|Origin||Toronto, Ontario, Canada|
Los Angeles, California, United States
|Genres||Hard rock, blues rock, psychedelic rock, heavy metal|
|Years active||1967–1972, 1974–present|
|Labels||ABC Dunhill, Mums, Epic, MCA|
|Associated acts||The Mynah Birds, The Sparrows, T.I.M.E., World Classic Rockers|
|Past members||See List of Steppenwolf band members|
Steppenwolf are a Canadian-American rock group that was prominent in the late 1960s. The group was formed in 1967 in Los Angeles by vocalist John Kay, guitarist Michael Monarch, bassist Rushton Moreve, keyboardist Goldy McJohn and drummer Jerry Edmonton after the dissolution of Toronto group The Sparrows, formed by John Kay in the early 60s but of which Moreve was not a member.
The band has sold more than 25 million records worldwide, releasing eight gold albums and twelve Billboard Hot 100 singles of which six were Top 40 hits, including three Top 10 successes: "Born to Be Wild", "Magic Carpet Ride", and "Rock Me". Steppenwolf enjoyed worldwide success from 1968 to 1974, but clashing personalities led to the end of the core lineup. Today, frontman John Kay is the only original member left, having served as lead singer for more than 40 years since 1967.
The name-change from The Sparrows to Steppenwolf was suggested to John Kay by Gabriel Mekler, being inspired by Hermann Hesse's novel of the same name. Steppenwolf's first two singles were "A Girl I Knew" and "Sookie Sookie". The band finally rocketed to worldwide fame after their third single "Born to Be Wild" was released in 1968, as well as their version of Hoyt Axton's "The Pusher" and were prominently used in the 1969 cult film Easy Rider (both titles originally had been released on the band's debut album). In the movie, "The Pusher" accompanies a drug deal, and Peter Fonda stuffing dollar bills into his Stars & Stripes-clad fuel tank, after which "Born to Be Wild" is heard in the opening credits, with Fonda and Dennis Hopper riding their Harley choppers through the American West. The song, which has been closely associated with motorcycles ever since, introduced to rock lyrics the signature term "heavy metal" (though not about a kind of music, but about a motorcycle: "I like smoke and lightning, heavy metal thunder, racin' with the wind..."). Written by Dennis Edmonton, who had begun using the pen name Mars Bonfire, the song had already reached #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in August 1968. It sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc.
The following albums had several more hit singles, including "Magic Carpet Ride" (which reached #3) from Steppenwolf The Second and "Rock Me Baby" (with its bridge lasting 1:06, which reached #10) from At Your Birthday Party. It also sold in excess of one million units. Monster, which questioned US policy of the Nixon era, and Steppenwolf 7 were the band's most political albums, which included the song "Snowblind Friend", another Axton-penned song, about the era and attitudes of drugs and its problems. Other hits included Hey Lawdy Mama and Hootchie Kootchie Man.
There were several changes in the group's personnel after the first few years. Moreve was fired from the group in 1968 for missing gigs after he became afraid to return to Los Angeles, convinced that it was going to be leveled by an earthquake and fall into the sea. Rob Black filled in for Moreve until former fellow-Sparrow Nick St. Nicholas came aboard. Monarch quit after disagreements with Kay the next year year and was replaced by Larry Byrom, who'd been in TIME with St. Nicholas. St. Nicholas' tenure with the group proved to be brief and he was let go in 1970 after incurring Kay's wrath by showing up onstage in a bunny suit, and playing his bass loudly and out of tune. The above tales were related by Kay in his 1994 autobiography Magic Carpet Ride (co-written with Canadian author John Einarson). George Biondo was then recruited and guitarist Kent Henry replaced Byrom in 1971.
The band broke up in 1972 following the release of another political concept album, For Ladies Only, and Kay went on to an inconsistent solo career, scoring a minor solo hit in 1972 with "I'm Movin' On" from his album Forgotten Songs and Unsung Heroes.
Kay toured Europe as The John Kay Band in 1972 with Steppenwolf also on the bill, Kay fronting both groups.
Steppenwolf reformed in 1974 with its core lineup of Kay, Edmonton and McJohn, along with longtime bassist Biondo and newcomer Bobby Cochran, Eddie Cochran's nephew. The band signed with Mums Records in retaliation for what Kay perceived as a lack of support by Dunhill Records for his solo album. Their first reunion album was Slow Flux which included their last Top 40 hit, "Straight Shootin' Woman". In February 1975 McJohn was dismissed for what Kay described as a decline in the quality of his performances as well as his epelipsy-induced erratic behavior. McJohn was replaced by Andy Chapin on Hour of the Wolf in 1975, though McJohn appeared in artwork for the single to Caroline (Are You Ready) and claims that his keyboard work can be heard on many of the album's tracks. After the album peaked at #155, the band attempted to break up, but the label, now having been absorbed by Epic Records, insisted Steppenwolf record one more album to satisfy their contractual obligations. The ensuing album, Skullduggery (1976), featuring Wayne Cook on keyboards, was released without a tour to support it and Steppenwolf disbanded a second time.
From 1977 until 1980 there were a variety of Steppenwolfs put out on the road by concert promoter Steve Green. Another promoter, David Pesnell, reportedly acted as manager for an incarnation featuring former members Nick St. Nicholas, Goldy McJohn and Kent Henry, and new lead singer, Tom Pagan. Plans for a new album circulated. A new studio album, produced by Phil Spector, was attempted in 1978 but abandoned due to Pesnell and Spector's hateful relationship. The relationship ended with a well documented fist fight between the two at the Whisky a Go Go in which Pesnell sent Spector to the hospital where he stayed for three nights. Assault charges were dropped against Pesnell after it was determined by the Los Angeles Police Department that Spector had instigated the fight.
Another Wolf band was launched in the summer of 1978 that featured lead vocalist Bob Simpson, and original members Goldy McJohn and Rushton Moreve, with Kent Henry. This version recorded new tracks for a proposed album which was never released. A splinter Wolf band (which featured no members from any Steppenwolf band fronted by John Kay) appeared around the same time with lead vocalist Don Coenen. That line-up included keyboardist Geoff Emery and guitarist Tony Flynn. Another album, The Night Of The Wolf, was said to have been recorded and produced by Pesnell in 1979 with lead vocalist Bob Simpson featuring such songs as "Night of the Wolf" and "I Don't Want To Lose You," and "Randy's Rodeo." A concert tour in the U.S., Canada and Europe was promoted by Pesnell with the opening acts including Iron Butterfly. The St. Nicholas/McJohn grouping eventually disbanded due to exhaustion and heavy drug use by St. Nicholas, Goldy McJohn and drummer Frankie Banali. St. Nicholas formed yet another version and went back out on the road. This grouping included lead singer Tommy Holland, lead guitarist Ruben DeFuentes, Emery, and future Keel/W.A.S.P./L.A. Guns drummer Steve Riley. The retooled band returned to the studio to revamp tracks for the new album, but it was never released. McJohn also eventually headed back out himself with another lineup that first featured Peter Graw on lead vocals, then another line-up that featured lead vocalist Nick Graham and sometimes included Kent Henry, who had just departed a touring wolf band that featured Tim West on vocals. The Graham/McJohn/Henry version packaged an entire new album that was blocked from release. Frankie Banali later went on to join Quiet Riot.
After hearing of these other Steppenwolf incarnations, John Kay was furious since an original agreement among the band members in the early 1970s stated that anyone leaving forfeited any rights on the group's name, while the last original members standing when the group disbanded (Kay and Jerry Edmonton) would have exclusive claims on the name hereafter. At their lawyers' advice, Kay and Edmonton agreed to license the name to the others. This licensing agreement stated that McJohn and St. Nicholas would have to give up their Steppenwolf royalties forever in order to go forward. They both agreed. Eventually, this agreement was terminated after promised fees were not paid to Kay and Edmonton. Kay then took to the road in 1980 with a new lineup as John Kay & Steppenwolf.
John Kay & Steppenwolf
Kay had a couple of meetings with David Pesnell (after his release from rehab for his drinking and drug problems), about management, concert promotions and producing a new album for the band. Pesnell wanted to produce an album featuring new songs on Side A, by the reformed band Three Dog Night and with Side B of the album featuring songs by Steppenwolf. The album's working name was "Back to Back", a play on each band having a side of the album and the fact the bands were back together again. Pesnell's concept was simple; each band would record four new songs, with a fifth song on each side featuring a medley of the band's past songs. This would give the Pesnell produced album a double release of singles to support a concert tour featuring the two bands. Even though both bands liked the concept of the album and tour, the arguments included who would be Side A and Side B and which of the two would headline the upcoming concert tour.
The reformed John Kay & Steppenwolf lineup featured John Kay, Mike Palmer (guitars, backing vocals), Steve Palmer (drums, backing vocals), Danny Ironstone (keyboards, backing vocals) and Kurtis Teel on bass. The Palmer brothers had played in a group called Tall Water and had also been involved with Kay in his solo career in the late 70s. Teel was replaced by Chad Peery and Ironstone by Brett Tuggle by 1981 and the new grouping put out Live in London overseas. Tuggle was then displaced by Michael Wilk and a new studio album, Wolf Tracks, was released in 1982 on the small Attic (Nautilus in the U.S.) record label. Bassist Welton Gite, who appeared on this album, left shortly after its completion and was replaced by Gary Link. Another album, Paradox, followed in 1984. Chad Peery returned to the group in 1984 to tour in place of Link.
In December 1984 the Palmer brothers and Peery departed Steppenwolf and Kay & Wilk decided to continue on in early 1985 with a pared down quartet that comprised: Kay, Wilk, Ron Hurst (drums, backing vocals) and Rocket Ritchotte (guitars, backing vocals). Wilk would also handle bass duties from his keyboards from here on. This lineup released Rock N' Roll Rebels (1987) and Rise & Shine (1990). Both of these were on the Qwil & I.R.S. Records imprints respectively. Ritchotte had departed temporarily in 1989 to be replaced by Les Dudek and then Steve Fister but then returned in 1990 for three more years. Fister (ex- Iron Butterfly) came back in late 1993 but turned guitar duties over to Danny Johnson (formerly of Derringer, Rod Stewart and others) in 1996.
As the band was named after the novel Der Steppenwolf by German author Hermann Hesse, who was born in the Black Forest town of Calw, the city invited them to come over and play in the International Hermann-Hesse-Festival 2002, along with other bands inspired by Hesse, like Anyone's Daughter. The concert drew considerable media coverage, with Kay's fluent German stunning those who did not know beforehand about his growing up in Germany.
A 2007 newsletter from Kay's Wolfpack fanclub stated there would be some remastering of the band's albums throughout 2007 and 2008. Since the group's official retirement they have continued to play a limited number of shows each year with the 2007 grouping. In 2010 bassist Gary Link rejoined them to add the first real bass playing to their stage lineup since 1984.
In 2010 John Kay granted Glen Bui and Goldy McJohn a license under Steppenwolf Productions to perform as The Magic Carpet Ride.
- John Kay - Lead vocals, rhythm guitar (1967–1972; 1974–1977; 1980–present)
- Michael Wilk - keyboards (1982–present)
- Gary Link - bass guitar (1982–1984; 2010–present)
- Ron Hurst - drums (1984–present)
- Danny Johnson - lead guitar, backing vocals (1996–present)
- July 5, 1968 at the Hollywood Bowl in Hollywood, CA with The Doors
- August 4, 1968 in Costa Mesa, CA, as part of the Newport Pop Festival with Canned Heat, Sonny & Cher, the Grateful Dead & The Byrds
- September 11, 1968 at the Avalon Ballroom in San Francisco, CA with Santana
- December 6, 1968 at the Spectrum in Philadelphia, PA, as part of the Quaker City Rock Festival with the Grateful Dead, Sly and the Family Stone, & Iron Butterfly
- November, 28, 29 and 30, 1969 in Palm Beach, Florida, as part of the Miami Pop Festival with Rolling Stones, Janis Joplin, Chambers Brothers, Sly & The Family Stone, Jefferson Airplane, The Byrds, Spirit, Pacific Gas & Electric, Sweetwater, Country Joe & The Fish, Johnny Winter, Grand Funk Railroad, The Rugby's, King Crimson.
- June 20, 1969 at Devonshire Downs in Northridge, California, as part of the '69 Pop Festival with Jimi Hendrix, Joe Cocker, The Byrds & Creedence Clearwater Revival
- June 26, 1970 in Shepton Mallet, Somerset, England, as part of the Bath Festival of Blues and Progressive Music with Led Zeppelin, The Byrds, Donovan, Frank Zappa, & Santana
- August 6, 1970 at Shea Stadium in New York, NY with Paul Simon, Janis Joplin & Johnny Winter
- July 28, 1991 at Poplar Creek Music Theater in Hoffman Estates, IL, as part of the Psychedelic Celebration with Dave Mason, Robbie Krieger, Arlo Guthrie & Three Dog Night
- August 4, 2007 at Sandy Point State Park in Annapolis, Maryland, as part of the Chesapeake Bay Blues Festival with Aretha Franklin, Three Dog Night, Robert Randolph and the Family Band & Buddy Guy
- The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits - Joel Whitburn/Billboard Publications 1992
- steppenwolf.com Steppenwolf biography[dead link]
- Strong, Martin C. (2000). The Great Rock Discography (5th ed.). Edinburgh: Mojo Books. pp. 932–934. ISBN 1-84195-017-3.
- Dahl, Bill (1944-04-12). "Steppenwolf". AllMusic. Retrieved 2011-11-05.
- Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins Ltd. p. 249. ISBN 0-214-20512-6.
- "Hermann-Hesse-Stadt Calw". Calw.de. 2003-03-19. Retrieved 2011-11-05.