Drummer Tim Smith graduated from Keene, New Hampshire State College with a degree in music education…After graduation - Tim moved to Boston, Mass. where he studied advanced jazz techniques with Alan Dawson for two years, then Bob Gullotti for five. One summer at the Cape Cod Massachusetts Melody Tent, Tim attended a Pearl Bailey concert featuring her husband – the legendary Louie Bellson on drums. Before and after the show Louie spent lots of quality time talking with Tim about drumming and the music business in general. Tim describes the encounter as having made a huge impression on a young kid just getting into his professional playing career.
In 1985, Tim moved to Los Angeles, CA where he began working almost immediately. Tim also landed a gig as a part-time music journalist. He interviewed some of the finest West Coast drummers – including Jeff Porcaro, Pat Mastelotto, Phil Ehart, and Tom Brechtlein. With Tim’s writing gaining notoriety he was asked to interview Chick Corea giving him the unique opportunity to sit just a few feet away from the original Elektric Band. Right there next to Dave Weckl, John Pattitucci, Frank Gambale, and Eric Marienthal. Tim was amazed at “how they could literally read each other’s minds, one of those scary-good experiences.” A little later on he also partnered with Eddie Tuduri (T.R.A.P.) and RimShot Drumsticks.
In 1990, Tim Smith made the move to Nashville, Tennessee. Drummer Bob Mummert was his next-door neighbor. Bob had just gotten the gig with Reba McIntire and had to leave Sweethearts of the Rodeo. Bob recommended Tim for the drum chair…He got the call March 29, 1991 – On the very day his daughter Madison was born. It was going to be difficult being away for three months with ‘Sweethearts’…But Tim couldn’t afford to be out of work while trying to support his young family. A big plus for Tim, however, was playing with guitarist Kenny Vaughn every night. It was a high-level Nashville gig, which led to another great opportunity… Playing with Matraca Berg.
Drummer Harry Stinson (Marty Stuart) was asked to put a band together for singer/songwriter Matraca Berg in the spring of 1990. Harry called Tim and basically told him he was “the guy” he wanted. This strong lineup included session ace Dan Dugmore (James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt), Jody Maphis (son of legendary Joe Maphis) and bassist Rich Neville.
“We opened for Clint Black, Merle Haggard, Hank Williams, Jr, Kenny Rogers, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, George Straight, Diamond Rio, Alan Jackson and many others. Rich and I used to travel on Merle Haggard’s bus sometimes. Merle LOVED to jam, especially on jazz tunes so I’d grab a snare drum & brushes, Rich a bass and off we would go! His guitar player was a guy named Clint Strong and oh, my… What a monster!”
Tim was with Matraca Berg for two tours, lasting about two years, but it wasn’t an overwhelming amount of dates, so he was able to explore some other things. (that’s when the Poco opportunity came around). “Matraca’s music was so cool, and it was such a joy to hear her sing every night. Plus, she’s one of the best writers on the planet!”
Bassist Richard Neville recommended Tim for Poco in late 1991 when the band reformed after a late 1980s reunion tour. Original drummer, George Grantham had left the group to play with Ricky Skaggs.
Tim never had to audition for Poco… Rusty Young hired him on Rich Neville’s recommendation, and it changed everything. “I’ll forever be grateful…and stepping into George Grantham’s shoes to replace him was an honor in itself.”
Richard Neville : “Tim and I played together with Matraca Berg on her solo tour. When that tour ended, I got the call from Rusty Young to tour with Poco. Rusty needed a drummer, so naturally, I talked Tim into doing the tour. We never rehearsed. We hit the ground running. The first couple of shows were shaky, but, as time went on, we became a powerhouse rhythm section that pushed the limits of Poco as a rock band. I am proud of those ten years. Tim and I are still great friends and hopefully we will play together again.”
From 1991 - 2000 - Poco was comprised of:
Rusty Young – pedal steel guitar, banjo, Dobro, guitar, mandolin, vocals
Paul Cotton – guitars, vocals
Richard Neville – bass, vocals
Tim Smith – drums, backing vocals
At the time, most of Poco’s gigs were fly dates, and sometimes by bus… So, Tim usually played on a different set of drums nearly every night.
“Adapt as best you can with the gear provided. I was a DW endorser, so sometimes I got top of the line and sometimes I got Uncle Ted’s K-Mart special with the 2 cracked cymbals he bought in high school that’s been sitting in his attic for 20 years. It was a real adventure some nights, but you just gotta’ roll with it. Many times you’re wicked tired from the rigors of the road, yet the fans are counting on you to play well. They don’t care if you’ve only had 3 hours of sleep, and that very morning you were three time zones away.”
Yet, Tim has absolutely no regrets…He knows how fortunate he was to do something that most people can only dream about. In the nine years Tim was with Poco they played just about every major city in America. They played all fifty states except Hawaii, throughout Canada, and twice to France, including a concert at Euro Disney.
As headliners, co-headliners or openers, Poco shared the stage with America, Pure Prairie League, Firefall, George Thorogood, Dave Mason, Steppenwolf, Edgar Winter, The Beach Boys, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Jefferson Starship w/ Grace Slick, Kansas, and Sonny Landreth.
One of the more unusual gigs was Poco opening for Al Green in Memphis, Tenn. “It was a fun gig and getting to see the Reverend Al was fabulous… But what a mismatch! Both Rich Neville and I stayed after our show in part because the keyboard player was so phenomenal!!” Another remarkable night was playing Charlie Daniels’ Volunteer Jam at the Starwood Amphitheater in Nashville, TN with Little Feat.
“A truly memorable night for me was at the Milwaukee Summerfest. We played just before the Dixie Dregs and Robert Cray. Hearing them was amazing! During our set, we always broke it down where Rusty Young and Paul Cotton grabbed their acoustic guitars and Rich Neville and I stepped up front to sing. We were in the middle of “Crazy Love” when Rusty suddenly stopped. He was looking down at a couple in the front. There was a guy signing the lyrics to his deaf girlfriend. Rusty had security bring them up on stage and we did the song again so the audience could enjoy this moment, too. Very touching… Y’know; it wasn’t a life changing moment or anything, but sometimes it’s the little things that can stay with you the longest.”
“We also played a classic rock series concert one week in Orlando, FL. After the show a Vietnam Veteran in a wheelchair came up to us and told a story of how he was a POW. He sustained quite a lot of injuries and after his rescue spent a number of months in the hospital. He thanked us and said our music kept his spirits up, and really helped keep him alive during some pretty dark days. Man…stuff like that makes it all worthwhile. Music can truly heal.”
When POCO played the Denver, CO area - former Poco founder Richie Furay would sit in. When in Los Angeles, CA - it was usually the same for Jim Messina who was in Poco when the band formed. Headlining at the Taste of Colorado in front of an audience of 60,000 plus – a friend of Paul Cotton’s, Drummer Danny Seraphine of Chicago, was at the show.
“Danny Introduced himself to me not knowing that he was one of my biggest and earliest influences. “He told me I played great!” - A huge thrill, to say the least. A few days later we played a show at a club near Denver and the band that Danny was producing was the opener…and Danny played drums! “A gut-check moment for me indeed!”
Around 1997-98 Tim was asked to join Rusty Young’s new project Four Wheel Drive; which later became the Sky Kings. The group included Young, Pat Simmons (Doobie Brothers), John Cowan (New Grass Revival, Doobie Brothers) and Bill Lloyd (Foster & Lloyd). They opened for the Doobies for an entire summer. Rehearsing at Bruce Cohn’s vineyard (BR Cohn) in Napa Valley for two weeks. Bruce was the Doobie Brother’s manager.
Says Tim, “it was the summer of my life. I was playing in a stupid-good band AND I had my own drum tech! Set up my drums exactly once at the first sound check and that was it. Now, I know other guys have this all the time, but for me, it was a first! We played (naturally) to packed houses (20-30 thousand) every night. The energy of performing for those kinds of numbers was staggering, and very exciting!”
“EVERYthing gets bigger (and better), so there was a different kind of relaxation and focus I needed to employ to play my best. The energy coming from the crowd can literally take your breath away or get you real nervous. You can run out of gas quite easily and stiffen up if you don’t watch it. Learning how to conserve and harness my adrenalin and really slow the moments down was something I learned how to do on that tour. Not slow the tempo; but move to a level of relaxation where you’re totally calm and your muscles are warm so the drumming can flow out of you.”
“That summer was also one of great growth for me, musically and personally. We’ve all played with musicians who seem to be chronic complainers. Seems like something is wrong on every gig. You know, that ole familiarity breeds contempt thing. I made friends with the two Doobie drummers, Keith Knudsen and Michael Hossack. (Sadly, neither one of these guys are with us any longer). In fact, their last song was always “Listen to the Music.” Keith got off the drums to go out front and sing and I would jump up on his kit to play alongside of Michael! I don’t have words to describe what that was like. Their positive attitudes and energy always blew me away…they had been doing this gig for decades! It HAD to have gotten old. So one day I asked them how they came to “figure this thing out” cuz they had it down! For them, it was simple. They got paid for the airport hassles, the plane flights, the late nights, the early mornings, the being away from their families, the no-sleep, the bus rides, the lousy food, the hurry-up-and-wait…so when it came time to perform, they hit the stage and played for free!! WOW! That simple, single moment of revelation and perspective changed my life and attitude to this day. I now try to carry that same philosophy to every gig I play.”
With POCO gigs beginning to slow down – Tim began splitting time between Poco and Brenda Lee…Playing lots of small theaters in Branson, Missouri – similar to the Grand Ole Opry, casinos and private events. “The highlight was of course working with Brenda who was spot-on every night… AND she was the nicest person in the world. I loved that gig…for many reasons.” One of the most profound experiences in Tim’s career was the 3-years he spent in the drum chair next to legendary bass player, and Funk Brother (the late) Bob Babbitt… He was the bass player with Brenda.
“At my audition I didn’t know it was Bob. We played a few songs and took a break. I stood outside with the sax player and he asked me what I thought. It was a really great band and I couldn’t say enough about how good it felt with that bass player.” He said, “you know who that is, don’t you? That’s Bob Babbitt.” I’m like, “THE Bob Babbitt??” And so it began. Playing with Bob was a real turning point in my drumming. His invaluable experience taught me so much about groove, feel and playing in the pocket and what it really means to play for the song. Every night, every song was an opportunity to learn from a master and legend. Bob produced two independent albums and brought me in to play drums. This blew me away. He had a budget and could have hired any A-List player for his projects. Steve Gadd, Kenny Aronoff, Peter Erskine, and Paul Leim – but he asked me... I still don’t believe it.”
“Rich Neville continues to be one my best friends and is still the best bass player I ever worked with. From the day we met, we connected immediately on many levels. He makes it easy. His groove is strong and musical and rhythmically he always challenged and encouraged me to stretch and step out a bit; and I like that. Paul Cotton had the nicest touch and played with such taste, just wonderful. He always managed to surprise me in some way at every performance… brought a smile to my face. And Rusty Young… well…simply the best pedal steel player in the world. I owe him a debt of gratitude. He accepted me into his legendary band on the recommendation and trust of someone else without ever hearing me play. He called me to the studio for many demos of his solo material and brought me in on the Four-Wheel Drive project. At the time, we were both experiencing some challenging personal life issues, so I think that brought us somewhat closer together as well. And even after I left Poco, he called me on a few occasions to fill in for both George Grantham and George Lawrence! What an honor to be in a band (two!!) with him and Rich and Paul.”
“Playing with Poco was a dream realized for me. I loved their music through the years and was thrilled each night to be performing with such amazing musicians. I toured all over this great country and visit other parts of the world, performing for countless music fans. Getting to know a neighborhood full of fabulous musicians (some legendary) from the OTHER bands we played alongside of was pretty special, too. I got to go to the show! I was so blessed to do what most musicians don’t ever get the chance to. Throughout the years and having all these experiences, I have to say it was the music that always stood out. This band MADE me want to come every night with my A-game. It was too good not to.
Some guys spend entire careers thinking they have to be better, faster, and have more chops than everyone else to make it. It’s like a competition somehow. Others dug the fame or the girls or the “look-at-me” and that’s fine, but I never began playing drums and continue to for anything else but the pure joy of it. If you’re serious… The only musician you have to be better than is the one you were yesterday. What gets me was (and still does) the challenge of finding that pocket in every song and let the music bring me somewhere. If that’s not ‘livin’ the dream’ - I don’t know what is. Poco was a thrilling ride; to say the least. And God willing, I’m not done yet!”
In fact, Drummer Tim Smith is far from done…He plays with the renowned Pioneer Valley group Peter J. Newland & Radio X – featuring some of the most talented musicians in Western, Massachusetts… Including John O’Boyle on Bass – Mark Pappas on Guitar – and Ralph Whittle on Keyboards. Tim also works with The John Cantalini Band, and various other groups.
“I first met Tim back when I was in Nashville in the late 90’s and I knew immediately that he was someone I wanted to make a lot of music with. He had mastered the fundamental principals: dynamics (plays soft to loud with the same energy); meter (doesn’t speed up or slow down, his time is locked in); groove (he understands the concept of Rhythm Section and locks in with the bass player, he takes care of the groove first and always) - simplicity (his improvisation is spare and essential), he moves fluidly between styles (critical for me because I write across several genres). He also happens to be a very good singer. So, what is not to love about Tim Smith. The best way to describe Tim’s talent and capabilities is with a quick story. -- We were playing an afternoon gig with another band. We were playing second so they were going to provide the bass rig and drum kit. Tim discussed it with the other drummer and it was decided that Tim would bring his snare drum, snare stand and cymbals and use the other drummer’s kick, toms, high hat and stands. We were scheduled to start at noon. Noon arrived… No band, no bass rig, no drums. 12:15… No band, no bass rig, no drums. Tim set up his snare and got a folding chair…John O’Boyle asked the sound guy to direct line his bass through the PA…We proceeded to play the whole hour and fifteen minute set, exactly as I wrote it…From the funk “Wrapped Up In Love” opener to the hard rock “Livin’ Like an Outlaw” finale… And Tim drove the whole thing WITH A SNARE DRUM!!!”
- Peter J. Newland
Drummer Tim Smith is simply amazing. He plays a large assortment of drums and cymbals along with several other percussion instruments... Such as triangle and woodblock. He must have been born with extra arms, as he still finds time to lower his microphone to add vocals without missing a beat.
- Steve Casto
DW Drums and Hardware
Vic Firth Drumsticks
Link to the Poco Band Scrapbook on their website