By Linda Dillman
The music flows in Canal Winchester Water Reclamation Superintendent Steve Smith.
Smith’s second career as a musician started in 1979 and continues today as part of the 3 Cat Day trio playing singalong favorites.
“My older sister and brother were big music fans,” said Smith, who grew up watching the Beatles and other acts on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
He said his sister loved the Motown sound and my brother enjoyed the more pop/rock tunes. His parents liked the big band/Sinatra/Dean Martin music as well.
“I still stop by The Top restaurant in Bexley from time to time to sing a song or two from that era with Sonia Motz,” said Smith. “So music has always been in the forefront of my life. I began playing trumpet in fifth grade, harmonica in sixth, and switched to tuba in seventh grade. I was 20 before I took up guitar, 25 for drums, 28 for mandolin and over 40 for piano.”
When Smith started watching musicians—some of whom he went to school with—play at bars on the local music scene, he knew it was something he wanted to do. He dedicated himself to honing his skills, starting with a jam band in 1979 and performing in solo acts, duos, trios and six member groups.
“My first show was a high school grad party in 1979 at the Hilton at Hamilton and I-70,” said Smith. “That spurred me to get a group going the following year and we played proms, parties and the bar scene around Central Ohio and on campus.”
He said one of his funniest memories is an overnight road trip in 1982.
“We were to play the prom and after-event in Beverly, Ohio,” said Smith. “On the way down, we pulled our rental box truck and cars into a local Dairy Hut. We all got food and set down together to eat on a shiny new red picnic table. When we got up, we were all covered in red paint, as they had just painted the table and neglected to put any sign on it.”
In 1990, as a member of the band Absolute Threshold, the group got a radio spot on CD101 and released a CD. From 1991-96, as a member of the rock-and-roll quartet Bradford Power Company, he played Red, White and Boom several times. The band made a live CD of one of the performances and released an EP cassette.
From1996 to 2017 he was in The Signal, a rock quintet, then quartet that also released a CD, headlined Red, White and Boom for several years and did a spot on a local TV morning show where they played live throughout the broadcast.
“The studio was in the Leveque Tower, which was really cool,” said Smith, who became a member of 3 Cat Day in 2012.
With the introduction of MTV, Smith said the local music scene changed. Changes in liquor and smoking laws also changed the music scene in the early 1980s and 1990s.
“It took a while to build it up again,” said Smith. “And as we get older, we find one thing most interesting – our older crowds love the nostalgia music. They’ll listen to a few newer tunes, but not too many. The younger folks have a love for some of the older tunes as well—like ‘Sweet Caroline,’ but everyone seems to want a song they can either dance to or sing along with. That’s what the group I am in now focuses on. “
He said the best change through the years is technology.
“We used to use so much power to run our lights and PA system and they blew up constantly,” said Smith. “Now with digital technology and LED lighting, we’re a quarter as heavy equipment-wise, use a 10th of the power and have greater reliability.”
Managing a day job with a musical career is not easy and takes planning, but the two have never interfered with each other. Smith has never missed a show due to work or had music get in the way of his job for nearly 40 years.
“All the experience I’ve had with sound reinforcement while on the road has translated to savings for the city as I was able to design and install—with good help from our IT Department—PA systems in our community center, Train Depot, our town hall and our community pool, saving over 50 percent on those installation costs as well as being able to do tech support on those systems as part of my job here,” said Smith.
Playing in 3 Cat Day keeps him close to his eldest son, Jordan, who is a member of the band and also followed in his father’s day career footsteps in the utility business in Licking County. The group plans on multiple performances in the Buckeye Lake area this year, as well as area Moose and service clubs, festivals including Canal Winchester’s Labor Day event, local clubs, private parties and weddings.
Smith said his favorite thing is hearing from the people who come out to see the trio say how much fun they had and that 3 Cat Day played so many of their favorite songs.
“So, for a little while, we make their lives a little better. Kind of like the utility business, only a little more up front,” said Smith. “There’s so much talent in central Ohio that I always consider it a privilege to play for our audiences and I am appreciative that they come out to see us, with all the variety of choices they could choose for their entertainment. Even after all these years, there still is a little magic in figuring out a song and learning to play it. That never gets old.”