The recording sessions for "At Your Birthday Party" started to show the wear and tear of the road on all of us. In addition, some band members for the first time, tried their hand at songwriting and I had run out of tunes to contribute. This album nevertheless includes some of my favorite Steppenwolf tracks such as "Happy Birthday", "Jupiter's Child" and "Rock Me". Nick St. Nicholas (who had replaced our original bassist Rushton Moreve) had an idea for a song titled "It's Never Too Late", which triggered me to work out the rest of the song. That one is an all time favorite of mine. Gabriel Mekler (our Producer) had his hands full trying to be fair to all band members and stay neutral to allow us to work out the difficulties on our own. The fact that the song "Rock Me" (which had been written for the soundtrack of the motion picture "Candy") had already been a hit single before it was included in the "Birthday album" may have reduced the impact of the album because the initial sales of the LP were not what we had hoped for, although over the years, it became quite popular with many of our fans.
Before Steppenwolf was formed in 1967 several of it's members had been in the Canadian rock band known as the "Sparrow". The Sparrow had migrated from Toronto, to New York City to Los Angeles, and finally to the San Francisco bay area. Amongst various venues there, which included the Avalon and Fillmore ballrooms, the Sparrow played a club called the Matrix. In 1966, unbeknownst to the group, the club manager recorded a couple of the Sparrow shows. These recordings were released by ABC Dunhill in 1969 because we were busy touring and were not ready for the next studio album. While the recording quality of the "Early Steppenwolf" is not state of the art, it nevertheless contained some good blues covers and what is truly a collectors item, a 20 minute experimental version of "The Pusher.
Before Steppenwolf hit with "Born to Be Wild," there was a blues band out of Canada called the Sparrow. Not only is the future growl of John Kay subdued on this record, so are the bellowing sounds that became organist Goldy McJohn's trademark. The John Kay composition "King Pin" has an almost jazz piano playing against the harp. With drummer Jerry Edmonton, McJohn, and Kay, this is three-fifths Steppenwolf, and it comes off as Steppenwolf lite. Guitarist Dennis Edmonton, the drummer's brother, composes or co-writes five of the songs, where John Kay wrote four. Dennis Edmonton's "Chasin' Shadows" is psychedelic pop, very British sounding, and gives indications of the trippy style he would develop. When he left the band he became Mars Bonfire and penned "Born to Be Wild,," released on his own CBS album Faster Than the Speed of Life. "Green Bottle Lover," written by both Edmonton brothers, is even more psychedelic and rocking. The liner notes are terrible, giving little information about this historic disc, leaving it to the music. Where John Kay's "Twisted" starts off the festivities with the boogie-woogie blues that seems indicative of the Sparrow, the final track, "Isn't It Strange" by St. Nicholas and Dennis Edmonton, goes full throttle with the psychedelia. A very interesting collection of sounds exhibiting two musical sides, only hinting at what they would develop when they hooked up with producer Gabriel Mekler to eventually crank out about a half a dozen Top 40 hits on Dunhill. ~ Joe Viglione, All Music Guide
"Steppenwolf" was first recorded at United/Western Studio's in Los Angeles. We didn't care for the results at all. Through my friend Morgan Cavett, we discovered The American Recording Studio, with engineers Richard Podolor and Bill Cooper. Everything fit together. They, along with Gabriel Mekler our producer made for some very exciting recording sessions. We were knocked out by what we heard. It was everything we hoped for. We recorded onto an eight track machine through a tube board using a live echo chamber that Richie and Bill had built, which was one of the best live chambers in Los Angeles at that time. We recorded seven songs the first day and four more the next. The majority of the vocals were recorded on the third day and the album was mixed on day four. The entire album cost around $9,000.00 to make. We thought it sounded pretty damn good and in my opinion it still holds up to this day. Someone once said, "You have your entire life to get ready for the first album, and no time for the next one". That was certainly true in our case.
"The Second" was a record full of experimentation. It was started a few short months after the first album was released. At that time we were contractually obligated to record two albums a year. That pressure, along with our greatly increased touring schedule, TV show appearances, etc, quickly had us behind schedule. We had a number of songs that had not made their way on the first album, plus some new tunes I had written or co-written with Gabriel Mekler. Mars Bonfire, who had contributed “Born To Be Wild” to the first album brought us “Faster Than The Speed of Life”, which Jerry Edmonton (our drummer) sang. Since Mars was at the studio to show us his new song, he wound up playing rhythm guitar on “Magic Carpet Ride”. Among the things that stand out the most about these sessions were that “Don’t Step On The Grass Sam”, was a whole lot of fun to record and of course “Magic Carpet Ride” with all it’s experimentation in the instrumental section of the tune. Other favorites of mine are “None of Your Doing” and the blues suite on side two, “Disappointment Number Unknown” which comprised most of side two of the original vinyl release. Recording of this project took longer than the first album. One reason was American Recordings improved it's recording capabilities by upgrading from an 8 to a 16 track system, which meant we could add additional instruments, sound effects, etc. All in all, it took about 6 weeks to record, which by today’s standards, is still pretty good time.