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Living his fantasy of playing ZZ Top tunes in a Texas band, Sergei Smet brings his Russian music training to the Hill Country music scene. Photo by Phil Houseal

Currently Sergei Smet drums with Spare Parts every Friday evening from 7 to 11 p.m. at the Y.O. Hotel in Kerrville.


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From Russia with Drums

by Phil Houseal
September 7, 2011


How is it that some drummer from the Ural Mountains can play ZZ Top better than I can?

It might have something to do with the fact that Sergei Smet graduated from a conservatory of music in Russia.

Smet plays drums in local bands, covering country, rock, and jazz tunes for dancers, sitters, and sippers in local lounges. But prior to immigrating to the United States in 1995, Smet performed in orchestras, touring bands, and military bands, and taught music in Russia.

“My story is simple,” he explained. “I just didn’t want to live in Russia anymore.”

Smet spent six years trying to immigrate “anywhere.” The U.S. was not even at the top of his list.

“I was trying to go anywhere - Mexico, Eastern Europe, Western Europe. Nothing worked,” he said. “At that time, to be accepted by the U.S. as a political refuge, you had to be in one of three categories: political dissident, religious refugee, or Jewish. Nothing applied to me.”

There were immigration programs for great athletes and musicians, but Smet “was not that good. There was nothing for drummers.”

Eventually Smet won the green card lottery, and ended up as a pizza delivery boy in California. He also worked multiple jobs as a carpenter, cab driver, and apartment maintenance technician. He got into information technology and moved up to become an international telecommunications administrator. He now lives in Kerrville, working for a medical supply company.

But his greatest joy comes from playing drums.

“I play whatever I can play,” he explained. “My philosophy is that it doesn’t matter where or for whom or what I play, I try to do my best. I don’t like quite a few songs I play now. Who cares? It is my job.”

Smet carries a large notebook to every gig, which is filled with hand scribed notes detailing the drum lines for practically every song that might be requested. He is a precise and disciplined drummer, hitting every flam, roll, and paradiddle of popular music.

(If you handed most drummers a music stand, they’d think it was a stick holder.)

Smet doesn’t consider his music reading that unusual. “There are drummers much better than me that do that. My philosophy is that it doesn’t matter where or for whom or what I play, I try to do my best.”

According to Smet, the Russian system of training musicians is not better than the U.S. - just different. Students who want to study music attend separate schools from those for general education. Piano and violin players start training as young as age 4, while drummers begin at age 10 (to allow coordination to develop). Everyone who studies music must take piano and voice. Basic school is followed by four years at musical college, then - for those who want to get to a high level - five more years at a conservatory. To earn the equivalent of a PhD, some students choose to take an additional two years.

Even with all his credentials and world experience, Smet would rather be nowhere else.

“What is most exciting for me, was, is, and always will be playing Stevie Ray Vaughan and ZZ Top covers in Texas!” he said. “That is real exciting to me. I mean, wow... I can’t believe my luck. I’m from the bottom of the Ural Mountains, and now I am here in Texas playing Texas music. That is great!”