Robert writes about rock & pop music, and vinyl record collecting.
In our continuing series about "bird" and "animal" groups and artists in music history, let's explore more group names.
With the distinctive and quintessential biker anthem "Born To Be Wild," the band Steppenwolf created some of the most rock friendly tunes that an entire subculture embraced in the late 1960's. There is also the intrinsic value of the anti-drug song called "The Pusher" (written by Hoyt Axton) and both of these songs were featured in the now cult-classic film "Easy Rider."
Steppenwolf's seminal leader John Kay (always with sunglasses on because he has been legally blind since childhood) joined the burgeoning folk rock crowd while in California (he escaped from East Germany in 1948 with his widowed mother) and appeared on his first record playing the harmonica on a song called "The Frog." He performed all around the country and met future band mate Jerry Edmonton (in New York), who was playing in a Canadian band called The Sparrows. Kay joined the band in 1965 and the group toured and recorded without much success and eventually disbanded. But in 1968, ABC-Dunhill producer Gabriel Mekler prodded Kay to reunite with his band mates and even offered them studio time. Edmonton's brother offered the reunited group a song that he had written (which was the smash hit "Born To Be Wild") and, opposed to reviving the Sparrow name, they called themselves Steppenwolf after the Hermann Hesse novel that Mekler had just finished reading.
John Kay and company also hit pay dirt with an inventive
psychedelic follow-up hit "Magic Carpet Ride" as well as the Top Ten hit "Rock Me." After some minor success after their monster hits, Steppenwolf disbanded in 1972, but alternative versions of the band have toured worldwide. Jon Kay reformed his version in the mid 80's, grinding out tours and some new songs at oldies shows and also adding a classic rock touch to Farm Aid Two and Three. But the group will be forever remembered for the ultimate biker song and their meat and potatoes rock and roll sound.
During the peak of the "bubble gum" era in rock history, Crazy Elephant hit the Top 40 (peaking at number 12) in 1969 with their one hit wonder tune "Gimme, Gimme Good Lovin'." The group was assembled by producers Jerry Kasenetz and Jeff Katz with Robert Spencer of the Cadillacs on lead vocals. A memorable "one hit wonder," the song stayed in the Top 40 Billboard charts for eight weeks.
In 1967, five teen and preteen siblings and their mother hit the Billboard charts with the Top Ten hit "The Rain, The Park And Other Things." A precursor to the Partridge Family (more about them in the next article of the series), the Cowsills also hit the Top Ten with the song "Indian Giver" and secured major success with the theme from the Broadway hit "Hair." With conventional harmonies and a hazy sweetness to their music, this actual family released four Top 40 hits in the late 1960's. Mother, Barbara died in 1985 and three of the brothers and Susan Cowsill reunited and toured and recorded several demos.
In 1991, Susan Cowsill formed the L.A.-based Psycho Sisters with former Bangle Vicki Peterson and together they would eventually join the alternative rock group Continental Drifters. Brother Barry Cowsill worked as a solo act in the 90's and brother Bill would form the band Blue Shadows. In 1994, brothers Bob, John, Paul and sister Susan revived the Cowsills and they contributed a new track to the compilation comeback album called "Yellow Pills, Volume One Global" (released in 1998) which was only available through the Internet. Various siblings occasionally reunite and perform together. Another interesting tidbit is that CD reissues of the Cowsills in concert include a rare EP that was originally recorded for the American Dairy Association.
In the next article, we will delve into some "bird" groups and people that have dotted the musical landscape.
While the band has achieved great success in the music arena, it has yet to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
As the band was named after the novel Der Steppenwolf by German author Hermann Hesse, who was born in the Black Forest town of Calw, the city invited them to come over and play in the International Hermann-Hesse-Festival 2002. The concert drew considerable media coverage, with Kay's fluent German stunning those who did not know beforehand that he grew up in Germany.
Steppenwolf reformed in 1974 with its core linup of Kay, Edmonton, and McJohn, along with longtime bassist Biondo and newcomer Bobby Cochran, Eddie Cochran's nephew. Their first album was Slow Flux which included their last Top-40 hit, "Straight Shootin' Woman."
The band has sold more than 25 million units worldwide, releasing 8 gold albums.
1968 - Steppenwolf
1968 - The Second
1969 - At Your Birthday Party
1969 - Monster
1970 - Steppenwolf 7
1971 - For Ladies Only
After working as a sound engineer for Helen Reddy, Paul left the music industry for a career in construction.
Currently, Bob, Paul and Susan perform several shows per month as The Cowsills, while maintaining their separate lives and careers. In 2007, they toured as part of a package called "The Original Idols Live!"
Both Barry Cowsill and his sister Susan were living in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina struck on August 29, 2005. According to cowsill.com, Susan and her husband left New Orleans and were accounted for, but Barry perished in the disaster on Jan 4, 2006.
Bill Cowsill died on February 17, 2006 in Calgary, Alberta. His death has since been officially listed as due to complications from a variety of ailments that Bill had suffered from for years, including emphysema, osteoporosis and Cushing syndrome.
1967 - The Cowsills
1968 - We Can Fly
1968 - Captain Sad and his Ship of Fools
1969 - The Cowsills in Concert