At the age of four, John Kay and his family, made a dangerous midnight escape out of post-war East Germany. Growing up with the Armed Forces Radio, John was inspired by artists like Chuck Berry and Little Richard.

Born Joachim Krauledat, he made the decision to make rock and roll his life at the early age of 13. John said, “Considering I was only 13, legally blind, spoke the wrong language and was on the wrong side of the ocean, maybe I was a little optimistic”!

In the face of all those adversities, by the time he turned 14, John was on the other side of the ocean in Toronto, Canada and had his first guitar! His education in the English language was acquired from disc jockeys and music!

He performed acoustic blues while traveling America and performing in bars and coffee houses. In 1965, he met and joined “Sparrow”, a Canadian band. The band moved to New York and then to San Francisco and joined the music scene in the Bay Area.

After several attempts at a recording deal for Columbia Records had failed, the band broke up in 1967. Not long after, John formed a whole new band. Steppenwolf, a novel by cult author Herman Heese, was the inspiration for the band’s name – Steppenwolf!

The band had a two releases that performed poorly in sales. But, the third time was a charm for Steppenwolf, the summer of 1968 “Born To Be Wild” hit number two on the charts and proceeded to go gold!

Steppenwolf reached worldwide fame with Born To Be Wild, the song was destined to be a rock and roll classic! It’s been on the sound tracks of several movies and is still a favorite of fans today!

A sweet little piece of trivia, a line in the song “Heavy Metal Thunder”, talking about the loud sound of motorcycles, provided the new name for that style of music, Heavy Metal!

The combination of psychedelic pop and hard rock of “Magic Carpet Ride” made it Steppenwolf’s second million selling hit! A lot of the band’s music after Magic Carpet Ride, included brilliant social and political statements and brought in very good sales for the band.

The band had several more releases, all of which made it into the Top 40 charts. Through 1969 and 1970, the band continued to draw huge crowds in concert, but their new releases popularity during those years, seemed to be at a standstill.

With problems in the band resulting in many member changes, the lack of solidarity, burn out from endless touring and recording the band broke up on Valentine’s Day in 1972.

Several of the members proceeded to try and establish solo careers. The John Kay Band produced a minor hit with the single “I’m Movin On” in 72′, but the band saw no real success and in 1974, Kay decided to reunite Steppenwolf.

After a very successful European “farewell” tour, Steppenwolf released three more albums,  “Slow Flux” gave them a Top 20 hit “Straight Shootin’ Woman”, “Hour of the Wolf” and “Skullduggery”.

The “Hour of the Wolf” was released was the first album of their career that didn’t hit the Top 40, actually it didn’t even make it to the Top 100. And, by 1976 Steppenwolf had broke up once again amid rumors of heavy drug use and exhaustion!

Kay then started once again concentrating on a solo career and signed a deal with Mercury Records. His 1978 release “All in good Time” was very well received by fans.

Soon after Kay found out that two of Steppenwolf’s former members were touring as a bogus Steppenwolf. The fake band was performing at low rate clubs and literally trashing Steppenwolf’s reputation.

The news motivated Kay and he quickly turned the John Kay Band into John Kay and Steppenwolf in 1980. Reuniting for the third time of their career, Steppenwolf did intensive touring for several years. They accepted gigs anywhere and everywhere they could to rebuild the bands reputation.

By 1987 the band finally took a break, they didn’t have any albums in the Top 40, but they’d not only reclaimed their status as a rock and roll classic, they’d gained a whole new following of younger fans.

After taking a breather in 1987, the band went on to release seven more albums. They also began to host Wolf Fest, a yearly weekend long festival held in Tennessee that brings fans from around the world, fans fondly called the “Wolfpack”!

On Steppenwolf’s 25th anniversary, the band flew to East Germany. Kay was reunited with relatives and friends he hadn’t seen in twenty-five years and Steppenwolf performed a series of very successful concerts.

The bands success continued, but at age 62, John Kay was ready to call it a day! Steppenwolf’s farewell performance was at Ripkin Stadium in Aberdeen, Maryland on October 6, 2007.

Steppenwolf boasts worldwide record sales in excess of 25 million, a number of gold albums, top one hundred hits and top ten hits. The band has also been licensed for use in at least fifty motion pictures and even more television shows!

Steppenwolf changed the face of music as we know it today. Virtually the first band to give us heavy metal, they paved the way for many artists to follow. The Wolfpack will always be grateful for 40 years of rock and roll history!

Written by Connie Corder, Copyright 2010

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