Chad Smith recalls Will Ferrell Drum-Off and sparring with Ginger Baker

(Image credit: Bob King/Corbis)

It's fair to say that we've seen plenty of Chad Smith in the last week or so.

First, he took on Will Ferrell in a much-hyped drum-off that has since racked up millions of views online, and then yesterday, MusicRadar released the latest in Chad's In Conversation series. That particular clip (recorded last autumn) shows Chad up against an even more formidable opponent than Ferrell as he faces off against Ginger Baker in a hugely uncomfortable 42-minute interview.

Rhythm got on the phone with Chad to get his reaction to these two bruising battles.

Chad, we loved the Drum-Off, although some people seemed surprised that Will mimed his playing. I think some expected a Hollywood star to have spent the last few months relentlessly practising…

"To me, the funny gag was that he is obviously not a drummer so he was going to make a joke of it, because that's what he does. Of course, he was pretending to play, and Questlove was off camera playing live. A lot of people have said, 'Wow, I didn't know Will could play the drums!' It just goes to show that people don't pay attention to the drummer."

It looked like you had a blast up there. How much work went into putting it together?

"It was really fun. We had not met up beforehand. I spoke to him on the phone once. We weren't good friends or anything; it was just for charity because of the physical resemblance we supposedly had. I have to say, it was kind of creepy when I showed up at his dressing room and he looked exactly like me! I was like, 'Man, that's kind of weird. He does look like me.' We were standing backstage getting ready to go on, and this was out of my comfort zone, going on a chat show to talk about a made-up drumming rivalry, and Will turned to me and said that when Jimmy asked us questions, I should be him and he'd be me. I was like, 'OK… sure.' I had to be the straight man, which was difficult because looking at him and the stuff he was saying, making up the jam house, he was making that up on the spot, so I had to not lose it. I couldn't look at him much or I would have cracked up."

We thought your playing had edged it and you should have won the battle.

"I was robbed. I thought my playing was better. I'm a little disappointed. I don't know who was doing the judging, maybe it was Jimmy, his pal from Saturday Night Live. I brought my band; I thought that might help, but once he brought the cowbell out that was it. He was a great sport, and we raised a lot of money for great charities [money raised benefited Little Kids Rock and Cancer For College]. It was really fun playing with The Roots - they're awesome. Drumming with Quest was funky. That was a really nice experience."

You said earlier that no one pays attention to the drummer, but a lot of people have seen the Drum-Off - it's gone all over the world.

"I was totally surprised [by that]. I went out on vacation for the weekend, so when I got on the plane to go home I looked at my phone on YouTube and it had 17 million hits already. It went beyond just drumming. It reminded me of an old Saturday Night Live skit that they used to do. I was just happy to be part of it. I don't know if it's going to end our doppelganger thing - I think it might only fuel the fire. We'll have to have a rematch because I'm not sure that he won."

Have you always been a fan of the classic drum battles?

"I don't see music as a competition. I don't like the whole, 'Who's the fastest? Who's the best?' I think a good drum-off isn't about trying to outplay someone. I'm talking about a real drum-off now with like Ginger Baker, Buddy, Louie Bellson - they would end up playing together; it was more of a trading off than trying to one-up somebody. They can be done very well and can be very musical. As a kid, I loved watching drummers going at it like that. I think Buddy Rich vs Animal was the greatest drum battle of all time - that's my favourite."

We've just watched your In Conversation interview with Ginger Baker…

[Laughs] "I felt sorry for Jay [Bulger]. Ginger, he's a tough cookie to crack. I just find him unique. The drumming part of him stands on his own and what he's done and how important he is to drumming, and then he's this crotchety, bitter old man for the most part. That's what I see, and that's in the [Bulger's Beware Of Mr Baker] film as well."

He's not the easiest of interviewees, is he?

"I couldn't really get anything out of him. He didn't really want to be there; it was a favour. I don't really know why he accepted - I don't know the guy. Like I said in the interview, I hung out with him for two days when we did an event for Rhythm at Shepherd's Bush, but he didn't remember me at all."

You must have been sitting there thinking, "What the hell am I going to ask next?"

"It was uncomfortable. It was like a first date that wasn't going well, and you didn't know what to say. It was ridiculous. That's him, so I appreciate his brutal honesty in what he wants to say and what he thinks. I don't know how long Ginger Baker is going to be around. He'll probably live until he's 100; he'll be one of those guys that should have died 25 years ago. He's obviously very ill, smokes like a chimney. He didn't have the healthiest of lifestyles 30 years ago, but he's still kicking."

That's not even Ginger on a bad day, is it? That's just Ginger.

"That's just him on a Tuesday! You'd think he'd mellow with age, but not really, not yet. And if it hasn't happened yet, then it probably won't."

Watch In Conversation: Chad Smith with Ginger Baker interview here.

Rich Chamberlain

Rich is a teacher, one time Rhythm staff writer and experienced freelance journalist who has interviewed countless revered musicians, engineers, producers and stars for the our world-leading music making portfolio, including such titles as Rhythm, Total Guitar, Guitarist, Guitar World, and MusicRadar. His victims include such luminaries as Ice T, Mark Guilani and Jamie Oliver (the drumming one).