Steel River On Tour 1971

Steel River Portrait

It was exhausting, the pay wasn’t good and the travelling expensive and challenging for band members John Dudgeon, Tony Dunning, Ray Angrove, keybordist Bob Forrester and bassist Rob Cockell. The young rock-R&B band Steel River from Toronto’s east end had Canadian and American chart hits with “Ten Pound Note“, “Southbound Train” and “Mexican Lady” and their albums “Weighin’ Heavy” and “A Better Road” in 1971 & 1972. Almost forgotten by fans today were their extensive touring in Canada and their three American tours starting in Knoxville, Tennessee on February 4th, 1971 with Sly and The Family Stone.

This was followed by dates in Detroit on Feb 12th; Dayton, Ohio on the 19th; Feb 20th in Athens, Ohio with Steppenwolf & Edwin Starr then travelling to Columbus, Ohio on Feb 21st; Scranton, Penn on Feb 26th (again with Steppenwolf); Buffalo, NY on Feb 28th with Three Dog Night; a media showcase in New York, NY at Unganos on Mar 2-3-4th and on to Philadelphia, Penn with Melanie on Mar 5th. Throughout March there were 18 more one-nighters in the US mid-west, packaged by David Krebs at William Morris Agency with the top rock bands of the era. They played concerts in Columbus, Bloomington, Chicago, Akron, Morris, Carbondale, Champagn, Grand Bend, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Dayton, etc.

Steel River On Stage-1971
Steel River On Stage – 1971

Rob Cockell recalls:

“What I remember the most was the amount of time spent in the van driving. We had a great van but we cheaped out on the seats and went with these iron bench things. Horrible if you’re trying to sleep, not much better for sitting. The driver was always able to fall asleep because the drivers seat was the most comfortable one. Every hour or so you’d be woken by the sound of a car horn or gravel from the soft shoulder! It happened so may times it’s a miracle we survived. We did have some amazing times. Day one opening for Steppenwolf in Ohio. We met and hung with all the big names in rock ,James Gang , Three Dog Night, Steppenwolf, Emerson lake and Palmer, Black Sabbath, Humble Pie, Mountain, Johnny Winter, Poco, Rare Earth, Melan!ie, Edger Winter, Sha Na Na, to name a few.”

Steel River's Tony & Rob
Steel River’s Tony & Rob

“In many ways the hardships of the road can bring a band together and it did that for us. It also started tiny cracks in our foundation that would surface eventually. Playing on stage every night with very little variance in material made us incredibly tight and intuitive. We met some really great people and had some wild times. We invited people back to our hotel in Chicago one night and found we had mostly members of the Black Panther party. We were asked to leave the hotel and escorted out of town. We spent endless days by the pool in Holiday Inns and ate countless open face sandwiches ( our favorite). it was living ‘lavida loca’, and we never thought it would end. We were all in our early twenties and invincible. Well, our meteoric rise was short lived and eventually the pressures of success and disappointments of failure took their inevitable toll.”

“Would I do it again? In the blink of an eye! It was the most incredible experience of my young life. The comradery the adventure the excitement, the thrill of hearing yourself on the radio – wow, yes, I’d do it again, but differently. I now believe we could have worked harder, could have read the fine print more closely and been more involved in the business aspects – ah, hindsight! “

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