Although based in southern California, Steppenwolf started out in Toronto, Canada as Sparrow. John Kay (vocals), Michael Monarch (guitar), Goldy McJohn (keyboards), Rushton Moreve (bass) and Jerry Edmunton (drums) came together and performed under that moniker with a one-off 45 for 'Columbia'. In 1967 they changed their name to Steppenwolf by the suggestion of producer Gabriel Meckler, inspired by a novel by Herman Hesse (later turned into a movie). At the same time John Morgan replaced Moreve.
1968 was a big year for this group for their debut album, Steppenwolf, was released going immediately to 2 on the charts, with the single Born To Be Wild hitting 1 on its own. The rebellious anthem would be featured in the film Easy Rider, a cult classic to the motorcycle and youth cultures of the era. The Pusher, another featured track, also 'pushed' its way to the upper echelons of the charts, introducing the masses to this group's blues influenced Hard Rock sound. Politics, prejudice and drugs were only a sample of the contemporary issues covered in the lyrics of their music, making them a band for their time. But other than their first outing, the writing skills of Kay were not enough to sustain the band's future. Their second album, the appropriately named Steppenwolf The Second (1968), squeezed a 3 out of the charts, mostly on the strength of the track-gone-single Magic Carpet Ride. They only managed minor industry input with their following albums, Steppenwolf At Your Birthday Party (1969; their last to be published in both stereo and mono formats), and Early Steppenwolf (1969; originally featured on their own 'Sparrow Records', but now released on 'Dunhill' like the rest).
1969's Monster was probably their most cohesive set; a concept album based on Kay's view of 1970 America. It proved to be the changing of times for the group. It would feature newcomers Larry Byrom on guitar and Nick St. Nicholas on bass. During the years that followed, membership changes and the dispute over their musical image (to follow on their achievements or revert to their former biker image) started to take its toll on the act after their live set Steppenwolf Live (1970) was released. Steppenwolf Live would be their last serious charter, giving them a 16 U.K.and 7 U.S. The follow-ups, Steppenwolf 7 (1970) and For Ladies Only (1971) remained non-starters, the former featuring Kent Henry replacing Byrom on guitar and George Biondo taking over bass. Kay would dissolve the band in 1972, with McJohn and Edmunton forming their own act, Manbeast, but Kay's solo career was even less successful.
Over the years, under various line-ups, Kay had attempted to resurrect the act with continued failure. The albums, however, kept on coming, giving the impression that the band was still a viable and active entity during the period. As a self-titled act, John Kay would recruit Kent Henry and George Biondo (both ex-Steppenwolf), with Hugh Sullivan (keyboards), Pentii Whitney Glen (drums) to release Forgotten Songs And Unsung Heroes (1972) and My Sportin' Life (1973).
In 1974 Kay resurrected the band with Edmunton, Biondo and McJohn recruiting Bobby Cochran for guitar. As the newly formed group they would release Slow Flux (1974). After McJohn left to go solo, Hour For The Wolf (1975) was released with Andy Chapin taking over the vacant spot. The albums, however, showed the band as a shadow of their former self but they trudged on with Skullduggery (1976; featuring Wayne Cook on keyboards), and the remixes album Reborn To Be Wild in 1977. The albums only covered up the truth about the band's continuing personnel issues that lay behind and they would end off breaking up yet again.
Kay was on his own again. Now recruiting back Larry Byrom (slide guitar) with Mac McNally (guitar), Clayton Ivey (keyboards), Bob Wray (bass) and Roger Clark (drums) he would release All In Good Time (1978).
But his name on its own didn't hold much influence so the act began to tour as John Kay And Steppenwolf in 1980 with the line-up of Michael Palmer (guitar), Brett Tuggle (keyboards), Chad Perry (bass) and Steven Palmer (drums) to release Live In London in 1981. Later that year he added Michael Wilk on keyboards and replaced Chad with Welton Gite on bass. Wolf Tracks would appear in 1983. With Rock & Roll Rebels (1988) considerable time had passed and it featured what should have been an entirely new line-up of Rocket Ritchote(guitar/vocals), Ron Hurst (drums/vocals) and Michael Wilk (keyboards/bass) but Rise And Shine would emerge in 1990 to equally little notice. Once again a long pause passed until the release of Five Fingers Discount (1997), Paradox (1998) and Feed The Fire (1998), all of which received little notice other than to critics claiming that Kay may have overstayed his welcome in the industry.
Footnote: Although a shadow of its former self, Steppenwolf is now becoming commonly accepted as the first modern Heavy Metal band.