Classic rock fans will want to get their “motor runnin’” and “head out on the highway” Aug. 13 to attend the John Kay & Steppenwolf concert at the Missouri State Fair. The band, best known for their songs “Born to be Wild” and “Magic Carpet Ride,” will perform that night along with Foghat and Molly Hatchet.
Steppenwolf drummer Ron Hurst spoke to the Democrat by phone from Oregon this week about the group’s history, their State Fair performance and the projects they are involved in while not touring.
Hurst said he has many song favorites, but enjoys the group’s “Born to Be Wild” probably the best.
“It’s transcended beyond just a hit record or a song,” he said. “It sings about a lifestyle and also it’s a song that regardless of your age fits all.”
“Born to Be Wild,” that sings about counterculture and attitude, was released in 1968 and was the title song for the 1969 movie “Easy Rider” staring Peter Fonda.
Hurst said the song speaks to nearly everyone because at some point most people have felt that wild and adventurous pull to go against the grain and live like a “true nature’s child.”
When asked if Steppenwolf concert audiences are different today than in the late 1960s and early ’70s Hurst, who has been with the band for more than 30 years, said they are basically the same.
“The people come to see the band based on the songs,” he said. “So, consequently the audience, outside of we all get a little older, the audiences are pretty much the same. They are there for the music, they are there for the songs. You don’t see that much of a difference as opposed to the newer bands that might have different types of songs that might attract that particular audience.
“So, I think the audience is pretty much the same,” he added. “Everybody’s pretty like-minded when they come to see the show. It brings back a bit of nostalgia. It’s very nostalgic.”
Steppenwolf formed in 1968. Members within the band have changed only slightly over the years with one exception.
“John Kay, of course, has always been Steppenwolf,” Hurst said. “He is the founder of the band. In classic rock, when you get into this genre of music I’m very hard-pressed to find any bands, regardless of the level, with all of the original members. With the exception of possibly Aerosmith.
“People retire, people leave, some people unfortunately pass away,” he added. “But, in our situation we are the real deal. We’ve all recorded with the band. The newest member of the band is Danny Johnson, who has wonderful credentials. He has played with Alice Cooper, Rod Stewart.”
Johnson, a guitarist, has been with Steppenwolf more than 20 years.
“So, we have not had any major personnel changes, we’re not a band that really has been going through people,” Hurst noted. “Michael Wilk and Gary Link were both in the band before I joined.”
Hurst said fans appreciate the fact the band hasn’t had a huge turnover of members through the years.
“As long as you don’t compromise the integrity of the music, I think that the fans will enjoy it,” he added. “I think it’s an excellent lineup. We’ve done numerous shows with Foghat over the years. They’re good friends of ours and we’re no strangers with Molly Hatchet either. We’ve done a few shows with them.
“The last time the three of us got together, we were on the Legends of Rock Cruise, and it’s a great lineup,” Hurst noted. “I enjoy both bands, and the music is good, so it should be a good evening of entertainment.”
Since the band’s beginning in the late ’60s Hurst said they have recorded approximately 15 albums.
“We’ve had albums out all the way up to the ’90s,” he said. “There’s a bunch.”
The love and art of music was the inspiration for beginning Steppenwolf.
“They are all musicians and it was just being artists,” Hurst said. “I think what put this band together and what motivated them to get together is not unlike any other band that gets together. You have the love of the music and you feel creative and artistic.
“If you can find like-minded people to perform on various instruments you hook up, and it’s about loving it, but also having fun doing it and to see what happens,” he added. “It’s like an artist, like a painting, pick up the brush and see what you end up with.”
Hurst has many memorable moments as a member of Steppenwolf, such as playing at Farm Aide concerts with Willie Nelson. Although, playing in Berlin stands out from the rest.
“I recall playing a show in Germany a year or so after the wall came down,” he noted. “That was very, very emotionally stirring, knowing that a lot of the people who were denied the freedom of being able to listen to rock and the music, they now could come out openly and listen to a concert. Things we would take for granted.”
Steppenwolf doesn’t tour as often as in the past, mainly because the members are involved with their own projects. Hurst lives near Portland, Oregon with his family where he teaches drum lessons. He said John Kay and his wife Jutta Maue-Kay promote the protection of wildlife and the environment through the Maue Kay Foundation. Hurst added that the Kays are “hands-on” in their approach and travel all over the world bringing awareness and raising funds for the foundation.
Hurst added that Steppenwolf is happy to be coming back to Missouri and was looking forward to playing for fans at the MSF.
“We want to thank them for coming and we always appreciate the fans,” he noted. “We hope to give them a great show with good memories, and actually not hope so but we’re counting on that. Once again with the lineup, I’m sure they are feeling the same way about the other bands as well.
“We’ll get out there and give them a good show and we’re hoping they go home smiling,” Hurst added.
Faith Bemiss can be reached at 530-0289 or @flbemiss.