At that same time he also performed with bebopper Buddy DeFranco and was a member of free-jazz group The Fringe featuring George Garzone. In 1976, Smith began his association with jazz/fusion by joining violinist Jean Luc Ponty’s group and recording the album "Enigmatic Ocean," which also featured guitarist Allan Holdsworth. It was while touring with rocker Ronnie Montrose a year later that Smith was asked to join the popular rock band Journey which brought his playing to the attention of a young rock audience.
With Journey, Smith toured around the world and recorded many successful albums including the immensely popular "Escape" (Columbia 1981) and "Frontiers" (Columbia 1983), both of which garnered the band many Top 40 hits. He occupied the drum chair from late 1978 through mid- 1985. Smith left the band in 1985, but he returned in 1995 for the band's 1996 comeback album, Trial by Fire. In the interim, he played with Journey offshoot The Storm.
He has also worked as a session musician for pop artists such as Mariah Carey, Andrea Bocelli, Elisa, Vasco Rossi, Zucchero, Savage Garden, Bryan Adams,Ray Price, Y&T, Corrado Rustici and Savage Garden, as well as world musicians such as Zakir Hussain and Sandip Burman. Additionally, he has played with various jazz artists including Mike Mainieri's Steps Ahead, Wadada Leo Smith, Tom Coster, Ahmad Jamal, Dave Liebman, Larry Coryell, Victor Wooten, Mike Stern, Randy Brecker, Scott Henderson, Frank Gambale, Stuart Hamm, Dweezil Zappa, Anthony Jackson, Aydın Esen, Torsten de Winkel, George Brooks, Michael Zilber, Steve Marcus, Andy Fusco, Kai Eckhardt, Lee Musiker, Howard Levy, Oteil Burbridge, Jerry Goodman, Tony MacAlpine and Bill Evans.
Smith began leading his own fusion band Steve Smith and Vital Information in 1983 while still a member of Journey. Vital Information's release, "Where We Come From," was voted Best Contemporary Jazz Recording Of 1998 by the Association For Independent Music. The band’s 2007 Hudson Music release, “Vitalization,” has gathered critical acclaim around the world. The album features Steve’s interest and abilities with rhythms from India including the South Indian rhythmic vocal art-form: Konnakol.
Steve is also the bandleader of Steve Smith’s Jazz Legacy, a group carrying on the tradition of many of the great drummer-led jazz bands; communicating with music lovers of all generations, striving for excellence and playing non-compromising, burning, straight-ahead jazz. In 2008 Jazz Legacy released two albums: “Live On Tour Vol. 1” and “Live On Tour Vol. 2.” Steve also tours with a group that is made of up members of both Vital Information and Jazz Legacy. This band is called Steve Smith’s Vital Legacy and plays the music of both groups.
2001 was the year Modern Drummer magazine named Smith as one of the Top 25 Drummers of All Time. The following year, he was voted into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame. In 2003, his Hudson Music DVD Steve Smith Drumset Technique - History of the U.S. Beat was voted the #1 Educational DVD of the year, while in the same year, Smith recorded two albums with Buddy's Buddies, a quintet composed of Buddy Rich alumni, and released two CDs on the Tone Center label. Both were recorded live at the famous London jazz club Ronnie Scott's. They are "Very Live at Ronnie Scott's Set One & Set Two."
Smith has also maintained an extensive touring and recording career, appearing with many jazz luminaries such as Mike Mainieri's group Steps Ahead. This band, which included virtuosos such as Michael Brecker, Richard Bona and Mike Stern, was one of the most successful of the '80s electric jazz groups and Smith contributed greatly to their tight, energetic sound for seven years (1986-1993 and again from 2005-present). Other high profile jazz touring and/or recording gigs that have filled the drummer's schedule include such artists as Ahmad Jamal, Michael Manring, Stanley Clarke, Randy Brecker, Zakir Hussain, George Brooks’ Summit and the Buddy Rich Big Band, with whom he has performed in many tribute concerts to the late drumming idol. He also rejoined Journey in 1996 to record the reunion album "Trial By Fire" (Columbia 1996). Smith's calendar often includes many drum clinics in which he is able to display his phenomenal techniques and concepts to drumming students around the world.
In 1998, Smith began producing and playing on a series of electric jazz albums for the Tone Center label with a revolving cast of talented players including Dave Liebman, Frank Gambale, Stu Hamm, Tom Coster, Larry Coryell, Jerry Goodman, Howard Levy, Steve Marcus, Scott Henderson and Victor Wooten. In 2009 Tone Center release a compilation music called: “The Best Of Steve Smith – The Tone Center Collection.” In 2003, as mentioned above, Steve Smith and Buddy's Buddies -- the Buddy Rich alumni quintet -- released two CDs on the Tone Center label that were record live at the famous London jazz club Ronnie Scott's; "Very Live at Ronnie Scott's Set One and Set Two." In 2004 Steve toured with Soulbop, and all-star group featuring Bill Evans, Randy Brecker, David Kikoski, Victor Bailey and Hiram Bullock. In 2005 the group released a live CD entitled “Soulbop Band Live.”
As a drummer, Steve Smith has worked for, and with, the best. He is consistently pushing the boundaries of creative drumming and constantly expanding his strong musical voice at the top of the international drumming community. As an educator, Smith is both the eternal student and perpetual teacher of the drums. His highly lauded, recently released educational DVDs, “The Art Of Playing With Brushes” and “Drum Legacy – Standing On The Shoulders Of Giants,” are state of the art showcases of his playing and teaching skills. He is one of the few drummer/bandleaders who continues to bring world-class bands to all corners of the globe with a tireless regime of live performances.
Steve Smith uses his own Vic Firth Signature Sticks, which feature an elongated tip with a long shoulder and short taper, 16" long and .555" in diameter.
Steve also uses DW Hardware, Roland Electronics, Shure Microphones, DW Pedals, Puresound Snare Wires and Remo Drumheads.
Smith is primarily a traditional grip player, though he also uses matched grip.
Steve Smith (born on August 21, 1954 in Whitman, Massachusetts) is an American drummer who has worked with hundreds of artists in his career, but is mostly known for being the drummer of the rock band Journey during their peak years of success. Modern Drummer magazine readers voted him the #1 All-Around Drummer five years in a row. In 2001, Modern Drummer named Steve as one of the Top 25 Drummers of All Time, and in 2002 he was voted into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame, and in 2003, Smith was named by Rolling Stone as the thirtieth greatest drummer of all time.
Steve Smith's drumming, while always decidedly modern, can best be described as a style that embodies the history of U.S. music. His original love of rudimental parade drumming is evident in his intricate solos. Likewise, his command of jazz, from New Orleans music, swing, bebop, avant-garde to fusion, is applied with his powerful rock drumming sensibilities and allows him to push the boundaries of all styles to new heights. His musical focus is committed to the exploration of improvised music incorporating styles as diverse as Blues, Jazz, R&B, Funk, Cajun and South Indian Carnatic.