STEPPENWOLF – The Epic Years 1974-1976 [Cherry Red 3CD Box Set remastered] (2023)

STEPPENWOLF - The Epic Years 1974-1976 [Cherry Red 3CD Box Set remastered] (2023) - full

Cherry Red Records just released a new STEPPENWOLF 3CD clamshell boxed set “The Epic Years 1974-1976” featuring all the recordings issued by the band for the Epic label between 1974 – 1976, including their three albums plus bonus tracks fully remastered, with an illustrated booklet, rare photos, an essay and interviews.
Steppenwolf was formed in 1967 in LA by John Kay (vocals, guitar), Goldy McJohn (organ, piano) and Jerry Edmonton (drums) who were previously members of the Canadian band The Sparrows. They were joined by Michael Monarch (lead guitar) and Rushton Moreve (bass).
The band signed to Dunhill / ABC Records and were propelled to success with their classic single ‘Born To Be Wild’ which became even wider known when the track was featured to great effect in the classic counterculture film Easy Rider.
Over the next four years the band released eight albums and enjoyed huge success. In February 1972 Steppenwolf disbanded, with John Kay recording a solo album, but by ’74 they had emerged once again and over the next three years they would record three further albums for Epic.
Great stuff for ’70s classic rock fans.

”The Epic Years 1974-1976” gathers together the three albums Steppenwolf recorded for the Epic label: Slow Flux, Hour of the Wolf and Skullduggery. 1974′s Slow Flux contained Steppenwolf’s final U.S. top-40 hit, “Straight Shootin’ Woman.”
When the 1975 follow-up, Hour of the Wolf, barely made the charts, frontman John Kay tried to break up the group, but the label demanded the band fulfill its contractual obligation with one more album. Skullduggery came out in 1976, and later that year, Kay announced on TV that the band was splitting up.

In addition to those three albums, the box set also includes two rare bonus tracks: a promotional single mix of “Caroline (Are You Ready for the Outlaw World),” from Hour of the Wolf, and that single’s B-side, “Angeldrawers.”

Best known for THAT line, in THAT song, there’s much more to Steppenwolf than ‘Born To Be Wild’. Whilst the phrase ‘heavy metal’ was first coined by cult sci-fi and fantasy writer Edgar Rice Burroughs, it certainly came fully to life when John Kay and his long-haired cohorts sang about it in the 1968 hit, Saxon turning those three words “heavy metal thunder” into an anthem some twelve years later.

With the boost that Steppenwolf got when their iconic track was used in classic 60’s film ‘Easy Rider’, the band rode a wave that saw them become a household name not just in their home country but globally.
Sadly, their success was to be relatively short lived, issues with the line-up meaning that they called things a day in 1972, Kay launching a solo career. The lure of the ‘wolf was too much though and the band reconvened two years later, signing to Epic Records and producing the three albums in this new box set, a new fire in their bellies.

The trio of releases certainly have that classic bluesy hard rock feel they’d become known for but there’s also a sense of melody here that’s missing from those early albums. With a more stable band they’d become freer to push their sound and this makes for fascinating listening, the only downside being that some of the early volatility and danger had dissipated, the earlier, massive success giving them a cushion.
This fame though was a double-edged sword in itself, the expectation a heavy weight on their shoulders.

One thing working in their favor was the relatively short time they’d been away and the fact that their comeback was much anticipated, fans choosing loyalty over the fickleness of chasing the newest shiny thing to come their way.

It’s with this fact that we can view 1974’s ‘Slow Flux’ as a triumphant return, hard rocking ‘Gang War Blues’ full of grit and an irresistible groove. With Kay’s distinctive roar and the keys of Goldy McJohn there’s a mix of the biker bar band and psychedelia throughout, the guitars snarling and the bass and drums rock solid.
From social protest song ‘Justice Don’t Be Slow’ through to a storming ‘Get Into the Wind’ and ‘Smokey Factory Blues’ through to celebratory and joyous ‘Fishin’ in the Dark’ there’s much here to kick back and enjoy.

Released in 1975, ‘Hour of the Wolf’ is in the same style, albeit with a more laid back approach initially and after two mellower opening tracks it took ‘Two for the Love of One’ to start putting the hammer down, the interplay between the guitars and keys delightful.
Ballad ‘Just for Tonight’ shimmers with a real soul and light and the Creedence Clearwater Revival-like ‘Hard Rock Road’ is a highway song that soundtracked many a trip down Route 66.

With their use of keys to drive as well as the guitars, Steppenwolf could also claim kinship with England’s Uriah Heep and tracks like ‘Someone Told a Lie’ add weight to this thought, the Trans-Atlantic appeal there very clearly.
Most remarkably though, ‘Mr Penny Pincher’ sounded both light years ahead of its time and at times rooted in the rock musicals that became so popular at the time, the whole an intriguing blend.

Old problems started emerging through their revival, with subtle changes happening with the band’s membership once again, each of the three Epic albums featuring at least one different player.

By the time they got around to ‘Skullduggery’ in 1976 the cracks were becoming terminal once again, the band splitting once more but it’s a frustrating scenario as the album is full of some very fine work indeed. With the extended titular opener with its great fretwork, the powerful ‘(I’m a) Road Runner’ and the gorgeously lyrical ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Song’, there’s all long-time fans could want here.
Closing with the cosmically funky ‘Lip Service’, the band were just starting to stretch their wings once again and it would have been interesting to see where they would have gone next, had that line-up stayed together.

‘The Epic Years 1974 – 1976’ is certainly a fascinating document and one that opens up a whole new world to those who just know Steppenwolf for ‘Born to be Wild’ or ‘Magic Carpet Ride’.
The dynamic tension between past and future is a palpable force here, giving each of the albums a frisson of something special that goes beyond any nostalgia felt listening to recordings almost fifty years old.
With John Kay continuing with various forms of the band until 2018 when things were put to bed once and for all, theirs was a long and storied history and this compilation is an all too often overlooked chapter that’s certainly worth exploring in greater detail.

An American classic, Steppenwolf may not have had the lasting fame and massive success of others but were a bedrock of music and deserve respect. Get your motor running and grab yourself a copy of this box set now.
Highly Recommended


DISC ONE – Slow Flux
1 Gang War Blues
2 Children of Night
3 Justice Don’t Be Slow
4 Get into the Wind
5 Jeraboah
6 Straight Shootin’ Woman
7 Smokey Factory Blues
8 Morning Blue
9 A Fool’s Fantasy
10 Fishin’ in the Dark


DISC TWO – Hour Of The Wolf
1 Caroline (Are You Ready for the Outlaw World)
2 Annie, Annie Over
3 Two for the Love of One
4 Just for Tonight
5 Hard Rock Road
6 Someone Told a Lie
7 Another’s Lifetime
8 Mr. Penny Pincher
9 Angeldrawers (B-side of single)
10 Caroline (Are You Ready…) (promotional single mix)


DISC THREE – Skullduggery
1 Skullduggery
2 (I’m a) Road Runner
3 Rock n’ Roll Song
4 Train of Thought
5 Life is a Gamble
6 Pass it On
7 Sleep
8 Lip Service



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