Vital Chops by Brad Schlueter
Steve Smith has always been a serious drummer. He has made a careful study his craft, drawing inspiration from the great drummers who came before him. And he has continued to develop his abilities throughout his enviable career. He came to wide attention during his tenure with Journey, and unlike many drummers in radio-friendly bands, he always managed to sneak some clever little twist into the tunes that kept us drummers interested. So Smith, on behalf of those of us who’ve covered Journey’s hits, thanks!
“Don’t Stop Believin’”
Smith created an interesting and somewhat challenging drum part for this inspirational song. Inspired by Terry Bozzio’s approach in his band Group 87, Smith employed similar offbeat cymbal accents and tom hits to create a drum part that’s become a classic. The difficulty many drummers face when playing this part is that Smith played the cymbal bell and tom hits with his right hand while maintaining an unbroken hi-hat pattern with his left hand. The drum part evolves as the song progresses with three subtly different cymbal parts. The first two are defined parts. For the third section, Smith plays more freely and improvises cymbal hits around this basic pattern.
This fill has baffled more drummers than probably any other fill that Smith played with Journey. I’ve seen lots of bands dedicated to the Journey/REO/Styx idiom (what else are you going to play with a castrati lead singer?), and the drummers nearly always change this fill, either because it’s fast, they don’t understand it, or it’s just too difficult. This fill is basically a linear triplet played snare, high tom, low tom and bass drum. The difficulty is that Smith magically fit four of these triplets across just three beats creating a 4:3 polyrhythmic fill. Don’t be scared! It can be counted and learned if you remember to play the snare on every third sixteenth-note (1, the ah of 1, the & of 2, the e of 3), squeeze the other notes in between them and end with a flam. One of the best rock drum fills ever!
I chose this Vital Information tune because I’m a sucker for a funky march, and this tune starts with a tasty but simple one. Smith later switches to a Sambaesque groove with a backbeat that alternates bars of 6/4 and 4/4. He outlines the ending of the 6/4 measures with an extra bass drum on the & of 6 and embellishes the pattern throughout the section.