PENINSULA PROFILE: Terry Smith, popular drummer

By Diane Urbani de la Paz
Peninsula Daily News

HERE’S A CROSS-SECTION of live-music events — swing, country, blues, R&B — in the Sequim-Port Angeles area, all with Terry Smith on drums.

■   Friday, Aug. 30: The Soulshakers play R&B and blues at the Junction Roadhouse, 242701 U.S. Highway 101, west of Port Angeles.

■   Saturday, Sept. 14: Olympic Express Big Band plays at the Oasis Bar & Grill, 301 E. Washington St., Sequim.

■   Sunday, Sept. 15: The Olympic Express Big Band gives an afternoon concert the James Center for the Performing Arts at Carrie Blake Park, 202 N. Blake Ave., Sequim.

■   Friday, Sept. 27: The HayShakers at Barhop Brewing, 124 W. Railroad Ave., Port Angeles.

■   Saturday, Sept. 28: Haywire plays country at 7 Cedars Casino, 270756 U.S. Highway 101, Blyn.

■   Friday-Sunday, Oct. 11-13: Throughout the Dungeness Crab & Seafood Festival, various rock, country and blues bands play on City Pier.

Peninsula Daily News
PORT ANGELES — You’d have to quit your job to catch all of the concerts Terry Smith plays in.

That’s the joke — with a bit of truth — from bandleader David Jones, one of Smith’s numerous fans.

Smith isn’t the most visible guy in each of these bands. He’s behind the drum set, supplying the groove while the singers belt, the guitarists scream and the horn players blow. And around here, he just might be one of the hardest-working men in show business. Smith is a member of the Olympic Express Big Band; the Soulshakers; Haywire; the HayShakers, Blue Rooster and, on occasion, plays with Chesnut Junction and the Peninsula College Jazz Ensemble.

This summer has been a hot one, with gigs at clubs, festivals, fundraisers — and one mind-expanding trip to the South. But at 56, Smith is the opposite of tired. He fairly vibrates with enthusiasm not only for his own music, but the scene in his adopted hometown.

Jones, a pianist, composer and professor of music at Peninsula College, remembers discovering Smith circa 2008.

“Somebody told me: There’s an awfully good drummer over in Student Services,” Jones said. That’s the campus center where Smith helps students with financial aid, advising appointments, veteran’s benefits and other issues.

As soon as Smith and Jones started playing together, “I was knocked out,” Jones recalled.

“He doesn’t just lay down a beat” with those sticks. “He adds a lot of nice colors.”

Over the past four and a half years, the men have brought a lot of jazz to the college.

There have been times when the ensemble’s regular drummer couldn’t make it, so Jones called Smith 30 minutes before rehearsal. The drummer brought his A game; “there’s this real engine back there,” coming from Smith’s kit.

“When Terry comes in, there’s a little more of a push; a force behind [the music].”

Smith moved to Port Angeles at the start of 2007 to take the Student Services job at Peninsula College. He was apprehensive at first, and not sure if he’d like it here. He’d lived in Gig Harbor while working at Tacoma Community College, played with the band Freddy Pink for five years and earned a degree in business from the University of Washington.

But then Smith joined the Soulshakers, the R&B and blues quintet with singer Cindy Lowder, guitarist Mike Pace, keyboard man Jim Rosand and bassist Duane Wolfe.

That was a turning point. Smith has a deep affinity for R&B, and he found a hand-in-glove fit with this band.

The first few gigs, “everyone loved how it felt,” said Pace. “But we weren’t sure if he would be committed enough to rehearse with us,” since Smith has a full-time job, as well as a son, Jesse, who lives a few hours’ drive away.

It turned out Smith was more than committed. He was like a baseball player who can hit just about anything.

“He can play any style we throw at him, from blues and soul to Latin and reggae,” said Pace.

Smith also plays in the HayShakers, a mashup of the Soulshakers’ Pace and Rosand plus Denny Secord from Haywire.

“We do a different blend of tunes that neither group plays,” said the drummer.

Smith almost shrugs, though, when asked how he came by his versatility. He’s been playing drums for 46 years, since his father bought him a snare drum for his 10th birthday. Learn to play this, his dad said, and I’ll get you a drum set.

“I did. And he did,” said Smith, who went on to play high school dances throughout his teen years in Farmington, N.M. These were the 1970s, and Smith was making good money as a musician.

After graduation, he took off for Chico, Calif., the college town where his best friend also had relocated.

“I wanted to be a rock ’n’ roll star,” Smith quipped. That of course meant scrapping for a living, working odd jobs between gigs with a variety of musicians, including Chico’s beloved blues harmonica man Ralph Shine.

Then a country show band called GunShy invited Smith in full time. The group went out on the road, traveling the western United States and Canada, playing bars in the winter and fairs in the summer. Sometimes they had 28 gigs in 28 days. This went on for more than four years.

And yes, playing the same stuff night after night after night can get to be a grind, Smith said.

Today, his musical life is something completely different. Smith sticks around his small town — and travels widely in other ways.

“I’ll take a jazz approach and throw it into a country song,” he said, “and vice versa.” Whenever Smith sits down at the kit, he brings with him those four decades of listening, learning and interpreting songs.

Linda Dowdell, a pianist, arranger and composer who moved from New York City to Sequim, adores playing with Smith. Both musicians are interested in the wide world of musical styles.

“Terry the Groove King,” Dowdell said, “consciously places himself in musical environments he’s not necessarily familiar with.” And in no time, she added, he’s gliding like a fish in a stream. For Dowdell, “Killing Me Softly” and “Walking After Midnight” are a couple of the songs on which Smith shines.

Jazz at the Schoolhouse, a July concert with Dowdell, bassist Ted Enderle, saxophonist-flutist Craig Buhler and singer Elinore O’Connell, was one of Smith’s numerous summer events. He also played a “barn dance” with Blue Rooster at 7 Cedars Casino, sat in with a group at the Arts in Action festival on City Pier, gigged at the Junction Roadhouse and Barhop Brewing in Port Angeles and the Oasis Bar & Grill in Sequim, and played beside harmonica star Lee Oskar at Sequim’s Lavender in the Park fair.

Oh, and he took a trip — his first — to New Orleans.

“I feel like I’ve been to the mountain,” Smith said, tilting his head back to look at the sky. The music-saturated city “infected my soul.”

He’s primed to stir those Crescent City flavors into his playing. Visiting the cradle of jazz also reminded him of something: He loves to go out and listen to live music. On his nights off back home, Smith has tended to hide out and relax. But in New Orleans, it was: “That’s right! I enjoy being out.”

The musical milieu here in Port Angeles is steadily growing more vibrant, Smith believes. Drive downtown, he said, and it feels different from the way it did a few years ago. Venues such as Barhop Brewing, Bar N9ne and the Next Door gastropub, combined with artists and promoters such as Jeff Tocher and Sarah Tucker are, to his mind, creating a scene.

“I would like to see Port Angeles and Sequim get the recognition that Port Townsend does” for its art and music.

At the same time, Smith is known for his openness to other musicians. Despite his stature, “he’s not one of these players who drives the beat,” said Blue Rooster’s Cort Armstrong.

“He’s got such a light touch,” added Armstrong. “He plays off acoustic instruments so well.”

Steve Lingle, director of the Olympic Express Big Band, noted Smith’s off-stage comportment. “He is a great person to know . . . he is always willing to assist anyone,” said Lingle, a baritone saxophonist.

Olympic Express is “extremely honored and proud to have Terry.”

When asked for some of his favorite music, Smith ticks off a diverse list: with the big band, anything Count Basie; “Congo Square” and “Don’t Tear Us Apart” with the Soulshakers; Stevie Wonder’s “Live in London” album in his headphones while mowing the lawn.

In addition to all of his playing, Smith wants to do more teaching, something he’s preparing for by writing an instruction book. The working title: It’s All about the Groove.

He also enjoys time with his 26-year-old son Jesse, whom he raised on his own.

“He is an incredible drummer,” in a Seattle progressive-rock band called The Ghost Apparatus, and “by day, he is a sous chef at Serious Pie,” the Tom Douglas restaurant in Seattle.

“I could not be more proud of him,” said Smith.

Life and music, right now, are very good — yet complacent isn’t in Smith’s repertoire.

“A lot of my musician brothers and sisters have passed away,” he said. “That has taught me to make the best use of every day.”

During a break in a recent Soulshakers gig at Barhop, Smith circulated through the pub, chatting up the people who were catching their breath after an hour of dancing.

The band was scheduled to quit at 10 p.m., but if people stick around, Smith indicated that the Soulshakers weren’t going anywhere.

“I want to make every note count,” he said.

The drummer understands something a friend once said: “Music isn’t something you do. It’s who you are.”

Last modified: August 24. 2013 6:17PM
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