A profile of a 70s rock and roll legend
The first thing you notice when John Kay takes the stage is the powerful assault on your senses. It's nothing you can prepare for. One moment you’re groovin’ on the night, anticipating things to come and then, without warning, a low, moaning sound drenches the air with a jarring resonance. Before you have a chance to recover, a relentless howl begins to build from the edges of the room, increasing in intensity until it becomes a part of your breathing. Uncomprehending, you growl back. And then, with stunning clarity, you realize that all the legends are true... there's no escaping the Wolf.
John Kay (“Born To Be Wild" “Magic Carpet Ride" “Don't step On the Grass (Sam)” prowls the stage in a swirl of black leather and dark glasses. His damp hair hangs loose around his face casting deep shadows on angled features. There's absolutely no denying that whatever his intentions, they are about to be delivered with an unforgiving sense of urgency.
He grabs the microphone and smiles warmly. It completely belies his unmistakable “I’ll kick your ass in any Key” posture. “Welcome,” he purrs to the crowd. "I couldn't have a 30-year career without great fans. Thanks for hangin' with us.” It is spoken with sincerity and appreciation. And with blinding insight, you realize two things; John Kay is a gracious man, and he enjoys an indelible affection from a loyal “wolf pack,” in a Rock ‘n Roll industry that routinely eats its young.
"The reason why we are here is because when we had to rebuild this act in the early ‘80s, in the toilets of North America, they came. The word of mouth spread and more of them came - in spite of the fact that our name was dragged through the sewers by bogus, imposter bands. So there's a great deal of affection on our part to those people.”
It's not just the way John Kay bends a guitar string, or the way he reaches deep into a place that only he knows for a note, or a phrase that has fueled his remarkable career. It is the way his music ("especially my lyrics") views and interprets the world that surrounds him; the music that provided the backdrop for the Rock 'n Roll rebellion of the late 60s.
"I felt in those early days," Kay explains, "that we reflected many of the concerns, and ideas, and beliefs of a good size portion of our peer group. It wasn't so much as Moses descending from the mountain with newly gained wisdom to give the tribes below; it was more of a reflection of what was a prevalent set of concerns amongst our own age group.”
The same ingredient that sparked John Kay's rocket ride to the top of the music charts, and a 30 year career - his connection to, and passion for "the street element," his ability to see what ails society and communicate it clearly, prevails in his contemporary works today.
In Feed the Fire, John Kay’s, and Steppenwolf's latest CD release (on Winter Haven Records), the central theme is the resiliency of the human spirit - "Don't 1et bastards get you down!" he commands. "This is about the appreciation of the dignity, and of the humanity of those who every morning pry themselves out of bed and do the right and honest thing for their family, and for their friends, and for their fellow workers. And who have, I believe, a right to have their humanity acknowledged.”
John Kay's sometimes biting, sometimes sardonic look at the way the world turns acknowledges a turbulent past and a hopeful look to the future. "When you have been rewarded for your efforts with a degree of success, it is right to step back and say there are more than just your own interests. There is a larger world. There are many like us who are not as fortunate. There is a need to say we, as a species, can do better. What is now status quo is not good enough.”
In spite of the demands of his career, and running his very successful company Wolf Wares, Inc., John Kay continues a passionate involvement in social issues that includes contributions to organizations such as Amnesty International, the American Civil Liberties Union, Greenpeace, People for the American Way, and Zero Population Growth.
"These organizations are run by people who are willing to give of themselves over to something they believe in. The least we can do is giving them the means with which to buy the suit of armor and weapons to continue the fight," he says. "As a writer, I continue to speak my mind on issues that I feel important. As a human being on this planet, I have a responsibility to become part of the solution rather than the problem."
"There was the wolf in him, the free, the untamable, the strong. But the...wolf was also a man and had hankerings after goodness and refinement, and wanted to hear Mozart, and to cherish human ideal..."
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