Steppenwolf is a great band that formed in Los Angeles in 1967 and proved to have a very broad appeal, and for a very long time.
The story of the group starts with Joachim Krauledat, who was born in Tilsit, East Germany, in 1944. His father was killed fighting the Russians shortly before Krauledat was born. At age four, Joachim and his mother escaped from the Communist regime to West Germany, and he grew up there, in Hannover. Although he spoke only German as a child, he was mesmerized by the American rock music he heard played over Armed Forces Radio. At age 14 he and his mother and stepfather moved to Toronto. He learned to speak English in part by listening to AM radio stations from the United States that beamed their music into Canada, and joined a rock group with some friends called The Sparrow.
In 1967 Krauledat and some of his band mates moved to Los Angeles and, at the urging of ABC-Dunhill record producer Gabriel Mekler, formed a new group called Steppenwolf. The band took its name from the title of a Hermann Hesse novel of the same name about a man who is trapped between perception and reality. The original lineup of the band included ex-Sparrow members Goldy McJohn on keyboards, Jerry Edmonton on drums, and of course Joachim Krauledat on guitar and vocals. They also recruited two band mates from outside of The Sparrow, one of whom was very young but had developed a reputation as an excellent guitar player, Michael Monarch, and bass player Rushton Moreve. Krauledat changed his name, and after that was known as John Kay.
Steppenwolf featured gritty lyrics and an imposing stage presence by the group's leader, John Kay, who has always been attentive to the band's image. The music scene was changing and the group's delivery and image suited the late 60's music scene quite well. Ex-Sparrow member Mars Bonfire, who had changed his name from Dennis Edmonton and was the brother of Steppenwolf drummer Jerry Edmonton, had written a song with some hard-edged lyrics titled Born To Be Wild. Steppenwolf included it on their first album Steppenwolf '68 on the Dunhill label. Born To Be Wild became very popular across the United States in the summer of 1968, finally resting in the number two slot on the pop chart. The song is credited by some with introducing the term heavy metal in its lyrics. A short time later Steppenwolf's next major hit, Magic Carpet Ride, climbed to number three; it was included on their second album, Steppenwolf The Second. Their first two singles hits were both million sellers, and the band became very well known.
More hits followed, and the group experienced a number of personnel changes. They became a staple on top forty radio. They had their final top ten single hit with Rock Me in 1969. Still produced by Mekler, other top forty successes included Move Over, Hey Lawdy Mama and Monster. Steppenwolf was in demand; they toured extensively and continued to record albums. In 1969 an anti-drug song that they had originally recorded with The Sparrow titled The Pusher -- written by Hoyt Axton -- was featured in the popular counter-culture movie Easy Rider, as was Born To Be Wild. Steppenwolf became a favorite with motorcycle enthusiasts. Others who played with Steppenwolf at one time or another included ex-Sparrow Nick St. Nicholas, John Russell Morgan, Bobby Cochran, George Biondo, Andy Chapin, Larry Byrom and Kent Henry.
Their albums received a lot of play time on FM radio, which was coming into vogue as the medium of choice for bands trying to sell records in the early 70's. This fueled more album sales. Steppenwolf successfully made the transition from late 60's AM band to being an early 70's FM band, perhaps as well as any group had done.
Eventually the group split in 1972, with John Kay striking out on his own and other members going into various other endeavors in the music business. Kay reformed them several years later. Steppenwolf's final top forty entry was an album cut titled Straight Shootin' Woman in 1974. By 1980 things had changed, and Kay recruited some new musicians and called the group John Kay and Steppenwolf.
Steppenwolf is still around and has a very loyal fan base. John Kay has come a long way from his humble beginnings and done very well. Steppenwolf is reported to have sold over 25 million records.
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