Steve Smith

At Journey’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year, drummer Steve Smith took the opportunity to, as we say, give the drummers some. “My speech was drummer-oriented,” Steve tells Modern Drummer, “as I wanted to be clear about my influences and my drumming concept for Journey’s music.” Here’s what Smith said on the night:

“Rock ’n’ roll means many things to many people, as the diversity of the Class of 2017 clearly Illustrates. I started out in 1963, at nine years old, as a jazz drummer. I thank my parents, Bruce and Lorraine Smith, for finding me an excellent private drum instructor and supporting my musical passion.

“Back then, my favorite bands were the Count Basie Big Band and the Buddy Rich Big Band. It wasn’t until 1969 that I discovered rock ’n’ roll, when my friend Pudge Greenhalgh, from Cape Cod, showed me his brother Dave’s record collection. He played me Jimi Hendrix, Cream, and Led Zeppelin. What I heard was Mitch Mitchell, Ginger Baker, and John Bonham. At that moment I could relate to rock drumming and rock music.

Steve Smith
Journey members Steve Smith, Gregg Rolie, Steve Perry, Neal Schon, Ross Valory, and Jonathan Cain. (Missing: original Journey drummer Aynsley Dunbar, who was giving his speech when this photo was taken.)

“Disc jockey Alan Freed—a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee—once said, ‘Rock ’n’ roll is really swing with a modern name. It began on the levees and plantations, took in folk songs, and featured blues and rhythm.’ He said this in the 1950s. Now that we live in a global community, more influences have been added to, and will be added to, the definition of what is rock ’n’ roll.

“For me, one of the most explosive shifts in musical direction came in 1971 with the creation of the Mahavishnu Orchestra with John McLaughlin, Billy Cobham, Jan Hammer, Jerry Goodman, and Rick Laird. With drummer Billy Cobham, and, a couple years later, Narada Michael Walden stepping in to the Mahavishnu Orchestra, jazz officially rocked! In many ways, that funk-rock, jazz-fusion drumming concept was the template for my work with Journey.

“I’m grateful for my touring with Ronnie Montrose, where we were the support act for Journey in early 1978 and talent scout Neal Schon noticed what I was bringing to rock ’n’ roll. Later that year, Neal, Steve Perry, Gregg Rolie, Ross Valory, and Herbie Herbert invited me to become a Journey band member, and it’s been an educational and rewarding ride!

“Thanks to my children, Ian and Elizabeth, for keeping me in their hearts while I was away on long tours. And very special thanks to my wife, Diane. We have been sharing our lives for the last twenty-four years, I love you dearly. Thanks to Jonathan Cain for the gifted songwriting and Arnel Pineda for keeping the legacy sound of Journey alive and moving forward. And a most important thanks to our fans from around the world that have kept Journey in their hearts and on their stereos.”