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Pan Rocks LA

Published: 
Thursday, April 26, 2018

Tracy Thornton continues to be the fusion mad man who is preaching the marriage of hard rock, heavy metal, and steelpan. His latest effort was a recording session in June 2017 when 25 pannists came togetherwith several rock stars and  recorded a five-song digital EP that has now been released on Apple Music.

You can check out the songs on the Pan Rocks website with videos of each and a 15-minute video documentary on the project. The project was also the subject of a feature piece in the April issue of Drum! Magazine.

The songs include classic rock hits like Kiss’s Detroit Rock City from 1976, Led Zepplin’s Kashmir from 1975, and Been Caught Stealing was a number one hit for Jane’s Addiction in 1990.

There is also an original by Tracy, Dain Brammage, which as he notes is a silly way to say brain damage and a wacked out—Trans Siberian Orchestra inspired-version of the Christmas classic, Carol of the Bells.

The trap drummer for thevsession was Stephen Perkins of Jane’s Addiction that had put steel drums on the recording of one of their biggest hits, Jane Says, which is how Thornton had first heard pan.

Perkins was someone that Thornton was most excited to get. The other rock musicians on the session were guitarists Bruce Kulick from Kiss and Tracii Guns leader of LA Guns, bass player Billy Sheehan from Mr Big and the Russian cellists Emil and Dariel from America’s Got Talent. Another rock drummer Matt Starr produced the project.

Once they got dates fixed, Thornton started calling his list of folks he had met at Pan Rocks concerts at schools across the US and assembled a group that were jazzed to be part of it.

Thornton moved from being a rock drummer to pan player in the 1990s and has from the beginning wanted to merge the two.

He went to the Festival of Steel in Morgantown that led him to 1995 Panorama and he has been coming to Trinidad every since, bringing school groups a couple summers.

He formed a group called Been Caught Steelin, toured the United States with the youth steelband Sons of Steel, and taught pan at every level. He has recorded albums too as issued tribute albums on pan to artists like the Ramones and Jane’s Addiction.

In November 2013, Thornton organised with Angel Lawrie the first major Pan Rocks concert with a dozen steelbands participating with guest artists including Liam Teague.

He got 80 players for a mass steelband doing his charts at the Percussive Arts Society International Convention (PASIC) in San Antonio, Texas in 2015.

That really opened things up for him as word of mouth spread on what he was doing to more school steelband directors and ever since has travelled across the US going to schools interested in putting on a Pan Rocks concert. He is going everywhere the last few months across the US and Canada including recently New York, Texas, Ohio, Michigan and California.

Thornton has put a lot of time and money into Project LA but from the beginning was confident it would work.

“I just knew this fusion would work. The same energy, the same power, the same intensity.” Now he hopes to take it on the road.

He keeps researching various options, what avenues, what connections might make it come together. Vegas maybe.

Thornton dreams one day to bring rock stars to Trinidad and having Pan Rocks rock Port-of- Spain and the rest of Trinidad.

RAY FUNK is a retired Alaskan judge and Fullbright scholar who is passionately devoted to pan, calypso and mas.

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