My Setup and Equipment Part 1:
The Early Years
My first drum set was a Rogers Champagne
Sparkle with a 20 BD, 5x14 snare, 8x12 rack tom
and a 16x16 floor tom. The kit was a Christmas
present from my parents in 1965 when I was in
the sixth grade. I had already been taking
lessons for two and a half years, but I only had
a practice pad.
During that time, the
only real drum I played was in the school
concert band, using their snare drum when we
rehearsed and played concerts. Shortly after
that, I got a job delivering newspapers and
saved up the money to buy my first ride cymbal
and hi hats: 14" A Zildjian Hi Hats and a 24" A
Zildjian ride (I still have the ride and
recently used it on the Count's Jam Band
Buddy Rich was my hero and he
was playing Rogers drums at that time, so I was
proud to be playing the same drums the master
played. That kit served me well for many years,
all throughout high school and into my first
year at Berklee in 1972. Unfortunately the kit
was stolen in Boston, along with the car that
the drums were in!
Over the next few
years I had a variety of different kits, from a
Slingerland (once again, the drums Buddy was
currently endorsing), to a Fibes, (one of my new
heroes, Billy Cobham, was playing Fibes), and
Gretch. The Gretsch kit was the hippest; it was
the same as the one Tony Williams used with
Miles and Elvin Jones used at the time: 18 BD,
8x12 rack tom and a 14x14 floor tom.
found a great used 22" K Zildjian cymbal at
Harvey Simon's Drum Shop in Boston completing my
jazz setup -- I was be-boppin' and free-jazzin'!!
I still have that cymbal and used it on the new
Vital Info record, Show 'Em Where You Live. I
also had another Gretsch kit with a 20 BD and
some Pearl concert toms (this was a
configuration that Steve Gadd was using in the
early 70s and was I very into Gadd).
October 1976, I auditioned for Jean-Luc Ponty
and got the gig. For the first tour, I put a kit
together combining drums from my two Gretsch
kits: 20 BD (white), 8x12 (dark stain), 9x13
(white), 14x14 (dark stain), 16x16 (white).
At the end of the tour, Jean-Luc asked me to
buy a large double bass kit "like Billy Cobham,"
to quote him. He didn't think my kit looked cool
(it didn't) and it wasn't powerful enough to
deal with the high volume and energy of that
I remember seeing Bernard Purdie at
a drum clinic at Wurlitzer Music in Boston and
he was playing Sonor drums. I thought they
sounded great and he described in detail how
advanced the hardware and construction of the
equipment was. I tracked down the US
distributor, Charles Alden Music, and in January
1977, purchased my first Sonor kit and they
signed me up with an entry level endorsement.
The configuration was: double 24 BD, 10, 12, 13,
14 rack toms, 16 and 18 floor toms. Now I was
ready to play some high energy fusion!!
had played Zildjian Cymbals from the very
beginning. I grew up only a few miles from the
Zildjian factory and I even visited there when I
was a kid. My first drum teacher, Billy
Flanagan, knew the Zildjian family. I got to
know Armand Zildjian and Lennie DiMuzio in the
mid 70s, when I was playing around the East
Coast with the Lin Biviano Big Band. Lin had
played with Buddy Rich and Maynard Ferguson for
years, and his band was made up of Buddy and
Maynard alumni, so the Zildjian folks were big
supporters of the band. But my official
endorsement with Zildjian didn't start until
1979, after I was a member of Journey for one
I had always used Remo drum heads,
starting with the white Ambassadors moving into
the clear Ambassadors on the toms and bass drum,
by the time I was touring with Ponty.
After I had been playing with Ponty for a few
months I scheduled a meeting with Remo Belli,
the owner of the Remo drum head company. I
wanted to become a Remo endorser, but he told me
to come back in a few years. He laid out the
endorsement game very clearly and I respected
him for it. Remo told me: "It's great that you
have this Jean-Luc Ponty gig right now, but
we're interested in people who will be around
for a while. Come back in a few years, if you're
still recording and touring on an international
level, and then we'll talk." I continued to use
Remo heads and went back to see him in a few
years when I was a member of Journey and he
signed me on as an endorser.
period, I became a Vic Firth stick endorser.
When I was at the Berklee College of Music,
(1972-1976) Vic was already a legend around my
hometown of Boston for his work with the Boston
Symphony Orchestra and his teaching at New
England Conservatory. When the word was out that
he was making sticks, I checked them out and
immediately liked them.
During my years
with Journey (1978-1985), I used the 2B model,
in 1986 when I played with Steps Ahead I moved
to the Harvey Mason Signature model. A year or
two later I used the 5A model until Vic and I
designed my own Steve Smith Signature model in
the early 90s.
During the Journey years,
I played and endorsed DW pedals and have been
using them ever since. Their innovative chain
pedal was perfect for the high energy rock I was
playing with Journey.
Recently I have
become and endorser of Shure Mics and Joe
Porcaro cases, both are very high quality
products that I'm happy to use.
Go to Part II: My
here to return to the top of the