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MUSIC / Ventura County | ROCKTALK

Head of the Pack

Steppenwolf bassist keeps Lone Wolf tuned to the classics.

March 13, 1997|BILL LOCEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"Every night when the moon is full, I turn into a wolf." --Lon Chaney

"Yeah, you and a million other guys . . ." --Lou Costello

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For lupine rocker Nick St. Nicholas, it hasn't always been a howl, but he just might be on a roll these days. The bassist for Steppenwolf in the band's heyday, St. Nicholas is still doing that classic rock thing, now with his band Lone Wolf. They play a free show Saturday night at China Sea in Ventura.

Born Nicklaus Kassbaum, he got his start in Toronto with a band called Sparrow, which later became Steppenwolf. Steppenwolf, you might recall, sold a zillion records beginning in the late '60s with its smash hit "Born to Be Wild." (They'll play it at China Sea, trust me.)

Between then and now, St. Nicholas joined a bunch of bands, played at a lot of biker functions, and moved around a lot. He currently lives in Ventura with his wife, Rosilee, a preacher's daughter from South Dakota, who recorded a CD in 1994 and tried to get a country record deal.

Lone Wolf--originally called The Wolf--plays several times a month, usually at places such as the Palms in Carpinteria, Deer Lodge in Meiners Oaks, Maxie's in Oak View, and the Holiday Inn in Ventura.

But St. Nicholas has other stuff going as well. For several years, he's been a part of the Classic Rock All-Stars, a collection of--you guessed it--legends of classic rock radio. And lately, St. Nicholas and some famous pals have formed their own group of traveling rock stars, World Classic Rockers.

Recently, St. Nicholas discussed his musical experiences.

Some of Steppenwolf's biggest hits weren't written by the band?

That's right. "The Pusher" was written by Hoyt Axton and "Born to Be Wild" was written by a guy named Mars Bonfire who lives out in the desert these days. He still gets about $200,000 a year in royalties for that song.

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What was it like being a rock star in the '60s?

I could never really believe it because there were so many other bands that I thought were better than we were. We played at the Monterey Pop Festival before 250,000 people. I remember one time we went to England and stayed with Jimi Hendrix for a week--he was just a real casual guy. At the time he was fighting with Noel Redding, his bass player, and I actually thought he was going to ask me to join his band. Then a month or so later, I was driving in Hollywood and I heard on the radio that he was dead.

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What became of the Rosilee deal?

We did a showcase in Nashville with an all-star band of musicians and the place was packed. But I found out later that if you don't live in Nashville, you don't get signed.

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Does Rosilee play with the band?

She'll do a few songs at China Sea, but it depends where we play. She can't stand cigarette smoke. Some places with bad ventilation, she won't even go. When I get home, I hang my clothes outside, then take a shower and wash my hair.

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What does Lone Wolf music sound like?

We do some of the Steppenwolf stuff that I helped to create. Basically we do classic rock, a lot of Jimi Hendrix; and if people ask for something, we'll try to do it.

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What do you think of the local music scene?

You can't be a full-time musician in this area and feed your family. A lot of these places pay like 200 bucks, and it's even less than that sometimes in Hollywood, so I tell young musicians to not quit their day jobs. When I see other bands, a lot of those musicians remind me of myself at that age when you don't care about stuff you do when you get older. It's so competitive out there; you need a burning desire and talent to make it to the bigger stages. Of the local bands, I think Raging Arb & the Redheads have the most potential to get signed.

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St. Patrick's Day is Monday, so that explains this year's lame music lineup. No Raging Arb & the Redheads this year, so the best gig will be Bang, featuring Dave Wakeling doing English beat songs at the Brickyard in Santa Barbara. Locally, there's Teresa Russell at the Whale's Tail.

Also, Crust will play at Red Cove in Ventura, home to quarter pool, and at least, Raging Arb on the jukebox. Whitey Wingland will play the blues at Cafe Voltaire and the Preachers will do likewise at the Calypso Bar & Grill in Ojai.

BE THERE

Lone Wolf at China Sea, 1105 Seaward Ave., Ventura. Sat., 9 p.m. No cover. 643-9477.

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