Recording information: American Recording Studios (05/14/1967); Matrix, San Francisco, CA (05/14/1967).
Photographer: Tom Gundelfinger.
Arranger: John Kay.
Finally, BGO completes its Steppenwolf reissue program with this double disc. The second disc is For Ladies Only, which is negligible at best. But it's disc one that counts, with the reemergence of Early Steppenwolf, which was recorded in 1967 at San Francisco's Matrix. The band was actually called the Sparrow when this set was recorded, but the Steppenwolf sound was already in place. Before "Born to Be Wild" and the other hits, this band was a wild, woolly monster, and this set proves that in spades. It contains covers of classic blues tunes -- John Lee Hooker's "I'm Going Upstairs," Howlin' Wolf's "Howlin' for My Darlin'," the traditional "Corrina, Corrina" with the band's own greasy arrangement imprimatur, and Hoyt Axton's "The Pusher." It also features some key originals that would be recorded later in the studio, like "Tighten Up Your Wig" and "Power Play." It is "The Pusher," however, that offers the greatest view of the band at the time. Over 20 minutes in length, it is a wild, scary improvisational jam that never gives up the dark duende groove. Beginning as an experimental sonic tapestry full of rumbling drums, some feedback, and slippery guitar atonalism, it eventually begins to take shape until it roars to life like a great rock & roll beast. The blues come in along with free improv, found sounds, acid-drenched vocals, and yes, rock & roll crunch and thunder to take it out, leaving the band as exhausted as the audience. The sound quality's not great but it's far from dubious. There is so much in this package to enjoy that one will be tempted (rightfully) to forget disc two even exists. ~ Thom Jurek