Chad Smith is everybody’s favourite Will Ferrell lookalike. Aside from looking like the long-lost twin of Hollywood’s favourite funnyman and San Diego’s favourite news anchor, he is one of the best drummers out there. The rhythmic lynchpin of funk-rock heroes Red Hot Chili Peppers, Smith has helped to augment their work over their long and meandering career since their formation way back in 1983.
The strange thing about Chad Smith as a drummer is that while he is widely rated by those in the know, he is certainly overlooked in terms of modern drumming greats. Not only would it be fair to posit that he is one of the most constantly underrated drummers of the modern era, but there’s also an argument to be made that it comes down to his restrained style. Not overly flashy or techy, this is his true majesty. Smith knows exactly what to play and when to play it.
Mixing funk with hard rock, Smith’s style is an unrelenting yet dynamic modus operandi. There are also flecks of jazz and metal that comprise his unique sound, and without Smith, it’s safe to say that Red Hot Chili Peppers would not be the same band. Inspired as much by Neil Peart as he was Buddy Rich, you could even go as far as to label Smith a virtuoso, and if you watch any of the band’s extended live jams, you’ll heed this point.
The other reason one would argue that Smith gets overlooked is that the other two musicians in the band, bassist Flea and guitarist John Frusciante, are both out and out virtuosos, and due to their unmistakable styles, they have established for themselves something a musical cult of personality. Flea is widely hailed as one of the best bassists ever due to his visceral slap style, and Frusciante is credited for his varied but melodic tone and dazzling technical ability. In terms of their own respective fields, both Flea and Frusciante are at the top of their games.
Given that it is the 21st century, which seems to be the age of music revisionism, we think it’s about time that Chad Smith got more plaudits outside of those who are already his unwavering disciples. He is an incredible drummer whose use of ghost notes, when combined with his fast right foot, creates a potent rhythmic force. Many have tried and failed to imitate his technique.
Join us, then, as we list five isolated drum tracks that prove Chad Smith is a total genius. All the extraneous instrumentation is stripped away, so front and centre, you hear clearly just how technically proficient Chad Smith is.
Chad Smith’s 5 best isolated drum tracks:
The 2006 single from the band’s ninth album, Stadium Arcadium, ‘Dani California’ is one of the band’s most instantly recognisable tracks. Even without the iconic music, you can hear it in Smith’s playing. Here, he gives us his equivalent of riffs.
Aside from the groovy 4/4 verse beat, he treats us to some restrained but flair-driven work in the chorus and bridge. Additionally, his snare is nice and loose, giving the track that inherently funk feel that we all love.
One of the band’s best-loved songs, all the musicianship on the track is pure genius. However, one would argue that Smith’s work actually trumps that of his bandmates.
An exercise in the use of ghost notes, this song is one of the best examples of Smith’s subtle style. Grooving but also matching the song’s rather downbeat spirit, Smith’s work on this track shows him to be a drummer who never overcooks the meat.
‘Under The Bridge’
Another classic, ‘Under The Bridge‘, touches on themes of drug addiction, isolation and despondency. Perhaps the band’s most well-known song, there’s the classic guitar part that every intermediate attempts to learn, and Anthony Kiedis’ incredible vocal performance, marking the song out as a crossover hit. However, Smith also shines on the 1992 single, something that is not as commonly discussed.
Strong but also subtle, we’re again given some expert use of ghost notes. It is with Smith where the song’s climax truly lays. It is on this isolated track where you can clearly hear the influence of the big band icon, Buddy Rich.
‘By The Way’
One of the band’s most hard-rocking songs, since its 2002 release, ‘By The Way’ has been a staple of rock and indie clubs everywhere. A song for everyone, it’s a pure delight. Each member of the band shines, and here we get to witness Smith cover every inch of the kit, toms and all.
He gives the verse its thunderous beat, allowing Flea and Frusciante to do their bit on top. Almost a psychedelic rock beat, the isolated track demonstrates just how much of a human metronome Chad Smith is.
‘Give It Away’
‘Give It Away’ is one of the band’s best grooves, there is no denying it. Swaggering and a little unhinged, its genius again lies with Smith. 4/4 but covered in ghost notes, Smith’s part is as funky as it gets. His snare is tighter this time but drenched in some of that warm, roomy reverb, it helps to give the song the psychedelic edge we all love.
There’s also the use of the tambourine, which helps move the song along, giving the groove that constant ‘push’ feel, and allowing Kiedis to do his almost scat-like vocal delivery. The increased use of the double-kick at the end is also a work of subtle mastery.