Michael Steele

Michael Steele (born Susan Nancy Thomas on June 2, 1955) is an American bassist, guitarist, songwriter, and singer. She was a member of the Bangles and the Runaways, along with other bands.

Career

Steele began her professional career as Micki Steele in the teen-girl band the Runaways, one of the first all-female rock groups. Steele’s stay in the Runaways was brief, leaving the band in late 1975, months before the recording of their first self-titled album. The main recording of this early period is an August 1975 demo session, bootlegged and later released as the 1993 album Born to Be Bad, with Steele playing bass and singing lead vocals on most songs. Additionally, this release also has her first songwriting credit with “Born to Be Bad”, co-written with Sandy West and Kim Fowley. In September 1975 the Runaways recorded a second demo at the famed Gold Star Studios, to this date officially unreleased.

Steele’s departure from the group has been given several interpretations—her own account being that she was fired by svengali-like manager Kim Fowley for refusing his sexual propositions and calling the band’s debut single “Cherry Bomb” stupid. Fowley would further denigrate her for blowing a chance at fame and not possessing sufficient “magic” or “megalo” to make it in the music industry.

Steele played in many Los Angeles bands between 1976 and 1983, including the power-pop outfit Elton Duck (1979–80), an early version of Slow Children (1979), Toni and the Movers with Jack Sherman (1980 – ’81), the improvisational band Nadia Kapiche (1981) and a brief period as bass player in avant-garde rock outfit Snakefinger. Focusing on her musical technique and frequently playing live, in this period Steele became a highly regarded bassist noted for her melodic style and rich tone, influenced by bassists such as Paul McCartney, John Entwistle, Colin Moulding and Carol Kaye.

The Bangles

In mid-1983 Steele replaced Annette Zilinskas in the Bangles, a then little-known group. At this point Steele was solely the band’s bassist, with no released compositions: her only live lead vocal at this time was on the band’s cover of the Yardbirds’ version of “I’m Not Talkin'” by Mose Allison.

All Over the Place

The Bangles 1984 debut LP All Over the Place is the band’s only album with no Steele-written songs; her biggest showcase on the album is the bass solo on “Tell Me”.

In addition to All Over the Place, in 1984 Steele also wrote and recorded the political spoken word piece “El Pollo Loco” for the double LP compilation Neighborhood Rhythms.

Different Light

Although All Over the Place was well regarded by critics, it was not a chart success. Like her bandmates, Steele only achieved popular success and fame with the 1986 release of Different Light and its hit singles “Manic Monday” (#2) and “Walk Like An Egyptian” (#1). In addition to playing melodic and often intricate basslines, Steele sings lead on two songs: a cover of Big Star’s “September Gurls”, later credited for belatedly bringing songwriter Alex Chilton a large income from royalties, and the self-penned “Following”, a stark and introspective ballad far from the glossy sound and more standard lyrical themes of Different Light’s other tracks. Rolling Stone magazine praised “Following” upon the album’s release as its standout song, a dark composition that pointed the band in new jazz and folk directions, only some of which would be explored. Steele also sings lead on the second verse of “Walk Like An Egyptian”.

As often discussed in later interviews, Different Light was also the product of significant contention and tension between the band and producer David Kahne—much of this contention surrounding the use of musicians outside the band on some songs. Despite lingering controversy surrounding the precise extent to which session musicians were employed on the album, Steele is the only band member confirmed to have not been overdubbed, an achievement she later joked was only because Kahne “ran out of money”.

Everything

A commercial success on its 1988 release, Everything would also be the Bangles’ final album before their 1989 breakup. In terms of Steele’s career, Everything also reflects her development as a songwriter, with her three songs, “Complicated Girl”, “Something To Believe In” and “Glitter Years” being the most she had written on an album to this point. Two further songs written for the Everything sessions did not appear on the album, with “Between The Two” eventually appearing on 2003’s Doll Revolution and “Happy Man Today”, played live on the band’s summer 1987 tour, remaining unreleased. In addition to her usual bass credits, Steele is also credited with several guitar parts, euphemistically referred to in the album liner notes as “occasional guitar”. Although none of Steele’s songs were released as singles, they were seen by several critics upon Everything’s release as among the album’s best tracks. A particularly emphatic example is that of the Chicago Sun-Times, stating that her songs provide “most of the album’s highlights”, combining sophistication and accessibility.

1990s

After the demise of the Bangles, Steele initially sought to write and record material for a solo release. How far she got in doing so is not known as her promised record contract was cancelled. Despite this setback, Steele remained musically active throughout much of the decade. Besides recording songs for an unreleased solo album, she played in several bands in this time, most notably as rhythm guitarist and singer in her short-lived band Crash Wisdom (producing several more unreleased songs) and as bassist in Michelle Muldrow’s San Francisco based group Eyesore.

Doll Revolution

By the late 1990s, the Bangles agreed to reunite, with Steele being the last holdout, only joining the reunion with the expectation that they would focus on releasing new material and not become a “Dick Clark oldies band”. The band soon recorded a 15-track album that would eventually be released in 2003 as Doll Revolution. Like Everything, the album had three Steele songs; “Nickel Romeo”, “Between The Two” and the previously unheard “Song for a Good Son”. Positive and negative reviews alike again noted these songs for their strikingly different sound and mood to the rest of the album.

Despite initial brief tours in 2003, various family commitments for her bandmates meant that the band could not tour and support the album following its American release as much as Steele wished, a problem later noted by Susanna Hoffs as contributing to Steele’s leaving the band in the middle of a tour.  Although her final concert was in early 2004, her departure was not officially acknowledged until May 2005.

In this period Steele also contributed guest bass parts to two albums by Lisa Dewey, playing on Weather Changer Girl (2000) and Busk (2004)

Discography

Albums

Release Group Title
1976 The Runaways Born To Be Bad
1984 The Bangles All Over the Place
1986 Different Light
1988 Everything
1990 Greatest Hits[
2003 Doll Revolution
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