Fabulous Flip Sides In Memoriam – Steppenwolf’s Goldy McJohn

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On August 1, we lost Steppenwolf’s original keyboardist Goldy McJohn, who was with the band through 1974. We remember him now with a ‘70s flip side and quotes from Mister Zero of the Kings and Marty Jourard of the Motels.

By Warren Kurtz


Flip side: Sparkle Eyes

A side: For Ladies Only

Top 100 debut: November 6, 1971

Peak position: 64

Dunhill ABC 45-D-4292

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Goldy McJohn was the keyboardist for the mid-‘60s group, Sparrow, in Canada. John Kay joined the group in May of 1966, replacing vocalist Jack London, and this lineup had three Canadian singles on Columbia along with the album “John Kay and Sparrow.” After Sparrow broke-up in Toronto, they shortly reemerged as Steppenwolf in Los Angeles. While other hard rock bands showed less discipline, Steppenwolf kept a 9 to 5 work schedule of rehearsing and recording.

Their first Top 100 single, “Born to be Wild,” powerfully sung by John Kay, spent three weeks at number two. Goldy McJohn’s Lowery organ could be heard after each verse line including, “heavy metal thunder.” The song became their signature hit and was later featured in the motorcycle themed film “Easy Rider” along with “The Pusher.” On the next single, “Magic Carpet Ride,” which peaked at number three, Goldy McJohn’s organ playing was critical in capturing the imagery to accompany the lyrics. The quintet’s third Top 10 hit in a row was “Rock Me.” In the spring of 1969, the band appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show” to debut their next potential hit, “It’s Never Too Late.” The song, featuring Goldy McJohn’s piano and organ, was intended to be an anthem of hope to college graduates. Unfortunately, the single peaked at number 51, but “Move Over” brought them back to the Top 40 for a final time for the decade.

In the spring of 1970, after their “Monster” single quickly left the Top 40, Steppenwolf’s double-album “Live” was released, featuring a few of their past hits and a studio version of their new Top 40 single at the time “Hey Lawdy Mama.” On the album, “Hey Lawdy Mama” followed by “Magic Carpet Ride” were back to back without any space between the songs. The band was a popular concert draw across North America, including their native Toronto, the city which brought us the Kings exactly one decade later, in 1980, with their back to back album debut pair of songs “This Beat Goes On” and “Switchin’ to Glide.” The Kings’ John Picard, aka Mister Zero, told Goldmine, “I was lucky enough to see Steppenwolf a few times back when the world was new. To this day I love their classic hits. For this great band live, with all the swagger and attitude of lead singer John Kay, it would be easy to overlook the contribution of keyboardist Goldy McJohn. The grinding sound of that organ was a big part of what they were doing and you only have to hear ‘Magic Carpet Ride’ to realize how key Goldy was to Steppenwolf. ‘Close your eyes girl, look inside girl, let the sound take you away.’ Kind of says it all, doesn't it?”

In 1971, Steppenwolf released a creative, classic rock album called “For Ladies Only.” The first single was “Ride with Me.” Two different flip sides were issued, both instrumentals co-written by Goldy McJohn. There was the lengthy science fiction themed “For Madmen Only,” which was not included on the album, and another pressing of the single had “Black Pit” as its flip side. Both singles bore catalog number D-4283. The 9:13 title track, “For Ladies Only,” opened the album with a long and slightly jazzy piano solo from Gordy McJohn, bringing to the middle section of the recording the jazz-rock feel which Traffic delivered on “Glad.” The single was edited down to 3:20. Its flip side was “Sparkle Eyes.” The melodic song, featuring Goldy McJohn’s swirling organ, dealt with a girl who had fallen out of love with a guy and perhaps life itself. John Kay sang, “It hurts to feel your sadness” and key lines included, “where did the sparkle go, sparkle eyes used to shine every day.”

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Back of the “For Ladies Only” album with Goldy McJohn furthest to the right

The band dissolved in 1972, with John Kay briefly going solo. In 1974, the band was back together and returned to the Top 40 for a final time with “Straight Shootin’ Woman,” augmented by a horn section including saxophonist Sam Falzone. At the end of the decade, another quintet debuted in Los Angeles, the Motels, including California native Martha Davis on vocals and Marty Jourard, who relocated from Florida, on keyboards and saxophone. The group is known for their Top 10 ‘80s singles “Only the Lonely” and “Suddenly Last Summer.” Marty Jourard reflected with Goldmine, “In my first cover band in Gainesville, Florida we played five Steppenwolf songs, ‘Born to be Wild,’ ‘The Pusher,’ ‘Rock Me,’ ‘Sookie Sookie,’ and ‘Magic Carpet Ride.’ The organ on those last two songs really made it for me. Goldy’s playing was definitive and still is, when listening to classic Steppenwolf recordings.”

The Kings’ documentary “Anatomy of a One-Hit Wonder,” which also includes sixteen music videos with Mister Zero and the rest of the band, is available on DVD.

Marty Jourard’s book “Music Everywhere” covers the Gaineville, Florida rock and roll music scene over the decades.

Steppenwolf is in the Goldmine Hall of Fame

Warren Kurtz is a Contributing Editor at Goldmine, known for “Fabulous Flip Sides” along with interviews, CD, DVD and book reviews. “Warren’s Fabulous Flip Sides” can be heard most Saturday mornings, in the 9 a.m. hour, Eastern time, on WVCR.com as part of “Moments to Remember.”

Vinyl Values: Steppenwolf’s 45s discography