The History of Steel Wolf
Guitarist Al Bivainis, keyboardist Andy Lileika and drummer Mark Vytas Adomaitis joined forces with the Kezys brothers: guitarist Rimas, bass player Vytas and vocalist Ed, to form a classic rock cover band called Steel Wolf playing the occasional school or party in late 1982. Less than a year later, the Kezys brothers split and with yet another sibling, drummer/vocalist Al, began playing cover tunes and polkas at Lithuanian weddings, camps and the like, as BKO (Brothers Kezys Orchestra). The remaining trio began writing original material until Lileika quit to form another cover act, Klaida (Lithuanian for "mistake") with a high spirited lot that included, among others, guitarist Paul Naronis. Months later, Ed Kezys rejoined Bivainis and Adomaitis, splitting his time between BKO and Steel Wolf, though saving all but one of his original compositions ("New York Girls") for the latter. All lyrics for Steel Wolf were penned and now voiced by Adomaitis, the undisputed leader of the band.
On February 16th (Lithuanian Independence Day) 1984, recording began on Steel Wolf's debut, Eternal Damnation. The album was released four months later on the band's label, Lounge Music, and featured lyrics that were either doom-laden ("Rapid Descent into Oblivion") or jocose ("Alice's Bearded Clam") and belted out atop heavy guitar riffs. This material was performed with frenetic energy at CBGB, among other New York-area clubs, and captured on Loungin’ Live! the group's next release. A highlight of this album was a lively acoustic set recorded in Forest Park, Queens.
Later that year, a third album, Backyards of Bushwick, consisting of short humorous numbers and cover tunes (including the Lithuanian national anthem), was released. One inclusion, a thrash operetta entitled "The Perfect Solution" showcased Adomaitis' fancy for writing lyrics of a ribald ("Aural Sects at Gunpoint") and lascivious ("Take it up the A**") nature. Surprisingly, Bivainis contributed no writing to this album, appears on only six of the ten tracks and exclusively plays bass. He left the band during this project due to lack of interest. In the album's liner notes hints are dropped that Naronis (of Klaida) would be involved in Steel Wolf's future.
Any thoughts of playing live to promote this latest recording were put aside when a motorcycle accident left Adomaitis hospitalized and laid up for months. Ironically, he had been riding as a passenger with Bivainis to discuss plans for working together again. They never did. However, some of Bivainis' leftover guitar work from earlier recording sessions was incorporated into the band's fourth album, Rock and Roll Rehab, as was new guitar tracks from Paul Naronis and future member Mike Jaillon. These new persona sanctioned musical expansion giving way to lengthy instrumentals that intertwine acoustic with electric guitar ("Lead Poison", "Emanon") done astride bluesy numbers with horn solos ("Rhythm and Booze"). Lyrics were sanitized on this album, hence the title.
Their slightly more commercial approach got them a headlining gig with Klaida, during which they played the classic rock cover tunes from their earlier days in between their own new ones. Original bass player Vytas Kezys made a surprise comeback but walked off before the end of the show when the audience demanded the band's traditional raunchy fare. Mike Jaillon was handed the bass and thus became an enduring fixture of the group. This line-up then performed yet another acoustic show in Forest Park later that summer. Over this same period, Andy Lileika recorded two new wave solo albums and released them on his own label. Continuing to stretch their horizons, Steel Wolf invited him to play on a new version of "Rapid Descent into Oblivion" that appeared on a widely distributed greatest hits package and very limited edition anthology.
While recording new material for their next album, the group ran a design-the-album-cover contest in a Lithuanian newsletter. No one entered and the group, disenchanted, abandoned the whole project.
Three years later, Adomaitis produced and released The Rise and Fall of Steel Wolf, a near two-hour compilation of jam sessions and live recordings. This album sparked some new life into the band and in 1996 writing and rehearsals for a new recording was underway.
The band, now comprised of Adomaitis in his usual position of drummer/vocalist, Jaillon on guitar and keyboards, original member Rim on bass, and his brother Ed doing session work, began laying down tracks in July 1997 and paused only in October to perform this new material (and old classics) for an enthusiastic crowd at Mark and Ed’s 30th birthday party. The final mix was then completed and on June 10th 1998 Rectal Records released Boozer Friendly, featuring eleven new songs including "Exploring Uranus" and "Night of 1,000 Koldunai" plus four re-recorded classics. A promotional cassingle with bonus tracks was distributed by Lounge Music in the fall of that year. Immediate concert dates were put on hold due to the Kezys brothers refusing to tour.
The two-leg, fifteen-date Boozer Friendly tour (and subsequent live recording, Night of 2000 Koldunai) came to be when godsend bass player Ellis Spanos answered the band’s now-famously misspelled ad that read “Neads Base Palyer” that was written on a cocktail napkin (and can now be seen in the band’s 2001 documentary Rhythm ‘n’ Booze) pinned up on a Long Island rehearsal studio (Lyric in Garden City Park) notice board.
After releasing a twentieth anniversary compilation, After Twenty Beers, the trio invited Al Kezys to the fold as a bonus drummer/vocalist adding new dimensions not only to their December 2003 release, Midnight Train to Siauliai (“Give Pizza Chants” could not have been sung by any other known singer), but also to the immediately-following six-month tour that included their triumphant return to CBGB just months before the legendary club closed its doors for good.
By the release of their next studio effort, Embracing Mainstream Success, in July 2009, Paul Naronis had returned, replacing Jaillon on guitar and new bass player Greg Szlezak had relieved Spanos of his bass player duties. This line-up stayed true to the band’s roots (“Shoplifting Bananas” and “Serving Beer To Miners” became instant classics) while continuing to spread its boundaries (“Hazardville Headlines”). Much to their fan’s [sic] surprise, the band slowly began weaving classic rock covers into their sets (akin to their early days) widening their palatability so that gigs like the much-sought-after NYC Marathon, the Lithuanian camp Giraite in Connecticut (for which a documentary was produced when they co-headlined with Randy Jackson of Zebra) and the ilk became standard.
In celebration of thirty years, the group released Variety Pack (still available exclusively through Bandcamp) which included new song contributions not only by current members but also Jaillon, Spanos, (Ed) Kezys and even Adomaitis’ son, Clark, playing a myriad of instruments. Due to this anniversary album as well, a new turnstile approach in regards to which members wound up appearing in concerts (including the 2012 XIV Lithuanian Folk Dance Festival held in Boston) was brought to life much to audiences’ delight. Also, because of this radical direction, luckily, the band was able to write, record and perform with Ellis Spanos several more times before his untimely passing in March of 2013. Some of this material appears on a commemorative re-release of Midnight Train to Siauliai. (On Amazon, the original version was ranked 969,434 in sales as of this writing.) Live material from an understandably emotional performance the following month at the Long Island Music Festival Semi-Finals appears on their 2014 live release, Nakturnal Wood.
The following February, hot on the heels of three stellar New York-area appearances including a stint at Hail Hail in Brooklyn, all of which included Ed Kezys on bass, Steel Wolf released their eighth studio album, Hot Honey Liquor, which, aside from other mediums, became accessible through KristalAudio.com (the premiere Lithuanian music distributor) as well as the Nassau county public library. Astonishingly, a fan's video upload on Facebook of a live unplugged performance of a non-album single received an unprecedented over-22,000 views! The song,“Kur Tas Kugelis?”, was later released on a limited edition live album, The Spotlight Tapes, and gained more popularity through special performances at Northeastern Lithuanian events (plus a Los Angeles one) and through merchandising. The song became a set list staple at Steel Wolf performances. (Most of Steel Wolf’s more recent concert set lists are now available at setlist.fm) During the next twelve months or so, the band performed most notably at Baltimore's Lithuanian Hall during the weekend of the Lithuanian Folk Dance Festival (The show was attended by Jurgis Didziulis!), the weddings of both Lynda & Paul Slabosevicius and Anna & Greg (former SW bassist) Szlezak, a fundraiser for the Andrew Burrous Best Buddy Foundation at the Floral Park Knights of Columbus, and played full concerts at both the Covert Avenue Street Fair in Long Island and the New York Lithuanian Festival in Brooklyn on the same day.
In 2017, Steel Wolf’s 35th anniversary year, among gigs at other venues and an accepted invitation to be flown to the Los Angeles Lithuanian Fair, the band left audiences stunned at Harlem's legendary Silvana multiple times. At these concerts they delivered full-steam performances of songs from a new offering, The Unreleased Album, which joined their other releases’ availability through iTunes, Spotify, Amazon and other websites. The album also received the highly-desired positive review from Long Island’s Good Times magazine.
Commencing in late 2018 and continuing into 2019, the band (with help again from Clark and also brothers Stasys and Simas Janusas) began Not Playin’ With A Full Deck [sic] at many of their familiar (Desmond’s in NYC) and even some unfamiliar (KJ Farrell’s and TC Kross’ Village Pub on Long Island) haunts and releasing new songs via Bandcamp and Soundcloud with video clips streaming on Youtube culminating in their tenth studio album. Mark and Ed also performed several times acoustically as Steel Wolf But Unplugged. Before year's end the band reunited with Naronis for a concert performing Embracing Mainstream Success in its entirety to celebrate that album's tenth anniversary. Further information about that landmark album and Steel Wolf in general can be found on Wikipedia and by downloading the Steel Wolf Android app.