Showing posts with label #Busch Gardens. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #Busch Gardens. Show all posts

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Tom Johnston Interview: Doobie Brothers timelessly rockin’ down the highway

By Ray Shasho

The Doobie Brothers are one of those bands that we’ve depended on, year after year, and expect to see performing invariably at outdoor music festivals, pavilions, arenas, casinos and bike week events across the nation. The group has been exhilarating audiences for decades yet appear timeless onstage. One of the principal reasons for the longevity and success of the Doobie Brothers has a lot to do with an unmitigated affection shared between the band and its audience. It’s been an amazing love affair that has persevered for over forty-two years. When the Doobie Brothers finally call it quits … rock ‘n’ roll will probably call it quits too.

 Tom Johnston is the voice, lyricists and guitarist on numerous classic hit recordings by the Doobie Brothers. Inspired by listening to R&B music on the radio, California native Johnston started his first band at 14, eventually broadening his musical horizons by singing with soul and blues groups.

After moving to San Jose to finish college, Tom met Skip Spence, original drummer for the Jefferson Airplane. Spence introduced Johnston to drummer John Hartman. Spence was also a founding member of Moby Grape which had a major influence on the Doobie Brothers. Tom Johnston, John Hartman and bassist Greg Murphy formed the power trio “Pud.”
When “Pud” unraveled, the evolution of the Doobie Brothers began to take shape. While living in a home dubbed as their “musical headquarters,” guitarist Patrick Simmons and bassist Dave Shogren joined the group. The band quickly generated a huge following in California.

In 1971, the Doobie Brothers launched their self- titled debut album, The Doobie Brothers on the Warner Brothers label with legendary producers Ted Templeman and Lenny Waronker. The first track on the album, “Nobody” penned by Tom Johnston, would later resurface in 2010 on their latest release, World Gone Crazy.
Their second studio album Toulouse Street (named for a street in the French Quarter of New Orleans) introduced new bassist Tiran Porter and second drummer Michael Hossack (Navy Veteran). The album spawned the Tom Johnston penned classic hits, “Listen to the Music” (#11 Top 100 Billboard Hit -1972), “Rockin’ Down the Highway” and “Jesus Is Just Alright,” (#35 Billboard Top 100 Hit -1973) written by Arthur Reynolds (1965) and performed by The Byrds (1969).

In 1973, the Doobie Brothers released, The Captain and Me spotlighting some of the bands most memorable classic rock tunes penned by Tom Johnston … “Long Train Runnin’”(#8 Billboard Hot 100 Hit) and perhaps the bands anthem song, “China Grove” (#15 Billboard Hot 100 Hit). The Captain and Me also featured a guest performance by future Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan guitarist Jeff “Skunk” Baxter.

The Doobie Brothers fourth studio album, What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits released in 1974 spawned the Tom Johnston penned songs, “Another Park, Another Sunday”(#32 Billboard Hot 100 Hit) and “Eyes of Silver”(#52 Billboard Hot 100 Hit). The album also featured Pat Simmons penned tribute to “The Big Easy,” “Black Water” (#1 Billboard Hot 100 Hit -1975).

Stampede released in 1975 was the final album before Michael McDonald took over lead vocalist duties from an ailing Tom Johnston. The album featured the cover version, “Take Me in Your Arms (Rock Me A Little While)” (#11 Billboard Hot 100 Hit -1975) written by the Motown team of Holland-Dozier-Holland.

Subsequent albumsTakin’ It to the Streets (1976), Livin’ on the Fault Line (1977), Minute by Minute (1978) and One Step Closer (1980) featured a successful second incarnation of the band, which primarily consisted of Michael McDonald(vocals, keyboards) Patrick Simmons (guitars/vocals) Jeff “Skunk” Baxter (guitars, steel guitars), Tiran Porter(bass, vocals), John Hartman (drums) and Keith Knudsen (drums).
*Tom Johnston played and sang on, “Turn It Loose” and “Wheels of Fortune” on the album Takin’ It to the Streets.
John McFee was added to the Doobie Brothers lineup in 1979 replacing Jeff “Skunk” Baxter and was featured on One Step Closer.

After a successful run, the bands signature sound and direction became disillusioned. While working on his solo project, Tom Johnston rejoined the band for a Farewell Tour, and then the Doobie Brothers would call it quits as a band for the next five years.

The reformation of the Doobie Brothers was contrived when the bands alumni were asked by drummer Keith Knudsen to perform at a concert to benefit veterans’ causes. The band discovered that tickets were in great demand and soon embarked on a twelve city tour.

In 1989, Cycles the tenth studio recording by the Doobie Brothers, now on Capitol Records, witnessed the return of Tom Johnston and drummer Michael Hossack to the studio as a band. Tom Johnston’s distinctive vocals returned and the band reestablish their musical roots.

Subsequent releases … Brotherhood (1991), Sibling Rivalry (2000) and World Gone Crazy (2010).
World Gone Crazy was the Doobie Brothers highest charting album since 1989 receiving rave reviews and featuring the longtime core lineup of Tom Johnston and Pat Simmons. The Doobie Brothers band functions like a well-oiled machine, touring consistently year after year and enchanting music enthusiasts worldwide.

The current lineup of Tom Johnston (vocals/guitar), Pat Simmons (vocals/guitars), John McFee (guitar/strings/vocals), John Cowan (bass), Guy Allison (keyboards/vocals), Marc Russo (saxophones), Ed Toth (drums) and Tony Pia (drums)… represent a musical legacy that defines the quintessence of rock ‘n’ roll and a band that we’ve always depended on throughout the years.

The Doobie Brothers have sold more than 40-million albums worldwide.

…So why aren’t they in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?

Tom Johnston and the Doobie Brothers will be performing live as part of the Bands, Brew & BBQ concert series at Busch Gardens in Tampa on Sunday, February 24th. For tickets visit … or call 1-888-800-5447 for further information.
Eagle Rock Entertainment recently released ‘Let The Music Play’ –The Story of The Doobie Brothers on DVD, Blue-ray and Digital Video. -Available to purchase at

I had the great pleasure of speaking with Tom Johnston recently about the bands current and future projects, family, and the future of rock ‘n’ roll. Here’s my interview with singer/songwriter/guitarist/and founding member of classic rock legends the Doobie BrothersTOM JOHNSTON.
Ray Shasho: Good morning Tom.
Tom Johnston: “Good morning Ray, how are you?”
Ray Shasho: You guys just performed at the Lucky Star Casino in Concho last night, are you still in Oklahoma?
Tom Johnston: “No, we’re in Dallas right now. We drove here over night, it took about six hours … but I’m happy to be moving on down the road.”
Ray Shasho: Well, the band will be playing in Tampa on Sunday as part of the Bands, Brew & BBQ concert series at Busch Gardens. We’ve had a bit of a cold spell here lately Tom; you might need to bring your jacket when you play on Sunday.
Tom Johnston: “Is that right, it’s like that every place we’ve been so far …it’s freezing.”
Ray Shasho: You’ll be playing solo at ‘Petty Fest’ at The Fillmore in San Francisco also this month.
Tom Johnston: “Oddly enough, I’ll be playing a show in Hollywood, then getting up the next day, flying alone and playing that same night in San Francisco. It was ‘Dylan Fest’ and now it’s ‘Petty Fest.’ It’s a benefit for the ‘Sweet Relief Music Fund & The Musicians Cancer Fund.’ A musician based charity that takes care of players that have had any number of things going on like stroke or cancer. It’s been very helpful, we’ve used it for this band and I know other bands that have used it. There a great organization, I’ve met with them a couple of times and they’ve really helped a lot of people.”
Ray Shasho: Unfortunately there are a lot of musicians who can’t get health care either. I know plenty of guys without it.
Tom Johnston: “Isn’t that a drag? Hopefully that’s all going to change.
Ray Shasho: Tom did your parents encourage your music career?
Tom Johnston: “No way. (Laughing)
Ray Shasho: What did your parents do for a living?
Tom Johnston: “My dad had an automotive shop that my brother has now. Mom was a school teacher. She also helped my dad in his shop later on. My mom played piano a little bit but only once in a blue moon. My dad played saxophone but I hardly ever saw him play it, he was usually on mine when I brought it home from school. But they didn’t encourage me to get into the music business what-so-ever.”
Ray Shasho: I guess your dad wanted you to follow in his footsteps and work in his shop?
Tom Johnston: “Yea, I think so. I’m not mechanically sound; it’s just not my thing. But I did work over there for years … like working in the parts room or I’d work on engines but under the direction of somebody else.”
Ray Shasho: What would you be doing if you weren’t in the music business?
Tom Johnston: “I was studying to become a graphic designer, as a matter of fact was one semester short of my degree, although nowadays I’d probably have to start all over again. Yea, so if that didn’t happen would have gone straight into graphic design.”
Ray Shasho: I‘ve seen the Doobie Brothers perform at least 6 or 7 times since the early 70s. The band is timeless and always performs at the same energy level every concert. How do maintain that tremendous work ethic in the band?
Tom Johnston: “I don’t know it just happens. I can’t really point to one thing that really causes it… just the way it is. Everybody has a good time onstage and we try to let the crowd share in that as much as possible, because the crowd is what drives it. We have fun playing, but when the crowd is out there rockin …everything works better.”
Ray Shasho: The Doobie Brothers tour consistently every year and your schedule is still rather lengthy.
Tom Johnston: “Actually this year we wanted to pull back. We usually do around ninety shows a year and this year pulled it back to around seventy. When we put out the new album we did over a hundred shows that year in a very short period of time, we did that in about six months and included Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Canada and all the United States.”
Ray Shasho: Tom, I’m worried about rock ‘n’ roll …is it in jeopardy of disappearing?
Tom Johnston: “I don’t think it’s in jeopardy … I think what’s in jeopardy is just getting it available for people to hear. My son keeps me informed with what’s going on these days in rock ‘n’ roll. He’s a Metal-head, but he tells me about bands that I’ve never even heard of. I give him credit; he’ll listen to all types of music but he’s still a Metal-head. He went to see Dr. John the other night. But I think it’s just a matter of exposure and finding more independent labels that will facilitate that type of music. The advantage of using the internet is to push your product, play whatever you want, and get it out to a fair amount of people.”
Ray Shasho: Do you take advantage of all the modern technological conveniences?
Tom Johnston: “I have been for awhile. I use all kinds of software for writing and as far as recording everybody uses Pro Tools, that’s the state-of-the-art thing these days. The thing about that is it’s the demise of a lot of great studios. The strongest ones are still hanging in there, but a lot of the huge studios that were around for years are now gone. You can literally record in your bedroom with Pro Tools just as good as if you were recording in a fantastic studio, if you had the right gear.”
Ray Shasho: You recorded your most recent release World Gone Crazy in a studio.
Tom Johnston: “We did it in several studios actually. A little bit at John’s studio which is pretty much a full home studio and Pat did some work over in Hawaii and most of the basics were done at Sunset Sound. We also used various studios around LA to do overdub stuff and up in the Bay Area we used Studio D.”
Ray Shasho: World Gone Crazy was a terrific album and a breath of fresh air for today’s music scene.
Tom Johnston: “We enjoyed making it. We took our time making it and paid for it ourselves. I had fun doing all those songs on the album and tried things that I haven’t tried before.”
Ray Shasho: Like “Law Dogs?”
Tom Johnston: “Yea, that’s one of them. I’m not usually a slide guy but it worked pretty well. I had some help from John.”
Ray Shasho: Talk about your tune “Young Man’s Game” on the World Gone Crazy album.
Tom Johnston: “Just kind of poking fun more or less about being out here and doing this for so long. Seeing the kids coming up and semi-reminding them where it all came from. It’s really sort of tongue and check.”
Ray Shasho: I liked the Robert Johnson album art cover also.
Tom Johnston: “That’s off a painting in New Orleans somewhere and John must have taken a picture of that at some point in time, remembered it, and they tracked down the guy that painted it and asked him if he would allow us to use it for an album cover and he said sure go ahead. So we did.”
Ray Shasho: I’m sure it was fantastic working with Ted Templeman again. Are there future plans to work with Ted again on another album?
Tom Johnston: “As far as a brand new album with all new tunes … we haven’t really talked about it since we’ve been on the road a lot and just been working. There’s an album we’re talking about doing with a bunch of other artists …but it’s all Doobies tunes. I can’t really talk about it too much because the inks not on the paper yet and it’s still not a definite. So we’ll see what happens.”
Ray Shasho: My favorite Tom Johnston composition has always been, “Another Park, Another Sunday” and I told Pat my favorite tune of his was, “Clear As the Driven Snow.”
Tom Johnston: “We’ve been playing that live. We’re going to be doing a rehearsal here this week and working in some music that we haven’t played in forever and a day and see how it flies with the crowd. When we see you we’ll probably be playing some of that stuff …something new.”
Ray Shasho: Tom, do you have an amusing road story from back in the day?
Tom Johnston: “(Laughing) They’re all funny, either that or a mess. There’s always the one where the plane was going down in Detroit during a huge storm and we lost an engine. We thought that was going to be it. It was sometime in 1974. We did lose an engine, Jeff was up flying at the time and luckily Sam took over and got us landed …pretty exciting.”
Ray Shasho: I understand your daughter Lara is in the music business.
Tom Johnston: “She’s in the business and has recorded a lot of tunes. It’s a lot harder nowadays than it used to be, I can tell you that. She has an incredible voice and works at it tirelessly, always-always practicing. she’ll be finishing up school this year and I guess going to take it out in earnest, and have been so far, she’s probably recorded a whole album worth of tunes. But there are a lot of people doing that these days and I hope for her sake she does. I told her you’ve got to realize it’s not an easy business, but would back her up all the way if she wants to do it. There’s a lot more people trying to do it now than there used to be. I mean, everybody’s banging on the door.”
Ray Shasho: What type of music does Lara like to sing?
Tom Johnston: “She’s singing what she calls ‘Pop-Soul.’ She grew up singing R&B and that was her choice, I didn’t make her do that (All laughing). But she has a very distinctive sounding voice and has really worked herself hard to get where she is now. She practices hours a day singing and gigging as much as she can and has won various awards. We’ve had a gazillion people that have showed up banging on the door wanting to do something but it’s been the kind of folks that you really don’t want to do something with. I’ve actually had some of her songs given some airtime on the radio and the audience has always responded very-very positively. So it’s just a matter of getting the backers into this whole thing. That’s really what it’s all about. Check her out online at
Ray Shasho: How’s your bassist Skylark been doing after his stroke?
Tom Johnston: “He’s doing pretty good, living out in Las Vegas. He keeps his spirits up and is always determined; I really admire him for that. As to whether he’ll ever play again … I don’t know. ”
Ray Shasho: Tom one final question and I ask everyone that I’ve interviewed this same question …If you had a “Field of Dreams” wish like the movie, to play or collaborate with anyone from the past or present, who would that be?
Tom Johnston: “Wow, that’s a hard question to answer because for me, that’s a lot of people. I think for the day … I would get a kick out of working with Otis Redding. I absolutely loved Otis Redding.”
Ray Shasho: Tom, thank you so much for being on the call today, but more importantly for all the great music you’ve given to us throughout the years and hopefully a lot more music to come from the Doobie Brothers …we’ll see you in Tampa on Sunday!
Tom Johnston: “You’ve got a deal; we’ll be there …take care Ray!

The Doobie Brothers official website at
Tom Johnston and the Doobie Brothers will be performing live as part of the Bands, Brew & BBQ concert series at Busch Gardens in Tampa on Sunday, February 24th. For tickets visit … or call 1-888-800-5447 for further information.
Eagle Rock Entertainment recently released ‘Let The Music Play’ –The Story of The Doobie Brothers on DVD, Blue-ray and Digital Video. -Available to purchase at
World Gone Crazy is the Doobie Brothers latest release and available to purchase at
Visit Lara Johnston’s (Tom’s daughter) official website at

Very special thanks to Caroline Stegner of d. baron media relations

Contact classic rock music journalist Ray Shasho at
Purchase Ray’s very special memoir called ‘Check the Gs’ -The True Story of an Eclectic American Family and Their Wacky Family Business … You’ll LIVE IT! Also available for download on NOOK or KINDLE edition for JUST .99 CENTS at or -Please support Ray so he can continue to bring you quality classic rock music reporting. 
~~Pacific Book Review says Ray Shasho is a product of the second half of the 20th century, made in the USA from parts around the world, and within him is every trend in music, television, politics and culture contributing to his philosophical and comically analytical reflections collected in his fine book of memories. I found Check the Gs to be pure entertainment, fantastic fun and a catalyst to igniting so many memories of my own life, as I too am within a few years of Ray. So to all, I say if you have a bit of grey hair (or no hair), buy this book! It’s a great gift for your “over-the-hill” friends, or for their kids, if they are the history buffs of younger generations trying to figure out why we are the way we are.

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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Exclusive: John Kay of Steppenwolf returns to protect wildlife and human rights

By Ray Shasho

John Kay Interview:

John Kay, the legendary frontman behind the dark shades for classic rock monsters Steppenwolf is definitely not your prototypic ‘Rock Star’ by any means. In fact, a major motion picture should be developed documenting his thrilling exploits before and after becoming a member of one of the greatest bands in rock music history.
John Kay (Joachim Fritz Krauledat) was born in East Prussia, Germany at the end of World War II. Kay was five years old and trapped behind the Iron Curtain; using information obtained from an underground network, a plan was devised, and he and his mother journeyed a heroine but horrifying nighttime escape into West Germany under machine gun fire. John Kay never knew his father who had been killed fighting the Russians, and he grew up as a child surrounded by the remnants of war.

A young John Kay (who spoke only German) first learned about rock ‘n’ roll while listening to Little Richard on U.S. Armed Forces radio. In 1958, John Kay and his mother settled down in Toronto, Canada and the radio became his only friend. While listening, Kay learned to speak English and explored other types of North American music …including Country. Kay learned to play Hank Williams songs on his first guitar. He also listened to church services broadcasting out of Buffalo, New York which impassioned his musical disposition to artists like Ray Charles, James Brown and Sam Cook.
John Kay’s revelation began inspired by Country Music lyric and Rhythm and Blues harmony, which set forth the basis for his rock ‘n’ roll career. John was prepared and disciplined when opportunity came knocking on his door.
Kay began a career as a musician performing as a folk and blues singer throughout North America. In 1965, he met up with his first band called The Sparrows, a mix of blues-rock toughness that immediately impacted their audiences. The group was entrenched into the Toronto Yorkville music scene but quickly infiltrated San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury and LA’s Sunset Strip.

In 1967, after The Sparrows disbanded, Steppenwolf was formed. The name was inspired by a Hermann Hesse novel. The group consisted of John Kay (lead vocals, rhythm guitars), Michael Monarch (lead guitars), Rushton Moreve (bass), Goldy McJohn (keyboards) and Jerry Edmonton (drums).
The bands first release in 1968 entitled Steppenwolf was a huge success and the group soon became a mainstay on both FM “underground rock” and AM Top 40 radio stations. The album spawned the bands biggest hit, “Born to Be Wild” (written by Mars Bonfire, drummer Jerry Edmonton’s brother) along with the Hoyt Axton penned, “The Pusher” and Don Covay composition, “Sookie Sookie.” “Born to Be Wild” was widely recognized throughout the years as the biker’s anthem. The lyric “heavy metal thunder” is also noted for being used in classifying the music genre “Heavy Metal.” “Born to Be Wild” reached #2 on Billboard’s Hot 100 singles chart in (1968). The song sold over a million copies and was awarded a gold disc.

In 1969, Steppenwolf’s fame intensified with the release of the motion picture Easy Rider. Both “Born to Be Wild” and “The Pusher” were spotlighted in the counterculture release. The movie starred Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper. It also featured a young Jack Nicholson.
The following album The Second (1968) produced the single, “Magic Carpet Ride” which became the bands second biggest hit (#3 on the Billboard charts). The hard rock-psychedelic composition was co-written by John Kay. To this day …“Born to Be Wild” and “Magic Carpet Ride” have been used in countless movies, television series and commercials.

Subsequent Steppenwolf releasesAt Your Birthday Party (1969, with new bassist Nick St. Nicholas) spawned, “Rock Me” (#10 Billboard Hit) selling over 1-million units. Monster (1969), Steppenwolf 7(1970), For Ladies Only (1971) revealed political and social messages by the band. Steppenwolf 7 spotlighted yet another Hoyt Axton penned composition called, “Snowblind Friend” and a modest hit co-penned by Kay entitled, “Who Needs Ya.” Band personnel changes were also made during the period.
Their single, “Hey Lawdy Mama” was a #35 Billboard Hot 100 Hit and featured on their 1970 Steppenwolf Live album. Steppenwolf Gold Their Greatest Hits was released in 1971; Rest in Peace 1967-1972 was released in ‘72.

The band remained a huge concert attraction worldwide.

In 1972, Steppenwolf disbanded, but reformed with its core lineup in ’74, releasing the album, Slow Flux. Their single, “Straight Shootin Woman” reached #29 on Billboard’s Hot 100. The band followed with Hour of the Wolf (1975) and Skullduggery (1976). The band disbanded a second time that same year.
After the first breakup of Steppenwolf, John Kay released his first solo effort entitled, Forgotten Songs and Unsung Heroes. The album featured covers by Hank Williams, Hank Snow, Robert Johnson and his own compositions. John Kay’s other solo projects include …Hereticks & Privateers, My Sportin’ Life, All In Good Time, Lone Steppenwolf, and John Kay & Company: The Lost Heritage Tapes.

From 1977 through 1980, various Steppenwolf incarnations featuring past members toured the U.S. including a variation spotlighting a look-alike version of John Kay sporting his trademark dark sunglasses.
John Kay was born with a vision deficiency that leads to increased sensitivity to light. Although the singer appeared hip and cool behind his dark shades, he also had ulterior motives for wearing them.
After the overwhelming success of Steppenwolf in the 60 and 70s … it was the billing of John Kay and Steppenwolf that enshrined their legacy and enlightened generations of music enthusiasts for decades. The bands incredible lineup of virtuoso musicians have been performing together since the early 1980’s … John Kay (Vocals and guitars), Michael Wilk (Keyboards), Ron Hurst (drummer), Danny Johnson (guitars- joined in 1996) and Gary Link (bass guitar).

On October 6th, 2007 John Kay and Steppenwolf performed a farewell concert at Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen, Maryland. Kay says, “It was basically not so much a farewell concert as it was a farewell tour.” Bringing up another exciting chapter of John Kay’s amazing life, his efforts to protect Wildlife, the Natural Environment and Human Rights.
In 2004, John Kay and his wife Jutta Maue Kay formed The Maue Kay Foundation, a nonprofit charitable foundation. Kay has been fully committed in helping to provide financial assistance for various projects around the world. Jutta Maue Kay serves as director of the foundation. Although John’s vision is impaired, it has not stopped him from his most important role as videographer for the foundation. John has captured important areas of concern across the globe …particularly in Cambodia, Thailand, Tanzania and Kenya.
Visit these important websites to find out more information about the foundation …

John Kay and Steppenwolf will be performing on Sunday, February 10th at Busch Gardens in Tampa as part of their “Bands, Brews & BBQ” concert series. The show begins at 5:00 p.m. For tickets or further information visit or call 1-888-800-5447.

I had the rare and wonderful opportunity to chat with John Kay recently about his amazing life.
Here’s my interview with Iron Curtain survivor/ Steppenwolf’s legendary leader and frontman/Singer/Songwriter/Musician/Humanitarian/And an incredibly nice guy …JOHN KAY.
Ray Shasho: Happy 2013 John, how are you doing?
John Kay: “Any day above ground is a good one. Things are going fine on this end and how are you doing?”
Ray Shasho: Are you calling from Nashville today?
John Kay: “No, I’m actually in Santa Barbara, California, we have a place here. At this time of year it’s a good place to be.”
Ray Shasho: Well, Florida is not a bad place either and you’ll be performing here in the Tampa Bay area pretty soon.
John Kay: “Because it is in Florida, I’m willing to leave this very comfortable place in the middle of winter. (All laughing) Having spent my high school years in Canada, I’ve seen enough winters to last a long time, so since you guys in Tampa are so nice & toasty, we’ll be visiting soon.”
Ray Shasho: The Bands, Brew & BBQ concert series at Busch Gardens is always a great event …huge crowds! We’re certainly excited that John Kay & Steppenwolf will be performing on Sunday.
John Kay: “It won’t be our first time in Florida and certainly not our first time in the Tampa area. We’ve always had great support there and looking forward to seeing our longtime supporters and some of their offspring when we play on Sunday.”
Ray Shasho: John, you and I met sometime around 2000-2001 in Springfield, Virginia at a venue called Jaxx. I met you at the door of your tour bus holding my 1974 Fender Telecaster to get signed by you. While you were signing it my marker exploded all over the guitar and you got a bit nervous when it happened, but were nice enough to clean it up for me and the signature turned out just great.
John Kay: “I vaguely recall an incident …was it a silver pen?”
Ray Shasho: Yes it was!
John Kay: “I thought so; those metallic inks usually come out a little more than you want them too, that does ring a bell and I’m glad it turned out alright.”
Ray Shasho: On October 6th, 2007, John Kay & Steppenwolf performed a farewell concert at Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen, Maryland …were you planning on retiring?
John Kay: “It was basically not so much a farewell concert as it was a farewell tour. After that, I sold my tour bus and was done with the long touring that we were accustomed to in preceding years. I completely took off 2008. But then I thought, I said we wouldn’t tour, but didn’t say we wouldn’t play, and the guys are still keen to playing whenever I have the desire to.”
“So since our family foundation continues to spend money every year on projects we consider worthwhile, for entities around the world, trying to protect what’s left of our global wildlife and things of that nature, I felt we could play maybe a maximum of a dozen dates a year. Then my share of the proceeds, I can stuff into the foundation, and if in time, can continue to foster orphan baby elephants in Kenya or whatever we want to do. And it’s not a bad way to have a goodtime with your bandmates a few times a year either. So that’s what we decided to do in 2009 and we’ve been doing it ever since. For now …never say never. We’re definitely going to do it this year and there’s a chance we may as well next … so that’s the deal on that.”
Ray Shasho: John, talk about The Maue Kay Foundation.
John Kay: “My wife’s maiden name is Maue and of course mine is Kay… it sounds vaguely like an extinct Hawaiian volcano, in fact there is one called Mauna Kea. We have a You Tube channel on which I posted about eight or nine video clips of various things we’ve seen with our own eyes and that we support. We just came back from Indonesia where we support Orangutan Foundation International headed by Dr. Biruté Mary Galdikas, people who are familiar with Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey. Dr. Biruté is the third so-called ape angel that was mentored by Louis Leakey. Dr. Biruté has been studying the Orangutan’s for over forty years, however they too …the Orangutan’s, are in grave danger because there’s continuing deforestation and most of it illegal. So she has over 340 orphaned Orangutan’s that are being raised to be reintroduced into the wild.”
“So those are the kinds of things that we are interested in, because we happen to believe that our fellow creatures have a right to exist as well. And those are the things that I get worked up over, motivated by, and a good way to play some rock ‘n’ roll and see to it that some of the creatures can hang in there a little longer.”
Ray Shasho: I’ve chatted with many “rock legends” that are extremely sensitive to the humanity of animals ... Greg Lake, Tom Rush and Ian Anderson immediately come to mind.
John Kay: “I’m glad …the more I sort of rub shoulders with others, the more I find like-minded people that do care about something beyond themselves, particularly in the area of preserving our living treasure sort of speak. Anyone who has been to Africa and seen the majestic herds of elephants, leopards or whatever it is … or in Southeast Asia, we were up in Assam, India visiting Kaziranga National Park where the One-Horned Asian Rhino is barely hanging on. So, we are a strange bunch…on the one hand humanity produces some amazing people to be used as a role model and we kind of try and stumble awkwardly in their footsteps behind them, since they lead by example. And at the same time we have people who are incredibly cruel and self-centered and destructive in their habits. It’s a daily kind of balancing act between screaming outrage and being humbled by the efforts of those trying to do the right thing.”
Ray Shasho: Tom Rush’s wife, Author Renée Askins (Shadow Mountain), was instrumental in reintroducing wolves into Yellowstone National Park. What I’ve heard is that they’re already starting to be killed off again.
John Kay: “Oh yes… absolutely… Montana, Wyoming… there’s old mindset there you know, of cows more precious than wildlife kind of thing …it’s everywhere you turn. One of my oldest living friends is Michael Blake, who wrote Dances with Wolves, and he was born and raised in Arizona, he’s deeply rooted in the Southwest and a big supporter of the Wild Mustangs, the BLM rounds them up regularly. If you get into the animal protection end of things, the list of projects is endless.”
Ray Shasho: John, I could talk about wildlife all day, but I guess we should switch the conversation over to music. Is the band that we’ll see in Tampa … Michael Wilk, Ron Hurst, Danny Johnson, Gary Link and of course yourself?
John Kay: “Yes indeed. We’ve been together now, with the exception of Gary who was with us in the early 80s and then we became a foursome for awhile while we were rebuilding, but as of 2009 we asked Gary to join us again, which he did, and we’re all very glad because there’s an extra level of energy onstage with the five of us. We’re having a great time because we get to leave the day in, day out, whatever we may be doing at home … ten to twelve times a year. We’re going to have a great time and it’s good to see the guys again. Having just coming back from Indonesia it’s a little bit of a culture shock, I was in the Rainforest for about two weeks. But we feel very privilege to be in this position at this point in our lives.”
Ray Shasho: How was your classic hit, “Born to Be Wild” conceived?
John Kay: “It was just five of us playing in the garage below this little crackerjack apartment that my newly wedded wife and I occupied in Hollywood, and we were kicking around some songs that I had written or co-written with band members. Our drummer one day showed up with a cassette tape that his brother had given him, and on it was “Born to Be Wild.” Mars Bonfire recorded it in the evening …he lived in a place that he couldn’t make any noise, and I think it was recorded with just a Telecaster guitar and it was very low-keyed … very low-energy. Our drummer Jerry Edmonton, Mars brother said, “Why don’t we just kick it around?” So we did, and actually it came to life relatively quickly once we picked a key. But it was just one of eleven songs that we recorded on our first album.”
“Nobody picked it as the undeniable hit or whatever; it was in fact the third single on the album released. The album was already in the top five nationally in 1968 before “Born to Be Wild” was released. But once “Born to Be Wild” came out in the summer of ’68, obviously when it became so successful it was all over the country on AM-Hit radio, so we kind of had that double barrel of success, meaning the album was being played almost in its entirety on the so-called “underground” newly formed FM radio stations, while “Born to Be Wild” was played on Top 40 stations. So it kind of built our fan base as a result of those two exposures.”
Ray Shasho: Being a Top 40 Deejay back in the late 70s, I believe the period between … 1966-1969 was probably the greatest era for music on the radio.
John Kay: “There was a lot of good stuff on the air at that time and a lot of it withstood the test of time. Those were the days of Hendrix, Creedence, Cream, The Airplane and others… and much of that stuff still sounds pretty good even now. I think our generation’s music perhaps sunk deeper roots into the listener, in many ways it was not just a tune …I remember dancing to this at the prom, that kind of thing, and those artists of that music of that period were talking often about the times and the situations of the ‘here and now,’ whether they were college students demonstrating on campuses against the war in Viet Nam or in Viet Nam fighting it. A lot of songs were the soundtrack to some really intense periods of their lives. As a result, the connection lasts to this day.”
Ray Shasho: I’ve always been a big Hoyt Axton fan, what was the trigger in recording “The Pusher”?
John Kay: “Prior to ever joining The Sparrows, which broke up in LA, and out of the ashes more or less Steppenwolf was formed, and prior to that I was just another semi-professional folk musician primarily playing blues. While spending a year on the west coast, particularly in Los Angeles, I hung out a lot at the Troubadour. I was put in most of these smaller coffee houses but I was really hanging out at the Troubadour to learn from those who had already made it into the pro ranks and one of them was Hoyt Axton. I had liked Hoyts playing, singing and his writing. And of course one of his songs that never failed to get a very strong reaction from his audience was “The Pusher.” It was a song that I sort of took with me when I played places like Buffalo, Toronto and even the Village in New York City and not too many people had heard of Hoyt Axton, he was more of a west coast phenomenon. Anyway, I would start playing “The Pusher” and got pretty good reaction to it.”
“When I finally joined the Canadian band The Sparrows in 1965 in Toronto, they were an electric band and becoming more and more of a blues rock band. So I just played my Gibson acoustic guitar, put a pickup in the sound hole, plugged into a Fender Bassman Amp and played the same stuff I always played …except it was louder, but in a band context. And that’s when “The Pusher” got a whole new level of intensity to it. When The Sparrows busted up after migrating from Toronto through New York to LA and San Francisco and back to LA where they busted up there … one of the songs we kept and recorded on the first Steppenwolf album was “The Pusher” except the Steppenwolf sound was a whole lot more aggressive. And so in many ways, I thought “The Pusher” really got its rightful treatment when ‘The Wolf’ recorded it.”
Ray Shasho: The psychedelic riff on “The Pusher” is second to none, the only thing musically that compares is the riff on Donovan’s “Hurdy Gurdy Man.”
John Kay: “It was psychedelic sometimes in the listeners head and psychedelic in the people playing it … they were the times when you never knew the source and the cause of the music and whether there was any chemical assistance in the writing or just a perception of the listener. But certainly those were the days.”
Ray Shasho: Of course you co-wrote “Magic Carpet Ride,” so that tune had to be extremely lucrative for you, royalties-wise.
John Kay: “It did, it certainly was the gift that keeps on giving. But I actually … I guess it’s been about two years now …cashed out. I sold every last right and master recordings, everything that I was on administrative and income level that was associated with the music industry. I saw the writing on the wall sort of speak; the industry began to shrink in size and so while someone was interested in paying me a rather substantial sum, I took my chips off the table and cashed in. Because my interests were not really on managing and administrating all the various sources of music industry related revenue, my interests were in utilizing what time I have left in pursuing those things that I’m more and more interested in. Namely at this point …I’ve been to over fifty different countries and inspired by the work of numerous people and entities I wish to support, so the more time I needed for that, the less time I wanted to become a desk jockey …and so that’s what I did. But yes, you’re right; “Magic Carpet Ride” certainly was like a cash cow.”
Ray Shasho: Was Steppenwolf asked to perform at Woodstock?
John Kay: “Yes we were. Prior to the offer coming in, we said no more festivals. Because with the exception of two that I can think of that we did play …one of them was the Miami Pop Festival and the other one was the Newport ‘69 Pop Festival with Hendrix, and that one was more or less in my own back yard. They were handled and organized well. All the other ones were just chaotic and we were saying, wait a minute, at this juncture we’re headlining arenas and playing to twenty thousand people as headliners and in control, things run on time and are right, and when we go into these massive festivals it turns into mismanaged chaos. So why are we putting ourselves through this? Why are we sitting backstage twiddling our thumbs three hours after we were supposed to go on and some of the equipment that they were to provide isn’t there?”
“Within weeks of that Woodstock offer coming in, we agreed let’s not battle with that. We nevertheless still made the right decision, meaning that Woodstock was a mismanaged chaotic situation. However the film, without question, captured some amazing performances. On the one hand we spared ourselves having to go through that Meat Grinder; on the other hand, one can say we missed an opportunity to be part of that film, assuming for the moment that our performance would have been good enough and deemed worthy of inclusion in the film. But I have no regrets about the matter. We as a band have had our ups and downs over forty plus years and I’m still here, I’m healthy, in good spirits and consider myself extraordinarily fortunate. Instead of looking over your shoulder and saying this or that could have been different … the future has always been far more interesting to me because it’s unknown … I know where I’ve been.”
Ray Shasho: John, I ask everyone that I interview this same question … If you had a ‘Field of Dreams’ wish …like the movie, to sing or collaborate with anyone from the past or present …who would that be?
John Kay: “That’s a really good question because ‘Field of Dreams’ reference is a good one in that regard because obviously completely disregards anything to do with reality and we’re now strictly entering the realm of fantasy. There are two people amongst dozens, but two in particular that really affected me with their music. One of them … and I know I’m one of many that are part of this club … Robert Johnson legendary Delta Blues singer and writer. I’d be standing in the background and playing a few chords behind him on the guitar because he did not need anybody, he was a one-man orchestra. But just to be in the same room while he was performing would certainly be something if a time machine could provide that.”
“The other one is Hank Williams. I love several of his country classics. There’s a side to him that most people don’t know about. He did two albums under the pseudonym ‘Luke the Drifter’ and some of these songs were part of predominately spoken word songs. Songs like, “Be Careful Of Stones That You Throw” and numerous others. And that’s Hank Williams the philosopher and kindhearted country preacher kind of guy. When I heard that kind of music when I was still in Toronto, Canada in my teens, it preceded becoming familiar with Woody Guthrie and other people who wrote songs that really meant something to me and showed me that music can be more than just a hummable melody. That part of Hank Williams … I would like to have a sit- down talk and singing kind of thing. That would be very instructive and enlightening, because for his time, some of those songs had a kindhearted view of humanity and our shortcomings and that really affected me and stayed with me as a touchstone.”
Ray Shasho: John, thank you so much for being on the call today, but more importantly for the great music you and the rest of Steppenwolf have given to us over the years.
John Kay: “Well thank you; it’s obviously a two-way street, we put it out there but without it coming back to us in the form of support and folks coming out to see what we have to offer, we’d long ago be doing something else for a living. So we are quite appreciative. We put it out there and it came back to us with a lot of affection and are quite grateful for that.”
Ray Shasho: John, we’ll see you in Tampa.

John Kay and Steppenwolf will be performing on Sunday, February 10th at Busch Gardens in Tampa as part of their “Bands, Brews & BBQ” concert series. The show begins at 5:00 p.m. For tickets or further information visit or call 1-888-800-5447.

John Kay & Steppenwolf official website
Visit The Maue Kay Foundation at
Purchase John Kay’s autobiography “Magic Carpet Ride” at
Special thanks to Charlie Wolf for arranging this interview.

Contact classic rock music journalist Ray Shasho at
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