"Considering I was only 13, legally blind, spoke the wrong language and was on the wrong side of the ocean, maybe I was a little optimistic," he says. In spite of these considerable adversities, by his 14th birthday, John miraculously found himself with guitar in hand on the other side of the Atlantic in Toronto, Canada.
John learned English from listening to disc jockeys and music from the artists of the day, and he began to perform on amateur radio shows in his mid-teens. After high school, John roamed the American continent performing acoustic blues in coffee houses and bars. He eventually met and joined the Canadian band " Sparrow" while playing in Toronto's Yorkville Village in 1965. The group migrated from Toronto to New York and later to San Francisco, and became part of the Bay Area music scene. Sparrow broke up in 1967, after several unsuccessful attempts at recording for Columbia Records. A couple of months later, John formed a new band that he called "Steppenwolf", inspired by the novel by cult author Herman Hesse.
The group's first couple of releases did nothing in the way of sales, but their third attempt, was destined to become a rock and roll classic. "Born To Be Wild" broke on to the charts in the summer of 1968, and the line from the song, "Heavy Metal Thunder", in reference to the sound of motorcycles, gave the new style of music its name.The song was immortalized on the soundtrack of Dennis Hopper's film classic "Easy Rider".
Their next single, "Magic Carpet Ride" was a fusion of hard rock and psychedelic pop and went on to be Steppenwolf's second million seller, reaching #3 in 1968. From there on, the band's albums produced material that made political and social statements that were often brilliant and sold well.
Steppenwolf continued to tour and record, and did have some limited top 40 success with songs like, "Rock Me," "Move Over," and "Who Needs Ya", but none of these could match their earlier chart success.
Following Kay's decision to break up the band in the mid 70's, he embarked on a solo career that saw the release of albums such as "Forgotten Songs" and Unsung Heroes", "My Sportin' Life," and "All In Good Time". In the late 70s, John learned that several bogus groups, using the name Steppenwolf, were touring and trashing the very reputation of the band that Kay had created. In 1980 he decided to act, and the John Kay Band quickly became John Kay and Steppenwolf. Several years of intensive touring followed and resulted in the rebuilding of their legacy.
Sadly, Rushton Moreve, Steppenwolf's bassist who co-wrote "Magic Carpet Ride" with John Kay, was killed in a car crash on July 1st, 1981. He was 32. Jerry Edmonton, drummer for the band during their hit making years, was also killed in a car crash, not far from his Santa Barbara, California home on November 28th, 1993 at the age of 47.
Since re-establishing the name, John Kay and Steppenwolf released five albums and toured annually on a worldwide basis. In 1994, Kay returned triumphantly with the Wolf to play concerts in the former East Germany, where he was reunited with friends and relatives he had not seen since he was 4 years-old.
With sales in excess of 20 million units worldwide (and increasing annually) and songs licensed for use in 37 motion pictures and 36 television programs (as of this writing), the group continues to focus on the future. The band released "John Kay and Steppenwolf, Live at 25", a double CD, released February 1995. The album contains 23 tracks, including many of the hits from the 60s, 70s and 80s, along with two new songs. "Feed The Fire", the first single and video from the album of the same name, was released in August, 1996.
On March 20th, 2001, John Kay released a solo album called "Heretics & Privateers", on Cannonball Records. The CD features twelve 'blues flavored' songs whose lyrics offer a gritty view of contemporary life.
In the Summer of 2005, Steppenwolf had a full slate of tour dates booked across the United States, but the band performed what it called its "farewell concert" on October 6th, 2007 at Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen, Maryland, featuring John Kay, keyboardist Michael Wilk, drummer Ron Hurst and guitarist Danny Johnson.
Since the group's official retirement, they have continued to perform a small number of shows each year with the same 2007 line-up. Several of the band's albums were re-mastered in '07 and '08 and in 2009, bassist Gary Link rejoined them to add the first real bass-playing to their stage show since 1985. In 2010, John Kay granted Glen Bui and Goldy McJohn a license under Steppenwolf Productions to appear as The Magic Carpet Ride.
For 2012, Steppenwolf still had a couple shows booked for the Spring and Summer,