Jimmy Chamberlin is one of the most influential drummers of the ’90s, best known for his activity with the rock band The Smashing Pumpkins. Some of the drum parts he played with the band of Billy Corgan are remarkable, showing his great knowledge of a great variety of music genres: from jazz to latin and fusion. He mentioned as main influences the music of Duke Ellington, Bill Evans, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, Chick Corea, John Coltrane, and drummers like Buddy Rich, Elvin Jones, Tony Williams, Ian Paice, Dennis Chambers, and Neil Peart.
He recorded 8 studio albums with the Smashing Pumpkins, including their most iconic songs. After the first difficult period, due to the abuse of drugs and a tragic incident during a tour in 1996, he was fired from the band. In 1999 after rehabilitation he was reinstated starting a new life in music. In 2004 he released the debut album of his solo project Jimmy Chamberlin Complex, exploring his jazz and blues influences. Beyond Smashing Pumpkins he played with other bands, side projects, and studio sessions. To name a few: Skysaw, Zwan (a supergroup co-founded with Billy Corgan), Starchildren, The Last Hard Men, Frank Catalano, The Frogs, and Bill Madden. From 2011 to 2015 Jimmy was CEO of a digital and streaming entertainment company called LiveOne Inc.
Jimmy Chamberlin plays Yamaha drums, Istanbul cymbals, Vic Firth sticks, and for the hardware DW Drums. As he stated he doesn’t muffle his drums. About the recording of the album “Zeitgeist” (2007) and the use of click tracks he said to Modern Drummer:
“Seeing people respond to this record has been really interesting. We recorded everything live to tape and we didn’t use click tracks, and we didn’t use Pro Tools. We didn’t do any digital editing at all either, so the drum takes you hear are just me going for it. People really respond to that. They want to hear human beings making music, not a Macintosh G5.” (Modern Drummer, 2007)
This is the drum setup used for the 2007 Smashing Pumpkins Tour.
In the next paragraph, there are 5 songs representative of Jimmy Chamberlin’s drumming for the Smashing Pumpkins (period 1991-1995), a good starting point for further listening.
5) I Am One
Album: Gish (1991)
“Gish” is the debut album by the Smashing Pumpkins, produced by Butch Vig and Billy Corgan. Previously recorded as a demo “I Am One” is the first track of the album, introduced with a majestic drum groove. His drumming style had a huge impact on the sound of the band. As said by Jimmy:
“I was listening to a lot of Tony Williams, Weather Report, and that type of stuff. I think Billy saw in me a vehicle where he could be more progressive and complex. Gish is an embracing of the skillset that he and I had. I hear a lot of maturity in the playing on that record.” (Music Radar, 2017)
The drummer Butch Vig who produced the album had a great influence on the overall sound of the band. Some drum tracks recorded were used and elaborated as drum samples by bands like Depeche Mode and House of Pain.
Album: Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (1995)
“Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness” is the most successful album of the band, that consecrated Jimmy Chamberlin’s drumming to a new level and fame. About the two producers Alan Moulder and Flood, Jimmy Chamberlin said:
“Some things were more difficult than others but when you listened to this stuff you knew why you worked so hard. We worked with Alan Moulder and Flood on this album, and Flood had a totally different opinion of the drummer’s role than Butch, but in the best possible way. Flood challenged me to become something different.” (MusicRadar, 2017)
“Zero” was the first song recorded for “Mellon Collie” and the third single to be released. Jimmy Chamberlin’s drumming here is essential but effective and musical, the quarter notes played on the cymbals make the difference giving the right groove to the song. You can purchase the full drum sheet music here: https://gumroad.com/l/pWLPNO
Album: Gish (1991) – Reissue Bonus CD (2011)
Included on the album “Gish” as a bonus track, “Drown” is a hidden gem. The song has been included on the soundtrack to the 1992 Cameron Crowe film Singles, getting a high exposure on radio stations.
The main groove is played with a jazz approach, using buzz rolls and a syncopated bass drum part. You can purchase the full drum sheet music here: https://gumroad.com/l/qWVRh
2) Tonight, Tonight
Album: Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (1995)
“We knew Tonight, Tonight would be a big song for us. I had wanted to use that kind of orchestral, marching groove and I had that clave hi-hat part in my back pocket from guys like Alex Acuña.” (MusicRadar, 2017)
“Tonight, Tonight” is one of the most beautiful songs by the Smashing Pumpkins for his wonderful music style. The song was written by Billy Corgan and it was the third single of the album, accompanied by an amazing music video. The drum part, especially on the verses, was inspired by Alex Acuña’s drum beat on the Weather Report song “Birdland.” Here’s a clip of the master playing the song during a drum clinic.
1) Geek U.S.A.
Album: Siamese Dream (1993)
A snare drum intro introduces “Geek U.S.A.” one of the most powerful songs by the band of Billy Corgan with heavy drumming by Jimmy Chamberlin. The song is included on the second album “Siamese Dream”, the music style turns into various influences from alternative rock to grunge, heavy metal, and dream pop.
Jimmy Chamberlin mentioned the jazz legend Tony Williams as one of his main influences, for his musicality and open approach to the drums. The adaptation of jazz drumming to rock music and the application of rudiments, in particular paradiddles and flams, is the main aspect of this song. Jimmy Chamberlin’s drumming is the perfect engine of one of the most influential rock bands of the ’90s.
Cover Art Photo @Steve Brazill Photography