June 30, 1997 12:00 PM

>John Kay

CALL OF THE ‘WILD’

It was a hit in 1968 and highlighted Easy Rider’s soundtrack the following year. Ever since, Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild” has been a staple of garage bands’, savvy advertisers’—and of Steppenwolf’s founder, John Kay’s. Born Joachim Krauledat in what was then Nazi Germany, Kay emigrated as a teen with his war-widow mother and stepfather to Canada and eventually settled in Buffalo. Now 53, Kay, who lives near Nashville with his wife of 30 years, Jutta, is touring with the latest incarnation of Steppenwolf—the original group disbanded in 1972—to promote its most recent album, Feed the Fire (Winter Harvest).

What did rock and roll mean to you as a child?

My conversion to rock and roll came courtesy of America’s Armed Forces Radio Network in Germany. I always thought that though I may speak the wrong language and be on the wrong side of the ocean, one day I will be a rock and roll singer in America.

Why has “Born to Be Wild” endured?

That song had made inroads into the hinterlands of almost every continent; it’s even been played in space by the space shuttle crew. It was a hit behind the Iron Curtain because it is antiauthoritarian. And you can dance to it.

Why is Steppenwolf not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?

We were never the critics’ darlings, so it has not been deemed hip to support our nomination. Also, we don’t have a major record label or a champion who can stand up and say, “Hey! What about the Wolf?”

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