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Steve Smith Remembers Drumming with Ronnie Montrose

Steve Smith via Facebook

Former Journey drummer Steve Smith reunited on stage with his one-time bandmate Neal Schon for an all-star tribute to the life of Ronnie Montrose last Friday.

And in a new interview, Smith recalls drumming for Montrose in 1978 on the tour for ‘Open Fire,’ where the band was supporting Journey — the outfit Smith would eventually join — and a little group you may have heard of called Van Halen.

“We were on a package tour of the USA that was Journey’s first headline tour, they had just released ‘Infinity,’” Smith said. “The opening act was Van Halen, it was their very first time on tour ever. The middle act was Ronnie Montrose with me on drums.”

As Smith remembers, the touring set up some interesting levels of competition between the three groups.

“I think Ronnie was under pressure to perform because the show featured some pretty amazing guitar playing,” Smith recalled. “Eddie Van Halen had just arrived on the scene and he was blowing everyone away with his virtuosity and new ideas on how to play the guitar.”

“Neal Schon similarly came on the scene in the early ’70s when both Clapton and Santana asked him to join their bands — and Neal went with Santana at 16 years old,” Smith added. “I think he blew people’s minds in those days. Ronnie had also come on the scene with Edgar Winter in the early ’70s and had blown some minds, too!”

Smith continued, “There was a lot of ‘guitar hero’ energy on that tour and Ronnie wanted to get on stage and kick ass. We followed Van Halen, and we wanted to make it hard for Journey to follow us. There was friendly, but fierce, competition on that tour, with each group was trying to outplay the other.”

Of Montrose as a player, Smith says that his “sound was huge” and that he “really learned a lot from Ronnie about constructing a strong set and presenting instrumental music in a way that communicated to a large audience.”

The onstage reunion with Schon has some prior context – the pair have been working on tracks for Schon’s forthcoming solo album. Schon invited Smith to play on four songs, and things went so well that Smith ended up drumming on 11 tracks instead.

Schon is certainly keeping busy – he’s set to appear with girlfriend Michaele Salahi at an upcoming event designed to teach celebrity wanna-bes how they can become reality show stars.

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