Chad Smith: Early Chili Peppers Licks

One of the funkiest rock drummers around, Chad Smith’s musical, percolating grooves provide the anchor for the Red Hot Chili Peppers. But he also happens to be one very lucky dude. Because unlike many other drummers who struggle to the top along with their bandmates, Smith waltzed into the Chili Peppers in 1989, after the band had paid its dues on the L.A. club scene, released a handful of albums to little acclaim, endured tragedy and loss, and was poised to burst into the mainstream. His first two albums with the band – Mother’s Milk and Blood Sugar Sex Magik – established Smith as a major force in alternative rock. Here are a few examples of his drumming culled from those first two groundbreaking CDs.

“If You Have To Ask”
From Blood Sugar Sex Magik

For this great drum track, Smith uses a swung sixteenth-note feel and ghost notes to keep things funky. For the opening beat, he plays loud backbeats that are followed by much softer snare notes on the e’s of 2 and 4. He constantly varies the pattern in small ways to keep it interesting. Later, a swung two-handed sixteenth-note groove is used to perfectly mesh with the rhythm guitar. There’s a funky drum break at 2:09 that uses open hi-hats on the &’s while Smith moves his right hand back and forth between his hi-hat and snare, which ends with the perfect triplet fill.

DRUM! Notation Guide

“Breaking The Girl”
From Blood Sugar Sex Magik

This funky 12/8 groove owes its inspiration to Jimi Hendrix’s “Manic Depression” with its repeating tom fills that fit seamlessly into the fabric of the song.

{pagebreak}

“Stone Cold Bush”
From Mother’s Milk

Here Smith plays an offbeat hi-hat bark fill in the second bar and then hits on 1e ah 2 & 3 e ah 4 & to accent the rhythm guitar parts. The second kick is repeated, but he plays it more as a beat than a fill during most of the song. The basic groove is fast and busy with lots of bass drum variations. The ending riff shows Smith moving his right hand back and forth between loose hi-hats and snare to create the busier snare pattern.

“Nobody Weird Like Me”
From Mother’s Milk

Smith’s fast and furious groove on “Nobody Weird Like Me” is a triplet-based pattern. It almost sounds like straight triplets played on double bass, but he actually just plays the right foot part of that groove, which creates a 3:2 polyrhythm between his bass and ride cymbal. He ghosts his left hand part between the bass drum notes, creating a lot of motion in this groove. Later, he plays some of the notes as slamming accents, as seen in the second line.

{pagebreak}

“Funky Monks”
From Blood Sugar Sex Magik

On the intro, Smith lays down a funky groove with open hi-hat notes on all the &’s. He straightens out the groove at 1:17, which introduces the sextuplet fill we see in the third line. At 2:30 he plays a very similar fill leading into the breakdown section. Coming out of the breakdown, he plays the fill we see in the fifth line and then plays the &’s on his ride bell with snare accents on the ah of 1 and 4, with other accented snare and ghost notes thrown in as inspiration moved him.

“Higher Ground”
From Mother’s Milk

This remake of the Stevie Wonder classic has an instantly recognizable bass intro courtesy of Flea and a strong snare fill. Smith plays his bass drum on all the quarter-notes to anchor the groove under his shuffle, which helps to keep it more on the rock side of funk.