Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Steppenwolf -- "Sookie, Sookie" (1968)

Steppenwolf is the most criminally overlooked hard rock band of the 60's. Or should I say, "heavy metal," since I do believe they were the first band to not only use it in a song ("Born To Be Wild"), but they embodied the term first.

Astonishingly, they are not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and this has got to change.

This was not a cult band, but one that had huge hits and a couple of well-stocked greatest hits compilations. Yet, the closest Steppenwolf has ever been given a tribute was Blue Oyster Cult's animated covers that they performed in concert and on their 1975 live album On Your Feet Or On Your Knees. This connection is no coincidence, as BOC clearly was directly musically connected to the primal roar of Steppenwolf.

Fronted by the always-in-shades John Kay (born in Germany with the much more complicated name of Joachim Krauledat), Steppenwolf was a blues-based hard rock band that had a lot of soul, a characteristic that was way ahead of its time. They sometimes could actually bring on the R&B in their tidal wave of Marshall amplification and Goldy McJohn's glorious organ, and there was no better example than the first song from their debut album, "Sookie, Sookie."

Co-written by longtime soul songwriter Don Covay ("Chain of Fools"), "Sookie, Sookie" was all shuffle rhythm made for the 60's dance floor, much like the popular fad dances like The Watusi and The Swim. Steppenwolf just lays three heavy opening chords (for no apparent reason), and segues into pure heavy metal party funkiness, hitting that major 7th chord nearly the entire song long, and going up a key at the end.

Combining hard rock and funk were almost unheard of at that time. This was almost as monumental as Run DMC rapping their way into heavy metal with Aerosmith in "Walk This Way" in 1986. Yet, Steppenwolf didn't give up its rock cred at all when they released "Sookie, Sookie" as a single right after the iconic "Born To Be Wild."

The hip hop/rap connection to Steppenwolf stretched on years later, as "Magic Carpet Ride" was sampled and covered by Grandmaster Flash ("The Message") in 1987.

Here are two videos from 1968, and of course what caught my attention are those Rickenbackers on rhythm and bass! Who said Ricks had to be just the jangly Byrds tone? The color one features lots of groovy threads but the big question is whose party has Steppenwolf as the house band? Lucky them. Then there's a splendid black and white appearance on the British TV show "Beat Club."


Anonymous said...

I'm probably wrong, but the man in the light jacket dancing in the second part of the video looks a lot like Jesse Jackson.

Looks like he's having fun, too.

Anonymous said...

the party is Hugh Hefner's...

John Arevalo said...

First of all its not a shuffle. Secondly it's not a "major 7th" chord. It's a dominant 7th chord. The two are drastically different chords. It doesn't "go up a key", it goes up a step in the key it's in.
I was hoping to find out if Steppenwolf was the first to record this song.

Steve said...

Thanks John Arevalo, for being someone on "today's" internet to know vast difference between an M7th and a Maj7th chord! I was boiling when I first started reading what that person had written. You asked if Steppenwolf was the first to record this. I found that Bluenotejazz guitarist Grant Green also did a recording of it. I don't have the recording, but everything I see of it credits it as his song. To note, they do it as a 12-bar form, too. I hope this helps. Hit me anytime at

Unknown said...

It was written by Don Covay and Steve Cropper and originally recorded by Don Covay. IMHO, however, the Grant Green version (1970)trumps them all. Detils at: