By Ed Silverman
Ron Hurst knows how to keep a steady beat.
As the drummer for Steppenwolf for the past 29 years, the New England native has consistently maintained a satisfying routine in the tumultuous world of rock and roll. The 63-year-old year Hurst happily divides his time between touring and recording with the iconic 1960s band and running a studio in Hillsboro, Ore., where he teaches drums to successive generations of aspiring musicians.
“It’s just been really great. The band plays often to keep things fresh and fun,” says Hurst, who joined Steppenwolf in 1984, after the band endured several reincarnations centered on founder and lead singer, John Kay.
“And it’s also good to be a teacher. You have to keep your ear to the ground and keep current and know what’s going on. So I get the best of both worlds.”
That enthusiasm will be on display Thursday, July 18, 2013, at the Mayo Performing Arts Center when Steppenwolf takes the stage to play a smorgasbord of rock and roll that provided a wildly popular slice of the soundtrack to the 1960’s – Magic Carpet Ride, Sookie Sookie, Rock Me, Pusher Man, Monster and, of course, the perennial biker anthem, Born To Be Wild.
From 1967 through 1972, in fact, Steppenwolf sold tens of millions of records and notched several Top 10 hit singles, securing a regular rotation on classic rock radio formats ever since. But like most other bands, Steppenwolf splintered during the 1970s and, after a protracted period of turmoil over the use of the name, Kay reformed the group in the early 1980s with a different lineup.
July 18, 2013 at 8 pm
200 South St., Morristown
Although Steppenwolf is of the same vintage as so many others from the 1960’s which, in recent years, have staged tours as victory laps and retirement benefits, Hurst says the band pursues what is, by contrast, a low-key approach. Nowadays, Steppenwolf does relatively few shows each year, and deliberately plays several songs from albums released more recently than the golden 1960s.
“We retired from full-time work about 2007 and took 2008 off,” says Hurst, who got his start in a garage band called ORT.
“Of course, everything is contingent on John Kay and what he wants to do. But starting in 2009, we now do 10 or 12 shows a year and we just stay loose, because we still enjoying performing a lot. But this allows us to strike a balance with families and whatever else we want to do.
“But we keep the integrity of the band intact. We don’t compromise on the sound. John’s voice is in fine form. And we play all the hits people expect to hear and some well-placed songs off some of our later albums through the ’90s and some of John’s solo work, which is lesser known but is excellent. So it’s a well-done show. We like to throw some of the newer stuff out and mix that with the hits.”
In other words, Steppenwolf tries to avoid being an oldies act, even if the audience is there to hear the oldies. Will that translate into another studio album? No one is getting younger – Kay recently turned 69 – and there hasn’t been any discussion, Hurst says, but theoretically, the possibility exists. “Rock and roll isn’t getting any younger, but there are guys like us still out there,” he says. “But it’s up to John.”
Meanwhile, classic rock fans – young and old – can get ready to take that Magic Carpet Ride, if only for a couple of hours. Hurst, in particular, is looking forward to it. Peering out from behind the drum kit, he says he can clearly see the faces in the audience and he readily acknowledges that he appreciates their enthusiasm for the music the band plays.
“I think it’s great when I see people bring their children and grandchildren to see us,” Hurst says. “I think Born To Be Wild has a lot to do with that. Every generation can relate to that song and it may be a personal anthem, I think, for many people. It plays on the diversity of the audience. You can say to yourself that you can be a little wild at any age.”
Ed Silverman, a former reporter at The Star-Ledger, now runs a web site called Pharmalot, and has previously written about music for Living Blues, Jazziz and Dirty Linen.