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Steve Smith: The Journey Never Ends

Groove Analysis

Vital Chops by Brad Schlueter

Steve Smith has always been a serious drummer. He has made a careful study his craft, drawing inspiration from the great drummers who came before him. And he has continued to develop his abilities throughout his enviable career. He came to wide attention during his tenure with Journey, and unlike many drummers in radio-friendly bands, he always managed to sneak some clever little twist into the tunes that kept us drummers interested. So Smith, on behalf of those of us who’ve covered Journey’s hits, thanks!

“Don’t Stop Believin’”
Smith created an interesting and somewhat challenging drum part for this inspirational song. Inspired by Terry Bozzio’s approach in his band Group 87, Smith employed similar offbeat cymbal accents and tom hits to create a drum part that’s become a classic. The difficulty many drummers face when playing this part is that Smith played the cymbal bell and tom hits with his right hand while maintaining an unbroken hi-hat pattern with his left hand. The drum part evolves as the song progresses with three subtly different cymbal parts. The first two are defined parts. For the third section, Smith plays more freely and improvises cymbal hits around this basic pattern.

DRUM! Notation Guide

“Separate Ways”
This fill has baffled more drummers than probably any other fill that Smith played with Journey. I’ve seen lots of bands dedicated to the Journey/REO/Styx idiom (what else are you going to play with a castrati lead singer?), and the drummers nearly always change this fill, either because it’s fast, they don’t understand it, or it’s just too difficult. This fill is basically a linear triplet played snare, high tom, low tom and bass drum. The difficulty is that Smith magically fit four of these triplets across just three beats creating a 4:3 polyrhythmic fill. Don’t be scared! It can be counted and learned if you remember to play the snare on every third sixteenth-note (1, the ah of 1, the & of 2, the e of 3), squeeze the other notes in between them and end with a flam. One of the best rock drum fills ever!

“Island Holiday”

This early Vital Information track features some tasty drum work from Smith, which shouldn’t surprise anyone. The first break begins in the middle of bar three with him playing eighth-note triplets divided into groups of four beginning with a bass drum note that creates an interesting polyrhythmic effect. The second break shows Smith playing quad-type patterns and then switching in the eighth bar to a paradiddle-diddle played between his hands and feet. It may have been played RH RF RH LH RF RF or he may have used a double pedal to split the bass drum notes. The final break is absolutely mind blowing: Basically, Smith plays something like the break in the first line in that he plays eighth-note triplets divided into groups of four beginning with a bass drum. On top of that, he adds a tom note between the bass drum and the first snare and then double strokes the last two notes of each grouping. You may prefer to think of these as a bass drum leading into flammed 5-stroke rolls played in the rhythm of a half-note triplet. That clarifies things, doesn’t it?

“Novato”
I chose this Vital Information tune because I’m a sucker for a funky march, and this tune starts with a tasty but simple one. Smith later switches to a Sambaesque groove with a backbeat that alternates bars of 6/4 and 4/4. He outlines the ending of the 6/4 measures with an extra bass drum on the & of 6 and embellishes the pattern throughout the section.

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