Steppenwolf are a Canadian-American, hard 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 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
Steppenwolf had its roots in a Toronto blues-influenced rock band called The Sparrows, which was established in 1964 by
brothers Dennis and Jerry Edmonton and Nick St. Nicholas (German born, like Kay). Kay joined The Sparrows in
September 1965 to sing and play guitar after the original singer, Jack London, left the group. Shortly thereafter, Goldy
McJohn, who had once played in The Mynah Birds with Neil Young and Rick James, was brought in to replace departed
keyboardist Art Ayre. The band shortened its name to The Sparrow in May 1966, and somewhat later, simply Sparrow.
With some success in Toronto, Stanton J. Freeman became their manager and took them to New York where he booked
them into The Barge in Westhampton for a month and arranged a record deal with Columbia Records. One single was
released under the Sparrow name, though a full studio album was not released. Freeman then took them to San
Francisco for the Summer of Love. After Steppenwolf became popular, a live album of Sparrow, recorded on May 14,
1967 at The Matrix in San Francisco, was released as Early Steppenwolf (ABC Dunhill DS-50060) in 1969. Dennis
Edmonton and Nick St. Nicholas quit at this point pursuing other musical ventures. Seventeen year old Michael Monarch
and Rushton Moreve replaced them for a short time in Sparrow before the band changed its name to Steppenwolf, at the
suggestion of Dunhill Records producer Gabriel Mekler, who facilitated the band's signing with his employer.
The name-change from "Sparrow" 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", and their version of Hoyt Axton's "The
Pusher" 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, while "Born to Be Wild" is then heard in the opening credits, with Fonda and Dennis Hopper riding
their Indian and 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 hits, including "Magic Carpet Ride" (which reached #3) from Steppenwolf The
Second and "Rock Me" (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 criticized 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 drug problems.
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
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 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 with
each other. The relationship ended with a well documented fist fight between the two at the Whiskey-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 bands 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 him growing up in Germany.
The band performed its 'farewell concert' on October 6, 2007 at Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen, Maryland featuring Kay,
longtime keyboardist Michael Wilk, drummer Ron Hurst, and guitarist Danny Johnson.
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 amount 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. ~ by Wikpedia