Thomas Pridgen: Everyone’s Favorite Weirdo

If Berklee was beneficial, it’s because the drummer made it so. “I did get a lot of technique there,” he continues. “But a lot of that just came from me sitting down in the library. I would just go look for something I didn’t know about and burn it on to my computer. ’Man, I am never going to find this Tony Williams record ever. Let me get it now.’ Or, ’Today is Brian Blade day.’ And then I was like, ’Today is Dennis Chambers day.’ Even now I teach my students to be excellent listeners. When I can learn 21 songs to play on a record, I’m only able to do that because I’m hearing what’s going on. Growing up in church that’s pretty much how the majority of us earned, so I never lost that technique.” We should add that big eyes are as important as big

ears when it comes to expanding your abilities. “My thing is, I can watch you. I can see what you’re doing and I just approach it like that.”

Speaking of watching, a guerilla-style film of Pridgen playing in public spaces around the San Francisco Bay Area is currently in the making. The idea is to play only junky, makeshift kits so that if the cops come he can just ditch them. (“On one of them the wrap was coming off.”) Plus a different kit every shoot keeps him resilient. (“I have to adapt on some random kit.”) Needless to say, the film style, heavily influenced by skateboard videos, and shot primarily on his iPhone 5, is not your typical instructional DVD.

“I don’t want to be Mike Johnston, dude. I don’t want to be a drum lesson guru. I feel like if I do music and do what comes natural to me, it is already showing people without forcing it. I want to do a video about some real sh-t and not have it about doing a paradiddle. That’s corny, dude. If I was a new drummer, that’s the last thing I’m going to watch.”

Still he loves teaching, at least the old fashioned way with human beings in real time. Taking on everyone from beginner to advanced players, students hit him with the perennial questions: “’How do I play fast? How do I go around the kit? How do I get a gig?’ It reminds me of questions I used to ask. It’s cool.”

Regardless of winning the Drum Off at 12, sitting in with Dennis Chambers’ band Grafitti at age 10, etcetera, none of it would have been possible without the bond that came from his grandmother, Addie Thomas, who bought him his first drum set, took him to NAMM shows, sent him to drum camp, and so on. “I always have to be apologetic because everybody didn’t have a grandmother nurturing them when they were kids.”

No Excuses

The recording of the new Pinnick-Gales-Pridgen album, once again produced by Mike Varney of Shrapnel Records – the “guitar shredder” label that introduced the world to Yngwie Malmsteen – took place in the scenic town of Cotati in California’s Sonoma County. (Varney also owns PGP’s label, Magna Carta). “I was saying to them I’m about to go crazy on this,” Pridgen says of the drum parts. “I was more excited for this record than anything I have done before. Ever. This one is just a lot different. I feel like with the writing, we were all there and we all had a talk about things going on, and doing shows, going out on the road. The first [PGP album] almost didn’t happen. So to be able to come back and do it again was a big thing for us.”

Pridgen’s involvement was greater on the new album in terms of both drumming energy and creative input: He has four songs credits this time. But that’s not why he’s excited about PGP2. “I don’t know if you ever saw him play, but Eric is a beast,” he says. “He is the closest thing we have to Jimi Hendrix. He is the guy. If you ask any of these guitar players right now who is the baddest dude they are going to say Eric Gales.”

Pinninck Gales Pridgen came about when dUG Pinnick of King’s X started jamming with Gales a few years ago. Adding Pridgen to the lineup seemed like a good idea since the drummer had played separately with Gales before. And Thomas knew Pinnick after hollering at the bassist to give vocal lessons to The Memorials singer Viveca. “It wasn’t that she couldn’t scream; she was scared to scream,” he says. “I brought dUG to her because he screams all the time.” The Memorials have officially reunited and will be touring this summer.

PGP is the modern version of the fabled power trio, where each member is a virtuoso on their own, but together make real magic. They also cover Cream’s “Sunshine Of Your Love” and Beethoven’s “Fur Elise” just to drive the point home. But whether it’s the 2010s or the late 1960s, playing with an axe-hero is always a delicate dance for a drummer. “There is some [music] I wish wasn’t in there,” he says. “I told Mike it has a guitar solo every damn song, but that’s Eric’s fans’ [expectation]. That is what makes his sound so bluesy. That [element]’s always going to be there.”

Every band that Pridgen has been in was because he thought it would step up that band’s game. It made him step up his own too. “The moment you forget that and think it’s all about them giving, or just you giving, then you’re tripping. Even doing The Memorials, man, it takes everybody: the people playing, the booking agents, the managers of these clubs. And honestly that’s the blessing in doing this is all the people you meet and the experiences you have with these people who have nothing to do with you.”

But the drummer isn’t satisfied; he’s still looking for that dream gig. Until then he’s just going to keep doing what he does: Grind. When we called Pridgen’s cell a few days later, he was in a car on Interstate 5 headed toward Los Angeles to play a session. “I don’t even know the guy’s name,” he said in a sleepy voice from the passenger’s seat. In the meantime, he’s on what he calls “cruise control.” “I was on like five or six records this year. I don’t have time to be thinking about how I’m feeling.”

And a lack of cheddar hasn’t stopped him from doing exactly what he wants to do. “A lot of my friends who also play music, but aren’t necessarily in an artistic situation, I’ll go to them, ’Why aren’t you being creative?’ ’Well, I don’t have the money to go have this amazing studio to do anything.’ It’s like, ’Bro, that’s an excuse.’”

Thomas Pridgen

Pridgen's PGP Setup

Drums DW Jazz series (Rasta finish)
1 24" x 18" Bass Drum
2 14" x 7" Snare
3 12" x 8" Tom
4 13" x 8" Tom
5 15" x 12" DW Custom
6 16" x 13" Floor Tom
7 18" x 14" Floor Tom

Cymbals Zildjian
A 19" Z3 Thrash Ride “Hi-Hat”
B 20" A Crash
C 24" A Medium Ride
D 16" A Medium Thin Stack
E 19" K China

F Timbero Mambo Cowbell

Thomas Pridgen also uses DW hardware, ProMark Thomas Pridgen 510 sticks, Evans heads (Black Chrome, tom batters; Resonant Black, tom resos, EMAD Onyx, bass; and G2 Clear, snare), Ahead Armor cases, and Audix microphones.

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