The versatility of drummer Tony Thompson was something to behold. Whether co-creating the disco thump of the original CHIC, sounding the martial boom of the mid-’80s supergroup Power Station, or working his percussion chops in studio sessions for dozens of artists, Thompson left a distinctive mark in his wake, from the first CHIC album in 1977, until his death from cancer on Nov. 12, 2003.
You know Thompson’s sound when you hear it; if you hear any of these tracks on the radio or elsewhere, you’re hearing his best. Check them out:
CHIC, “Good Times”: The rhythm section (Thompson and bassist Bernard Edwards) that launched countless disco copycats (not to mention a boatload of hip-hop samples) leaves their most indelible groove.
Sister Sledge, “We Are Family”: The same year that “Good Times” hit, Edwards and fellow CHIC mastermind Nile Rodgers produced Philly family band Sister Sledge’s biggest album, with this unforgettable smash. Listen how simultaneously laid back and rhythm-forward Thompson’s drums are on the song; people simply must get up and move.
Diana Ross, “I’m Coming Out”: At the turn of the ‘80s, Diana Ross decided to leave Motown, and gave them one last studio album to remember her by. What a record it was: 1980’s diana, produced by Rodgers and Edwards, and featuring Thompson on drums – it was, essentially, CHIC, fronted by Ross, and it was a massive hit. “I’m Coming Out” was the second single and became an anthem, as well as a decade- and genre-spanning groove, as when sampled by rapper The Notorious B.I.G. on his 1997 song "Mo Money Mo Problems.”
Power Station, “Get It On (Bang a Gong)”: Take Robert Palmer and two dudes from Duran Duran, add Thompson on drums and his CHIC partner Bernard Edwards producing, and you get a rock record with a deep, deep groove. This exemplary cover of this T. Rex track was a highlight, and a big hit.
Rod Stewart, “Lost in You”: Rod Stewart has always had a soulful foundation to his singing, but this track is pure late-‘80s rock, with Thompson’s solid beat mixed really loud, to the point the drums sound like cannon shots. Thompson’s Power Station mate Andy Taylor produced and is thus responsible for the sound of the record, incorporating Thompson into its arena rock ambience.