Steppenwolf is a Canadian-American rock band, prominent from 1968 to 1972. The group was formed
in late 1967 in Los Angeles by lead singer John Kay, keyboardist Goldy McJohn, and drummer Jerry Edmonton (all
formerly in Jack London & the Sparrows from Oshawa, Ontario). Guitarist Michael Monarch and bass guitarist
Rushton Moreve were recruited by notices placed in Los Angeles-area record and musical instrument
Steppenwolf sold over 25 million records worldwide, released eight
gold albums and 12 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 1972, but
clashing personalities led to the end of the core lineup. Today, John Kay is the only original member, having
served as the lead singer since 1967.
In 1965 John Kay joined the Sparrows, a popular Canadian band, and
was followed by Goldy McJohn. The group eventually broke up.
In 1968, Gabriel Mekler urged Kay to re-form the Sparrows and
suggested the name change to Steppenwolf, 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". Both of
these tunes were used prominently in the 1969 counterculture 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 and 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 America of the late 1960s.
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 Sparrow guitarist Dennis Edmonton, who had begun using the pen
name Mars Bonfire and inspired by a billboard roadside advertisement Bonfire liked which depicted a motorcycle
tearing through the billboard artwork, the song had already reached number two on the Billboard Hot 100 in August
1968. It sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc.
In 1968, Steppenwolf played one of their biggest shows up to that
time at the Filmore East to rave reviews, sharing the bill with Buddy Rich and Children of God. On November 27,
1968, they played a concert with Iron Butterfly at the Baltimore Civic Center.
The group's following albums had several more hit singles,
including "Magic Carpet Ride" (which reached number three) from The Second and "Rock Me" (with its bridge lasting
1:06, which reached number 10) from At Your Birthday Party. It also sold in excess of a million units. Monster,
which questioned US Vietnam War policy, was the band's most political album. Following the Monster album from 1969,
the following year, the band released Steppenwolf 7, which included the song "Snowblind Friend", another Hoyt
Axton-penned song about the era and attitudes of drugs and associated problems. The band lineup for their live
performances in the middle of 1970 was John Kay, Jerry Edmonton, Goldy McJohn, Larry Byrom, and George Biondo. This
lineup was also unable to remain together, as Byrom became upset with McJohn over personal issues and quit the band
in the early part of 1971.
Several changes in the group's personnel were made 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 by his girlfriend that it was going to be leveled by an earthquake and fall into the sea. Rob
Black briefly filled in for Moreve until former Sparrow bandmate Nick St. Nicholas came aboard in the latter months
of 1968. Monarch quit the group in August 1969 as his relationship with Kay deteriorated. Larry Byrom, who had been
in TIME with Nick St. Nicholas, ably replaced Monarch. Nick St. Nicholas was let go in mid-1970. He had supposedly
appeared in nothing but rabbit ears and a jock strap at the Fillmore East in April 1969 – a poorly documented tale
hotly denied by St. Nicholas – and his habit of wearing muumuus and kaftans on stage began to wear on Kay, whose
penchant for leather vests and pants was more in line with the image he wanted for the band. George Biondo was then
recruited, and guitarist Kent Henry replaced Byrom in early 1971. In November 1971, the band released For Ladies
Only, with the lineup consisting of Kay, Henry, Biondo, McJohn, and Edmonton. The album was notable for several
reasons, most notably the controversial LP inside cover art, the romantic, political, and social lyrical content,
and the fact that it featured several of the group members on lead vocals.
The band performed what they then labeled their "Farewell Concert"
on October 6, 2007 at Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen, Maryland, featuring Kay, keyboardist and programmer Michael Wilk,
drummer Ron Hurst, and guitarist Danny Johnson; however, they started making live appearances again in 2011 in
North America, and continue through all of 2017.