By: Taylor Gonzales
Steppenwolf – the band that was born to be wild, is ready to take the stage by storm when they perform on September 10th at the Saban, and September 11th at the Libbey Bowl. With an outstanding 25 million records sold world wide, Steppenwolf has become a force to be reckoned with in the rock music community.
“Born to be Wild” has been associated with riding motorcycles ever since the song was used in the opening credits of the 1969 classic film “Easy Rider”. Steppenwolf has a huge following from the biker community, which makes their audience unique as they bring their own energy to each show. “Born to be Wild” was the band’s third single, and it helped skyrocket them to rock legend superstardom.
“Born to be Wild” was the first song to include the term “heavy metal”, cementing the band’s place in heavy metal history.
Another huge hit for Steppenwolf is “Magic Carpet Ride”. Between these two mega hits, Steppenwolf had become inescapable since their debut in 1967. Whether their music was being played on the radio, the soundtrack to a movie, or being blasted down the highway by a group of motorcyclists, Steppenwolf had taken over the airwaves.
Steppenwolf has performed all over the world and shared the stage with acts from The Doors to Sonny and Cher. Now Steppenwolf is ready to perform at the Saban on September 10th, and the Libbey Bowl on September 11th.
John Kay has been Steppenwolf’s lead singer since the band’s inception in 1967, and he took the time to answer a few questions.
Q: What was your reaction when Steppenwolf was invited to play in the International Hermann-Hesse Festival?
A: “Herman Hesse is the single most read German author in the world. His books such as ‘Steppenwolf’ have been translated into many different languages. We were rather surprised but very pleased and had a very enjoyable and successful concert in Hesse’s birth city.”
Q: You have performed all over the world, and shared the stage with acts such as The Doors, Paul Simon, and Janis Joplin. What was your most memorable performance?
A: “The really great shows and the really terrible shows are the ones that stand out. For me, amongst these and probably at the top of the short list is when we played the Royal Albert Hall in the early 70’s. The audience was unbelievable. Another one worth mentioning was when we played Willie Nelson’s Farm Aid in Lincoln Nebraska. There were probably 60 thousand people or so. Everybody got to play for 15 minutes. When we played our songs such as “Magic Carpet Ride” and “Born to Be Wild” it really ignited the crowd. It was like a giant party of people dancing and jumping and singing.”
Q: Given the huge success of “Born to Be Wild” and its association with the biker community, how would you describe the type of energy bikers bring to the live shows?
A: “We have played for bikers all across the world; Australia, Europe, in some really unusual places. The bikers have been an important part of our fan base ever since “Easy Rider” featured two of our songs. The bikers continue to support us, they are always welcome and we appreciate their support.”
Q: The album “Monster” is considered to be the band’s most political album by touching on several important issues during the time period it was released ranging from US policy to the Vietnam War. If Steppenwolf were to make a political album in 2016, what topics would be included in the music?
A: “To be honest with you, we are unlikely to because of the following: In 2009-2010, when the country was in an economic slump we started getting more and more email requests from our fans requesting us to play ‘Monster.’ It was because of how appropriate ‘Monster’ seemed to be at the time due to the lyrics. It is not unusual for us to get a standing ovation at the end of this song. It’s not just nostalgic, but relates to a bunch of problems today. The song is timely in the present. Sometimes while performing the song, I change a lyric or two.”
Q: Throughout the years, you have done a tremendous amount of work giving back to protecting wildlife and the environment. Why are these charities so important to you, and how can others get involved to do their part and help out?
A: “The primary reason why John Kay and Steppenwolf continue to play a very limited number of shows a year is because it enables my wife and I to take our share of the net proceeds to funnel into our foundation (http://mauekay.org). We currently support seventeen different NGO’s regularly. In 2007 after 40 years it was supposed to be our farewell show. In 2008 I traveled a lot with my wife. As we came in contact with more and more people whose mission it was to protect the environment, I realized our foundation needed a steady source of money to stay funded. I was struck by how others, instead of seeking the spotlight, went after doing something other than for themselves. They will never be famous. No one will ever know their names. When on a trip with my wife in the Serengeti I came across a marker. It had the name of a man, Michael, who gave his all to give back to preserving wildlife. I asked myself what exactly I have done to protect these creatures. My wife shares very much the same passion. She and I decided to sell all our music industry related items, our royalty rights, publishing, everything to have more time to donate to what is more important at this point in my life. Every 15 minutes an elephant dies. If it continues, in 15 years no elephants will remain. I am a very fortunate man. I get to perform music onstage with my buddies for people who grew up with our music, sometimes two to three generations of families, while supporting NGO’s. Music is a privilege. The biggest reward is to support those who have given me a new perspective on what is really important at this stage in my life.”