is a rock 'n' roll band, starting out in 1967 and best known for the hits "Born to Be Wild", "Magic Carpet Ride" and "The Pusher". Due to the German background of the band's leader John Kay, they were named after the novel Steppenwolf
by author Hermann Hesse.
At the age of 4, John Kay and his mother, after escaping from East Prussia, fled from Soviet occupied East Germany to West Germany (an event recounted in the song "Renegade" on the album Steppenwolf Seven
and "The Wall" on the album Rise and Shine
), before moving to Canada in 1958.
Steppenwolf had its origins in a Toronto blues band called The Sparrows, which was formed in 1964 and played coffeehouses in Yorkville. By 1967 they had settled in San Francisco, playing mix of blues rock, psychedelia and folk music. Producer Gabriel Mekler of the label Dunhill Records in Los Angeles, suggested to introduce more aggressive beats. With music that pioneered hard rock and heavy metal, they became Steppenwolf, and this band's original members were:
- John Kay, vocals, guitar, harmonica
- Jerry Edmonton, drums
- Michael Monarch, lead guitar
- Goldy McJohn, keyboards
- Rushton Moreve, bass
Steppenwolf rocketed to world-wide fame after their third single, "Born To Be Wild" was used in the cult movie Easy Rider
, as well as cover of Hoyt Axton's "The Pusher" (both titles originally were released on the band's debut album). "Born To Be Wild," written by Jerry Edmonton's brother and early Steppenwolf guitarist, Dennis Edmonton (known as Mars Bonfire) reached number 2 on the charts. The song introduced to rock lyrics the signature term "heavy metal" (in fact, not about a kind of music, but about a bike: "I like smoke and lightning, heavy metal
This was followed by several more hits, including "Magic Carpet Ride" from Steppenwolf The Second
(which reached number 3 on the charts), and "Rock Me" from At Your Birthday Party
. Many fans consider their double album Steppenwolf Live
(an extended single album in the UK) the best of Steppenwolf's releases, though John Kay expressed a personal dislike for the album in his autobiography, "Magic carpet Ride." Monster
, which criticized US policy of the Nixon-era, and Seven
were the band's most political albums, and are still fondly remembered by fans as two of the best rock & roll snapshots of the attitudes of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
The band broke up in 1971 following the release of another political concept album, For Ladies Only
, and Kay went on to a successful, though inconsistent, solo career. Steppenwolf reformed in 1974 with the album Slow Flux
, which produced several minor hits, notably "Straight Shooting Woman," then disbanded again in 1976. From 1977 until 1980 Steppenwolf reformed for touring, this time with various former members but without Kay himself. A new studio album, "Night of the Wolf" was recorded in 1979 but never released. The new Steppenwolf, sans Kay, turned out to be a shell of the original band, and caused the reputation of the band to deteriorate. Lawsuits were fought. To protect the name, John Kay formed a new version of Steppenwolf in the early 1980s and went on tour as "John Kay and Steppenwolf", as well as releasing a solo album in 2001.
Interesting note: in the Neil Young biography, "Shakey", Neil Young attributes his guitar style to the influence of John Kay. Young and Kay are both Canadians. Former founding Steppenwolf member Goldy McJohn, once played in a band with Young and Rick James known as the Mynah Birds.