By Seamus Gallivan
Anyone who follows Buffalo-born musicians as they seek eternal fame has seen at some point one who hides their home – often under the influence of the industry, their bio might refer to their home vaguely as “New York,” or bypass their upbringing altogether, as if it’s a crutch to come from The City of Good Neighbors.
Ain’t that a shame – enough to give a Buffalo backer the blues.
But when one does boast about Buffalo, it helps us hoist them up as hometown heroes, no matter how long they’ve been gone or whether they ever intend to return. With that in mind, dig the beginning of the bio for multiple Grammy-winning producer, songwriter, singer, and drummer Tom Hambridge, who comes home tonight to play the University at Buffalo Center for the Arts on the Amherst campus (7:30p.m., $39.50-$43.50, UBCFA profiled here recently) as the touring opening act for still smokin’ blues titan Buddy Guy, with whom he won another Grammy this year for producing and co-writing Guy’s latest album, Living Proof –
“A native son of Buffalo, New York, Tom started playing drums at the age of 5 and was in his first band, Undertow, in the 3rd grade. Tom’s formal education began with a scholarship to Boston’s prestigious Berklee College of Music, where he frequently returns as a guest lecturer. After years of touring and performances with the many of the biggest names in the business (Chuck Berry, Roy Buchanan, The Drifters and many more), as well as producing, writing & touring with his own band T.H. & The Wreckage, Tom set his sights on Nashville, where he lives and works today as a producer, songwriter, and performer.
“Soon after arriving to Nashville, Hambridge signed a publishing deal that led to remarkable success with countless songs used in television, major motion pictures such as Disney’s “Cars” & “Ratatouille”, and by many legendary recording stars including: Buddy Guy, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Meat Loaf, Montgomery Gentry and Johnny Winter.”
Ya gotta Buffalove how that bio starts.
Followers of The Good Neighborhood got to see Hambridge the last time he was home, when he stopped in to the Sportsmens Tavern during the late-December finale of our Home for the Holidays concert series benefiting Compass House, and sat in with the Argyle Street Band reunion. As he explained in this chat, that kind of drop-in jam happens often, and only in Buffalo.
How have you stayed connected with Buffalo?
By the time I was 17 years old, graduated from high school and gone to Berklee, I’d already been playing places like the Bona Vista and the old Tralfamadore, playing with guys like Curtis Williams, a sax player who went on to play with Kool & the Gang. I played with Footloose and had a rock band that played high schools. I would come back to Buffalo to play a place like Melody Fair with somebody like Chuck Berry, or my band would play Lafayette Tap Room, or the Tralf or Sportsmens, and I kinda reacquainted with everybody. I walked into the Tap Room one time and ran into Nick Veltri and a bunch of those guys, and we’d try to do some things – it really felt good to produce and play on records here with all these great musicians and wonderful people.
Any way I can, it’s been great to be able to start making music together here – like when I was home for the holidays this year. I love Dwane and those guys down at the Sportsmens. I don’t get to come home that often, but my parents live in Buffalo, and I have nieces and nephews and cousins, and I try to come up every Christmas, and once during the summer for a couple days, to bring the kids to see their grandparents – my wife’s from Buffalo, too – and try to stay connected. When I do, one thing that’s really cool for me – I’ll look at something like Gusto, and say to my wife, “ I just gotta go out to see some Buffalo music.” A lot of times, I don’t know where I’m going – sometimes Nietzsche’s, Sportsmens, CPG, sometimes it’ll be a place I’ve never been. Yet I’ll walk in and maybe meet a friend, and a lot of times, if I’m at Alternative Brews or something, the band might know who I am – like at that Home for the Holidays show at the Sportsmens – and ask me to sit in, and I’m very happy to do that. I love to, really.
It’s funny – in other cities I’m in, I don’t normally sit in. If they ask, I might say I’m just eating dinner, or I just wanna hear you guys, and they might even be doing my songs – but in Buffalo, I say, “Hell yeah!” I feel like we’re all in the same band, like a fraternity – even though I’m kinda not, since I left home right after high school.
How have you ingrained yourself into the Nashville community? Surely, like most musicians you get asked to play a ton of benefits – any causes close to your heart?
I get asked to do benefits all the time, and I do a lot – I just did one for a friend of mine who’s son died, and he wanted to give a scholarship in his name; we did one to help fight a rare disease for a guy who was in a band with me – it’s a disease that attacks young boys, I couldn’t even spell then name of it, but said I’d be there.
Every day, I will get somebody asking me to do something – it might be as simple as, I just sent signed records to somebody for one thing; got Buddy to sign something for another; had George Thorogood sign something for a silent auction.
In terms of benefits, there’s not one thing I do every year, but I do the best I can when I can. Just recently there was a big benefit where I was asked to play drums in a house band for Montgomery Gentry, Locash Cowboys, Billy Ray Cyrus, James Otto, Chuck Wicks, and a bunch of other guys. I wish I could say there’s a thing I run, but for now, I do a lot of other people’s events.
PETA and the Humane Society is a big thing in my family, and we help the homeless with meals at Thanksgiving; support shelters when it’s cold – I kinda just think of myself as a human being in that regard, not a musician.
How has Buddy Guy influenced you as a musician and as a man?
That’s a good question – a big question. It is amazing. It blows my mind that he’s onstage talking about me, saying, “I don’t know what I’d do without Tom Hambridge.” He came into my life, and he’s such a gracious guy.
I remember opening up for him – as a matter of fact it was in Albany – my good friend Tom Flynn was with me, he was a great Buffalo guy who’s no longer with us. After the show, Buddy’s manager asked me to come in his dressing room, that Buddy wanted to talk to me – apparently they had speakers in the dressing room and he was listening to my set, and he said, “Every song you sang, I’ve either heard it, or I wanna know who wrote it.” He said it had affected him.
I told him that I really only do songs that I write, and he said, “You do all those songs? But I’ve heard Thorogood, Winter, Susan Tedeschi…” And I said, “Yeah, those are my songs.” He said, “I gotta work with you,” and I said, “I’m happy to be working with you like this, but I’m wide open if you wanna do something together.”
Our relationship has just been wonderful. Buddy’s 74, and I wrote a song for him called “74 Years Young,” because when he goes out there, he’s like a little kid – he’s more dangerous than any gunslinger and he’s in his prime still, and I’m not even sure that’s possible! He brings in every night 100%.
When we’ve played a bunch of nights in a row, I’ll be thinking that he might get tired – he played two hours last night. Sometimes he’ll say, “I don’t know if I got it – voice, energy,” and I’ll shake my head and tell him, “It doesn’t matter how you’re feeling, whether you’re sick or not – when you get out there, you’re gonna deliver. I know it – you’ve been doin’ it longer than I’ve been alive.” I’ve learned that from Buddy for sure.
We’ll go into the studio, and he starts playing guitar, and it’s like he’s even better – then he starts singing, and it’s like, how is this possible that he’s singing with such authority? It’s beautiful, just wonderful. I’ll ask him to sing or try something one more time, and he’ll say, “Absolutely.” I’ve worked with people with big record deals, some of whom are young, lazy, and won’t wanna redo something. They’ll say, “I’m kinda tired, can you fix that? Make me sound good?” That’s not even in Buddy’s playbook.
And as a person – when we won that Grammy last month, the first thing he said when we walked up onstage was, “I wanna thank my producer, Tom Hambridge.” That’s an amazing thing – I’ve worked on a lot of records and spent a lot of time behind the scenes, and often when people do interviews on talk shows, they might overclaim stuff at times, so it’s really refreshing to work with someone like Buddy. You learn from someone like that for sure.
We got in a limo after the show last night, and he said, “What would I do without you Tom – what are we gonna do next?” I’m thinking, I was happy to do one record with him, now we’ve done two, won a Grammy, and now he wants to know what’re we gonna do next? I’m pinching myself!
I’m in the middle of another Thorogood record; another with Steve Cropper; I’m writing songs with ZZ Top; and after the Buffalo show, I fly to Nashville to write songs with Lynyrd Skynyrd, who moved their schedule to fit the three days I got – I grew up n Buffalo listening to Skynyrd records, remember going to Rich Stadium and seeing Skynyrd with Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, and the James Gang. I must’ve been 13, on the field where the Bills play, and I didn’t know who Skynyrd was but I though they were coolest band ever, and the fact that they’re flying in to work with me around my schedule – and I’ve already worked with ‘em – that never gets old. I’m working with my idols, and I never take it for granted.