzy' with Tommy Roe or 'I'm Telling You Now' with Herman's Hermits," recalled Hambridge. "I continued to put groups together for these guys right up to the time I left Boston for Nashville in 1998." Formerly one of Boston's busiest rock, country, and blues drummers, Hambridge figures that for a decade he played around 250 gigs a year--mostly one-nighters.

"I would go out to play 30 dates with Patty Larkin and come back and do 80 or so with groups like the Drifters, Coasters, or Marvelettes, then another 75 or 80 with T.H. and the Wreckage. I also had steady gigs every Sunday night at the Grog in Newburyport and Monday nights at the Tam. During the day, I would take offers to play sessions or produce a record here and there. Eventually, I didn't have time to fit anything else in. It was all great stuff, but I started thinking, 'am I just going to do this until I burn out?' There has to be something more out there. I realized that I had to go somewhere else, even if it meant starting over. Originally I planned to move to New York or L.A. My wife Chris and I just had our first daughter, Rachel, and Chris really didn't want to live in either L.A. or New York. So we took a trip to Nashville to check it out. We both liked it here, so I finished up my commitments in Boston and we moved down."

Once Hambridge relocated to Nashville, he sought out a publishing deal even though everyone told him it was a long shot. Not surprisingly, Hambridge ended up with offers from BMG and several other big publishers. "It was right around the time that Susan Tedeschi's record began to hit," he said. "Having been the producer and the guy who wrote its two singles helped me to get in the door at MCA, Warner Chappell, and Chrysalis. I got offers from all of them, and that made me realize what my catalog was worth. I didn't end up accepting any of the offers and decided to become my own publisher."

Hambridge is still riding the wave from Tedeschi's blockbuster album and a new wave is breaking generated by his new roots-rock solo CD Balderdash on the Artemis label. The disc is being added by triple A radio stations across the country and helping to attract new clients seeking Hambridge's multifacted musical services. Notwithstanding the compartmentalized nature of the music biz in Nashville, his calendar is again jammed with writing and producing dates and concert engagements to support Balderdash.

With a hot new album driving his career, Hambridge has discovered a way in Nashville to do it all--play drums, sing, write, and produce--without crossing the lines and jeopardizing his stature as a producer or songwriter.

"I get stuff sent to me almost every day with opportunities to produce artists," he said. "I'm also making appointments to write songs with some of the best hit writers in Nashville. Working with seasoned songwriters like Delbert McClinton, Al Anderson, Gary Nicholson, Gwil Owin, Kevin Gordon, and others has doubled my output. It's also great to be signed to a label and have my own record out. I'm getting to go out to play my own songs. I don't think I'd be content to just do one thing like be a producer. There are so many other things I love to do in music."

For more, visit the web site tomhambridge.com.