Since the mid-’70s, Steve Smith’s drumming has enhanced a wide range of albums within the rock, jazz, and fusion genres. Classic hits, jazz-fusion escapades, and even Indian-influenced pursuits adorn the drummer’s discography with artists such as Journey, Jean-Luc Ponty, and Vital Information. We recently asked our social media followers for their favorite drum track from Smith’s diverse career. Popular picks included tons of Journey songs, including “Don’t Stop Believin’” (which took the top spot by one vote), “Where Were You,” “Separate Ways,” “Escape,” and “Line of Fire,” while plenty of other choices included music from the drummer’s extensive jazz and fusion output. Here fans offer insight into their favorite cuts.
I love the way the groove evolves in support of the song “Don’t Stop Believin’.” The pattern between the bell of the cymbal and the toms in the chorus is challenging and so musical. That song wouldn’t work without that exact groove.
I love the complex simplicity of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” and the stadium rockin’ of “Line of Fire,” and I love to play along to “Stone in Love.” “Troubled Child” has a complex time signature that hooks me in.
Also, the first Vital Information album was my initial introduction to fusion as a teenager in the ’80s. I love the tunes “Looks Bad, Feels Good,” “Questionable Arrivals,” and “V.G.” There’s so much to love in Steve’s playing, and he continues to inspire.
Jean-Luc Ponty’s “Enigmatic Ocean, Part 2” was my introduction to fusion drumming. The speed and precision Smith played with seemed unbelievable to a teenage rock drummer like me. I’d never heard anything like it before, and I still listen back to that track today because of the combination of chops and musicality.
My favorite track might be “Mother, Father,” from 1981’s Escape. The drumming matches the emotion of the vocals throughout. Check out the lilt of the ride cymbal during the instrumental parts and the triumphant fills near the end. It’s a thoughtful compositional masterpiece.
“Escape” is probably my favorite Journey tune. The fill Steve plays toward the middle of the song is technically straightforward, but it’s so perfect for the song and executed so well. Steve is always an inspiration.
I absolutely love the feel on Journey’s “After the Fall,” off Frontiers. To me, that’s how a great pop groove should sound. You could dedicate an entire article to breaking down all of Escape and Frontiers—so many cool parts.
Journey’s “Just the Same Way,” from Evolution. I think he’s blending a baião pattern with a staggered disco groove. I also love the triplet-based ghost notes and the deceptively slow, chugging cadence that appears to quote the melody. The master serves all of this up in a short-form pop song. It’s his world—we only listen in it.
On Journey’s “One More,” the second track on 1996’s Trial by Fire, Steve lays down a solid, impressive groove with some inventive bass drumming and energetic, colorful fills near the end.
“Faithfully,” off Journey’s Frontiers. Funny that a drummer with roots so deep in jazz and fusion soil would basically write the book on, and set the standard for, power ballad playing.
“Edge of the Blade,” from Frontiers. Steve lays down a solid groove that really complements Neal Schon’s playing. Near the end, both Steve and Neal are trading licks, and there are some tasty double bass fills. I love playing along to this track.
“Faithfully.” He left everything so open. The fills he does are so simple, but they sound amazing. It just goes to show that you don’t need to be able to play faster than everyone else—just be more creative!
“Escape” is a drummer’s dream tune. There’s a fantastic attitude that jumps out at you. It also features one of the best Steve Smith snare sounds ever recorded. There are amazing fills throughout the track that are almost big band in nature. Check out the roundhouse, high-to-low tom fill that introduces the guitar-crunching, head-banging groove. Inspiration personified!