When I moved to Los Angeles in September, 2000, I had a "to do" list which consisted of the following:
- Go to the beach and get a decent tan.
- Map out all of the taco trucks within a 10 miles radius of my apartment.
- Find Pete Thomas.
A long time member of Elvis Costello and The Attractions, Pete was (and still is) one of my all-time favorite drummers. I heard through the grapevine that he had recently relocated to LA and, in the back of my mind, wondered if I would be able to line up some lessons with him. Besides playing with Elvis Costello, he also did a lot of session work, including Elliot Smith's spectacular album, "Figure 8". This CD was the soundtrack to my summer of 2000 and rarely left the the Discman™ (via cassette tape adaptor) in my Pontiac 6000 LE aka "Gangsta B!tch". Sweet music for a sweet ride.
After spending the first week hanging out at Venice Beach and eating my weight in tacos, I decided it was time to get going with "this music" thing. Plus, the $723 I had in my checking account was fading fast. I hopped in Gangsta Bitch and drove out to Hollywood to join the musician's union. I was given a brief tour of the facility (a nondescript building with the charm of a government office), filled out some paperwork, paid my union dues and walked out a card carrying member of Local 47. They also gave me a bunch of stickers and a directory of other Local 47 members. With this in hand, I was well on my way to becoming a session god.
When I got back to my apartment I started flipping through the directory. I was shocked to see the names and home telephone numbers of all of the studio greats; Vinnie Colaiuta, John "JR" Robinson and as I worked my way towards the back, there he was, Pete Thomas.
I immediately picked up my cell phone and dialed the number. A young girl with a British accent answered. I asked to speak with Pete and within seconds I was chatting with one of my heros.
Hi Pete. Ummm my name is Ryan Gruss and I just moved to LA. And ummm I play drums and uhhh just joined the union. They gave me a directory with your phone number. Uhh I was wondering if it would be possible to set up a lesson with you. Umm uhh, I really like the way you play."
Idiot! A few seconds of deafening silence went by, then Pete kindly replied, "I don't really have a studio set up where I can teach, but I'm playing tonight at The Mint with a country band called Jackshit. Why don't you come down to the show and we can chat?"
Yeah, umm uhhh sure. That umm sounds cool. Uhh see you tonight."
And with that, I spent the next several months hanging out at Jackshit shows. Pete graciously took the time to sit and talk with me in between sets. He entertained my endless list of questions... about everything from gear ("what kit did you use on "Junk Bond Trader?") to time keeping ("what's your approach to playing with a click track?").
I picked up all kinds of valuable tips and suggestions, but mostly I learned from watching him PLAY. Pete makes playing the drums look effortless, and this comes out in both his feel and his sound. Always flowing and totally natural. You could stick one mic in front of his kit and have the perfect mix. He's a master in dynamics, able to keep things simmering during the verse and then unleashing bombastic beats during the chorus.