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Steppenwolf

Steppenwolf

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Album Review

Steppenwolf entered the studio for their recording debut with a lot of confidence — based on a heavy rehearsal schedule before they ever got signed — and it shows on this album, a surprisingly strong debut album from a tight hard rock outfit who was obviously searching for a hook to hang their sound on. The playing is about as loud and powerful as anything being put out by a major record label in 1968, though John Kay's songwriting needed some development before their in-house repertory would catch up with their sound and musicianship. On this album, the best material came from outside the ranks of the active bandmembers: "Born to Be Wild" by ex-member Mars Bonfire, which became not only a chart-topping high-energy anthem for the counterculture (a status solidified by its use in Dennis Hopper's movie Easy Rider the following year), but coined the phrase heavy metal, thus giving a genre-specific name to the brand of music that the band played (and which was already manifesting itself in the work of bands like Vanilla Fudge and the just-emerging Led Zeppelin); the Don Covay soul cover "Sookie, Sookie," which, as a single by the new group, actually got played on some soul stations until they found out that Steppenwolf was white; two superb homages to Chess Records, in the guise of "Berry Rides Again," written (though "adapted" might be a better word) by Kay based on the work of Chuck Berry, and the Willie Dixon cover "Hoochie Coochie Man"; and Hoyt Axton's "The Pusher," an anti-drug song turned into a pounding six-minute tour de force by the band. The rest, apart from the surprisingly lyrical rock ballad "A Girl I Knew," is by-the-numbers hard rock that lacked much except a framework for their playing; only "The Ostrich" ever comes fully to life among the other originals, but the songs would catch up with the musicianship the next time out.

Biography

Formed: 1967 in Los Angeles, CA

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Led by John Kay (born Joachim Krauledat, April 12, 1944), Steppenwolf's blazing biker anthem "Born to Be Wild" roared out of speakers everywhere in the fiery summer of 1968, John Kay's threatening rasp sounding a mesmerizing call to arms to the counterculture movement rapidly sprouting up nationwide. German immigrant Kay got his professional start in a bluesy Toronto band called Sparrow, recording for Columbia in 1966. After Sparrow disbanded, Kay relocated to the West Coast and formed Steppenwolf,...
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