An Interview with John Kay of Steppenwolf
By Casey Pukl
This Saturday, Anthology and KGB team up to put on the ultimate Classic Block Party, KGB StreetBeat! Some of the most legendary names in classic rock signed on to play this year’s event, and John Kay & Steppenwolf certainly got us excited!
After performing a “farewell” tour the year of the band’s 40th anniversary, Kay decided he wasn’t quite done taking listeners on a “Magic Carpet Ride” just yet. Read on to find out why he’s still performing select hand-picked shows each year, what he’s dedicated his time to, and just what his special connection to San Diego is.
CP: I’d love it if you wouldn’t mind updating our readers about what you’ve been up to lately with the band. I know you did a Farewell tour a few years ago, but you continue to play a bit.
JK: Right, well I wish I could tell you that we have 3 new albums coming out and we’re going on a world tour, but the fact of the matter is, in 2007 we did our “farewell” tour which coincidentally was the 40th anniversary of the band. I then subsequently decided I was no longer interested in touring, and thank goodness, due to the supporters that we’ve had over the years buying our records and coming to see us live, I’m at a point where I don’t have to do anything other than what I want to from a financial standpoint.
But we (my family) do have a small foundation that’s involved with wildlife protection, habitat conservation, and human rights. The more I travel in various parts of the world, the need continues to grow and is endless in those particular depts of support. I’ve told our agency that we’ll play a maximum of a dozen dates a year, not just because I enjoy playing for the fans and the offspring of those fans, and getting together with my bandmates, some of whom have been with me for 30 years now, but the second reason why I’m doing this, is I’m able to keep funding the Kay Family Foundation so that it can continue to financially support the entities that we support.
So that’s what I can tell that we’re up to. We play hand-picked dates every year, no more than 12, and I have the good fortune and privilege to play with my bandmates, have a lot of fun, and then take my share of the proceeds and donate them to my foundation.
CP: What are some of the organizations your foundation supports?
JK: The foundation supports several things— things that were, for instance, featured in the IMAX film “Born To Be Wild”, the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Kenya, which rescues orphaned baby elephants and re-introduces them into the wild, and the OFI in Borneo. They now have over 300 orphaned orangutan babies because the illegal logging in Borneo and other parts of Indonesia continues, so they kill the orangutans and try to sell the babies as pets. So unless people make effort to stop that sort of thing, or at least save some of these little creatures, they most certainly will become extinct.
So that’s some of the stuff that I’m interested in, and music still plays a very large part in my life, but it’s high time in my case, to not think about the spotlight being on yourself all the time, but to think of others, and follow in the footsteps of others that have led by example with respect to doing something that is greater that you. So that’s the name of that tune.
CP: Yeah, that’s amazing! I also remembering hearing about your involvement in an elephant sanctuary in Tennessee at some point. Are you still involved in that?
JK: Yes, the Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, TN. My daughter actually took care of three African Elephants there… and this is a place that’s not about people visiting elephants, but it’s elephants rescued from miserable circuses or small zoos, almost all the victims of neglect or abuse, and they get to live out their days not being forced to perform silly tricks or be gawked at by people. They get to roam the 2600 acres, uninhibited and they really have the run of the place.
CP: What made you choose StreetBeat this year as one of your hand-picked dates?
JK: Last year, and this is why the San Diego date is interesting, we played a benefit concert for the OFI (Orangutan Foundation International) and it was KGB that was kind enough to support our efforts by spreading the word, letting me doing an interview on air. KGB, in its earlier days, was always a station that played our music and and supported us, so you don’t forget your friends. And this is how you reciprocate for the courtesies and support that we received.
CP: What are you most looking forward to about Saturday’s StreetBeat event?
JK: We’re looking forward to Saturday! We (the band) live all over the place, so we just converge on whatever place we’re playing, and that’ll be the case this Saturday. Some of us are coming from Nashville, our keyboardist and co-songwriter has a teaching position at the University of Alabama, the drummer is from Portland, and I’m coming from Santa Barbara, so I’ll just hop on the Amtrak and come down to San Diego, I’ve got the easiest time of it [laughs].
Special thanks to John for his time! Be sure to come out and let this icon take you on a “Magic Carpet Ride” this Saturday along with Blue Oyster Cult, Lowrider Band (formerly known as War), and all of the best beer and food vendors San Diego has to offer! Tickets are going fast, so be sure to get yours today!
Steppenwolf on Spotify