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Chadwick “Chad” Gaylord Smith is one of today’s great funk-rock drummers. Chad Smith was born in the same day as the historic rock band Rolling Stones and rhythm and blues (R&B) greats Booker T. & The MG’s. So groove and rock were predestined to be a part of Chad Smith’s life from day one, in one way or another.
Chad Smith was born to Curtis and Joan Smith, and to his two older siblings Bradley and Pamela. Chad Smith began playing drums at the early age of 7, while living with his family in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Chad Smith’s first drum set was made up of discarded Baskin-Robbins containers his dad recovered from the trash. Chad Smith began taking drum lessons while in the 4th grade, and learned how to read music with them. Chad Smith was a traditional grip player at the time. That didn’t last long once he found out he could get a lot more power from his strokes if he used matched grip. Chad Smith loved playing and practicing.
“I was never forced to play the drums, I always wanted to because I loved it. My mom used to come home and I’d be in the basement all day playing, and she’d be flashing the light on and off to stop. [laughs] But if you love music—whatever it is, guitar, bass, drums, keyboards—you must put the work into it.” – Web-Interview to Modern Drummer Magazine.
While growing up, Chad Smith’s love for music was fostered by his brother Brad. Through his record collection, Brad introduced Chad Smith to big rock acts like Led Zeppelin, The Who, Queen, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, Cream, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple. The drumming of guys like John Bonham, Keith Moon, Roger Taylor, Nick Mason, Mitch Mitchell, Ginger Baker, Bill Ward and Ian Paice seeped into Chad Smith’s subconscious as he listened to his favorite artists and played along to their records. Chad Smith couldn’t play like those big names of rock drumming, but he got a lot of enjoyment and inspiration from their music.
The first drummer that made a real big impression on Chad Smith was Ian Paice, after watching Deep Purple’s performance on the television show Don Kirchner’s Rock Concert. Chad Smith and his brother had to sneak up on their mother to watch the show, since she wouldn’t let them stay up to catch it on television. Fooling their mother to watch late-night rock shows weren’t the only occasions Brad and Chad Smith’s worked together. With just 11 years old, Chad Smith was already playing with Brad in the cover band Rockin’ Conspiracy. They performed Doors and Led Zeppelin songs at school dances. Chad Smith’s paring with his brother proved to be an invaluable experience. It enabled him to play with older musicians from whom he learned a lot about music and band playing. Besides Rockin’ Conspiracy, Chad Smith played with bands Tilt and Terence, as well.
During his high school years, Chad Smith hit the club scene in Detroit, Michigan with bands like Pair Of Dice and Northstar. After attending Andover High School, Chad Smith enrolled in Lahser High School where he ultimately graduated in 1980. One of Chad Smith’s most important musical experience came when he began drumming for the band Pharaoh around 1981, and met the band’s percussionist Larry Fratangelo. Chad Smith’s drumming was strongly impacted by Larry, who had worked on previous occasions with Parliament Funkadelic. Throughout the next year, Larry taught Chad Smith how to play funk and taught him how to play dynamically and how to build drum parts for songs. He also introduced Chad Smith to the music of some of the great R&B artists of our time, like Tower Of Power and George Clinton.
“I think up until then, I was a drummer. Once I studied with Larry, I turned into a musician.” – Interview To DRUM! Magazine, August 2011 Issue
Chad Smith’s career as a drummer was not going anywhere fast. He dreamed of hitting it big with a band, but things just weren’t going his way. He recorded the albums Point Of Entry (1982) with Pharaoh and In The Light (1986) with the band Toby Redd. Most of the work Chad Smith and the bands he was playing with were getting, was in the club-scene in Detroit. Eventually, Chad Smith decided to move to a different area of the country to pursue his musical aspirations. Los Angeles, California seemed like the perfect fit for him at the time, since he was sick and tired of cold weather and his brother lived in San Francisco, California. Chad Smith packed his bags and moved to California where he promptly entered a music school.
In 1988, and shortly after arriving at California, Chad Smith learned by a mutual friend that the Red Hot Chili Peppers were auditioning friends of friends in search for a new drummer. At the time, the Red Chili Peppers were kind of a college cult band that sold a few records. Chad Smith wasn’t particularly interested in the band and didn’t know much about them, but since they had a record deal he decided to give it a shot.
“I set up and we started rocking. We just jammed. I didn’t know any of their songs and they didn’t care. There was musical chemistry right off the bat.” – Chad Smith in an interview to Pearl Drums’ website.
The audition went smoothly. The Red Hot Chili Peppers had found their drummer. However, for Chad Smith to enter the band as a full-time member, Anthony Kiedis (vocalist) stipulated that he had to go bold before the following rehearsal. Chad Smith’s look reminded him of Lars Ulrich‘s, which didn’t suit the Red Chili Peppers at all. The following day, Chad Smith showed up with his hair untouched. He was allowed to enter the band, earned a lot of respect from not submitting to Anthony’s wishes, and has since become one of the craziest and funky sounding drummers in the rock music industry.
Chad Smith has recorded 7 studio albums with the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The 1999 album Californication is their best selling album to this date, with over 16 million copies sold worldwide. This album was launched ten years after the Red Hot Chili Peppers breakthrough album Mother’s Milk, which was the first one to feature Chad Smith’s drumming with the Red Hot Chili Peppers and to achieve gold certification. After Chad Smith’s good start with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the band went on to achieve rock-star status with Blood Sugar Sex Magik (1991) and One Hot Minute (1995), which have sold over 15 million and 6,5 millions, respectively.
After a very successful decade with the launch of four four studio albums, the new century seemed very auspicious for the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The first record launched by the Red Hot Chili Peppers in the new millennium was By The Way (2002). They toped the 10 million mark with yet another album, having sold more than 12,5 millions records worldwide. The double album Stadium Arcadium was released in 2006. The album was not as successful, but was able to be sold to more than 8 million people around the world. Chad Smith’s work with Red Hot Chili Peppers has extended to cover and greatest hits albums. In 1998, the Red Hot Chili Peppers released the cover album Under the Covers: Essential Red Hot Chili Peppers. Nineteen ninety-two and 2003 saw the release of two greatest hits compilations, What Hits? and Greatest Hits respectively. These two albums have sold over 6 million copies.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers has been nominated for 64 music awards, 16 of which they have won. The awards they’ve won include: 3 American Music Awards; 1 Billboard Music Award; 1 Brit Award; 7 Grammy Awards and 5 MTV Video Music Awards.
Besides his work with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Chad Smith has recorded drum tracks for various artists’ albums throughout the years. Some of these artists include Kid Rock, Paul Oakenfold, George Clinton, the Dixie Chicks, Johnny Cash, Glenn Hughes, Dave Navarro, and John Frusciante. In 2008, Chad Smith embarked in two side projects of his own, rock supergroup Chickenfoot and instrumental funk-rock band Chad Smith’s Bombastic Meatbats. Chickenfoot’s lineup consists of former Van Halen members Sammy Hagar (vocals) and Michael Anthony (bass), and solo artist Joe Satriani (guitar). Together, these gods of rock have recorded two albums, Chickenfoot in 2009 and Chickenfoot III in 2011. Chad Smith’s Bombastic Meatbats features Jeff Kollman (guitar), Kevin Chown (bass) and Ed Roth (keyboardist). The band has released two album as well: Meet The Meatbats (2009) and More Meat (2010).
In addition, Chad Smith served as a consultant for the 2008 game Guitar Hero World Tour and collaborated with then three-year-old-son’s schoolteacher Leslie Bixler and Dick Van Dyke to write and record The Rhythm Train (2010), a CD worth of music for kids. Chad Smith regularly contributes to various non-profit organizations like MusiCares, Surfers Healing, Right Turn in Boston, children’s Hospitals across the United States and Camp Korey.
Chad Smith is an active member of the educational drumming community. Besides his numerous drum clinics, Chad Smith has given master classes at the Drummer’s Collective in New York and has performed alongside Ian Paice at the 2005 edition of the Modern Drummer Festival. You can review that historic performance with the 3-disc video Modern Drummer Festival 2005. This wasn’t the first time Ian Paice and Chad Smith performed for a DVD. The first time was in 2001 for the DVD Chad Smith & Ian Paice. Chad Smith has released educational products as well. Nineteen ninety-three saw the release of the DVD Chad Smith’s Red Hot Rhythm Method, while in 2008 Chad Smith released the 2-disc Eastern Rim. A book and CD combo with transcriptions from Chad Smith’s Red Hot Rhythm Method was released in 1993 with the same name.
Chad Smith is a long time Pearl Drums endorser, a company that produces his signature snare drum. Chad Smith has also worked with Vater Drumsticks in designing the Chad Smith Funk Blaster signature drumsticks, and with Sabian Cymbals in the design of the Holy China.
Chad Smith is a very influential drummer. His style is mostly a mixture of hard hitting and loud rock, with groovy, tight and driving funk. Like we saw previously, this powerful combination is a blend of Chad Smith’s love for that 60s and 70s classic rock sound, which he jammed along to for fun and for learning purposes during his early formative years, and Larry Fratangelo’s funk teachings. However, it’s not the material that he jammed along to or Larry’s teaching that have made him such a powerhouse.
Chad Smith is known for his incredible feel behind the drum set, and for the way his drum parts gel with the remaining members of the bands he plays with. His flamboyant personality seeps through his drumming creating a very relaxed, energetic and swingy type of playing that lends itself to building a fantastic wall of groove. Chad Smith is all about keeping his drum parts as simple as possible. He plays for the music. To have a better understating of this we have to look at some of the drum parts Chad Smith has created with the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
The verse section of “If You Have To Ask” from Blood Sugar Sex Magik is a great example of Chad Smith’s loose, funky and swingy style. The verses are played with a slight swing feel and with a bunch of ghost notes. The combination of ghost notes with a swing feel and the great interplay between the bass guitar and the bass drum gives this song a thick and fat groove. You’ll notice that Chad Smith’s bass drum strokes emphasize Flea’s bass guitar accents. This is also a good showing of Chad Smith’s approach to building parts that better suit a song. Playing this song as Chad Smith does is a challenge not only because of the slight swing feel but because of the 16th note ghost notes he plays right after the backbeat on counts 2 and 4. If you’re interested in mastering this concept, check the free drum lesson “Intermediate Ghost Notes“.
“Mellowship Slinky in B Major” from Blood Sugar Sex Magik is another great example of Chad Smith’s funky swing feel. Unlike “If You Have To Ask”, mellowship is a full blown swing song. The verse section has straight 8th notes on the hi-hat and the backbeat on counts 2 and 4. The 16th note triplet ghost notes on the snare drum and bass drum strokes is what gives this song such a slinky feel. The grooves for “Mellowship Slinky in B Major” and “If You Have To Ask” are awesome, so be sure you learn how to play them. They are very applicable to hip-hop as well.
The song “Breaking The Girl” from Blood Sugar Sex Magik is in 12/8 time signature and features a tom patterns very similar to that of Mitch Mitchell’s on the song “Manic Depression” by Jimmy Hendrix. Mitch Mitchell is one of Chad Smith’s main influences. So this song is a great showing of how to take parts from some of your favorite drummers and make them your own.
“Charlie” from Stadium Arcadium is a more rock-based tune. Chad Smith’s drum parts for this song go from a very funky and syncopated verse section to a really driving, straight and powerful chorus. As you may be expecting, we’ll be focusing our attention in the verse section. As you listen to this song you’ll notice that the main snare shots are played on count 2 and on the “and” of count 4. The syncopation on the snare drum is used to better complement the bass and guitar parts, which are very broken and syncopated as well. Playing the snare drum on count 4 instead of on the “and” would kill the feel intended for this section of the song. This is a little showing of what we mean when we say Chad Smith plays for the music.
Another cool little nuance that you can pick up from this song is Chad Smith’s “dirty” hi-hat work. The strokes’ dynamics and the pressure on the hi-hat pedal are very irregular throughout the verse section. This actually works very well for this song since it makes the groove even that more dense and fat. Playing consistent and perfect strokes is not always the best option for a song. What matters is the music and not the techniques you use. Technique is a tool to help you express what you want to, when you want to. Always remember that.