…I like smoke and lightningHeavy metal thunderRacin’ with the windAnd the feelin’ that I’m under…
Tag Archives: Steppenwolf
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:
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.
Previously, we learned that many Canadian acts, like Hank Snow and Paul Anka, had moved to the U.S. to bolster their careers. Now, with CBC radio firmly established and the debut of CBC television in 1952, enabling artists to gain significant exposure, many began remaining at home, like Bobby Curtola. Moreover, foreign singers and bands began recording or settling in Canada, even American artists (we’ll look at Heart later). Arriving in Canada from Northern Ireland were The Irish Rovers who, during a lengthy (especially performance-based) career, scored a few hits including their 8 million selling cover of Shel Silverstein’s “The Unicorn” in 1968 and their Juno-nominated smash “Wasn’t That a Party” in 1980. East Prussian born John Kay became a naturalized Canadian citizen and founded the rock band Steppenwolf. An American artist who ended up settling in Canada was Ronnie Hawkins. He started out as a solo artist with a backing band called The Hawks who broke with Hawkins to become their own hybrid band called The Band. What do I mean by “hybrid” band? Let me explain…
In the middle of the 60s, Canada and the United States were swept up in Beatlemania. The British Invasion knocked Paul Anka, Elvis, and a host of acts off the charts. In order to combat this, Canadians and Americans joined forces, coming together to create what I’m calling “hybrid bands”. These were bands, some of whose members were Canadian and some American. There were perhaps five very popular ones: The Band, Steppenwolf, The Mamas and the Papas, The Lovin’ Spoonful, and Blood Sweat and Tears. The latter three were predominantly American outfits (only one member in each band was Canadian), so we will just write a few notes on them. The first two were primarily Canadian bands, so we will profile them. Because it released only three albums and was never a big commercial success (though highly regarded by rock critics and an inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame) we will not talk about Buffalo Springfield here, but later on we will mention them in conjunction with Neil Young whom we will profile in great detail.
Denny Doherty was a Canadian singer-songwriter who, with three Americans, were The Mamas and The Papas, a hybrid band from 1965 to 1971. They released five albums and scored ten hit singles, the biggest being “California Dreamin’” (#4), “Monday, Monday” (#1), and “Dedicated to the One I Love” (#2). Doherty co-wrote the bands’ songs “I Got a Feelin’”, “For the Love of Ivy”, and “I Saw Her Again”, the latter reaching #5 on the Billboard charts and, naturally, going #1 in Canada. Doherty was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1996. The Mamas and The Papas were inducted into the American Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998.
Zal Yanovsky was a Canadian guitarist and singer who, from 1965 to 1967, was in the short-lived hybrid band The Lovin’ Spoonful with three Americans. They scored a number of hits; their three biggest all came in 1966—“Summer in the City” (#1 in both the U.S. and Canada), “Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind” (#2), and “Daydream” (#1 in Canada and #2 in the U.S.). Zal Yanovsky was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1996. The Lovin’ Spoonful was inducted into the American Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000.
In 1968 Blood, Sweat and Tears recruited a Canadian lead singer: David Clayton-Thomas. All other members were American. Clayton-Thomas is the one who fronted the band when they rose to superstardom, and he is the one who, unaided, composed one of their biggest hits—“Spinning Wheel”. Their second album (self-titled) topped the Billboard charts, was the third biggest of the year, and won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year beating out The Beatles’ Abbey Road! Their follow up album (Blood, Sweat, and Tears 3), released in 1970, also topped the charts. The band’s biggest hits were all released in 1969, reached #2 on the Billboard Pop Charts, and went #1 on the Canadian charts. These were a version of Laura Nyro’s “And When I Die”, Clayton-Thomas’ “Spinning Wheel”, and a cover of Berry Gordy and Brenda Holloway’s “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy”. David Clayton-Thomas was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1996.