Joachim Fritz Krauledat was born in Tilsit, East Prussia on April 12, 1944, a region later absorbed into the Soviet Union. The boy never met his father Fritz, a German soldier killed on the Eastern Front of WWII.
Elsbeth had to flee with her infant son in the harsh winter of 1945, as the oncoming Soviet Red Army destroyed all in its path. The two would escape the Iron Curtain once again in 1948, this time in a dangerous nighttime dash which the then-four year old remembers, to this day.
They settled for a time in Hannover, West Germany, barely avoiding the communist noose as it closed around their former home in the east.
Krauledat was an indifferent student, due to poor eyesight. He’s legally blind and extremely light-sensitive, forced to wear dark glasses since the age of three. An eye condition called achromatopsia left him entirely color blind, seeing the world in shades of black and white and gray.
The boy became interested in music, listening over the British Forces Broadcasting Service and the US Armed Forces Radio before his family moved to Canada, in 1958.
Joachim never became a Canadian citizen. He spent the next seven years practicing his music, performing as a folk and blues singer throughout North America. He joined a blues rock and folk group called “The Sparrow” in 1965, becoming part of the rock music scene in Yorkville, Toronto and later San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury and the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles.
By this time, Joachim Krauledat had taken to calling himself John Kay. The band added a couple new members in 1967, changing their name to a character from a Herman Hesse novel. “Steppenwolf”.
Steppenwolf became one of the world’s foremost rock bands, with standards like “The Pusher”, and “Monster”, releasing “Magic Carpet Ride” on this day in 1968. They gave us the term “Heavy Metal” with their rock anthem “Born to Be Wild”, but that didn’t refer to the music. “Heavy Metal Thunder” referred to large, loud, motorcycles.
Steppenwolf toured for over 40 years. There isn’t a Baby Boomer alive (or many of our kids), who wouldn’t read this and come away with one of their songs in his head. They’ve sold over 25 million records and licensed their songs in over 50 motion pictures. The music is iconic, from the sound track of the 1969 “Easy Rider” film to their last performance on July 24, 2010, at the three day HullabaLOU music festival in Louisville, Kentucky.
Steppenwolf gave us 22 albums, and we all know them in one way or another. Yet, the lead singer’s escape from the horrors of the Iron Curtain, is all but unknown. That, as Paul Harvey used to say, is the Rest of the Story.