Tom Donlinger was born in an industrial, ‘low-end’ section of the south side of Chicago; two blocks from a steel mill. It had a constant incessant hammering day and night that Tom feels could be the reason his timing developed early on.
At the age of 12, Tom would take a train to downtown Chicago every Saturday to study with jazz drummer, Harold Jones. His early music education also came from his older brother Jim (who uses the name James Vincent). He became a successful solo guitarist/singer/songwriter in his own right, with five albums on Columbia and Caribou Records.
Right out of high school, Tom Donlinger toured and recorded two albums with Chess Records’ Rotary Connection, featuring Minnie Ripperton and producers Marshall Chess and Charles Stepney.
Then at the age of 19, Tom joined Aorta, a Columbia Records rock group, replacing Billy Herman. Tom and his new band toured behind two albums doing pop festivals with Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Creedence-Clearwater, and the like.
While recording and touring with Rotary Connection and Aorta, he earned a Bachelor’s of Music degree in Percussion from The American Conservatory of Music in Chicago. He would be the first to tell you it took years to unlearn some of his classical habits.
After a stint with another Columbia group (Cryan’ Shames), Tom Donlinger was invited to relocate to Marin County California to join a Bill Graham backed group, Lovecraft. After an unsuccessful album, Tom moved to Los Angeles to fully ‘embrace’ the music business. He did many projects in his three years there, including Chi Coltrane (a Columbia one-hit wonder) and worked out of numerous studios.
Tom Donlinger was invited back to the San Francisco area to work with a growing music scene that fit his musical tastes. In his first year, Tom worked with Jerry Garcia, Howard Wales, Mike Bloomfield, and Keith and Donna Godchaux (from the Grateful Dead) and James Vincent. At the same time he attended San Francisco State University to finish his Master’s Degree in Percussion Performance.
As things settled down, Tom Donlinger committed a year to touring and recording with Brian Auger, a master B-3 organist. Shortly, thereafter he was invited to audition for Van Morrison; a musical relationship that lasted for five years and five albums. This included working with one of Van’s finest collection of musicians, including Pee Wee Ellis, Mark Isham, and John Allair.
At the end of this period, Tom Donlinger chose to stay ‘in-town’ more and focus on teaching and drum clinics in the area, working out of Drummers Tradition and Just Percussion in Marin County to focus on raising a son and enjoy not sitting in airports and waiting for sound checks.
A few years later, after sensing a need for change, Tom Donlinger moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico for a year, and is now currently in the Denver, Colorado area where he started working on his own African-Brazilian influenced cd geared towards drummer-percussionists, and playing a variety of guest artist venues.
Tom Donlinger's ability to change style from R&B to jazz to fusion to C&W over the years made him a valuable commodity. He successfully worked in four major markets: Chicago, LA, San Francisco, and the Denver area.
Tom Donlinger proved his ability to be flexible and easy to work with, without sacrificing creativity on projects.
Tom Donlinger passed away on April 20 following a long struggle with a terminal illness. He was 63.