Years Most Active: 1967-1976
- John Kay (lead vocals)
- Goldy McJohn (keyboards)
- Jerry Edmonton (drums)
- Michael Monarch (guitar)
- Rushton Moreve (bass)
- John Kay (lead singer) Canadian Music Hall of Fame (1996)
- John Kay (lead singer) Canadian Walk of Fame (2004)
“Born to Be Wild” (1968)
- #1 on the Canadian RPM Charts
- #2 on the American Billboard Pop Charts
“Magic Carpet Ride” (1968)
- #1 on the Canadian RPM Charts
- #3 on the American Billboard Charts
Some Other Hits:
- “Move Over” (1969)
- “Rock Me” (1969
- “Hey Lawdy Mama” (1970)
- “Straight Shootin’ Woman” (1974)
Though their music sounds tame by today’s standards, back in the late-60s, the music of Steppenwolf was considered hard rock. It is perhaps more true to say that their music was a big influence behind the establishment of heavy metal music later on. In fact, in the band’s huge hit “Born to Be Wild”, the term “heavy metal” is used for the first time in the lyrics of a rock song:
…I like smoke and lightningHeavy metal thunderRacin’ with the windAnd the feelin’ that I’m under…
Steppenwolf was formed in the year of Canada’s centennial birthday (1967) in California by a naturalized Canadian citizen (born in East Prussia) named John Kay.
Kay fronted the Toronto-based outfit, Sparrow, two years prior. The band made a big impact with their debut performance in Waterloo, Ontario. A month later they supported Gary Lewis & The Playboys at Massey Hall in Toronto. With their success, their manager took Sparrow to New York arranging a record deal with Columbia Records. They released a couple of singles, both of which failed to chart. They decided to move to California and performed in gigs alongside The Doors and The Steve Miller Band.
After the move to Los Angeles, a couple of members left the band and new recruits were called in. Canadian Dennis Edmonton, who’d been a member of Sparrow, departed for a solo career under the stage name Mars Bonfire but not before writing the aforementioned “Born to Be Wild”. His brother Jerry Edmonton stayed with The Sparrows as their drummer. Their name was changed to Steppenwolf after Hermann Hesse’s autobiographical novel of the same name. (On a side note, Bruce Palmer left Sparrow to join Neil Young’s Buffalo Springfield.)
Steppenwolf released two singles, but rocketed to worldwide fame with their third—“Born to Be Wild”—which was featured in the 1969 biker film Easy Rider, during its opening credits with Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper riding their Harley choppers through the American west. The song has been associated with motorcycles ever since. Steppenwolf’s cover of Hoyt Axton’s “The Pusher” was featured in the film as well.
The band was as successful with its single “Magic Carpet Ride” written by John Kay. This song has been featured in several movies including Canadian Mike Myers’ Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. Steppenwolf scored a Top 10 hit in the U.S. with “Rock Me”. The band released a number of political concept albums over the next few years and went through a few personnel changes.
They disbanded in 1972 but after enthusiastic responses to reunion concerts, they reunited in 1974, released a new album and their last Top 40 hit, “Straight Shootin’ Woman”. They disbanded a second time in 1976. A number of bogus versions of the band were assembled with various former members for touring. In the 1980s, Kay reformed his own version of the band performing their old hits and some new numbers but Steppenwolf will always be remembered for their wild biker and magical carpet themes of the late-60s. Jam’s Canadian Pop Encyclopedia adds:
In 1994, on the eve of Steppenwolf’s 25th anniversary, Kay returned to the former East Germany for a triumphant series of Steppenwolf concerts; that trip reunited him with friends and relatives he had not seen since his early childhood. The same year, Kay published his autobiography, “Magic Carpet Ride”.
John Kay was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1996 and was given a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame in 2004.