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Music talent Tom Hambridge has his own day in Buffalo

Tom Hambridge has lived any fan’s rock ’n’ roll fantasy.

Including his own.

Hambridge, a Jamestown native who was raised in Amherst, has performed with Buddy Guy, Mick Jagger, Jeff Beck, Ringo Starr, James Taylor and the Allman Brothers.

Early in his career, he backed up Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Percy Sledge and Billy J. Kramer. He opened for the Everly Brothers, B.B. King, the Clash and Kiss.

The producer, songwriter and drummer is currently riding high with his sixth Grammy nomination for writing, producing and playing drums on Guy’s “Born to Play Guitar.”

On Monday, Hambridge received another recognition – one closer to home – when Mayor Byron W. Brown presented him with a proclamation declaring “Tom Hambridge Day.”

“This is truly an honor, and I am very humbled to be here,” Hambridge said in City Hall, flanked by his parents, wife and children.

“Wherever I go in the world, everyone asks me where are you from, and I’m so proud always to say Buffalo, New York,” Hambridge said. “I love the city. My family is from here. My beautiful wife, Chris, is from here. And, I would just like to acknowledge my mom and dad for supporting me, and letting me bang on the drums when I was very young, and always encouraging me.”

Hambridge and Guy’s fifth collaboration, “Born to Play Guitar,” is up for both Blues Album of the Year and Best Americana Roots Performance. The new record features 12 songs written or co-written by Hambridge and a rare guest appearance by Van Morrison.

Hambridge won a Grammy for Guy’s 2010 “Living Proof,” and was previously nominated for his work with blues artists Susan Tedeschi, James Cotton and Johnny Winter.

The musician’s work has taken him to the Vatican and the White House. He’s now finishing an album in which he puts Pope John Paul II’s words to music.

“You never know what’s around the corner in this business,” Hambridge said. “So when the Vatican called, I just jumped at it.”

Hambridge played drums with Guy twice at the White House, including in December 2012 when President Obama, at the guitarist’s urging, sang a verse from “Sweet Home Chicago.” Also performing that night were Mick Jagger and Jeff Beck.

Sitting in between the two British musicians, Hambridge, as band leader, said it was up to him to tell Jagger which vocal he was singing and Beck which solo he was to play.

“I was looking back and forth at them and I had a moment – like an out-of-body experience – thinking I was looking at a ‘Sticky Fingers’ album cover,” he said referring to the classic Rolling Stones album that came out when he was 10.

“I had to just collect myself and go, ‘Mick you’re going to sing the first verse, and Jeff, you’re going to take the second solo,’ and they went, ‘Alright, good. You’re sure?’ And I’m like, ‘Yes.’ And I just thought, who would ever believe this?”

Hambridge’s success comes as no surprise to his parents, who beamed Monday as their son was honored by Buffalo’s mayor.

Hambridge, who lives in Nashville, grew up in Amherst as the youngest of four children.

“He was drumming all the time on everything in the house, and on the dashboard of the car,” said Fay Hambridge, his mother. “He cracked more front dashboards in the wintertime, so we decided we better get him some drums. He got his first set at age 5.”

At 5 feet 9 inches and weighing 175 pounds, he captained the baseball, basketball and football teams at Amherst Central High School, helping lead the football team to two state championships. He graduated in 1979 and then studied at the Berklee School of Music.

His family owned a Dairy Queen on Harlem Road.

“He’d get the cans out of the cupboard, and start hitting them with the drumsticks,” his father, Norm, added. “And he still does, though not on the cans,” he laughed.

Hambridge has also worked with country artists, including Rascal Flatts, Montgomery Gentry and Gretchen Wilson.

When not working with other musicians, he gets behind the drum kit with his own band, Tom Hambridge and the Rattlesnakes, which performed Saturday at the Sportsmen’s Tavern.


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