Tracy Thornton has made a name for himself since the early 1990s, first as a drummer, then as a steelpan artist with a focus on bringing steelpan into Rock music. Having performed in groups like Toxic Popsickle, which opened for bands like the Ramones, Pantera and Suicidal Tendencies, Thornton is no stranger to the Rock genre, along with all of its subgenres like Punk and Ska.
After discovering steelpan, Thornton dove head first into the instrument, traveling to Trinidad & Tobago to perform in Panorama in the mid-90s with steelpan legend, Ken “Professor” Philmore. This pilgrimmage helped Thornton discover his own sound and the concept that would become Pan Rocks, a program Thornton promotes all around the world, performing with steelbands of all sizes, from as small as four players to over 100.
Since his first album, “Pan Rocks,” in 2013, Thornton has written two more, with the first two including bands from all over the spectrum, including The Ramones, Kiss, Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith and Jane’s Addiction, among others. His latest album, “Pan Rocks…Ska Punk’d!” is focused on the Ska and Punk genres, including artists like Green Day, The Ramones, The Clash, Sex Pistols, Sublime and Blink 182.
The first thing you notice about the album is the way it’s recorded. The pans sound brighter than virtually any steelpan recording currently on the market, thanks largely to Thornton’s experience with recording steelpans and his ability to play them hard enough to generate energy while not bashing. The balance of the pans themselves is also critical to the sound, with all drums tuned and maintained by Alan Coyle, proprietor of Coyle Drums.
Missing from the recordings is the presence of the bass pans, replaced by an appropriately meaty bass guitar. This is a smart choice by Thornton given the signature sound it helps create in rock music with the twangy strings on the high end and warm textures on the low end.
Songs for the album were well-chosen, with the spectrum of both genres covered nicely. The pans to be featured appropriately without melodies sounding too cluttered. One such tune, “The Impression That I Get,” by the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, illustrates that point well with a driving ska pulse behind a deliriously optimistic melody on the tenor pans, supported by harmony on the double seconds.
Further on the Ska front is the Bob Marely classic, “Simmer Down,” a pioneering work in the genre. The piece appears towards the end of the album, which started off with more classic punk songs and progressed backwards to the roots of Punk with other Ska classics like Wrong Way by Sublime. Capping off the album was a reimagined version of the Frank Sinatra classic, “My Way,” which sends the obvious message by Thornton of what he hopes to achieve with the album and Pan Rocks movement as a whole: something different.
His album, “Pan For Punks…A Steelpan Tribute To The Ramones,” was given its own feature article in SPIN Magazine, National Public Radio’s “All Song Considered” program and voted top 10 for Global Rhythm Magazine in 2006. Recently, Thornton has gained recognition through various performances, including a mass band performance at PASIC 2015 and a small group show at the world famous Whiskey A-Go-Go, where he was joined by Jane’s Addiction drummer Stephen Perkins for a live rendition of the band’s classic hit, “Been Caught Stealin'”. It seems that the popularity of his project knows no bounds, which is obvious both from his live performance endeavors and the skillful execution of his Pan Rocks albums to this point. The only question now is what subgenres Thornton should tackle with his next album.
For more information, visit www.panrocks.com. All Pan Rocks albums are available on Spotify.