While Pearl Jam are known as being one of the few 90’s alternative rock bands who kept their act together and never broke up, the band did go through 5 drummers from 1990 to 1998. These drummers contributions were glossed over a bit in a humorous scene in PJ20, so I thought I would dig deeper with an AlternativeNation.net retrospective on Pearl Jam’s drummers, and their contributions to the band’s legacy.
An honorable mention goes to Chris Friel, who drummed on the early instrumental sessions (along with Matt Cameron) that ended up creating the tape that recruited Eddie Vedder to sing for the band.
Krusen was Pearl Jam’s original drummer, playing on Ten and at the band’s early shows, when they were known as Mookie Blaylock. Krusen brought a ‘big’ classic rock drumming sound that is very unique to Ten. Krusen left Pearl Jam in 1991, for reasons he discussed in a 2010 interview on the All That’s Sacred podcast:
“My leaving the band had to do with, they gave me so many opportunities to get it together, they were so nice about it. They never got on my case and sat me down and confronted me, but they always kind of subtly [would say], ‘Take care of yourself, don’t drink too much.’ That kind of thing. They gave me every opportunity in the world, and I just couldn’t stop.
I had so much going on at the time, I had a relationship I was in that wasn’t going well. I was about to have a baby, and I was sticking around to try and ‘do the right thing,’ which ended up not being the right thing. These are things that if you look back when you’re older and you realize, I should have been true to myself, but it’s easier said than done. But at the right time I thought I was doing the right thing, but I wasn’t.”
He added, “I was at the Singles wrap party, and we played a show, and I ended up getting so drunk that we ended up getting in this big melee at the after party. I got in an argument with my girlfriend, which led to a fight with some other guy, which led to the police coming, this is all in Seattle, which led to me disappearing for two days in a blackout. Finally the band get a hold of me and say, ‘You know you’ve got to get some help, because obviously the drinking is so out of control.’
I had a really bad attitude about it, then I finally went you know what you’re right, I’m going to go to rehab. I went to rehab for all the wrong reasons, this was my 2nd time in rehab. I got out and got a call that the band was going to play the RKCNDY, and that there was a plaque to pick up at the office. I ended up going to the show and talking to Kelly Curtis, he asked how rehab went, and I said it was great. I started drinking like a week out of rehab, and the band was doing crazy well, and I was very much in denial. I was probably extremely depressed, but I didn’t even have a clue about what I was feeling, and ignored it, and thought this is the way it goes, and didn’t deal with anything and started drinking again.
Then when I went to the show and Kelly asked how it was going, I said it was going great, I quit drinking, blah blah blah. Probably an hour later I’m getting in a fight with somebody, getting pulled off, totally drunk. I remember the look on his face, he was like Dave, get it together.”
Chamberlain briefly played with Pearl Jam in 1991, with one of his shows being filmed for the “Alive” video. Chamberlain bridged the gap between the Krusen and Abruzzese eras, and while offered a spot in the band he declined since he was burned out from touring for years with Edie Brickell & New Bohemians.
While Matt Cameron is a great fit for Pearl Jam today, Dave Abbruzzese drummed for the band during their absolute artistic prime: the Ten tour, Vs. and Vitalogy. While Abbruzzese wasn’t the band’s original drummer, AlternativeNation.net views him as the band’s ‘classic’ drummer. He drummed with the ferocity of a machine gun on “Go,” the opener to Vs. that he primarily wrote the music to. The outro to “Go” is arguably one of the greatest drumming moments in Pearl Jam history.
There is a certain power to Abbruzzese’s playing in Pearl Jam that elevates the band’s heavy side, seemingly pushing them to the absolute edge. Abbruzzese was fired from the band in 1994 for reasons that fans debate to this day, including reportedly disagreeing with the Ticketmaster boycott, and even a story that Eddie Vedder didn’t like that Abbruzzese appeared on a magazine cover. Abbruzzese discussed his firing in an interview with In Music We Trust, “The only thing that could have maybe been perceived that way was that I didn’t have a problem being successful. I don’t think that’s a star trip, that was just me saying out loud – wow all the things I ever dreamed about happening are happening and this is a really fucking great thing, and not being afraid to say that.
He added, “But you know, when I first got fired and I was getting those questions, was it a star trip blah blah blah, it actually really hurt my feelings a lot. It was like fuuuuck, what the fuck is that all about?….Just because it was so far from that. I felt so incredibly far away from that idea.”
Abbruzzese is definitely one of the 90’s most underrated drummers, with his contributions largely being overlooked in the otherwise fantastic PJ20.
After getting Eddie Vedder the demo tape that would get him in the band in 1990, Jack Irons joined Pearl Jam right as the band were putting the finish touches on Vitalogy in 1994. Irons brought a garage rock sensibility to the band that definitely fit the loose experimental sound the band had during the No Code era. Irons also drummed on one of Pearl Jam’s best albums: Yield. Irons got to show of his diversity on the album’s epic tracks like “Given to Fly” and “In Hiding.” He left Pearl Jam in 1998 after growing tired of touring.
Pearl Jam’s current and longest tenured drummer entered the band in 1998, after they had already recorded their landmark albums, a challenging task for any drummer, even one of the greatest drummers of the 1990’s. Cameron’s first Pearl Jam record was by far their most experimental work yet, Binaural. The dreamy “Sleight of Hand” and southern tinged “Thin Air” featured a completely different rhythmic side of Cameron, who had largely played heavy hard rocks tracks with Soundgarden.
Cameron continued to explore different aspects of his playing on subsequent albums like Riot Act and Pearl Jam. While Cameron has recorded great material with Pearl Jam, arguably his greatest contribution to the band has been to the band’s live show. Pearl Jam play some of the most extensive setlists of any touring band out there today, and Cameron is able to make past material he didn’t originally play on feel like his own.