John Steel

London, 1969

John Steel (born 4 February 1941, Gateshead, England), went to the Gateshead Grammar School and was the original drummer of the band The Animals. He met the Eric Burdon while they were studying together at the Newcastle College of Art and Industrial Design.

The drummer in the original and best lineup of the Animals, John Steel played and recorded with the group until 1966, and has joined them for various live and studio reunion projects. While not as flashy or colorful as other drummers of his generation like Keith Moon, Ginger Baker, and Ringo Starr, Steel gave the mid-'60s Animals a solid swing that owed much to his (and the group's) roots in jazz and blues as well as rock. While his role was more as an anchor than an originator of up-front parts, there were times on Animals records when he devised arresting patterns, as on the stop-start rhythms of "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood," the dramatic exclamatory beat that kicks off the verse of "It's My Life," or the propulsive beats of another hit, "I'm Crying."

Although the Animals had only been in the global eye for about a couple of years before Steel's departure, his roots with the Animals stretched back over a decade. He had first met Animals lead singer Eric Burdon back in 1956 when they were in art school and Steel had asked if anyone liked jazz.

Steel originally played the trumpet when he and Burdon formed called The Pagan Jazzmen in January 1957. He switched to the drums when, as The Pagans, their interests moved from jazz to R&B and rock. Over the next few years the pair played in various groups on the Rock & Roll scene.

In March 1959, Steel and Burdon met Alan Price at a church hop in Byker, Newcastle, and joined forces. The band went through several name changes and different personnel until, as The Kansas City 5, they broke up on Friday 18 May 1962.

While Steel took various jobs with local Newcastle bands, Price formed The Alan Price Rhythm and Blues Combo. John Steel then replaced Barry Preston as the drummer in August 1963. Within weeks of joining, he was recording with them on a limited-edition EP and by the end of 1963, the Alan Price Rhythm and Blues Combo was renamed The Animals. A few months later they were on their way to international fame with hit records.

Steel was the main force behind putting together the big band that played with the Animals in the summer of 1965 at the Richmond Jazz Festival. They were not, however, on their way to riches. Disillusioned with their low wages considering their worldwide hit records and concert appearances, Steel was the second of the quintet to leave (Price having left in May 1965 because of personal differences), giving his notice in February 1966, he continued to play and record with them until March.

Steel had recently married and become a father, and was also fed up with a hectic schedule that left him little time to spend with his family. He played his last 60's show with the Animals on March 5, 1966, and was then replaced by Barry Jenkins of the Nashville Teens. He does appear on most of the tracks on their 1966 album Animalisms (titled Animalization in the U.S.), although it didn't come out until a few months after he'd left. His last single with the group was Inside Looking Out. Chas Chandler and Hilton Valentine found themselves out of the group, not long after Steel's departure, when the group supposedly dissolved in September 1966. In fact, the group became known as Eric Burdon & The Animals, the Animals featuring various musicians in different incarnations including Zoot Money and Andy Summers.

Subsequently Steel returned to Newcastle and became a businessman, while also working in former band-mates management and publishing organisations. He worked in the office of ex-Animal Chas Chandler, by then one of the most successful pop music managers in Britain. His time with Chandler also saw him working in the recording studios.
"I was involved with Slade and also with Fat Mattress and other bits and pieces. Jimmy Lea always took a keen interest in the recording process, but Chas was always the boss in the studio in my time with him."
I have been unable to ascertain exactly what his job was, he describes himself as "a Man Friday", but he was certainly active within the Slade machinery from October 1969 until 1977/8 and one must assume that his duties allowed him out of the office occasionally.
"Chas had an office in RSO (after Jimi Hendrix). Rik & John Gunnell also had an agency within RSO, they booked most of RSO acts out. Chas and John Gunnell formed some sort of partnership.  
The first time I met Slade was in the Robert Stigwood  offices at 46 Brook Street W1. Chas persuaded me to join his company as his personal assistant in autumn 1969. I worked for Chas, he introduced me to the band who had all just been given a skinhead haircut and togged out in Doc Martins and all the rest of the uniform."
"After I joined Chas, my first job was to trawl the publishers for a song for Slade. I picked Wild Winds Are Blowing. We all liked it but it didn't happen. Chas decided that RSO had no faith in a future for Slade and we moved out, just Chas and me."
John Steel
: 2011
I am reliably informed that he was the original 'Di' being replaced by John Bright when things started to take off.
"John Steel was the first 'Di' when the South Molton street fan club was set up, however due to the sheer volume of attention and applications the fan club received there was no way that Steel could give it the time required and Bright was brought in. This information came by way of an LBC radio interview with Mr Steel promoting Flame."
Dave Graham 
In 1971 Chandler introduced him to Eggs Over Easy. The group originally formed when Jack O'Hara, Austin de Lone, Brien Hopkins met up in Greenwich Village in autumn 1969. They quickly gained a reputation as the group who jump-started the punk rock movement, after settling in London in 1970. Chandler produced tracks for the band at Olympic Studios By the time they left in November 1971, everybody from The Grease Band and Roger Morris to Brinsley Schwarz and Fairport Convention were absorbing elements of their music.

They returned to the US and in 1972 and spent a couple of years supporting a variety of acts including The Eagles and Yes. They were then signed to A&M and re-recorded their earlier London demos, produced by the legendary Link Wray. The original group folded in 1981 but the former members remain musically active and occasionally appear as Eggs Over Easy. November 2011 sees an almost complete original line-up play at Dingwalls in London with John Steel on drums.

He was, along with Chandler, an executive producer of FLAME, and he also appeared briefly at the very beginning of the film, as the drummer of Jack Daniels & The DT's, playing alongside Jim Lea, Dave Hill and Alan Lake in the wedding scene.

There have been many questions, regarding 'Flame', about characters, unused footage, deleted scenes and unused songs. Unfortunately, Steel has no recollection of any such treasures.
"Johnny Shannon was picked for the part of Ronald J Harding purely because Chas and I were knocked out by his performance in the film "Performance". The only things that we had to change, for the sake of the certificate, was some nudity and strong language. The story was exactly the same and I don't recall any songs not being used at the time. 
I had a big input in Flame, when I met up with Jim last year he told me that he was upset that I
didn't get the credit that I deserved in the anthology. Very nice of him, but no sleep lost on my part, I know what I did."
John Steel: 2011
Over the years Steel has remained active as a part-time local drummer and has joined several Animals' reunion incarnations. He participated in the Animals reunions that generated the mid-'70s album Before We Were So Rudely Interrupted, and then the early-'80s album Ark, accompanied by a worldwide tour.

Since 1993 Steel has toured as the drummer with variations of The Animals line-up, including Hilton Valentine, Dave Rowberry, Zoot Money and Mick Gallagher. In 1993, Hilton Valentine formed Animals II and was joined by John Steel in 1994 and Dave Rowberry in 1999. Other members of this version of the band include Steve Hutchinson, Steve Dawson and Martin Bland. From 1999 until Valentine's departure in 2001. the band toured as The Animals. After Valentine left these Animals in 2001, Steel and Rowberry continued on as Animals and Friends, with Peter Barton, Jim Rodford and John Williamson. When Rowberry died in 2003, he was replaced by Mickey Gallagher (who had briefly replaced Alan Price in 1965). Animals and Friends continues to perform today, and frequently plays engagements on a Color Line ship that travels between Scandinavia and Germany.

In 2008, after a three year court battle, an adjudicator determined that John Steel owned "The Animals" name in England, by virtue of a trademark registration Steel had made in relation to the name. Eric Burdon had objected to the trademark registration, arguing that he, Burdon, personally embodied any goodwill associated with "The Animals" name. Burdon's argument was rejected, in part based on the fact that he had billed himself as "Eric Burdon and The Animals" as early as 1967, thus separating the goodwill associated with his own name from that of the band.
"Eric Burdon seems to contend that he is, at least in his own mind, a rock and roll legend whose mere existence serves to keep the goodwill in the original band alive. He is, I am afraid, mistaken."
John is still touring with 'Animals & Friends', and doing the occasional gig with 'Eggs Over Easy', dates for which can be found here.

Source info comes mostly from articles written by Richie Unterberger, Daniel Boffey and Wikipedia.(Shhh) with thanks to Dave Graham. I'm indebted to Stu Rutter whose 'service beyond the call of duty' made this one interesting and, of course, John Steel for allowing me to encroach on his precious time.

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