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Recording Vitalization, In His Own Words
by Steve Smith


Photo by Scott Kahn

The drumset I used on Vitalization was my “West Coast” kit – a blue stain Sonor Designer kit with thin maple shells. I’ve had these drums for quite a few years; in fact, they are the same drums that are in my Hudson Music DVD, Drumset Technique/History of the U.S. Beat. The drums are all “traditional” sizes: 20x14 bass drum, the rack toms are 8x8, 10x8, 12x8, and the floor toms are 14x14 and 16x16. The bass drum is set up with Remo Powerstroke 3 heads on both sides. There is a Remo muffle against the batter head and a felt strip on the front head, which also has a small hole in it.

I started the session with clear Remo Ambassadors on the top and bottom of the toms but I felt as though they were ringing too much in the small drum booth. By the time we recorded the third tune, I switched to White Coated Ambassadors on the top, and then the toms sounded superb. I used a 12x5 Sonor Designer side-snare to the left of the hi hat on a few of the tunes. As for the main snare, I changed that quite often, depending on the tune. The different main snares that I used on the recording are: 14x4 Sonor Bronze Piccolo, 14x5 Sonor Artist Series “Vintage” snare, 14x5 Jeff Ocheltree Phantom Steel, 14x5.5 Ocheltree Universal Percussion “Heavy Metals,” and a 14x4 Solid which is a one-ply maple drum made by Solid, a now defunct drum company owned by Huey Lewis and the News drummer, Bill Goodwin.
I used the same cymbal set-up for most of the recording, only changing the hi hats on some of the tunes, and it’s basically the same set-up that I use live on tour. I switched between my old K/A 14” hats with a K on top and an A Mastersound on the bottom, and a set of new 13” Hybrids. I used the Hybrids where I wanted a bright, quick sound like on “Get Serious,” “Seven and a Half,” “Groove Time,” and “The Trouble With.”

I used my K/As on all the other tunes because I wanted a warmer, slightly darker and smoother sound.  My main ride is a 22” K Constantinople Hi Bell Dry, to the right of that I have a 20” K Flat Ride, just above that is 19” Hybrid crash, and to my far right is a 22” K Complex ride, which you hear on the recording being used sometimes as a ride and sometimes as a crash. To the left of my main ride, just over my 10” tom, was a 9” Hybrid splash. I used a 19” A Zildjian “Beautiful Baby” ride as a left-side ride, and to the left of that was a 19” Hybrid crash. 

We recorded the album at a studio in Los Angeles, CA called Bob’s Hardware. My engineer, Robert M. (Bob) Biles, likes to use the same Shure mics in the studio that I use live. Beta 98s on the toms, 57s on the snares, Beta 52 on the bass drum and KSM 141’s as overheads and on the hi hats.  We also used a Yamaha Sub-Kick that my friend Russ Miller gave me. The bass drum pedal is my favorite pedal, the DW 9000 Titanium, and I also used a DW hi hat. For most of the tunes, I used my Vic Firth Steve Smith Signature sticks, though I used the Steve Gadd Signature sticks on a couple of the tunes like “The Bottom Line” and “Jimmy Jive.”  On the two “Interwoven Rhythms” pieces I used my Tala Wands (purple) Bamboo 11. 
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