Thursday, January 17, 2013

Steppenwolf: Sookie Sookie

Our Thursday Repeats and Threepeats selection is a song I remember getting airplay; however, it failed to chart both times it was released as a single. Steppenwolf’s “Sookie Sookie” was originally released as the “A” side to the band’s second single in February 1968. Written by veteran R&B singer/songwriter Don Covay, “Sookie Sookie” was also the lead track of Steppenwolf’s self-titled debut album – the one that was released with a silver foil cover.

Of the band's first three singles, “Born to be Wild,” was a success. It charted at #2 in early fall. By October, the next LP, “Steppenwolf the Second” was issued. It’s first single, “Magic Carpet Ride,” was an excellent follow-up to “Born to be Wild” and it too was a top five hit peaking at the #3 slot.

With the issue of “Magic Carpet Ride,” ABC-Dunhill saw the wisdom of re-releasing the “Sookie Sookie”; however, this time it was a “B” side. Like the “Born to be Wild” and “Magic Carpet Ride,” “Sookie Sookie” not only featured the extraordinary guitar work of Michael Monarch and vocals by John Kay, it had that signature organ sound of Goldy McJohn that came to define Steppenwolf’s sound.

While often mistakenly credited as a Hammond organ, McJohn played a Lowery outfitted with a Leslie speaker.  Not only did he play his organ – he played at it creating all kinds of musical effects that inspired and defined a generation of rock organists. His style featured smashing the keys for a percussive sound and glissando swells and growls. I never owned a tone wheel organ, but I often emulated the sound on my Prophet 5’s organ setting at patch “23”. Listening to Steppenwolf today, I see where I picked up some of what I did when I was playing back in the 1980s.

Thanks to my friend Mike Kolesar who corrected some obvious errors that I had in the original version of this post.


  1. Hey Jim, a couple of corrections...

    "Born To Be Wild" was technically the second single from this album, not the third. Their first single, "A Girl I Knew"/"The Ostrich", used earlier, more primitive versions of those songs than the ones used on the album.

    Also, John Kay's guitar work was rarely featured on their recordings - Michael Monarch played lead on their first three albums, and Kay played rhythm and a little slide guitar, if any at all.

    Otherwise, thanks for a nice feature on one of the alltime great debut albums by any band!


  2. And I forgot to mention that at least on their first album, I believe Goldy played a Lowery organ, not a Hammond.

  3. Mike: Thanks for the info. I didn't know about the different version of the single. Monarch was an obvious omission (duh). I read a review of the album and it stated that it was a Hammond; however, after you posted the comment, I went back and found an interview with McJohn - and as usual, your knowledge of classic rock was spot on - it was a Lowery. I didn't realize that a Lowery could sound that good. Thanks for helping to keep me humble and correct. I appreciate it.

  4. Jim - It's very rare indeed that I get that opportunity - your knowledge and research are genuinely impeccable! :)

  5. It's too bad you missed "Steppenwolf" when they played at Eastland Mall in 1977 - you could have asked Goldy about it in person!

  6. You are much too kind Mike. Steppenwolf - played Eastland? Farrrrr out. I was in Kentucky in 1977, but would have loved to have been there.

  7. It was one of the notorious line-ups without John Kay - only Goldy and Nick St. Nicholas. They were a last minute replacement for Quicksilver Messenger Service at a week-long sales extravaganza at Wander Sales that also featured Ben Vereen and Gary Lewis & the Playboys. "Steppenwolf" played two short sets before the plug was pulled when the singer said a naughty word over the p.a. Although they played some of the same songs and had some of the same members, this wasn't REALLY Steppenwolf, you know?

  8. Wander - I should have known. I saw The Guess Who once and the only member that had any time with the group was the drummer - who did a horrible job in trying to mimic Burton Cummings. That was pretty late for Gary Lewis - I wouldn't have thought that he was still performing at that time.