In 1972, Steppenwolf broke many of their fans’ hearts — on Valentine’s Day.
After six years, eight albums (five of them gold) and Top 10 hits such as “Born to be Wild,” “Magic Carpet Ride” and “Rock Me,” they announced their first retirement in a very public manner. The quintet held a press conference and reception at a Los Angeles Holiday Inn, where Mayor Sam Yorty proclaimed it “Steppenwolf Day” and publicly commended the group for serving as “a musical ambassador for Los Angeles to the world,” and for contributing to the local economy with $42 million in record sales. The band also received commendations from its record label ABC Dunhill and others.
Frontman John Kay recalled in his 1994 memoir, Magic Carpet Ride, that Steppenwolf were pretty much finished by that time anyway. Their latest album, 1971’s For Ladies Only, was a commercial disappointment, the band’s label was disinterested and the lineup at the time was not particularly cohesive. Kay had also called off a planned fall tour to make his first solo album, Forgotten Songs and Unsung Heroes. “Being together with Jerry [Edmonton, drums] and Goldy [McJohn, keyboardist], we had almost exhausted the musical combinations of ideas that one group of individuals can create,” Kay wrote.
He was also more enamored with the gentler singer-songwriter approach of his solo album, while Edmonton and Johns had started forming another band, Seven.
“So Jerry and I agreed to put Steppenwolf to rest,” Kay explained. “With hindsight what I should have done was say to Jerry, ‘Let’s sit down and talk about whether or not we want to continue working together, because if we do, I personally want to take a year off. … I want to think. I want to see if the fun comes back.’ That’s what I should have done. Instead, it was, ‘Ah, shit, I’m tired. It’s not jelling. Let’s back it in.’ It was either black or white, no gray area. I thought I had a decent shot at pursuing my own musical preferences and ideas. Still, I could have done that without saying goodbye to Steppenwolf.”
The group viewed the dramatic Valentine’s Day event, meanwhile, as “a public relations ploy” to help launch Kay’s album and the Seven band, “like two phoenixes rising from the ashes.”
It turned out to be a retirement in name only. Kay and the group played American and European dates together later in 1972, with the frontman doing double duty, on what was dubbed the RIP Tour. And after spending 1973 apart, Kay, Edmonton and St. John revived Steppenwolf in 1974 and went on to release three more albums. After another disbanding in 1976, McJohn and early band member Nick St. Nicholas toured as the new Steppenwolf — until Kay and Edmonton shut it down in court and by Kay taking his version of Steppenwolf back on the road, lasting until October 2018.
Top 100 ’70s Rock Albums
From AC/DC to ZZ Top, from ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ to ‘London Calling,’ they’re all here.