King Jupiter

Somehow we made it through junior high playing songs like Kicks, Last Train to Clarksville, I Can See for Miles, Pipeline, Raunchy, Wild Thing, and who knows what else. It was sort of like cutting teeth. I think Cuds, Armpit and I knew there should be more to rock and roll than these pieces of fluff, but if nothing else they provided good training.

And then Steppenwolf hit...

I still remember hearing Born to Be Wild for the first time. My brother Bill and I were driving to the Twin Cities that summer for a day's romp at the public library and planetarium, 1968 it was, and the song blared out from WDGY on the car radio, straight from "Bossapolis," or so the announcer claimed.

In an instant, I knew what rock was supposed to be. After getting back to Iowa for the start of sophomore year, our group promptly renamed itself King Jupiter. I was already seeing things behind the curtain; astrology and the occult beckoned. And Jupiter, prominent in my chart, became an expansive force. I knew him personally. So, between the endless pranks at high school, we were always lured by the promised sexual favors of rock and roll.

The following summer, Christy and I got to see Steppenwolf live in Minneapolis and I was simply floating. You might recall Christy from On Patience. She indeed played a major part in my coming northward. For now, let's just leave it at: this nymphet was an ideal first love for a teenage hoodlum intent on making all his own mistakes first hand. Her mother acted as chaperone that night and wasn't terribly impressed by all the marijuana smoke filling the old auditorium down on 7th Street, I think it was. For that matter, Nick St. Nicholas on stage with Steppenwolf was every parent's worst nightmare. I loved the fact that oldsters were terrified of the decline of civilization as we knew it.

Anyway, I had found my raison d'être. Steppenwolf spoke an entirely new musical language which made a great deal of sense.

I alternated on guitar and organ.
Back home again after summer, we promptly started learning everything they ever recorded, from the hits to the littlest "B-side" songs. Not every tune was a winner, but every one taught something useful. All these years later, you can still hear the influence of Steppenwolf's guitar technique in how or what I play. For that matter, the group also heavily shaped how I compose. One of these days I'll post my song Ann in the Day in the Night, and you'll readily notice a Steppenwolf feeling in the overall chord structure. Rather than being ashamed of that, I'm proud--proud to have learned from a group who understood that music, properly executed, is the thin end of the wedge.

Learning all this new material was a real gas. Jerry Edmonton of Steppenwolf was one of the great rock drummers of all times, and yet our very own Cuds was able to nail any of his hardest riffs after just one listening. Armpit, our bass player, had exceptionally good ears for detail in both the bass and vocal parts. He was also talented on guitar and helped me through some of the more difficult licks. Everything felt so good, so natural.

But I've mentioned elsewhere how much we were influenced by the zany antics of Spike Jones and His City Slickers, the Fugs, Arthur Brown and others. We were determined not just to do covers, but to put our own stamp on the material. So, for example, during a performance at the high school, in the bridge of Born to Be Wild, where Steppenwolf let the rhythm guitarist go nuts, we launched into a verse of Johnny Cash's I Walk the Line, before eventually returning to Mars Bonfire's classic anthem. Sometimes we would segue from Magic Carpet Ride into Saran Wrap by the Fugs, and back again. Or it wasn't uncommon for Arthur Brown's Fire to make a brief appearance in the middle of a song. The audience never knew what to expect, nor what conclusions to draw. King Jupiter certainly wasn't your garden variety dance orchestra! We were sophomoric and proud of it...

Fender amps, eh? No distortion pedals needed.
Our comedic announcements between songs were notoriously foul, stacked to the brim with inside jokes only our hippie friends in the audience would get, leaving the high school principal, Herbie and the vice-principal, Beetface completely in the dark. And we gave away prizes. It's so funny to think we had hit upon that way back when. Several years later with the East Side Pharaohs, it was once more standard operating procedure. Isn't that weird? Riff and I, those years earlier, two hundred miles apart, hit upon the same gambit for what should transpire on stage. Like minds, I guess. Between the two of us, I wonder how many prizes we've awarded...

King Jupiter had a real blast back then, providing not only a musical outlet but creating a whole new philosophy for what we did and how we saw the world. It was Hell's Angels meet the Age of Aquarius. In fact, the group was an integral part of The Gang, that crazed high school gathering I ran with.

Middle of senior year, with no due process nor formalities, I became an emigrant, passing northward to the land in which I really belonged. That was the end of King Jupiter, although everything I had learned would prove useful in Spiff Cool and the Keen-o-Jets and especially The East Side Pharaohs...even the music, which is the least important part of being in a band.

Howie, Cuds, Tiny and Studs.
Well, there is actually one final piece to the story. In the summer of 1972 I made a return to my hometown for a two-week holiday. We quickly pulled King Jupiter together once more for a reunion performance at a local coffee house for hippies. To really make it a gala occasion, we added Howie on guitar and Tiny on additional percussion.

Rehearsing in the garage belonging to Tiny's parents, out on a farm, we worked up a number of the old standbys, along with some offensive items like Slum Goddess from the Lower East Side, as well as the jingle used by MacDonalds on television commercials at that time:

Grab a bucket and mop,
Scrub it bottom to top,
Everything must be clean,
On my burger machine...oh...
You deserve a break today,
So get up and get away,
to MacDonalds!
It was a wonderful performance that warm summer evening. If I recall aright, the coffee house we played was called The Bus Stop and was sponsored by some coalition of churches. Somewhere there exists a recording of this session, and it's a killer. The bits flowed like water that night, and I still remember a few of the more distasteful ones. The music was okay, too, as I recollect, although our voices hadn't developed yet. I dropped an octave thereafter. If anyone knows the whereabouts of that tape, let me know! I haven't heard it for forty-five years now!

This is no doubt Arthur Brown's Fire in progress.
Even if we can't hear that performance, I do have this sequence of photographs which captured a bit of the ambiance of the reunion of friends. It seems to me the college girl who loaned us the combo organ that night took the snapshots. Her name has long faded from memory, but I kind of remember her face--never forget a girl, you know. Especially brunettes.

Packing up that night, 1:00 or so in the morning, a couple of high school underclassmen approached me in my parents car. "Hey Studs, look at this." The pimply faced punk thrust an enormous pistol into the driver's side window of the car, the barrel pointing right at my chest. It was huge, the sort of thing you expect Dirty Harry to hoist about. He meant me no harm, I think, but it just roiled my blood to see such an explosive and destructive thing, so close up, the revolving cartridge holder and massive chamber glistening under the mercury parking lot light.

I was pissed. Royally pissed.

Howie, Tiny and Studs.
With a curse, I karate-chopped the kid's wrist down on the half-opened window of the car. The revolver fell to the ground, and he immediately shrieked in pain, grabbing his limp hand with the other. I may have broken something, and I hoped so, if truth be told. I hate fucking guns.

An interesting way to conclude a night of raciness on stage in the midst of hippies, wouldn't you agree?

Cuds, Armpit, Tiny, Howie...I will always treasure the memory of making music with this great bunch of friends in King Jupiter. It wasn't a bad teenage run at all.

Next installment: Johnny B. Goode

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