With all due respect to Virginia transplant Dave Grohl, Matt Cameron is the definitive drummer of the Seattle grunge scene. As the longest-running percussionist for both Soundgarden and Pearl Jam, as well as Temple of the Dog, Cameron has been the steady pulse of Northwestern rock since he moved from San Diego in the mid-‘80s and joined Skin Yard.
With the bombast and precision of a top-shelf metal drummer but a deep knowledge of punk and garage rock and a flair for oddball time signatures, Cameron is the kind of drummer that gets respect across genres and generations. When British electronica stars The Prodigy wanted to conquer America and cross over to rock fans, they sought Cameron out to provide drum loops for 1997’s The Fat of the Land. When Rush frontman Geddy Lee made his first solo album, 2000’s My Favourite Headache, he chose Cameron to occupy the stool usually occupied by the mighty Neil Peart. And when Pearl Jam once again found themselves without a drummer in the late ‘90s, their first call was to Cameron, newly available after the breakup of Soundgarden.
In March, Pearl Jam released Gigaton, the band’s 11th studio album and their sixth with Cameron on drums. In April, Cameron shared “Down the Middle,” a new solo single featuring members of The Melvins and Redd Kross. In anticipation of Cameron’s follow-up to 2017’s solo debut Cavedweller, here’s a look back at 10 of the best songs with Matt Cameron on drums from across his long and varied career.
10. Pearl Jam – “The Fixer”
Pearl Jam’s best lead single of the Cameron era is also the one with the heaviest writing input from him. The guitar riffs came from Cameron’s demo “Need To Know,” featured on the soundtrack to the 2011 documentary Pearl Jam Twenty, while the rest of the band beefed it up with new lyrics and a soaring bridge to become an uncharacteristically snappy three-minute radio jam.
9. Wellwater Conspiracy – “Sleeveless”
During their time as Soundgarden’s rhythm section in the ‘90s, Cameron and Ben Shepherd formed two side projects with ex-Monster Magnet guitarist John McBain. Both bands explored ‘60s influences, with Hater making fuzzy garage rock and Wellwater Conspiracy paying tribute to psych-rock and even covering Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd. Since Cameron’s most often heard playing in expensive studios with big-name bands, it’s a kick to hear his playing captured in a more casual lo-fi environment on early Wellwater Conspiracy songs like “Sleeveless,” which was recorded in the drummer’s basement.
8. Smashing Pumpkins – “For Martha”
It might seem like the brooding downbeat sound of Smashing Pumpkins’ difficult fourth album Adore was a direct result of the 1996 firing of original drummer Jimmy Chamberlin. But even when Billy Corgan did call in another famous powerhouse drummer to play on a track, he featured Cameron on an eight-minute piano ballad. Still, “For Martha” is a moving song of grief, buoyed by Cameron’s patiently restrained performance.
7. Weiss/Cameron/Hill – “Drumgasm”
In 2013, Cameron, Janet Weiss of Sleater-Kinney and Zach Hill of Death Grips released Drumgasm, an album consisting of one 40-minute track of three great drummers just going off in the same room. True to its title, “Drumgasm” is explosive and indulgent, with all three players furiously pummeling their kits in a series of improvisations that were recorded over a weekend and edited into one continuous piece. If you’ve ever wanted the three-drummer percussion breakdown at the end of Soundgarden’s “Head Down” to go on forever, this is the record for you.
6. Soundgarden – “Fresh Tendrils”
Cameron wrote the music for several Soundgarden songs, including minor hits like “Rhinosaur” and “By Crooked Steps.” He also collaborated with Chris Cornell on the lyrics to “Fresh Tendrils,” an underrated deep cut from the band’s 1994 masterpiece Superunknown. With a funky Cameron backbeat and clavinet by Eleven’s Natasha Shneider married to a hauntingly ominous tune, there’s nothing else quite like “Fresh Tendrils” in Soundgarden’s catalog.