Steve Smith and The Seattle Drum School: Part One

Artist Focus

Steve is an intellectual heavy weight; a modern renaissance individual.

Look for Steve’s upcoming book, Keys To The City.

Part 1 of 3

Mackncheeze: Who are you?

Steve: I’m Steve Smith. My lot in life is that 34 years ago I started the Seattle Drum School. Most people know me by that achievement and I have had a lot of help building it, including my wife, Kristy, and this amazing staff. I play the drums, I also teach drums.

Mackncheeze: What was your education?

Steve: I earned a Bachelor of Music degree and a Master of Music degree. I have studied with the best people possible. Just had a lesson with Will Kennedy of the Yellow Jackets. Soon to be having a lesson with Peter Erskine from Weather Report.

Mackncheeze: What is your impetus for the Drum School?

Steve: I started formally teaching drums at 14. It seems to be an instinct and a passion. I like to see people grow and be excited about learning.

Mackncheeze: When did you get your first drum set?

Steve: My first drum set was my brother’s, of which he grew tired. It was a 1939 Gretsch kit, a 26 inch bass drum, with calf skin heads, cigarette burns and alcohol stains. I wish I still had that kit.

I was twelve and my brother was a couple of years younger. At seven I was actually playing Hawaiian lap steel guitar. I wanted to play regular guitar but my fingers weren’t big enough. After 2 years I graduated to Spanish Guitar, which was a Lyle Electric. I played that for a couple of years.

I joined the Tri Cities Drum and Bugle Corps in 1970. I fell in love with that. They put me on tenor drum, the ninth tenor drummer out of nine. I think they wanted to get rid of me because I was so bad. The drum was super heavy and I couldn’t play.

I taught myself how to read drum music, asking the snare drummers to teach the first lines of drum cadences. I would just analyze it. I’m good at math so I was able to deduce what meant what.

I didn’t really start to play drum kit till I was 18. I had some technique because I had drum corp training but I couldn’t swing. I learned how to play everything through pure determination, commitment and drive, not understanding proper technique or metronomic time.

Mackncheeze: The Hanford story is great; could you share that?

Steve: I’ve always been intrigued by science, my senior year in high school I got involved with one class. Only eight people could get in to it. You had to work to qualify. Go to school in the morning, study science and math, government and international relations, do studies and research projects, design experiments and run them.

Mackncheeze: You were 17?

Steve: We took one other class beside the curriculum; I took grammar, composition and revue. I’m grateful for the instructor because she taught me how to write.

In the afternoon we would go out and work at Hanford’s Nuclear Research Facility. I would hang out with really smart people in Nuclear Engineering. We did fast reactor dosimetry, materials testing and analysis for parts being used in experimental breeder reactors. One of the people I worked with had taught at Purdue, I could talk to him, he actually sounded like a human, he helped explain things to me.

They hired me full time during summer. That might have continued but a cover band hired me because I was the only drummer they could find. They were very ambitious and went on a hotel tour playing lounges 6 nights a week, paying me 200 to 250 bucks a week plus room and a meal a day. That was more fun than working at Hanford.

Mackncheeze: That was a great gig back then. Today, those gigs barely exist.

Steve: My Mom and my teachers were extremely disappointed in me, fearing I was going to change into an alcoholic lounge lizard. I managed to save $700 a month for one year with the intention of going to college.

I started at Columbia Basin College, trying to play in the jazz band, but better drummers were there that actually swung, so they were nice to me and let me sing in the jazz choir. That was a blessing because I actually learned ear training and how to sing. It’s funny how circumstances can change; where you feel you are being tortured and you end up being grateful.

The next year I went to Central Washington University. It has a very strong music program. I was a music major and took math and science courses to fulfill my requirements. I remember taking a college algebra advanced course and getting 100% on all my tests. The instructor told me to not bother with the final exam because even if I had a zero score, I would still pass with an A plus. I like math, being able to figure something out to the absolute, exact, definitive answer.

End of Part One

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