By Ryan Jones
A Tribute to Richard Podolor
Who played an enormously important role in the story of Steppenwolf and who became an admired friend.
From John Kay
Today I learned that Richie Podolor has died. At my age you have to accept that your little universe will lose some of its brightest stars as time moves on, but Richie’s departure is a shock that I’m still coming to terms with. So I thought I’d simply tell how Richie came into my life - and that of Steppenwolf - to show how important he was to us all.
In the fall of 1967, after securing a record deal with Dunhill based on demos we made with our producer Gabriel Mekler, we were cutting tracks in a well-known Los Angeles recording studio and were miserable because our tracks sounded disappointingly weak. While lamenting about this to my friend Morgan Cavett, he said ‘listen to this’ and played a demo he had cut that sounded great. “Where did you do this” I asked. He then told me about two guys who had converted a defunct Restaurant into a recording studio, built their own tube mixing board, and who were excellent recording engineers. After Gabriel heard Morgan’s demo, he and our drummer Jerry Edmonton went to see Richie at his American Recording Co. studio. They returned saying “This is the right place for us, let’s move our gear and start recording.”
On day one of our sessions at American, after equipment setup and miking, we cut our first track and went into the recording booth to hear the playback. No more than a minute into the track we were yelling “Yeah, yeah that’s it, that’s our sound, this is great!” We went back into the studio, cut 6 more tracks that day, 4 tracks the next day, I sang 11 vocals on day 3 and Richie & Bill Cooper mixed the entire album on day 4. They say you have your whole life to get ready for your first album and that’s true, we were more than ready, but it was Richie’s and Bill’s engineering skills that made our efforts come alive. “Born to be wild” – “The Pusher” etc. still sound good to this day, 55 years later.
That first album marked the beginning of a relationship and friendship that spanned many, many years. As we recorded our following LPs – The Second / At your Birthday / Monster and Steppenwolf Live – we became of course more and more familiar with these two creative talents. Richie, we discovered, was an accomplished classical guitarist, while Bill was a fine bass player. The two had joined forces during their teens and engineered and produced numerous records by a variety of artists. From the ‘Steppenwolf 7 LP on - one of our best sounding records ever – Richie became our producer. Around that time he also started producing the recordings of Three Dog Night as well as other artists.
In 1971, while recording my “Forgotten Songs & Unsung Heroes” and “Sportin’ Life” solo LPs, Richie, Bill and I got know one another even more. We 3, joined by Jutta and our daughter Shawn, went sailing on Richie’s boat “Celebrity”, we shared our love of Mercedes Gullwings, - Richie had two, Jutta and Danny Hutton of 3 Dog Night had one each, his fondness for building models, eating delectable dinners, collecting string instruments and more. In the mid 70’ we lost track of one another for a few years but still saw or called one another every so often. In the mid-nineties Charlie Wolf and I invited Richie and Bill to join us for our Wolf Fest celebration in Nashville. They flew in from LA and had a great time, with lots of Wolf Packers besieging them with questions about Steppenwolf’s recordings etc. So as you can see Richie as well as Bill had become very special friends to me, but as Joni Mitchell once wrote “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone” Well I did know what I had, but perhaps that makes the loss even harder to contend with for I lost an admired friend who had enriched my life.
Farewell Richard, it was a blessing to know you. – John Kay