Ex-Steppenwolf Bassist Can Bill Himself As Such

Appeals court Friday reverses lower court ruling; finds bassist known as Nick St. Nicholas did not violate agreement with band founder John Kay.

Nicholas Kassbaum — better known as Nick St. Nicholas, the bassist for Steppenwolf from 1969 through 1970 — has won the legal right to promote himself as a onetime member of the band.

Reversing a lower court decision, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in Pasadena, California, on Friday found that Kassbaum would not violate trademark laws by promoting himself as "a former member of Steppenwolf."

As long as he did not bill himself as a current member of Steppenwolf, the court found that Kassbaum did not break a contract signed with Steppenwolf founder and lead singer John Kay in 1980, Reuters reported.

Kassbaum's lawyer, Allan Heiman, said his client had "filed the lawsuit to ask the court to stop Steppenwolf from harassing him, and [to recognize] that it's not wrong for him to say that he's a former member of the band."

The decision is the culmination of a legal fracas that began when Kassbaum toured with the World Classic Rockers, a supergroup that included members of the Knack and the Spencer Davis Group, in 1996. He was billed in promotions for the tour as "a former member of Steppenwolf." Kay objected, and Kassbaum brought the case to court. Kay, via Steppenwolf Inc., countersued, citing unfair competition and trademark infringement.

From 1976 to 1980, members of various incarnations of Steppenwolf toured using the band's name. During that time, Kassbaum and ex-Steppenwolf keyboardist Goldy McJohn were permitted to tour under the band's name, provided they agreed to waive future royalties from the songs the two had a hand in writing, according to Heiman. They agreed, only to see the CD re-releases of Steppenwolf's catalog generate sales in the millions.

Kay secured the trademark for the name Steppenwolf in 1980 and has led a version of the band ever since. Heiman did not wish to comment on whether Kassbaum now receives royalties since the termination of the mid-'70s agreement.

Kay, who has long sought to prevent his ex-colleagues from benefiting from the band's name, which he owns, has had a fractious relationship with other members of the late-'60s lineup of the pioneering hard rock band — best known for the singles "Magic Carpet Ride" (RealAudio excerpt) and "Born to Be Wild."