It’s In The Drums: The Story Behind ‘November Rain’ & The Guns N’ Roses ’91 Song Trilogy
Axl Rose always ends up walkin' in it, Matt Sorum always ends up explainin' it. This is the story behind the Guns N' Roses classic "November Rain" and the often misunderstood repetitive drum fill.
Not like we need the month of November to listen to it but since it is let's listen and discuss the 1991 GNR track "November Rain" from 'Use Your Illusion I'. It's a song that gets better with age and one that has received mostly glowing reviews over the years. I say "mostly" because if there were any criticism it would be regarding drummer Matt Sorum's "BUM, bum...buh-buh, bum!" drum fill done exactly the same way 23 times throughout the 8 minutes and 57 seconds of the song.
I'll admit, when I first heard the song on the radio back in '91 I eventually picked up on the repetition and wondered why. It turns out I wasn't alone. In fact, the first person I ever heard bring it up turned out to be one of the best drummers in the world - Mike Portnoy of Dream Theater.
In 2012 Portnoy posted on Twitter: "November Rain is an all-time classic song...but why on earth did Matt Sorum play the same exact fill every four bars? 23 times, to be exact!"
It wouldn't be long before Sorum himself would respond with: "That fill was Axl's idea as a musical phrase that carried on through the trilogy, Don't Cry and Estranged. Those albums, Use Your Illusion I and II, have sold 20 million combined. Remember kids, drumming isn't all about fancy fills and splash cymbals. Ask Charlie Watts, Ringo and Phil Rudd."
Portnoy got the message and drew the white flag quickly: "Agree! Ringo is one of my greatest heroes. No disrespect meant, bro, just making an observation of that song. Peace!"
Sorum had previously offered up a piece of background information regarding the drum fill by saying it was inspired by Nigel Olsson's work on the Elton John classic "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me" after a late-night discussion with Axl.
Thankfully Sorum cleared the air and explained the method behind the minimalist approach to Sorum's drum fills on "November Rain" as well as "Don't Cry" and "Estranged". Unfortunately it took a bit of a poke from a fellow drummer to get him to explain but it wasn't the first time Sorum has had to respond. He previously admitted that the song is "the track I get the most amount of grief for".
Now that we know the story let's hear the aforementioned trilogy: "November Rain", "Don't Cry" and "Estranged":