John Kay

How to Start A Revolution

John Kay was born in Tilsit, East Prussia, Germany (now Sovetsk, Kaliningrad Oblast, Russia). His father Fritz, was killed a month before he was born.


In early 1945, his mother fled with him from the advancing Soviet troops during the evacuation of East Prussia in harsh winter conditions. Their train got stuck near Arnstadt, which was first occupied by the Americans, but then became part of the East German Soviet occupation zone.


In 1949, they crossed the already-fortified border to resettle in HanoverWest Germany (as recounted in his song "Renegade" on the album Steppenwolf 7). Now living in the British occupation zone, the young Joachim, who suffered from eye problems, who could not speak or understand English, was first inspired by and learned about rock ‘n’ roll music while listening to Little Richard on U.S. Armed Forces radio.


He also saw a newsreel about the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, shot and smuggled out by László Kovács (later of Easy Rider fame). When his family moved to Toronto in 1958, teachers had a hard time pronouncing his birth name, so he was called John K instead.


Five years later, they moved to Buffalo, New York.

In 1965, invited by fellow German-born bass player Nick St. Nicholas (born Klaus Kassbaum), Kay joined a blues rock and folk music group known as The Sparrows, which had moderate success in Canada before moving to California, augmenting its line-up, and changing its name to Steppenwolf in 1967.


With music that pioneered hard rock and heavy metal, Kay's Steppenwolf had international success with songs such as "Born to Be Wild", "Magic Carpet Ride", "Monster", "The Pusher", and "Rock Me".