Cana­dian Goldy McJohn, found­ing mem­ber of Step­pen­wolf, dead at 72

Cape Breton Post - - Obituaries - BY VIC­TO­RIA AHEARN

Goldy McJohn, a Cana­dian found­ing mem­ber of Step­pen­wolf whose roar­ing or­gan sounds and big hair brought a pow­er­ful pres­ence to the group be­hind the clas­sic-rock sta­ples “Born to be Wild” and “Magic Car­pet Ride,” has died.

The key­board player, whose given name was John Goadsby, died on Tues­day of a heart at­tack, ac­cord­ing to a post on his Face­book page. He was 72. A fu­neral ser­vice is sched­uled for next Fri­day in Seat­tle.

McJohn and husky voiced lead singer John Kay were among the found­ing mem­bers of Step­pen­wolf. The group, which also in­cluded Cana­di­ans Jerry Ed­mon­ton on drums and Nick St. Ni­cholas on bass among its core mem­bers, got its start in Toronto as the Spar­rows.

St. Ni­cholas, who was McJohn’s room­mate in Toronto’s trendy Yorkville neigh­bour­hood in the 1960s, loved his dis­tinct play­ing style and re­cruited him for the My­nah Birds and then the Spar­rows.

“The or­gan was sort of like the bridge. It cov­ered the space be­tween the notes when he’d hold a note,” Toronto-raised St. Ni­cholas said Fri­day from Ven­tura, Calif.

“You hear it in ‘Magic Car­pet Ride’ and also in ‘Born to Be Wild,’ he had a per­cus­sive style like no other key­board player and it stood out.”

Rock­a­billy mu­si­cian Ronnie Hawkins re­calls see­ing the Spar­rows play­ing at his club, the Hawk’s Nest, above the Le Coq d’Or Tav­ern on Yonge Street in Toronto.

“They were just start­ing when they were at the Hawk’s Nest but I re­mem­ber them, and (McJohn) had that afro or what­ever you call that great big head of hair,” Hawkins said by phone Fri­day from his home in Peter­bor­ough, Ont.

“(The crowd) loved them. That’s what got them started. They were so good at the Hawk’s Nest, they started get­ting jobs ev­ery­where.”

After se­cur­ing a deal with Columbia Records, the Spar­rows spent time in New York and then mi­grated west to the San Fran­cisco Bay area and Los An­ge­les, where they broke up and re­formed as Step­pen­wolf.

As St. Ni­cholas tells it, they were or­dered to leave the coun­try by U.S. im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cials after his par­ents in Toronto had filed a missing per­son re­port for him.

Within the 60-day pe­riod of their de­por­ta­tion, they got signed to ABC/Dun­hill Records and recorded the group’s self­ti­tled 1968 de­but al­bum, which in­cluded the iconic track “Born to be Wild.” It was writ­ten by Mars Bon­fire, who was the Cana­dian gui­tarist for the Spar­rows and the brother of Ed­mon­ton.

“It came out and boy, that’s what put ‘em on top,” said Hawkins.

“It be­came a big one and it’s still get­ting work for them. You still hear that song. It sounded like one of them wild, teenage things.”

The gritty biker an­them, as well as the group’s hit cover of Hoyt Ax­ton’s “The Pusher,” were on the sound­track for Den­nis Hop­per’s cult clas­sic 1969 film “Easy Rider.”

CP PHOTO/ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAME

Mem­bers of the band Step­pen­wolf are shown in this un­dated hando im­age pro­vided by Rock and Roll Hall of Fame . One of the Cana­dian found­ing mem­bers of Step­pen­wolf, the band best known for the clas­si­crock sta­ples “Born to be Wild” and “Magic Car­pet Ride,” has died.

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