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Media: June 2021 • “Steve King’s Cult 45”

| May 31, 2021 | 0 Comments

People in Chicago know Steve King for his fourdecade run as a radio DJ and talk show host (WLS, WGN), but before his legendary radio career began, he was doing something else entirely.

“I was a full-time musician. That was my career in the early ‘60s. Even when I first got into radio (1966), If anyone had asked, I would have described myself as a musician.”

His brush with musical fame came in 1962 when he was inspired to write a song called “Satan Is Her Name.”

Every songwriter occasionally gets a gift, a song that just sort forms itself without having to work on it. Most songs are not like that. For example, I have one song I’ve been working on for 30 years. This song came to me in a walk home from my girlfriend’s house on the South Side of Chicago. It was about 9 or 10 at night. By the time I got home, all I had to do was write down the words and see if the chords that I thought would work actually worked, and they did. It took the length of about an eight-block walk to form itself in my head.”

“Satan Is Her Name” was instrumental in landing a record deal with Mercury Records.

At that time, Mercury Records was one of the five big record companies, and it was headquartered in Chicago on Wacker Drive. I did a little research, made a couple of calls. David Carroll was one of the biggest producers around (the Platters, the Diamonds, the Crew Cuts), and I managed to get an appointment with him. I nervously went to his office, and he couldn’t have been nicer. He liked a lot of the stuff, but he was particularly taken with “Satan Is Her Name.” He came out to the South Side and attended one of our rehearsals, and gave us ideas. I ultimately signed with Mercury, and they recorded our record at Universal Studios in Chicago.  One of the things I’m most proud of is that what you hear on that record is us playing. There is not one overdub. That’s what the band sounded like. Even the “oh lover” you hear in the song was my girlfriend at the time, Betty. And it was all done live. I thought the group had a good sound.”

Apparently, he wasn’t the only one who felt that way.

“It was starting to get a lot of airplay, and the Mercury promotion department was very high on it. In Miami, it was one of the top ten requested songs. Then we heard that Dick Clark liked it and played it on the local Philadelphia version of American Bandstand. Clark was just about ready to go with our record on the national version of the show on ABC, but timing being everything, Lesley Gore also had a record with Mercury. I don’t know the specifics, but the way I understand it, Clark could only add one Mercury record. Lesley won out.

Years later, Johnnie (Putman, Steve’s wife) and I interviewed Lesley on WGN and had a good laugh about it. If I had been chosen, my career might have gone a completely different direction, and I might not have gotten into radio or met Johnnie. It worked out for both of us.”

For decades Steve thought the story ended there, but then something extraordinary began happening.

“Sometime in the ‘90s, we found out that it had a new life in Europe. It was being re-issued on a bunch of albums there.  Shortly after that, we heard a new European artist wanted to re-do the song, and some American artists did too.

In the years since it’s been recorded many times by many artists in many countries. There are at least seven different versions of “Satan is Her Name” on YouTube, including one that has nearly two million views.

“One of the first that I found was a guy I became friends with, Marcel Bontempi from Kassel Germany. He had a really interesting take on it. He’s a roots country artist and was in Nashville right before the pandemic. He was hesitant to respond to me at first because he thought I was after money, but I was just excited to hear someone else do the song. Holly Golightly is another artist who recorded it, and she twisted it a bit and threw in the f-bomb at the end, but I absolutely love her take on it. Michael Clark is a producer/DJ from Detroit who has worked with Kid Rock and Insane Clown Posse, and he did a really great version of the song. I’ve even been contacted by a producer in Europe who wanted to use it in a play and another who wanted to use it in a commercial.”Is there a way that Steve might return to the stage and perform it again himself?

“It almost happened when Marcel was here. We talked about getting together, but things didn’t quite work out. I’m doing a bunch of new songs right now for an album, and I may revisit “Satan is Her Name” again. It could happen that I’d go out there and perform it again. I’m amazed at the life this record has had.”

The record has had so much of a life; Steve managed to sandwich a 40-year radio career in-between its bouts of popularity. Not a bad trick.

-Rick Kaempfer

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