Even among the elite corps of musicians who created classic rock, few have the musical savvy or the personal grace of John Kay, who will appear on Friday, November 13, in the next installment of the Lobero’s successful streaming concert series, Live from the Lobero. As the lead singer of Steppenwolf, Kay cut two tracks — “Magic Carpet Ride” and “Born to Be Wild” — that rank among the most frequently licensed recordings in history. It all began when Dennis Hopper put “Born to Be Wild” over the opening credits of Easy Rider. The scene defined an era — the late ’60s — and established a new standard for synergy between film and music. It set the bar that music supervisors have been aiming for ever since. In context, the use of “Magic Carpet Ride” for the hilarious liftoff scene in Star Trek: First Contact (1996), for example, feels like a direct allusion to Steppenwolf’s massive influence on movie music.
In performance Kay was as wild as his contemporary Jim Morrison, but unlike the Doors’ frontman, Kay didn’t wild out. His solo career may not have yielded the same level of popularity achieved by Steppenwolf, yet Kay has continued to write great songs, play and produce interesting records, and stay fresh and relevant for five more decades. Abandoning Los Angeles for stints in Vancouver and Nashville, Kay has kept the fires burning for the Wolfpack, which is what the legions of Steppenwolf fans worldwide call themselves. By adhering to a thoughtful archival release strategy, participating in an excellent documentary film, and writing a well-received autobiography, 1994’s Magic Carpet Ride, he’s curated the Steppenwolf legacy with exemplary aplomb.
Through it all, Kay has also remained devoted to getting out to hear live music. He moved to Santa Barbara eight years ago, and when his pal Hale Milgrim took him to a show at the Lobero, it was love at first concert. Speaking about the cinematography in his upcoming streaming show, Kay waxes poetic about how well filmed the concert is, and about what a great vision the stream gives of the theater. “There’s a drone shot at the beginning” from outside of the theater, he told me, “and then it takes you inside, through the dressing room and onto the stage,” adding that the production team “did a splendid job of showing why the place is so dear to all of us,” After eight years of avid concert going at the Lobero, he feels that every night in the room “has been a gift.” For those who would like to enjoy that gift in the only way we can right now, visit livefromthelobero.org/products to buy a ticket. The John Kay Live from the Lobero show premieres at 8 p.m. on Friday, November 13, and will be available for 72 hours from that time on.