Although generally acknowledged as the coiner of the phrase ?heavy metal? via his ?Born To Be Wild? song that he wrote for his former bandmates in Sparrow (who had renamed themselves Steppenwolf shortly after he left for a solo career) and whose own interpretation is included here, Canadian singer/songwriter Bonfire (born Dennis McCrohan and later changed to Edmonton, although he was born closer to Toronto) started out in the early 60s with his brother (Jerry, who died in a car crash in the late 90?s) in a band called Jack London & The Sparrows, that also included future Buffalo Springfielder, Bruce Palmer on bass. They released an album on Capitol and even had a Top 3 single before London went solo and was replaced by two German emigres, Nicholas St. Nicholas and John Kay. Now known simply as The Sparrow, they moved to New York, signed to Columbia and released the classic psych single ?Tomorrow?s Ship? c/w ?Isn?t It Strange? in 1966. The following year, Bonfire opted out and began a solo career. Uni released this self-titled album in 1968 and Columbia quickly reissued it under its present title the following year. [As a quick aside, don?t confuse this with the work of any number of British (e.g., Bromyard, Herefordshire) and American (e.g., Columbus, Ohio) bands that have co-opted Bonfire?s monikor as their own.]
Bonfire is a better writer than singer (compare his original versions of ?Tenderness,? ?Ride With Me, Baby? and ?Night Time?s For You? with their Steppenwolf counterparts on 1971?s ?For Ladies Only? or the title track with the ?wolf?s furious rendition on their second LP) and his own run ?out on the highway? through ?heavy metal thunder? is rather flat, lacking Kay?s emotional grunting of those classic lyrics about freedom. As is sadly too often the case, the author?s own rendition pales in comparison to the more popular versions ? for further evidence, check any of Paul Williams? or Kris Kristofferson?s albums of their renditions of their many hits they composed for others. Fortunately for Bonfire, he gets the track out of the way at the beginning of the album, thus allowing the listener to focus on his other compositions, of which ?Sad Eyes? is a catchy little pop dittie that seems tailor made for a Partiridge Family or Davy Jones-sung Monkees track.
The groovy organ backing on ?Lady Moon Walker,? the rambling guitar licks and rolling piano of the Allman Brothers-ish ?Tenderness? all suggest that Bonfire should have had a more successful songwriting career and amply demonstrate that there?s a whole lot more than heavy metal thunder lurking inside his pen. ?Ride With Me, Baby? is the best of the future Steppenwolf tracks here, a hard-driving, chunky rocker with swirling organ, seering guitar licks and vestiges of ?Sookie Sookie? and ?The Pusher? bubbling in the background. Bonfire offers his sentimental side on ?How Much Older Will We Grow?,? with his deep, raspy, gutter-level vocals reminding one of what Jim Morrison might?ve sounded like covering Dylan.
?So Alive With Love? and ?In Christine?s Arms? are the most straightforward pop tunes on the album and should have been selected as the singles that would have introduced the record to a wider audience. Bonfire?s giddily delirious organ runs behind the latter also have a Steppenwolf aroma, but mainly suggest that his forte might have been charming pop love songs, despite all the biker images that permeate his more well-known songs. In all, Bonfire?s solo album is more from the loosy-goosy, garage/pysch end of the spectrum, and while half the songs would later appear on Steppenwolf albums, their original versions here offer as much of an insight into Bonfire?s songwriting abilities as the ?wolf?s arrangement skills. Give it a spin and you might be pleasantly surprised. 7/10 -- Jeff Penczak (13 March, 2007)