When Dave Mustaine tapped Vinnie Colaiuta to drum on Megadeth’s 2004 album The System Has Failed, I was shocked. I knew Colaiuta from his work with Frank Zappa (and also enough jazz fusion records to guarantee my singlehood for life). “What was Mustaine thinking?” I wondered. He could have had any metal drummer that he wanted.

Sting – Saint Augustine in Hell
Frank Zappa – Catholic Girls
Megadeth – Kick the Chair

Now I suspect the answer was mundane: (a) Mustaine was recording in Nashville and wanted good studio musicians (TSHF and Faith Hill’s Cry, also recorded in Nashville, both have Colaiuta on drums as well as Jimmie Lee Sloas on bass and Eric Darken on percussion) and/or (b) Mustaine wanted the best money could buy.

Modern Drummer magazine once called Colaiuta “the greatest drummer of our time.” He is that rare breed who has monster chops, yet utilizes them tastefully. (For two insane stories about his skills, see here and here.) As a result, an incredibly diverse array of musicians have employed him. In the same year he did the Megadeth record, he also played for Diane Schuur, Queen Latifah, James Taylor, and Lindsey Lohan, among others.

Exploring Colaiuta’s mile-long discography can be daunting. If nerdy jazz fusion isn’t your speed, Sting’s Ten Summoner’s Tales is one place to start. In “Saint Augustine in Hell,” Colaiuta plays snares in 7/8 and ride cymbals in 4/4, creating a subtle on-off dynamic. Frank Zappa’s Joe’s Garage is another prime Colaiuta showcase. Not only is “Catholic Girls” funny, it also features Colaiuta’s name in the lyrics. And, of course, there’s the Megadeth record. Colaiuta plays metal as well as any metal drummer out there, with some extra groove and liveliness to give the mediocre material a boost.

Finally, above is a legendary video of a 1989 battle among Colaiuta and drumming greats Dave Weckl and Steve Gadd. Colaiuta is stage right wearing glasses, Weckl is in the middle, and Gadd is stage left. This is some of the best drumming you’ll ever see. At 7:05, Colaiuta even briefly does a blastbeat. Mullets + traditional grip = br00tal!

– Cosmo Lee