German-born rock singer John Kay is celebrating more than 40 years as the front-man for Steppenwolf with a concert date set for later this month in New Mexico as well as a recent live Cd and DVD of a Louisville, Kentucky concert show recorded before 15,000 fans. So far, it's been quite a ride for John Kay & Steppenwolf, which have been making great hard rockin' music for more than 40 years.
Best known for classics such as "Born To Be Wild", which incidentally coined the term, "heavy metal", Steppenwolf experienced huge success when two of their early singles were included in two major films of the time. The legendary motorcycle drama classic, EASY RIDER, introduced Steppenwolf to most fans, with the hard rocking, "Born To Be Wild". It became an instant motorcycle anthem. And the film, CANDY, gave the band a later second smash hit single with "Magic Carpet Ride". Both songs became hits in 1968, with "Born To Be Wild" coming in at #2 on the pop charts, and "Magic Carpet Ride" Peaking at #3 some months later. The band continued issue both albums and singles until Valentine's Day in 1972, when the band called it quits. A compilation album of second best of songs was released entitled. REST IN PEACE in 1972. Unlike STEPPENWOLF GOLD it didn't include any hit singles, but was instead a great collection of stand-out album tracks. REST IN PEACE looked like the group's swan-song for a while.
But John Kay would be back with a new version of Steppenwolf for the mid-70's. And a string of three albums ensued. SLOW FLUX was a great 1974 album, and easily one of the best Steppenwolf albums ever made. It spurred three great singles, including "Straight Shootin' Woman", "Get Into The Wind" and "Smokey Factory Blues". Interestingly, "Get Into The Wind" was the group's third motorcycle themed single after "Born To Be Wild" and "Ride With Me". Steppenwolf would forever be a favorite group of the Harley riding set.
1975's, HOUR OF THE WOLF, was a another great album. The single, "Caroline(Are You Ready For The Outlaw World)" had the extra punch of Tom Scott's saxophone solo on it. It was also another great motorcycle lifestyle themed song. Steppenwolf appeared to be firing on all cylinders with their mid-70's revival of the band. But then in 1976, the less than stellar, SKULLDUGGERY album was released. And although it had a few good songs, it simply lacked the sheer magic of SLOW FLUX or HOUR OF THE WOLF. SKULLDUGGERY also signaled yet another breakup of the band, with John Kay emerging with another new Steppenwolf with the 1981, LIVE IN LONDON, album and 1982's,WOLFTRACKS.
WOLFTRACKS, was an interesting album because it was recorded live into the new generation of digital recorders. At the time, only a few jazz performers were experimenting with recording albums in the same way onto the new digital recorders. Since the 1980's, Steppenwolf has more or less either recorded new albums or performed concert show. When John Kay announced an end to concert tours after the group celebrated 40 years as an act, you knew that any retirement wouldn't last long. So you have at least 2010 concert dates, with more sure to follow.
And the life-story of John Kay is very impressive as well. He even has an autobiography book detailing this amazing story of how a disabled child immigrant fleeing from part of Eastern Germany born as Joachim Fritz Krauledat in Eastern, Prussia, eventually came to Canada with his mother and formed early music acts such as The Sparrows.
John Kay may also look like an intimidating figure with his trademark dark sunglasses, however they are a necessary accessory to deal with serious eyesight problems and even legal blindness. Kay has a serious sensitivity to both light as well as a color blindness related disability. But for someone with such serious disabilities, John Kay has been a very prolific song writer and performer. He has made a huge success of his life.
It's been a great ride so far. Thanks so much, John Kay & Steppenwolf. Here's to many more hard rockin' years.