The group's first couple of releases, "A Girl I Knew" and "Sookie Sookie", did nothing in the way of sales, but their third attempt was destined to become a Rock 'n' Roll classic. "Born To Be Wild" broke onto the American charts in the Summer of 1968, and the line from the song, 'Heavy Metal thunder', in reference to the sound of motorcycles, gave the new style of music its name. The record would reach #2 on Billboard's Hot 100, selling over a million copies and earning a Gold Record. The song was immortalized on the soundtrack of Dennis Hopper's film classic Easy Rider, which also included Steppenwolf's tune, "The Pusher".
Their next single, "Magic Carpet Ride", taken from the band's album "The Second", was a fusion of Hard Rock and Psychedelic Pop and went on to be Steppenwolf's second million seller, reaching #3 in the Fall of 1968. Around this time, Rushton Moreve was let go from the line-up after missing several shows. He had become convinced that Los Angeles was going to be leveled by an earthquake and fall into the sea. Rob Black briefly filled in until former Sparrow Nick St. Nicholas signed on in the latter months of 1968. Michael Monarch quit the group in August 1969 as his relationship with John Kay became strained.
Steppenwolf continued to tour and record, and did have some limited Top 100 success with songs like "Move Over" (#31 in 1969), "Monster" (#39 in 1970), "Hey Lawdy Mama" (#35 in 1970), "Screaming Night Hog" (#91 in 1970), "Who Needs Ya" (#76 in 1970), "Snowblind Friend" (#89 in 1971), "Ride With Me" (#90 in 1971) and "For Ladies Only" (#88 in 1971). Nick St. Nicholas was let go in mid-1970 with George Biondo replacing him. In November 1971, the band released the album "For Ladies Only", with the lineup consisting of John Kay, Kent Henry, George Biondo, Goldy McJohn, and Jerry Edmonton. The LP was notable for several reasons, most notably the controversial inside cover art which showed a car shaped like a penis, the romantic, political, and social lyrical content, and the fact that it featured several of the group members on lead vocals.
Following Kay's decision to break up the band on Valentine's Day, 1972, he embarked on a solo career, scoring a #85 solo hit with "I'm Movin' On" from his album "Forgotten Songs and Unsung Heroes". Steppenwolf reformed in 1974 with its core lineup of John Kay, Jerry Edmonton and Goldy McJohn, along with longtime bassist George Biondo and newcomer Bobby Cochran, Eddie Cochran's nephew, on lead guitar. The band inked a deal with Mums Records after Kay had left Dunhill for what he perceived as a lack of support for his solo albums. The LP "Slow Flux" became their first effort for Mums, and included their last Billboard Top 40 hit, "Straight Shootin' Woman", which topped out at #29 in October, 1974. In February 1975, McJohn was dismissed for what was described as a decline in the quality of his performances, as well as erratic behavior. He was replaced by Andy Chapin on "Hour Of The Wolf" in 1975. After the album peaked at a disappointing #155, Kay proceeded to dissolve the band again, but Mums Record, now having been absorbed by Epic, demanded one more album to satisfy their contract. The ensuing 1976 album, "Skullduggery", which included Wayne Cook on keyboards, was not supported by a tour and by the early Fall of 1976, Steppenwolf disbanded a second time. Kay made an appearance on a segment of the music TV show The Midnight Special to announce the end of Steppenwolf and also played a solo version of the song "Hey I'm Alright". This song appeared on Kay's third solo album "All In Good Time", released on Mercury Records in 1978.
In the late '70s, John Kay learned that several bogus groups, using the name Steppenwolf, were touring and trashing the reputation of the band that he had created. In 1980 he decided to act, and The John Kay Band quickly became John Kay And Steppenwolf. Several years of intensive touring followed and resulted in the rebuilding of their legacy. Sadly, Rushton Moreve, Steppenwolf's bassist who co-wrote "Magic Carpet Ride" with John Kay, was killed in a car crash on July 1st, 1981. He was 32. Jerry Edmonton, drummer for the band during their hit making years, was also killed in a car crash not far from his Santa Barbara, California home on November 28th, 1993 at the age of 47. After re-establishing the name, John Kay And Steppenwolf released five albums and toured annually on a worldwide basis. In 1994 he returned triumphantly to play concerts in the former East Germany where he was reunited with friends and relatives he had not seen since he was 4 years-old.
With sales in excess of twenty million units worldwide (and increasing annually) and songs licensed for use in thirty-seven motion pictures and thirty-six television programs (as of this writing), the group continued to focus on the future. The band released "John Kay and Steppenwolf, Live at 25", a double CD, in February 1995. The album contained twenty-three tracks, including many of the hits from the '60s, '70s and' 80s, along with two new songs. "Feed The Fire", the first single and video from the album of the same name, was released in August, 1996.
On March 20th, 2001, John Kay issued a solo album called "Heretics & Privateers", on Cannonball Records. The CD featured twelve Blues flavored songs whose lyrics offered a gritty view of contemporary life. In the Summer of 2005, Steppenwolf had a full slate of tour dates booked across the United States, but the band performed what it called its farewell concert on October 6th, 2007 at Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen, Maryland, featuring John Kay, keyboardist Michael Wilk, drummer Ron Hurst and guitarist Danny Johnson. Since the group's official retirement, they continued to perform a small number of shows each year. Several of the band's albums were re-mastered in '07 and '08 and in 2009, bassist Gary Link rejoined them to add the first real bass-playing to their stage show since 1985. In 2010, John Kay granted Glen Bui and Goldy McJohn a license under Steppenwolf Productions to appear as The Magic Carpet Ride.
For 2012, Steppenwolf played only a couple of shows during the Spring and Summer, but remained mostly inactive. Their official website showed only a handful of dates booked for 2017.