In 1974 Smith's professional career began in full, at 19 years old, with his tenure in the Lin Biviano Big Band, which he toured and recorded with for the next two years. 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 and recording the album "Enigmatic Ocean" (Atlantic 1977), which also featured guitarist Allan Holdsworth. However, 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. Smith's inventive timekeeping, stadium sized tom-tom fills and deep sense of the groove enabled him to produce some of the most critically acclaimed rock drumming while at the same time propelling the band to much popular success.
In 1985, however, the group began to change their direction and Smith left to pursue his original passion, jazz, and to continue his developing career as a session player. Over the past 15 years, Smith has played on many hits with such diverse artists as Mariah Carey, Bryan Adams, Zucchero, Claudio Baglioni, Tommy Shaw/Jack Blades, Ray Price, and Savage Garden.
Smith began leading his own fusion band Vital Information (currently featuring Tom Coster on Hammond B-3, Frank Gambale on guitar and Baron Browne on bass) in 1983 while still a member of Journey. This powerful ensemble allowed Smith the opportunity to fully develop his uniquely robust drumming style and express his developing concept as a band leader. His explosive solos and intricate timekeeping served to gain him much acclaim from sources such as Modern Drummer Magazine, whose readers voted him the #1 All-Around Drummer five years in a row. Vital Information's '97 release, Where We Come From, was voted Best Contemporary Jazz Recording Of 1998 by the Association For Independent Music.
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 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). Other high profile jazz touring and/or recording gigs that have filled the drummer's schedule include such artists as Ahmad Jamal, Jeff Berlin, Michael Manring, Stanley Clarke, Randy Brecker, Zakir Hussain and the Buddy Rich Big Band, with whom he has performed in many tribute concerts to the late drumming idol. He also rejoined Journey for a short time 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 to drumming students around the world.
Smith's drumming, while always decidedly modern, can best be described as a style that embodies the history of American 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, along with his Vital Information group, is committed to the exploration of improvised music in the uniquely American vein, incorporating styles as diverse as Blues, Jazz, R&B, Funk, Cajun and Pop.
In 1998, Smith began producing and playing on a series of driving electric jazz albums for the Tone Center label with a revolving cast of talented players such as Frank Gambale, Stu Hamm, Tom Coster, Larry Coryell, Jerry Goodman, Howard Levy, Steve Marcus, Scott Henderson and Victor Wooten to name a few.
In 2001 Modern Drummer Magazine named Steve as one of the Top 25 Drummer of All Time, in 2002 he as voted into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame and finally in 2003 his Hudson Music DVD "Steve Smith Drumset Technique - History of the U.S. Beat" was voted #1 Educational DVD of 2003. Also in 2003 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 "Very Live at Ronnie Scott's Set Two."
Steve Smith play Sonor drums, Zildjian cymbals, Vic Firth "Steve Smith" Signature Sticks, Remo Drum Heads, DW Bass Drum Pedals, and puts them all in Porcaro Cases.