Steppenwolf – The Pusher

When I hear this I always remember Easy Rider …Peter Fonda pushing down bills into a tube that is to be pushed down in the teardrop gas tank. Hoyt Axton wrote this song after one of his friends died of a drug overdose. Axton wrote stongs for many artists, including Elvis Presley, The Byrds, and Three Dog Night.

Kay first performed the track with his previous band The Sparrow, in 1967. Their live version is available through the album, Early Steppenwolf, recorded at the Matrix in San Francisco. What I noticed about the song is the memorable guitar intro and John’s voice as commanding as always.

Steppenwolf had two songs on Easy Rider, this one and the classic Born to be Wild.


From Songfacts

This song is about a drug dealer. It is one of the first songs to deal with harsh realities of drug use, and condemns “the pusher” as a heartless criminal who is only after your money.

This was popularized by a Canadian group called The Sparrows, who played it as a long jam during their concerts. Steppenwolf recorded a much shorter, more radio-friendly version.

Along with Steppenwolf’s “Born To Be Wild,” this was featured in the 1969 movie Easy Rider, starring Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper. The film is considered a landmark of ’60s counterculture, and using this song in the movie was important because it portrayed the downside of doing drugs.

The lyrics certainly “pushed” the limits as to what was acceptable for broadcast in 1968. It was far from the first song to make abundant and obvious drug references, but it was the first major release to include the phrase “God damn,” which appears in the line, “God damn the pusher man.” The following year, the Grateful Dead included the epithet in their song “Uncle John’s Band.”

The Pusher

You know I’ve smoked a lot of grass
O’ Lord, I’ve popped a lot of pills
But I never touched nothin’
That my spirit could kill
You know, I’ve seen a lot of people walkin’ ’round
With tombstones in their eyes
But the pusher don’t care
Ah, if you live or if you die

God damn, The Pusher
God damn, I say The Pusher
I said God damn, God damn The Pusher man

You know the dealer, the dealer is a man
With the love grass in his hand
Oh but the pusher is a monster
Good God, he’s not a natural man
The dealer for a nickel
Lord, will sell you lots of sweet dreams
Ah, but the pusher ruin your body
Lord, he’ll leave your, he’ll leave your mind to scream

God damn, The Pusher
God damn, God damn the Pusher
I said God damn, God, God damn The Pusher man

Well, now if I were the president of this land
You know, I’d declare total war on The Pusher man
I’d cut him if he stands, and I’d shoot him if he’d run
Yes I’d kill him with my Bible and my razor and my gun

God damn The Pusher
Gad damn The Pusher
I said God damn, God damn The Pusher man

Author: Badfinger (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

33 thoughts on “Steppenwolf – The Pusher”

  1. Peter Fonda – I think of three things- son Of Hank-brother of Hanoi Jane/ Easy Rider/ He Knows What It’s Like To Be Dead. .. I saw Steppenwolf about 25 years ago on one of those tours with a couple other old bands. They weren’t bad.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Peter gets lost in that family for different reasons…I saw them in the 80s…same scenario, not bad.
      Off topic…Bailey and I are going to see Once Upon a Time in Hollywood this afternoon…looking forward to it…should be good.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I am hoping to see it this weekend. If the movie is as good as the previews….. Oh and the 4th thing I think of with Peter Fonda- father of Bridget.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yes always been a fan of her’s that should have been the second thing I thought of with him–behind his telling John he knew what it was like to be dead…

        Liked by 2 people

      3. I have also…Telling a very aggravated John….but it worked out great. The one time phone cameras would have been great.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Hans I just read that! She was in the hippie commune…I had no clue until we watched it Tuesday night. and I read about it.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Good song…surprising it was written by the Jeremiah was a bullfrog guy (Axton) isn’t it? My dad knew John Kay vaguely, he worked with him at GM for a short period in the 60s, and Kay went to a high school just up the road from where I once lived in the 90s (Kay went to the school around 1960 mind you, before I was born).

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That is cool man… I briefly met him at a Bus rental place that I did IT for…just a hello…seemed like a good guy…very down to earth…He has a commanding voice and stage presence.

      Yes Axton… yes the Bullfrog guy…you wouldn’t connect the dots with this song.


    1. I’m an idiot dude… I checked really fast on my phone…thought you were talking about the “word” on your site.


  3. Strange song, I think, differentiating between the pusher and the dealer. I think the lines between the two have always been a bit more blurred than Kay’s lyrics would have you believe. That G.D. thing always bothered me, although I get the context. There’s another Hoyt Axton song that Seppenwolf did, Snowblind Friend, that I really like.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes I forgot about Snowblind.. I didn’t see the need in saying that either.
      I know what he is getting at in the song between hard and soft drugs but yes…they always get blurred.
      I like watching Hoyt sing and play songs. He had an uncle image about him.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes. I’m a fan. He is wonderfully unique. It’s hard to narrow it down to one Axtonism, but if I had to it would be: “Work my fingers to the bone and what do you get? Boney Fingers.” Brilliant.
        You know about his mom Mae Axton?…

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I’ve heard of her. Something to do with Elvis right?

        Oh Pam…I thought of you yesterday when I posted a song about Nashville’s songwriters…you remember when it wasn’t the clean tourist spot it is now…well cleaner.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. I love that song, by Lacy J Dalton. It was one of my father’s favorites songs. “God bless the boys who make the noise on 16th Avenue.” I always liked Lacy J Dalton. She reminds me of Janis Joplin who I am a big fan of.
        Anyway, yes, I remember 16th Avenue when all the big studios were there. When we first moved here our realtor took us down on music row and showed us around. I remember it was a real tourist trap down there. Hank Sr.’s house was there in that circle area where there’s the naked statues now. I don’t have a problem with nudity in art, per se, but I hate those statues. Ha!

        Liked by 1 person

      4. I’m a huge fan of Janis. I always liked Dalton’s voice and also Tanya Tucker…Tanya was a wild lady back in the day.
        Yes I know the statues! I remember being on Broadway in 83 and my buddy bought a guitar and we ran to our car because of all of the sketchy people around…it is much cleaner now.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Yeah. Oh, man, what’s happened to downtown. Just four or five years ago it was still so cool. Now I avoid going down there like the plague. It’s wall to wall tourists. Commercial as hell. I’m not a purist in that way by any means. I’m a proponent of progress but theme restaurants and people running around with cutoffs and cowboy boots is not exactly culture. Thank God they won’t let them tear down the historic buildings along Broad and 2nd. If they start bulldozing those buildings I’m going to be so disgusted with my city.

        Liked by 1 person

      6. You said it all there. I went down the night before the kidney stone debacle to see a Beatles copy band…rained out…It was awful on how everything has changed. I’ve gone down for concerts but that is about it. Yea you nailed it with the people.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I don’t think that ‘The Pusher’ made the charts, but ‘Uncle John’s Band’ peaked at No. 69 on the Billboard Hot 100, it is one of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll, and it was named 321st (of 365) in the Songs of the Century project list.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I’m sure that’s Phil Spector testing the product. IIRC I had the album with The Pusher and it took up one whole side. Great song. A manifesto even. There’s an operatic quality to it. Great choice to cover. Forgot it was in Easy Rider…

    Liked by 1 person

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