by Steve Kaczorowski
What Time Are You? is a self-published album of ten songs that came out around 1971. Normally, something like this is handed out to a few friends and relatives and never heard from again. But in the most recent eBay auction, the album sold for over $1100. Rare, certainly, but why such a collector’s item?
The story is a long one, and a fascinating one. I knew Steve. He went to my high school, a year after me. I never met him before I graduated, for the simple reason that he transferred in the next year. My brother Ron, who even now does concert gigs back home, introduced him to me; they met because of their interest in performing.
You see, Steve was a rock star. Under his stage name of Steve Martin,* he was a member of the Left Banke, and wrote their hits Walk Away Renee and Pretty Ballerina. He clearly kept his contacts in the music business: when I visited his house, he had promotional copies of dozens of albums.** He was my age, but a year behind me because of the time he had spent touring.
And he made his money by writing songs for established artists and then selling all rights to them. When groups were short a song or two, he’d write something for them as work for hire. These included “I Got a Line on You” by Spirit,*** “Signs” by the Five Man Electrical Band, and “I’d Love to Change the World” by Ten Years After. He was also credited (as “Steve Martin”) on an album by the “Bosstown” rock group Orpheus. He also did music production under the name of Steve Drake.
He used his contacts that spring, when he managed to get permission for what was the first North American production of Jesus Christ Superstar. Steve alternated in the role of Jesus and word had it that some big names – including John Sebastian and Paul McCartney -- showed up.
And, at about this time, Steve recorded What Time Are You? I remember listening to it and was impressed. The songs were melodic and catchy, with standouts like “I’d Love to Change the Word,” “Think I Better Find My Way Home,” “Big Green Pearl,” and several others. There were also some big names involved: Robert Fripp, Don McLean, and Nicky Hopkins. I remember how strange it was to hear one song and realize I knew the people it was talking about. My father stocked it in his store.
Here’s “I’d Love to Change the World” (co-credited to Alvin Lee of Ten Years After):
I then moved on until, a few years ago, I decided to track him down on the Internet. That’s when I learned that Steve Kaczorowski was hoaxing us all.
It started out, like so many things, with a search on his name. I found the transcript of an Internet radio that talked about him. What Steve had done was take obscure album cuts, often by obscure British groups, remove the audio track (or mix it down so it sounded like a backing vocal) and sing the part himself.
The more I looked into it, the more I discovered that just about everything Steve had told us was untrue. A little while later, a web page was put up detailing the songs he used and the technical background of it all. The only thing that is real is that he did, indeed, arrange for the school to do Jesus Christ Superstar, but not because of any contacts: when Andrew Lloyd Webber found out, it was too close to opening night, so he agreed to allow it as long as no admission was charged.
Steve put out several other albums using the same trick: taking existing songs, rerecording either the vocals or getting a band to play behind him, and releasing them, now as the “Steve Drake Band.” These albums are all collectors items among those who know their history.
The funny thing is, no one who knew him begrudges him for this (including one guy who got caught up in a lawsuit when a band found out what was happening). Steve was a nice guy, and came across as very modest about his “accomplishments.” He never made any claims about his supposed past to me, for instance,**** and those who worked with him were impressed by his enthusiasm and creativity.
Steve died in 2009.
*Not the comedian.
**He played Cold Spring Harbor, the first solo album by Billy Joel. I was used to seeing promotional albums, because I was working at my college radio station, and a copy of Cold Spring Harbor was waiting at college when I returned.
***He recorded this as a single; my brother did some backing vocals.
****I heard them from other people.