Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Early Steppenwolf

This album was recorded at a 1967 show without the band’s knowledge while playing as The Sparrow. Not exactly Steppenwolf, but it had Kay, drummer Jerry Edmonton, keyboardist McJohn, songwriter/guitarist Mars Bonfire (then Dennis Edmonton) and eventual Steppenwolf bassist Nick St. Nicholas. So, not much of a stretch to call it “early Steppenwolf”.

Obviously not a documentation of a full set by the band, but it opens with what would become a band staple, “Power Play”, which never went through many changes, other than a later addition of a rockin’ ending section. This is followed by a fairly traditional (and cool) take on Howlin’ Wolf’s “Howlin’ For My Baby”. It shows some good interaction within the group due to playing several sets a night on a regular basis and Bonfire plays some great and creative lead guitar throughout.

Another tune that was not resurrected is John Lee Hooker’s “Goin’ Upstairs”, a blues growler with a terrifically wild fuzz guitar solo, fine harp playing and a Yardbirds/”Psychotic Reaction” styled rave up ending. “Corina, Corina” is very close to the version on the official Live album, possibly because they needed to round out that record and looked to this as filler that, according to Kay, was recorded in the studio with applause added to it. The guys sound like they are on very good “diet pills” during “Tighten Up Your Wig” (also added to the Live album) as it is probably twice as fast as the subsequent take on it, but it is still very hip.

As this show took place in the Bay Area in 1967, where the Sparrow were stationed for a while checking out the scene, the influences of the experimentalism in the San Francisco scene are apparent. This is highlighted in the very psychedelic (and somewhat rambling) intro to “The Pusher”, where the band simply makes noise (they were into avant garde composers at the time, as well) for about 15 minutes before kicking into the tune. Not bad – I like noise more than most people, I think – but certainly not the punchy power-house that the Wolf became. The actual song itself, though, is not wildly different, other than Bonfire’s leads and the missing distinctive guitar nose-dive at the end of the chorus.

I bought this vinyl while Steppenwolf were still in action and I loved it right away. Though it is not as solid as the hit albums, it is fun to see where their ideas were coming from and the different interpretations. Again, not for the casual listener, but excellent for fans!