Since the late '70s, the prolific Elvis Costello has created pop music infused with the sophistication of a genuine music historian. Many pop/rock players often cite Costello's twenty-plus albums as major influences. Of course, Costello's band has had an inimitable role in his success, with longtime Attractions/session drummer Pete Thomas performing in nearly every EC record.
Thomas has had a busy thirty-five year career as a touring and session drummer. His appeal to bandleaders is based in part on his innate talent for creating very thoughtful and musical parts. He joined the Attractions when they formed in 1978 for Elvis Costello's second record, This Year's Model. Even though the history of the Attractions is complex, with many hiatuses and partial reunions, Costello and Thomas have remained good friends and musical collaborators. But because Costello occasionally uses a different band for his solo tours, Thomas has also had the opportunity to work with other notable artists, including Bonnie Raitt, Sheryl Crow, Los Lobos, Randy Newman, Vonda Shepard and Elliott Smith.
Pete Thomas's drumming is a master-class in drum-part composition. He rarely settles for a basic groove when something more musical and sophisticated is possible. But he never overplays or gets in the way of the melody. Some of his parts are simple and some are deceptively complex. Either way, the drum parts always develop as a song progresses. The following examples showcase a few of Thomas's most interesting musical choices with Costello and others.
Elvis Costello & The Attractions, This Year's Model (1978)
On the first track of the first Attractions record, Pete rapidly changes his part. Measures 5-7 are prime examples of his compositional style: sudden floor tom additions on beat 2 of measure 5, a seven-note ride pattern on beats 3 and 4 of measure 6, and the tom and cymbal fill in the first half of measure 7. Although these nuances might at first seem improvised, they reappear throughout the tune. (0:49)
This Year's Model
This example shows how Pete develops a simple groove. The straightforward groove in 2A is altered with bass drum note on the 'ah's" of beat 1 in measures 1 and 2 of Example 2B. Example 2C is a more complex version of 2B (0:00, 0:07, 0:22)
"(I Don't Want To Go To) Chelsea"
This Year's Model
This is one of Thomas's signature performances. Check out how he leaves off the bass drum on the downbeat of measures 2 and 2 in his chorus groove. Also note how he develops the groove by adding bass drum notes on beat 3 in measure 3 and beat 1 of measure 4 before stopping for the break in measure 5 (0:43).
Elvis Costello & The Attractions, Armed Forces (1979)
This track is also one of the finest examples of Thomas's compositional drumming style. There are many different grooves happening throughout this tune. But each minor variation is played in order to lock up with the bass line or vocal. Here are three variations (0:14, 0:29, 0:58).
"New Lace Sleeves"
Elvis Costello & The Attractions, Trust (1981)
Pete's entrance groove sounds as if the downbeat could be in one of several places. But when the band enters, it becomes clear that the bass drum is played on the downbeat of each measure. (0:00)
Here's Pete's swinging groove in the choruses (2:30).
Elvis Costello & The Attractions, Imperial Bedroom (1982)
Pete combines different stylistic choices during the chorus of "Beyond Belief" in order to help the section develop. The bass drum plays quarter notes throughout, while the ride cymbal pattern adds syncopation. The fills in measures 2, 4 and 6 end on the "&" of beat 4, which creates a barline-blurring effect common in jazz. (1:20)
Sheryl Crow, Sheryl Crow (1996)
Thomas plays some great grooves on Sheryl Crow's self-titled second disc. During the verse of this song, he plays an alternating 8th-note (beats 1 and 3) and 16th-note(beats 2 and 4) groove with a heavy brush (or bundle stick) on a muffled floor tom. (0:00)
For the choruses, Pete adds the 16th-note pattern on every beat. The transition between the two grooves is flawless (00:47)
"Hard To Make A Stand"
Pete is doing his best Charlie Watts impression on this track, including a single snare drum note on the "&" or beat 4, which Watts used to great effect on many Rolling Stones hits. (0:00)
Here's a slinky fill that Pete plays later in the track.
"Junk Bond Trader"
Eliott Smith, Figure 8 (2000)
Pete Thomas, Joey Waronker and Elliot Smith share drumming duties on the late singer/songwriter's 2000 release. Pete's two-measure groove repeats through most of this song. Note the smooth 16th note-triplet ghost notes on the "&" of beat 4 in the first measures of the groove. (0:00)