August 1, 2017 – Goldy McJohn (Steppenwolf) was born John Raymond Goadsby in Toronto, Canada on May 2, 1945. He was raised by middle class parents in Toronto, Canada. They put him into piano lessons at a young age and with this foundation he became a pioneer in the use of the electronic organ in rock and roll.
“I was classically trained,” said Goldy. He also stated that no one else in rock and roll was doing was he was at the time. “I played on a Lowrey,” he said. And this is part of what he said gave songs such as “Born to be Wild” and “Magic Carpet Ride” their unique sound.
“I was up at 4 a.m. daily to practice from the age of seven until…I got stupid,” Goldy said.
While school in general was not his thing, (he was suspended from high school for three months,) he always did exceptionally well in music.
“I got 100 in music, which brought my average up to maybe 14,” Goldy said. His parents could not afford private school that could have catered more to the needs of a student like him.
By the mid-60’s, he was playing in the Canadian band Little John and the Friars and later moved on to The Mynah Birds which also counted as members Funk icon Rick James, Neil Young (after McJohn had left) and Bruce Palmer, the latter two of which would go on to Buffalo Springfield.
Next up was short stint with the Diplomats, after which he joined the Sparrows where he met John Kay who suggested he change his name to Goldy with Goadsby choosing the last name of McJohn. After securing a deal with Columbia Records, the Sparrows spent time in New York and then migrated west to the San Francisco Bay area and Los Angeles, where they broke up and reformed as Steppenwolf.
“I kept needling the guys. I said, ‘Man, I saw what’s going on out on the West Coast,” Kay recalled in an interview. Renaming their band Steppenwolf, they signed with ABC Records and released their self-named debut album in December of 1967.
By mid-1968, the band had a major hit on its hand with Born to Be Wild (1968/#2) and quickly followed with The Second which included the equally big Magic Carpet Ride (1968/#3). McJohn featured on both with his Hammond B3 Organ, one of the earliest cases of the instrument being used in metal rock. Born to Be Wild” is also accredited for being the first “heavy metal” song, and in the second verse of the song the words “heavy metal” appear for the first time in music.
“We were the first heavy metal band, man! Other groups have tried to say they were, but you know where the words ‘heavy metal’ came from?” Goldy exclaimed, noting the line “heavy metal thunder.”
The name “Steppenwolf” came from the novel by Nobel Prize winning author Hermann Hesse.
They followed with Rock Me (1969), Move Over (1969), Monster (1969 ) and Hey Lawdy Mama (1970) but their popularity began to wane. They broke up in 1972 but ended up playing a farewell tour into the next year.
McJohn and band drummer Jerry Edmonton then formed the group Manbeast and, while there was never an album from the band, some of their recordings ended up on the 1974 reunion album Slow Flux.
Goldy was fired from the band in February of 1975 by John Kay and after another breakup, formed New Steppenwolf with fellow band member Nick St. Nicholas. McJohn was only in the band a short time.
McJohn went on to play with British rock voice Steve Marriott (The Small Faces) in a revived Humble Pie and later recorded a number of solo albums.
McJohn helped reform Steppenwolf in 1977 with Nick St. Nicholas and Kent Henry and played in several incarnations of the band.
Not unlike many other stars of rock and roll during this time, Goldy had his own battle with substance abuse; including LSD, acid and Quaaludes. But what really brought him down was being taken advantage of by agents and former bandmates. He went from being a well-off rock and roll star to being completely broke; at one point even being homeless.
Surprisingly enough, the person who helped him get clean was famous body builder Dave Draper.
Draper had won the Mr. America, Mr. Universe and Mr. Olympia titles in the 1960s and just like Goldy, had been a victim of scheming agents, according to Goldy.
Draper encouraged Goldy to get himself back on track, and it took many attempts before it finally worked.
Going clean was an extremely difficult task, Goldy explained.
“For three weeks my heart pounded and I was curled up on the kitchen floor,” he described.
McJohn lived in Burien, Washington with his wife Sonja. His solo releases include New Visions, Fugue in D, Goldy McJohn & Friendz, Rat City in Blue, Set the World on Fire and Osmosis. Since 2008 Goldy performed with a national band under the names, Born To Be Wild Tour, Born To Be Wild, Magic Carpet Ride and Gm and Friendz.
He enjoyed playing golf for many years, was a painter, as well as a photographer.
“I really like texture,” he’d like to say.
If you look closely at his paintings, despite being abstract you can actually make out several faces of people.
In recent years, he put together a number of Steppenwolf related bands.
Goldy McJohn passed on August 1, just two days before Steppenwolf would play their 50th Anniversary show at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. He was 72.
Goldy had been an active and enthusiastic mentor for Stand Up for the Music, working closely with HungryGenius managing partner, Anthony Spadaro.
“Goldy was an amazing soul and an incredible artist, and just plain fun. May his legacy live on forever.” – Anthony Spadaro
“I connected with him immediately, may his transition be smooth.” – Harold Brown
“Long live rock and roll. Love you Goldy.” – Terry Ilous
As Goldy would say, “It’s showtime.” Goldy got the ball rolling on a new chapter a year ago, when he posted this to his website: “STAY TUNED. The next chapter of my magic carpet ride has just gotten underway!
The train will keep on rolling, eh. Long live rock and roll. We love you, man!