Released ahead of the Uriah Heep’s sixth album in September of 1973 (Sweet Freedom), “Stealin'” would become one of the band’s best known and most played classics. It is still one of the few Heep classics that gets fair play on classic rock radio and has been covered numerous times. But the single that started out strong would not become a huge hit single. The band had finally had a top 40 hit in the US with the single “Easy Livin” (from Demons & Wizards) in 1972, and a minor hit with “Sweet Lorraine”, later that same year, so another big single follow up was due and should’ve been with this track. The band signed a new record deal with Warner Brothers in North America (who had so many great acts), and “Stealin” was Heep’s first single for their new label.
However, the song’s lyrics based on the imagination of Ken Hensley included the line “I done the rancher’s daughter”. It was term ‘done’ that seemed to put a damper on the single, as many radio stations would choose to pull the song based on that line.
In an interview with Jeb Wright (ClassicRockRevisited.com), Hensley recalled: “I went to Gary´s flat in London…. We smoked a couple of joints and played a bit and I wrote ¨Stealin¨ from that moment. The story is purely imaginary as I didn´t know any ¨Rancher´s Daughters¨, or ¨Gypsy Queens.¨”
Hard to imagine such a line being remotely controversial nowadays, but in 1973 radio stations (perhaps more so in the US south) might’ve felt pressured in to passing on playing the song. That did not stop the song from becoming legendary though, as it is often regarded as one of the band’s most recognizable songs with it’s quiet bass start, joined by the Hammond organ, David Byron’s distinctive and clear vocal, convincingly delivering the tale of a man on the run, and then the band kicking in with Mick Box’s guitar, Lee Kerslake’s powerful drumming, the band’s harmonies…and it all builds up to a classic Mick Box solo, and the band coming back in with more energy to the end.
Though the band still plays a great rendition of this to this day (I love the John Lawton-fronted version from Live in Europe 1979) and there are plenty of excellent cover versions — nothing comes close to the original production. In Canada the single made it to #65 on the Cash Box chart, while in the US it merely cracked Billboard’s Top 100 at #91. In Norway, however, the song reached #9!
Below is a list of cover versions of the Heep classic. I’ve included those that have been released commercially, and not the numerous live versions found on youtube (OK, i did slip 1 in at the end!). Enjoy.
This must be the first cover of Stealin’, recorded and released in 1973 by Finnish band Karma. They translated the words to Finnish and released it on their debut album for CBS! The song was also issued a single, with a (translated) cover of Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” on the B-side!
An interesting pop version by this Italian group. The 12″ single also came with an instrumental version (hmm).
Released by this LA band in ’88. It was the band’s only other release following their lone album in ’87, on Third Orbit Records. Interestingly, the band featured keyboardist Lou Segreti, who went on to record an album with the band Bloodline (1994) – which also included Joe Bonamassa. This is an interesting extended version of the song (with a lengthier mid section, minus guitar). The 12″ single included both a long and short version of the song. The band’s producer had been Matt Forger, who worked on a number of Michael Jackson albums.
EZ Access (1990)
Detroit hard who rock band who released this lone album 10 track album titled One Track Mind, on U.S.A. Records – and on cassette only, in 1990. “Stealin” was the only cover-version included. The band recorded a follow up album, but it was never released. Both albums can be found on youtube.
Swiss band who released this cover on their 2nd (of 2 albums) titled Energy. Pretty 80s ‘metal’ sounding. Interesting that there is a few Heep connections on this albums – Daniel Boone (David Byron) on backing vocals, Derek Holt (who recorded with Gary Moberly… see Heep’s Equator!) also on backing vocals, and produced by Mark Dearnley (who was an assist. engineer on at least 1 Heep album in the late 70s).
Night Crawler (1996)
Night Crawler, from Minneapolis, released their debut album World Of Make Believe in 1996, which included their version of “Stealin'”. It’s a good version (and hard-rock/aor album). The band’s follow up (and last) album was 2001’s Second Nature – which included a cover of “July Morning”! The band’s drummer Billy Thayer is the brother of Kiss guitarist Tommy Thayer.
Men Without Shame (1995)
This band from Saskatchewan originally released this track on their debut 4-track CD, which also included covers of songs by Nazareth, April Wine, and Nick Gilder. The band released one album: Triple-Ply, from 1997, which was largely covers, along with a few originals.
Native Son (2000)
Originally included on the 2000 2Cd tribute album Heepsteria on Red Steel Music. (The band also did a cover of the unreleased John Lawton era track “That’s How I Am”). Native Son had previously released 3 albums… not sure after this.
This was recorded for the 2003 Heep tribute album A Return To Fantasy. Nightingale was a Swedish prog/metal act, featuring singer Dan Swano . Many years ago I’d corresponded with this guy, and he sent me a CD of a couple of Heep covers he did way back. He also did a cover of “Gypsy” as part of Odyssey for their 2010 album Reinventing The Past.
Included as part of Tesla’s 2007 ‘covers’ album Reel To Reel. An interesting collection. The band made it big in the ’80s with hits like “Little Suzi”, “Heaven’s Trail (No Way Out)”, and their 1990 cover of “Signs” (originally by Canada’s Five-Man Electrical Band).
Out There (2015)
A very interesting version, as it features Stephen (Steff) Fontaine – who briefly fronted Heep in 1986. As he never recorded anything with Heep, I’ve included it here. Out There is an Arizona band (where Fontaine was originally from), and this came from their 2015 album Out There Again, which Fontaine sang all the vocals on. Out There Again is a pretty decent album with a couple of other covers as well.
Other versions noted:
Jason Kane – Jason Kane (of JK & The Jive) recorded a version acoustically, on his own (not totally sure of the yearbut about 2014). This version is excellent, and can only be found on Youtube, as he made a video for it. A shame it’s not been included on any actual release as it’s the most interesting cover to be heard.
Grenzgang (1994) – Austrian band who released a few albums did this cover for a compilation titled Metal Freak Sampler – Cover Me, on CCP Records.
Talas (2001) – Buffalo based band that features Billy Sheehan, included “Stealin” as part of their encore many times. This can be found on Youtube, as it was included in the band’s set at the Buffalo Guitar Festival concert (also on dvd). I would love to hear an archival live release from the band with their version included.