Las Vegas Review-Journal: Journey drummer had to relearn his own hits after 32 years

Reprinted from: Las Vegas Review-Journal

Steve Smith tops Modern Drummer magazine polls, conducts drum clinics and, three weeks ago, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But he’s just like you, Mr. Aspiring Drummer, in one sense:

He’s been playing along to Journey albums.

That — as well as careful chart transcriptions — is how Smith caught up to the band he played in during its peak years but left in 1985 to pursue his jazz-fusion muse. (A brief reunion for the 1996 “Trial by Fire” album evaporated before the band could tour.)

“After not playing this music for 32 years, I really didn’t remember my part,” he says. The best way to catch up is to “put the album on and play it front to back.”

Smith was coaxed back to Journey after the June 2015 arrest of longtime drummer Deen Castronovo on domestic-violence charges, a month after Journey’s first Las Vegas residency in May 2015. (The band fired Castronovo that August and he devoted himself to rehab and recovery.)

Smith is not just relearning the hits, but some deep album cuts as well. He says it was his idea to devote the Wednesdays of Journey’s three-week Hard Rock Hotel run to playing the “Escape” and “Frontiers” albums in their entirety. (Fridays and Saturdays through May 20 will be the usual mixed bag.)

Those 1981 and 1983 blockbuster albums include most of the band’s biggest hits, including “Who’s Crying Now,” “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)” and “Don’t Stop Believin’, ” which “at this point is more popular than it was originally,” Smith notes.

But the second side of “Frontiers” was rarely heard in arenas. “There are a couple of tunes we didn’t play ever: ‘Troubled Child’ and the title track (“Frontiers”). “When you only have so much time and we have hit songs, the people want to hear those hit songs. We have to make tough choices, really night after night.”