John Kay - guitar, vocals, harmonica; Michael Monarch - lead guitar; Rushton Moreve - bass; Goldy McJohn - keyboards; Jerry Edmonton - drums
Steppenwolf headlined this second night of a three-night run at the Fillmore West with an early, pre-signed incarnation of Santana opening, followed by The Staple Singers. This performance captures Steppenwolf at a pivotal time, early in their career, as the band was experiencing their first tastes of commercial success from the single off their debut album: the blazing biker anthem "Born To Be Wild." They had recorded but not yet released their second album (which contained the single "Magic Carpet Ride"), and were beginning to perform the more adventurous and experimental material to be included on that album, in addition to staples from their debut LP.
Although this recording does not include Born To Be Wild, it matters little - this is an excellent performance that grabs you and doesn't let go. The band kicks off with a smoking version of "Hoochie Coochie Man." If you didn't know Steppenwolf was a blues band at its core you'll know it after this. Psychedelic blues, perhaps, but blues nonetheless. Next up is "Tighten Up Your Wig," a song that is essentially Junior Wells' "Messin' With The Kid," with new lyrics by Kay. This band was solid; the rhythm section propels this tune, and Kay is excellent on harmonica as well.
Next up is an expanded version of "Your Wall's Too High," a popular track from their first album. After that they slow things down with the introspective "Desperation," before returning to their blues roots with a tasty version of Muddy Waters' classic "Baby Please Don't Go," which Kay played often with his pre-Steppenwolf band, Sparrow. Nearing the end of their set, the band rolls out their cover of Hoyt Axton's anti-hard drug song, "The Pusher." Kay announces at the end of the tune that they'll be taking a short break due to amplifier problems; they return to finish up this recording with an extended blues jam on "Disappointment Number (Unknown)" that segues into "Lost and Found By Trial and Error," then "Hodge Podge, Strained Through A Leslie," and finishes with a hot run through "Resurrection."
In 1968 Steppenwolf had an undeniable flair for creating music that was heavier than the usual AM radio fare, yet transcended those limitations and became hugely popular in both AM and FM radio formats. They were highly original and were one of the pioneers of the "hard rock" that would eventually be known as "heavy metal" - a term, in fact, that was coined directly from the "heavy metal thunder" phrase in the lyrics to "Born To Be Wild."
If you weren't a Steppenwolf fan before listening to this show you will be now.