Saturday, October 07, 2006


I liked the idea of doing a Saturday evening rather than the usual Sunday afternoon post so much that I thought I'd do another one this week as well! Unfortunately there ain't as much that I have to write about this time, particularly because I shot my wad on the STRAW DOGS review last go 'round plus frankly I haven't been gobbling up as many Cee-Dee wonders as I would like (though I still am snatching up all the good ol' vinola out there in anticipation of a new turntable and stereo system winging its way to my chimney this upcoming Christmas). So bear with me as I go through a couple of recently-received items that have filled up my senses (for good or bad) a lot more'n any John Denver ode to his flat-chested ex-wife ever could!


It is kind of a shame that, for all of their hit singles and albums not to mention influence on the late-sixties rock scene that Steppenwolf are all but forgotten save for a smattering of aging "classic rock" aficionados plus a few oldies radio tune-ins who hear the same two mega hits ("Born to be Wild" and "Magic Carpet Ride"...not even an occasional "Sookie Sookie" to liven things up!) over and over via some satellite feed. Like Tommy James, these guys were pretty big roost rulers during the not-so-dim days of late-sixties rockism yet for all of their efforts (admittedly mixed affairs which I won't deny) even the more in-tune amongst us seem to poo-poo Steppenwolf into the same wastebasket of pre-punk non-hip offal along with all of that bubblegum stuff which...hey, was a lot better'n most of the dross getting the royal treatment by the "underground" pundits during them days, savvy?

And yeah, I must 'fess up to the fact that for years I TOO was of the opinion that Steppenwolf were for losers only, perhaps because of the over-played "Born to be Wild" which, like the umpteenth play of "Stairway to Heaven" and the Chuck Eddyfied praise bequeathed upon the song, has a million lights flashing "WARNING" inside my brain. And with dozens of local nimnuls out there (who I hadda butt heads with during my early-twenties days) proclaiming to be the voice of the proletariat real working class steel mill hard-living rough and ready types lumping Steppenwolf in with a load of horrid early-eighties slim pickings the likes of Journey and REO Speedwagon (and throw a few Foreigners on the fire for good effect) how can any proud elitist like myself claim to do anything but hate 'em? But then again two things helped sway me from looking at Steppenwolf as yet more FM rock fodder (after all, they gotta play something in between "Close to the Edge" and "Karn Evil 9"!), and those two things were mainly none other than Don Waller and Russell Desmond!

Now I'm not exactly the kinda guy who does a lotta 180-degree switcheroos on the basis of a "rock critic" (please note the quotations, willya?) whom I admire from afar...after all, I've read Tim Ellison for about ten years and although he's one of my fave current writers that don't mean I'm exactly rushing out to buy any From (Of?) Montreal disques as of yet. And another fave of mine, namely Lenny Kaye, used to rail on about the Grateful Dead and even JAMES TAYLOR in the pages of CAVALIER and that didn't make me any more hot to champion either the San Fran burnouts or the introspective wuss! However, I certainly will read almost anything said "critics" (again, please note!) will write about even the dullest of dull musical acts out there, for like in BACK DOOR MAN or DENIM DELINQUENT the writing and presentation of such ideas is so snat that you'll read just about all of it even if you don't particularly care for the wimps being written about!

Waller didn't write his pro-Steppenwolf screed for the old BDM but for the liner notes of one of those eighties Rhino NUGGETS samplers, the one in which "Sookie Sookie" appears and yeah, not being familiar with that song at the time and reading about it via one of my fave writers did help plant the seed of Steppenwolf in my back pages. And what helped bring that seed to primal fruitation was Russell Desmond's Steppenwolf survey in his CAN'T BUY A THRILL #4 from 1978 which, besides a thorough historical rundown of the band with all the tiny minute information being packed with personal recollections and the like, also includes a downright slimy story about the time Desmond and his friend were at a stop-and-rob where they saw some poster plastered in the front window proclaiming that Steppenwolf were playing at some Baton Rouge dive that night, and some Cajun guy with all of his upper teeth missing (who also noticed said poster) began talking with 'em about going to see the show as well! Slowly but surely throughout his conversation with the two fine upstanding young male specimens this Acadian fellow starts tellin' 'em about how he also likes to hang out at gay bars, first saying he just likes to observe the goings on and then telling his agape audience that he only likes to "be performed on" even though he wasn't gay himself, and finally offering his own oral services (remember, no top teeth) to our now totally-grossed out Steppenwolf fans! (Believe me, after reading this saga all agog over the seediness of the thing I was ready to jump into a vat of concentrated Lestoil myself!) The kicker to the story was that Desmond and his friend went to the Steppenwolf concert that night and although they didn't see their French friend in the audience (not that they were lookin'...), they didn't see Steppenwolf either! The group who happened to be performing that very night were in no certain terms a buncha imposters (Desmond thinking that maybe a roadie had usurped the name since he couldn't even find any of the original members [not just lead singer/main focus John Kay] anywhere in sight!), though their attempts to get their money back were nothing less than futile with the manager telling our dejected lads "Of course they're Steppenwolf...see, their name's on the marquee!"

But you can be sure 'n shootin' that it is Steppenwolf on these two disques in question, and I gotta admit that it's sure nice that BGO reissued these platters in a nice twofa fashion even though pairing early, prime Steppenwolf with latterday iffy 'wolf isn't exactly the stuff dreams are made of. EARLY STEPPENWOLF (recorded live at the Matrix in San Francisco March '67) is the clincher and the only reason that I got hold of these platters, mainly because of the unbelievable side-long (using el-pee speak) version of yet one of many Steppenwolf standards, "The (now infamous) Pusher." And yeah, I know that the more "familiar" version of this Hoyt Axton composition (I believe off the STEPPENWOLF LIVE album) is what drove many a punk-minded kid to the wild and barbed-wire strains of Delta Five a quarter-century back, (sheesh, the phrase "tombstones in their eyes" alone is enough to make one grab up all the Rough Trade singles one could get his hands on!), but this "Pusher" is made totally copasetic to many an adventurous ear by the great electronic opening (obviously created under the influence of dope so thank the pusher for "The Pusher"!) that recreates the spirit of early San Francisco a lot better than a hunk of the native bands, and it took some out of town Canadians to do it! With atonal guitar, distorted organ and what sounds like either well-controlled feedback, a theremin or perhaps one of those other noisemankers during the pre-synthesizer days, Steppenwolf (who were still chirping under their old Sparrow moniker) make a heady soundstew of avant-punk that I'm sure would've even impressed the Red Krayola, and although the stories about how the local FM station would play this and the Velvet Underground's "Heroin" simultaneously (!-as recounted by Aral Sezen in the latest WHAT GOES ON) doesn't sound like any real great shakes "The Pusher" is still a winner even with those subpar lyrics which Kay does his best to make his own (and he does!).

The rest of EARLY STEPPENWOLF is a beaut even though this was a tossout from a few years later released only to pump the market with more Steppenwolf product. Frankly this white-kid blues rock sounds very in-tune with a general '67 punk mode (as did a lotta the early-San Fran sound morphing from garage to freak to eventually country commune jams as the decades shifted) at times reminding me of those oft-bootlegged Captain Beefheart San Francisco tracks from roughly the same stratum. And for a throwaway they sure did a fine job here coming off a lot better that most of those seventies live album budget affairs that sounded worse than most bootlegs! After listening to this one, you know that Steppenwolf deserved all the fame they got even though they certainly should have become more than just another nostalgic trip playing to the oldsters at revival shows worldwide.

As far as FOR LADIES ONLY, this one foresakes the metal for settled-down numbers that on first play reminded me of (believe-it-or-not!) Roxy Music's COUNTRY LIFE (an album I adore) without the slick decadant smarm. There's really nothing here to have me recommend this particular one to you, mostly because the whole thing just zooms in one hole and out the other. Kay and company were clearly at the end of their creative juices here (I'd at least like to hear their radical politix elpee where they were ripping off Led Zep on numbers like "Draft Resistor") and gee, even I forget exactly when Steppenwolf started to drop off the National Youth Radar mostly because I was more concerned with comic books at the time, but with albums like this hastening the drop who knows. Still, get this double-set for the live material which is rather nice introverted material for those bedroom-barracaded times most of you loners go through.

Alternative TV-LIVE AT THE RAT CLUB '77 CD (Obsession)

SNIFFIN' GLUE's Mark Perry, like Claude Bessy, Richard Meltzer and a few other peripherals, seemed like one of those punks who was more or less perched on the outer rim of the punk rock "scene" for wont of a better word. Punk in spirit yet with the historical/dark obsessive backbone that many a punk rejected, Perry's Alternative TV never really seemed to fit in with the British media's idea of what all that noise was supposed to be some (like Paul Rambali at NME), they tended to owe more to the Amerigan brand of garage-punk groups from Patti Smith to the Velvet Underground, and it probably wasn't until fellow borderline acts like Wire and Swell Maps were making a big noise (and creating what was unfortunatley known as "post-punk" as if anything after punk was worth a dime) that people could categorize these guys, but for whatever reasons you know that Alternative TV got the short shrift mostly because hardly anyone could pidgeonhole 'em into the right pre-defined perspective that fit into their narrow views of what was supposed to be all hot and roaring in Merrie Olde at the time.

Anyway, this cheap-o live cassette recording made by Genesis P-Orridge of all people at least captures just what it was that was all the worthwhile about Alternative TV, who on one hand sound like the best British equivalent of what was taking place on the Amerigan garage scene while creating the "next logical step" as far as British punkisms would go, pretty much going off on their own tangents all the while. Sound is properly muddy, performances are great in that cheap unrehearsed yet primed way, plus you get a soundtrack snippet taken from the drag queen film that opened for the band (!!!) and to top it off the group does a cover of the Mothers of Invention's "Why Don't You Do Me Right" (the Polydor budget album collection was probably just released)! A fun time was surely had by all, and I gotta say that while I've had trouble sitting through CD collections from the likes of such British punkiods the likes of the Drones and V2 (who seem to have strengthened my prejudices against British punk manyfold---I will continue to listen to 'em for further study of course) I will be playing Alternative TV more often than not which is saying something in these particularly anti-British rock (at least for me?) times!

Claw Hammer-THANK THE HOLDER UPPERS CD (Interscope)

Gee, I wonder why I picked this compact disque up? Seems I read a review of their one single somewhere, but I just can't remember exactly who wrote the thing. Hmmm... Anyway, although the nineties were a particularly dark age for my listening parameters (despite the era being the so-called "Golden Age" of rock fanzines or 'zines as they were called by then although I never saw any great rewards for the fruits of my labor) I remember having a strange admiration for a number of groups who were making then-current rackets out there. Of course there was Monoshock and lessee...well, there was also Claw Hammer, and although frankly I started to tire of their sound mainly because although I tried hard and hard to think it true, the music just didn't have the same ZING! as the stuff which inspired it. However, I gotta say that their great meshing of everything from Captain Beefheart and the Hampton Grease Band to early Blue Oyster Cult, bloozy Rolling Stones and early-eighties Los Angeles street strut sure made for a particularly tastier time for myself than listening to the various "promo packages" that were being winged my way (all of which have dried up in the interim...fortunately!) during my more "active" days of fan-obsessive rock writing.

Anyway, Claw Hammer are so maniacally-inclined on this particular disque that I'm almost ashamed that I erased that radio tape I had of them someone sent me ages back. Sure there's a lotta the early-eighties West Coast sockahoola here that some bloggers may love to death (which, on principle, makes me run the other way), but the almost heavy metal hardness of the music coupled with the crazed vocal attack and the near-Gurley-styled guitar leads certainly don't have ME dumping THANK THE HOLDER UPPERS into the flaccid meat grinder. And yeah, even the "fan" who inspired me to pick this particular platter up is right (oooh, how that hurts!) when he talks about the manic guitar interplay which I know hasn't really been heard since the glory days of Rocket From the Tombs, but still for being a mid-nineties vintage "grunge" (I mean...INTERSCOPE?????) release this sure runs rings around the usual dried-up junkie competition out there. I guess some people were put on earth for a good reason other'n to tick me off!

IN OTHER NEWS...the guy who is pictured on the right, namely one LOU RONE, told me this little factoid a few weeks ago that I thought I should pass onto you. Since I'm a fellow who is always interested in the evolution of songs and styles usually when said song or style is something right up my alley, you can bet that I pay attention when I find out about how some of my favorite songs have originally come about, or how certain hipster bands and songs have radiated genius across the boards influencing bands and songs where you'd lease expect it. Like you already knew that the Rolling Stones copped "Stray Cat Blues" off the early Velvet Underground, and that Rocket From The Tombs got the idea for "Final Solution" from Blue Cheer's "Summertime Blues", right? Well, did you know that none other than Von Lmo (and band) got the song "Be Yourself" by mutating none other than Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love"??? I've yet to do a side-by-side play, but frankly this bitta information does seem mighty interesting, and perhaps something that would add to the myriad theorizings of one Tim Ellison (who could certainly make a huge blogposting outta this simple fact!). Anyway, it's just something I thought I'd pass along to youse in case you're out there in search of even BIGGER thrills!

FINAL NOTE: none other than yours truly had a strange dream last night that I wouldn't exactly relate to you solely on the basis of it being a weird one, only there was a rock & roll angle to it so I will. Somehow amidst the long and drawn-out storyline (where I mingle with relatives as they looked in the distant past amongst other things) I was watching television when I saw a strange film with none other than the Styrene Money Band's "1967" clearly playing on the soundtrack. Anyway, as the song plays on verse-by-verse (the lines about holding it in our arms and in rapture protecting it from harm) I saw a pan of a shot that, as the song went on and on, was repeated clearer and clearer starting with a semi-close up of a cave/primitive man looking at the future with a wild abandon as we see the growth of civilization via various artifacts such as an ancient fertility doll on through various Greek and Roman works of art (busts, paintings) all the way through to the present day. The clinker is, as the song reaches its end (and the screen is crystal clear) we suddenly see some indescribable work of art perched upon a mountain which (as my brain syntaxes were relating to me) represents the pinnacle of man at his creativity and maturity, which explodes as the song strikes its final chord! I can surmise that this dream is symbolic of/perhaps even foretells the end of civilization as we know it or the destruction of the pure man by baser colletivist minions for that matter, but whatever this amazing and relatively vivid dream does have to say it surely tells us...that NY-QUIL does wonders for your nocturnal brain activity!


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

"Draft Resister" is on "Monster".
Agree that Steppenwolf was played out by the time of "For Ladies Only" - that album only has two good songs on it, "Ride With Me" and the title track. I never thought of it as sounding like Roxy Music's "Country Life" at all, I always merely considered the album as a whole to be uninspired.

Anyone comparing John Kay and co. to Foreigner or REO Speedwagon has no idea of what they're talking about - now if one were to compare Steppenwolf to their fellow Great Lakes area soul influenced hard rockers like Grand Funk Railroad. Seger (in that era) or The James Gang they'd be on firmer ground. - Michael Snider

Christopher said...

FOR LADIES ONLY reminded me of COUNTRY LIFE for some odd reason...perhaps its tasteful playing is what did it. Otherwise, both groups naturally couldn't be farther apart. And (in order to defend the working-class hard rockers who lumped Steppenwolf in with the likes of Speedwagon et. al. even though they don't deserve it) maybe they had a slight point as Speedwagon was originally getting some heavy Funk/MC5 (!) comparisons from the likes of Metal Mike Saunders and Lester Bangs, and Steppenwolf's hard rock scrunch in some ways did influence the rather boring eighties stuffed crotch bands pretty much the same way the Stooges were the spiritual forefathers of a lotta lames eighties/nineties aggregates. They (the Stooges) also influenced a load of exemplary bands, something I dunno Steppenwolf could claim to have done themselves.

jymn said...

Dig the Sparrow boots, too!

Christopher said...

Jymn-more information on any Steppenwolf-related bootlegs is GREATLY needed!