Ask any person even remotely familiar with rock to name a song that best serves as the anthem of the 60s and 70s and “Born to be Wild” is likely to be their choice. John Kay and Steppenwolf wrote and performed the music that became a vanguard for more than one generation’s search for freedom. In 1968, the band’s self-titled debut album took it from an L.A. garage to the height of stardom. “Born To Be Wild” was on that album and other classic trackes followed, such as “Magic Carpet Ride,” “Rock Me,” “Monster,” “Sookie Sookie,” and “The Pusher.”
Since 1968, John Kay and the band have released 29 albums, including last year’s live double CD, Live at 25.
John grew up in East Germany, fueled by a steady diet of Armed Forces Radio. Little Richard and Chuck Berry were a couple of his earliest influences. At 14, he and his mother left the country, and moved to Toronto. He learned English by listening to radio disc jockeys and music from artists of the day. By his mid-teens, he was performing on amateur radio shows.
After high school, John roamed North America, performing acoustic blues in coffee houses and bars. He joined the Sparrow while playing Toronto’s Yorkville in 1965. The band relocated to San Francisco via New York and became part of the Bay Area music scene, then moved on to L.A. where it broke up in 1967. Shortly after, John formed Steppenwolf and the group’s debut was released in 1968.
John Kay and Steppenwolf are still going strong. The band lineup consists of John, his long time writing partner/keyboardist and co-producer Michael Wilk, drummer/vocalist Ron Hurst and lead guitarist/vocalist Steve Fister. Total album sales are in excess of 20 million units worldwide, and the group continues to tour annually.
The last few years have featured some benchmark accomplishments and recognition for Kay. His autobiography, Magic Carpet Ride, was published by Quarry Press in 1994 and last year the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, installed a memorabilia display devoted to the group. This year it’s Canada’s honor to welcome him into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.