Steppenwolf (band)

Steppenwolf (band)

Infobox musical artist
Name = Steppenwolf

Img_capt =
Img_size =
Landscape =
Background = group_or_band
Origin = Los Angeles, California, USA
Genre = Acid rock, blues rock, hard rock, psychedelic rock, heavy metal
Years_active = 1967 - 1972 ; 1974 - 1976 ; 1980 - present
Label = ABC Dunhill, Mums, Epic, MCA
Associated_acts = The Mynah Birds, The Sparrows, T.I.M.E., World Classic Rockers
URL = []
Current_members = John Kay
Danny Johnson
Michael Wilk
Ron Hurst
Past_members =

Steppenwolf is a rock band that helped establish heavy metal musicfact|date=July 2008 in the late 1960s along with bands like Blue Cheer and Iron Butterfly. The band 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 its predecessor, The Sparrows.

The band has sold more than 25 million units worldwide, releasing 8 gold albums and 13 Hot 100 singles,fact|date=July 2008 including three top-10 hits in "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 almost all of the 40 years since 1967. Kay has stated that there will be no more Steppenwolf tours, but according to band manager Charlie Wolf, he has left open the possibility of doing "a half dozen shows in '09". [ [] ]


The Sparrows / Sparrow

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 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 to pursue other musical ventures. 17-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.contradiction|about=who suggested the name Steppenwolf|article


The name-change from "Sparrow" to "Steppenwolf" was suggested to John Kay by Gabriel Mekler, being inspired by Hermann Hesse's autobiographical novel of the same name. Steppenwolf rocketed to worldwide fame after their third single, "Born to Be Wild", and their cover 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 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 Hot 100 in August 1968.

Then followed albums had several more hits, including "Magic Carpet Ride" (which reached #3) from "Steppenwolf The Second" and "Rock Me" (which reached #10) 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 "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. These albums are still fondly remembered by fans as two of the best rock & roll snapshots of the attitudes of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

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 Nick St. Nicholas, Kay's old German buddy and former Sparrow member, came aboard. Monarch quit after disagreements with Kay that same year and was replaced by Larry Byrom. St. Nicholas' tenure with the group proved to be brief and he himself 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 a successful though 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, and Steppenwolf with Steppenwolf also on the bill, Kay fronting both groups. His rapport with Steppenwolf and the audiences' enthusiastic responses convinced him that maybe Steppenwolf had disbanded prematurely.


Steppenwolf reformed in 1974 with its core linup 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 album apart from Dunhill was "Slow Flux" which included their last Top-40 hit, "Straight Shootin' Woman". Following the tour in support of the album's release, 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.

New Steppenwolf

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, but without Kay himself. 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 album, "The Night Of The Wolf", was said to have been recorded and produced by Pesnell in 1979 featuring such songs as "Night of the Wolf" and "I Don't Want To Lose You" but never released. 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 Nick St. Nicholas, Goldy McJohn and drummer Frankie Banali. St. Nicholas formed yet another version and went back out on the road, which included future Keel/W.A.S.P./L.A. Guns drummer Steve Riley. McJohn also eventually headed back out himself with another lineup that sometimes included Kent Henry. Frankie Banali later went on to join Quiet Riot.

After hearing of these Steppenwolf incarnations, John Kay was furious since an original agreement among the bandmembers in the early 70s 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 Goldy and Nick would have to give up their Steppenwolf record royalties forever in order to go forward. They both (perhaps unknowingly or not totally appreciating what they were giving up) agreed. Eventually, the agreement was terminated after promised fees were not paid to Kay and Edmonton. John Kay then took to the road in 1980 with a new lineup as John Kay & Steppenwolf to drive the competing groups off the road and out of business once and for all.

John Kay & Steppenwolf

John 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. Many individuals inside the music industry believed the concept was solid and would lead to greater success for the two reunited bands, but Pesnell could not get John Kay or the members of Three Dog Night to agree on the various elements of the project and he eventually dropped the project, much to the dismay of Danny Hutton of Three Dog Night. 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.

In early 1985 the Palmer brothers and Gary Link departed Steppenwolf and Kay & Wilk decided to continue on 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 [ [ Hermann-Hesse-Stadt Calw ] ] , 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 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 John Kay's Wolfpack fanclub states there will be some remastering of the band's classic albums throughout 2007 and 2008.

While the band has a legendary longevity and influence, it has yet to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.



Notable performances

* 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 & Iron Butterfly
* December 28, 1968 in Hallandale Beach, FL, as part of the Miami Pop Festival with the Grateful Dead, Marvin Gaye, Chuck Berry, The Turtles, & Joni Mitchell
* June 20, 1969 at Devonshire Downs in Northridge, CA , 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

Popular culture

* "Born to Be Wild," which has been long associated with motorcycles, appears in numerous films and in the Las Vegas revue "Bite".
* "Magic Carpet Ride" appears in numerous movie soundtracks, including ', ', "Apollo 13", "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back", "", and "Sahara".


External links

* [ Official website of John Kay & Steppenwolf]
* [ Official website of Goldy McJohn]
* [ Official website of Michael Monarch]
* [ Official website of Nick St. Nicholas]
* [ Official website of Bobby Cochran]
* [ Dispelling the Lambda Chi Alpha rumor]
* [ Photos from July 3rd 2007 Concert in Ogden UT]

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