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Greensboro native Tracy Thornton's steel pan resonates worldwide

News & Record

Tracy Thornton

Greensboro, North Carolina, USA - When Tracy Thornton first heard the banging in his head, he hammered it out on heavy metal, beating it into shape with a variety of local headbangers. But a chance encounter with Calypso percussion in a rock song changed the path of his life and career.

The Greensboro native was rocking out behind the drum kit for heavy metal bands when he heard Jane's Addiction's “Jane Says” in 1988. Drummer Stephen Perkins used a steel pan drum in the cut from the band’s debut, “Nothing's Shocking.”

....Thornton started doing clinics across the country, from middle school to high school to college kids, teaching and performing with them. He had gotten a big national push from the release of '06's “Pan for Punks: A Steelpan Tribute to the Ramones.”

He says he did it as a goof, thinking a couple of friends might like it. “The Ramones camp got it and before I knew it, I had their publicist and I was in Spin magazine with it, and Kurt Loder from MTV was calling me about it.”

....“If people want to put together a project and they need two steel drum players, or 150, I can do that.”

Even in the COVID-19 situation, Thornton recently pulled off a steel pan gathering.

“We did a quarantine video, released it last week, and I thought I'd get maybe a few people who wanted to do it. But within two weeks, we had 125 pan players from all over the world playing ‘Baba O'Riley’ with Stephen Perkins from Jane's Addiction on drums.”

That's impressive enough, but Thornton already has plans to surpass it.

“I'm getting ready to do another project this week that’s gonna be 10 times bigger than that,” he says. “It'll probably come out in September with steel pan players from all over the world. I'm still trying to keep busy, keep the community tight, and keep people involved even though everyone's just quarantined and stuck at home.”


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Tracy Thornton = Glad to know you are still on top o your game.  I still remember hearing your Sons of Steel kids playing in Greensboro more than 20 years ago. ..... Brenda H.

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