When their first record came out on January 29, 1968, the eponymously titled Steppenwolf album turned heads mostly because Born to be Wild became such a massive hit. The album as a whole was one of the greatest ‘first albums’ released in a period when bands were kicking out music that would become the foundation of what radio now calls Classic Rock. The summer of 1968 found me between my freshman and sophomore high school years and finally old enough to attend the teen dances held at Marquette’s Bishop Baraga H.S. gym on Baraga Avenue. I heard Born to be Wild on Mike Burr’s WDMJ radio show (our local AM radio music source), but had yet to hear the whole album. By chance, the first dance I attended at BBHS featured a band who had gone down the Steppenwolf road at full speed and they rocked Born to be Wild. There was no doubt in my mind: songs on the radio were great but hearing those songs done live kicked my ‘wanna be in a band’ aspirations into high gear. When the album was finally added to my drum practice pile, I realized the band from the BBHS dance had even copied Steppenwolf’s wardrobe, love beads, paisley shirts, and all. Viewing the cover of the album today will give you the exact image the band at BBHS projected.
Playing the drums along with Steppenwolf’s superb drummer, Jerry Edmonton, was a great learning experience. Singing along with singer, songwriter, guitarist, and band leader John Kay was also great training. There wasn’t a track on that album I didn’t enjoy playing minus maybe The Pusher (not a song my mother wanted to hear in her basement due to the blasphemous chorus). One song that did not become a hit is still one of my favorite cuts; Berry Rides Again. The guitar, rollicking piano, and lyrics are an obvious homage to the Chuck Berry – Johnny Johnson school of rock and roll. Name checking Berry song titles and characters, John Kay’s tune takes the listener on a historical field trip of musical hotspots like Memphis, New York City, and Los Angeles. I may not have realized it at the time, but singing this whole tale with Kay improved my drumming, vocals, and ability to remember the lyrics to anything I wanted to play. There are five long verses and no real chorus so getting the whole story straight was a terrific way for me to learn the art of how to turn songs into coherent arrangements. Kay inserts three breaks in the beginning of the third verse (where the band stops, accents the first word of the lyric, then goes back into the full arrangement in the fourth line) thereby putting his knack for writing catchy songs right up there with the best. John Kay has always been under-appreciated for his songwriting.
Years after learning to play along with this album, Born to be Wild had become a song we performed regularly with my bands The Twig and Knockdown. I am drawing a blank as to whether or not we played it with Sledgehammer, but the Steppenwolf album still has a connection to my last college band. After spending the better part of my senior year playing alongside our version of John Kay, Barry Seymour (guitarist, vocalist, arranger), I found myself thinking of him whenever I heard Berry Rides Again. Yes, I know Berry was about Chuck and not our Barry, and even though we never learned Berry Rides Again, in my mind, the song got hitched to Barry Seymour.
That Barry and I ended up playing in a band in the first place is a tale unto itself. Barry was a freshman when I was a senior so we were not acquainted in high school. In previous articles I have mentioned him telling me The Twig was one of the first live bands he went to see. Ironically one of the gigs he specifically talked about was one we played in the round at the old Bishop Baraga HS which had recently closed and was being turned into a youth center. I later became aware of a band playing Chicago style horn rock in town (including some horn players and a drummer from our high school band), but I did not know that Barry was their guitar player and lead vocalist.
After The Twig broke up and just before I joined Knockdown, Mike Kesti and I were invited to jam with some of Sunstone’s members at drummer Tom Lyon’s house. I had picked up a cheap portable organ and was trying to learn how to play keyboards again. I was not used to not being the drummer while jamming with others, but I contributed what I could. Not knowing my way around the keys very well, it was not really comfortable for me, but I thought we had fun. Barry recalls his impression of me was less than he had hoped for; ‘arrogant’ was the description he used and I know exactly how he meant it. I dislike the ‘arrogant attitude’ in others so it still moritfies me to this day that I projected that image to him back then. The first time I really talked with Barry about being a guitar player was a couple of years later (in August of 1973) when Sunstone played the employee party at the Huron Mountain Club. We talked briefly at the HMC gig and I was impressed with how they carried the Chicago flag (horn rock bands are not easy to cover well). I do remember telling him, “perhaps we can jam again one day,” but it would be another year before our paths would cross a third time.
As fate would have it, my second band, Knockdown, broke up just before the summer of 1974. Our lead singer and guitarist, Ray, mustered out of the Air Force and returned to his roots in southern Illinois. It was a timely break for me because it would not have been possible for me to play summer gigs while working at NMU’s Field Station east of Munising. It would be my first summer working one job instead of two (band gigs being my primary job in 1972 – 1973) and the first time in three years I would find myself back in Marquette for most of August. Late that summer, a couple of us decided to check out a Sunstone gig at the Marquette Mountain Ski Hill chalet. Almost a year after talking with Barry at the HMC, we got to talk about music again. Barry surprised me when he said this was one of Sunstone’s last jobs as they were splitting up. Bells went off (at least in my head, maybe Barry’s also) so I said, “Hey, my band broke up in June. Maybe we can get together and see what happens.” Barry must have liked the idea because he called me up a bit later and we arranged a little two man jam at my folk’s house.
Whatever issues we may have had from our previous jamming experience, we knew right off the bat we were taking the first steps to form a new band. Barry was learning Without You by the Doobie Brothers and one cold run through (with me knowing nothing about the song) gave me that warm fuzzy feeling one gets when a song clicks. I offered to ask my old Knockdown bass player to come to the next session and Barry said he had a couple of ideas for a second guitarist. With my summer job extending into October (I had to go back and open the Field Station up for weekend retreats), we used September and October to get a set list together. We even managed to play a free gig for a JH dance at St. Michael’s school before the unreliability of my old Knockdown bandmate made us realize he needed to be replaced. Fortuitously, Barry and I were checking out a band at the same ski chalet bar when we ran into Mike Kesti, newly returned from Toledo, Ohio. Mike was in a post college band there that did not pan out so we latched on to him as our new bass player. With second guitarist Lindsey and Mike on board, we started rehearsing, helped Mike build a great PA system from scratch, and gigged as much as we could for the next eight months. By April of 1975, we were a well honed band and Mike put in some extra time to gather the equipment for us to record a live cassette tape of a gig at the Four Seasons Lounge in Marquette. When summer arrived, Lindsey graduated from high school and headed to Florida. We played our last few gigs as a power trio and called it a day just before I was offered a teaching job in Ontonagon.
During the rest of 1975 and into 1976, Barry called me a couple of times to join him playing pick up gigs with a Marquette bass player named Gordon Coleman. The Gordon Coleman Trio did not actually exist as a regular performing unit and was rarely a trio. Gordon would book jobs and then hire whatever musicians he could scrape together to play them (no rehearsals, I might add). The two gigs I played with the GCT (at a frat house party and a New Years Eve gig at the Marquette Golf and Country Club) were a lot of fun for me. Tossing a bunch of musicians together to play whatever tunes one or more of them knew was interesting. A lot of the music came from the ‘basic bar band standards’ we were all familiar with. I think Gordon liked the fact that Barry and I had a pretty good catalog of songs to add to the mix. Being a Moody Blues fan, it was great to finally get to play Nights in White Satin live, especially when the keyboard player who lead the arrangement gave me a double thumbs up, saying, “That was great!” After 1977, Barry and I kind of lost touch with each other.
Once in a while, a name will pop in my head so I do a quick web search to see if any new information about them comes up. At times, a list of dozens of similarly named people will fill the screen. So it seemed to be the case with ‘Barry Seymour’ – until I read over an account I found early in the new millennium. This particular Barry had a site detailing voice over work he had done and was available to do in the future. One of the ‘voices’ he had on his resume was ‘Yooper’. After a quick inquiry via his web site, I found this was indeed THE Barry Seymour I had lost touch with a quarter of a century ago. Over the course of several years, we filled each other in on what had transpired since our last band job together with Gordon Coleman.
Barry always had that natural ‘radio voice’ so it did not surprise me to find out he had spent time as a DJ and ad-man in radio. When I listen to some of the ad pitches he has archived on his web site, it reminds me why I still love radio so much. A creative, well produced spot is like a mini sitcom and Barry had the stable of voices to bring them to life. His first marriage came and went (“too young”) and he ended up doing a stint in the Navy. After mustering out, he landed in San Francisco. He married again and eventually his actress wife and their two girls migrated south to Los Angeles. When the West Coast Bureau of WOAS-FM was still in Los Angeles, I spent the better part of a decade making ‘inspection visits’ (okay, vacations) to visit Elizabeth, Todd, and their cats. When Barry found out I was coming to L.A., we managed to get together at Ye Olde King’s Head pub in Santa Monica to catch up face to face. With the WCB now in Eugene, it has been a good decade since our last in person visit, but we have stayed in touch.
Was I surprised to learn that Barry spent much of the last year recording original material while hunkering down during the pandemic? Nope, not one bit. While he has been in bands off and on since landing in California, Barry had not dabbled in playing live or writing his own material for some time. With the state of technology these days, a little computer knowledge and talent can fuse into some pretty professional sounding home recordings. Barry works in the computer biz and definitely has the talent, so he set to work on a set of tunes he titled Nice Hat. These will be compiled and aired when we resume broadcasting this fall. Nice Hat is now available at www.barryseymour.com and http://soundcloud.com/barry-seymour/sets/nice-hat (exchanging ‘nice-hat’ to ‘lost-in-blue’ at the soundcloud address will eventually bring up his current work in progress).
I decided it was time to give Barry the full rock star treatment. From time to time, Classic Rock magazine will ask an artist to take their ‘quiz’ so we thought we would adapt the CMR quiz and apply it to Barry. The questions are in bold, followed by Barry’s answers. Here we go:
Beatles or Stones? Beatles. I respect the Stones, but I love the Beatles. AC/DC or Led Zeppelin? AC/DC, I like their scrappy attitude. Hendrix or Page? Stevie Ray Vaughn (my note: I have heard of ‘trick questions’ but not ‘trick answers’). Sixties or Seventies Music? Seventies! It’s my era. Gibson or Fender? Fenderrrrr! Nothing beats a good Stratocaster or Telecaster (my note: Barry Played a Strat in Sledgehammer). Fine wine or Beer? Wine – Beer’s too close to water. Piercings or Tattoos? Either / or. I am getting old enough to consider both. Love or Money? Love. Touring by Truck or Van? Van. More maneuverable (my note: Sledgehammer was a truck and van band). Cardio or Weights? Cardio. Denim or Leather? Denim. Leather is too pretentious. Book or Movie? Book. Prog or Punk? Prog. Punk is too artless for my taste. Rock or Disco? Disco came and went but Rock lives on! Horror or Comedy? Comedy. Early Bird or Night owl? Night owl. That’s when you play the gigs. Doobie Brothers or BTO? Doobies. BTO was good, but the Doobs had a longer, deeper, more varied career (my note: Sledgehammer did a LOT of songs by both!) Cats or Dogs? Both! Lover or Fighter? Lover. Vinyl or Streaming? Neither. WAV or MP3. Yoopers or Trolls? YOOPERS all da way, eh! (my last note: Ya sure, you betcha!)
There you have it, a slightly biased account of my 47 year association with Sir Barry Seymour (hey, it works for Sir Paul, doesn’t it?). I would like to thank Barry for indulging me with the modified CRM quiz and giving everyone a little peek into his soul. Barry has an open offer to have me come out and drum on some of his new tunes. The only problem (outside the travel costs)? The same technology that makes it possible to do high quality DIY recording projects also includes some pretty darn good drum programs that Barry has added to his arsenal of musical weapons. Bet you never thought you would hear me say that, did you Barry!
Top Piece Video: Not a video, but the photo is interesting because it is one of the few pictures that ever showed John Kay without his trade mark shades. Also displays the wardrobe copied by the first live band I heard cover Born to be Wild