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Legendary Goldy keeps classic rock sound alive
The classic rock sound still burns inside the soul of Goldy McJohn.
Such familiar tunes, such memories from a revolutionary age of rock music often move the original Steppenwolf keyboardist to tears.
That golden sound still reverberates inside a sentimental McJohn and keeps bringing the pioneer artist back to the stage at the age of 63.
"I've got to do it because it's in here," McJohn said, jabbing his chest, eyes welling with tears. "It's always been here."
While the original members of Steppenwolf have long since parted ways following a messy breakup during the 1970s, McJohn refuses to go silently into retirement. He continues to record music today and remains the centerpiece of "Goldy McJohn and Friendz" – a regional touring band that plays something old in a tribute to legendary Steppenwolf and something new for the young and curious.
The band, a mixture of well-seasoned players, will perform at Algona's Royal Bear Pub and Eatery for a 9 p.m. show next Saturday.
"He's a legend who has a cult following, and it is such a large following," said soulful blues vocalist Sunny Loudin, who recently joined McJohn's lineup. "It is such a privilege to play with a legend."
Goldy is no oldy for those who enjoy the unique sound he brought to Steppenwolf. Originally a classically trained pianist, he was a pioneer in the early use of the electronic organ in heavy metal.
McJohn, along with frontman and vocalist John Kay, was the driving force behind a rock band that went on to produce eight gold albums and many hits, including "Born to Be Wild," "Magic Carpet Ride", "Sookie Sookie", "Rock Me" and "It’s Never Too Late".
But the band – famous for Kay's deep bluesy voice and McJohn's Hammond B3 sound – soon parted ways. Kay went on to tour as "John Kay and Steppenwolf" without the original members, who went on to pursue other projects.
Because of legal battles that ensued over the rights to the band's name, nobody actually toured as Steppenwolf.
In 1977, McJohn helped reform Steppenwolf with Nick St. Nicholas and Kent Henry and played in several incarnations of the band before it folded. McJohn also played with Steve Marriott in a reconstituted version of Humble Pie.
Steppenwolf remains a band divided today without a hint of a reunion. The band's heart and soul, McJohn and Kay, remain at odds.
Nevertheless, the spirit of the past, the urge to make music and the itch to perform keep McJohn alive and well these days.
"Nobody can touch him," said Glen Bui, a journeyman guitarist who has played with several greats, the latest being McJohn. "I know I have a hard time playing guitar around him. He keeps me on my toes. He keeps getting better with age."
GM and Friendz includes guitarist Kent Henry, bass guitarist Mike Kessal and drummer Lloyd Poole.
The band plays well-known blues songs, originals and famous classic rock covers.
"We take you back and put you forward," Bui said. "We give an audience a show that's two hours full of intensity."
McJohn, who lives in Burien, is a father of four, a grandfather of four, and an avid golfer, his other passion.
GM and Friendz is putting together a Northwest tour this spring when the band isn't in the studio recording a CD, blending past sounds with rock/blues originals.
The music keeps McJohn alive these days. He is playing for the genuine love of the music, not for Steppenwolf, not for glory.
"I feel great. I feel like I'm in my 20s," he said. "When I get on stage I get lost in the music. I forget about all the other crap.
"I feel young again," he said. "I just want to play as long as I can."
• Band: "Goldy McJohn and Friendz", with special guest Devorah
• Performance: 9 p.m., Saturday
• Venue: The Royal Bear Pub & Eatery, 35731 W. Valley Highway, Algona
• Admission: $8
• Information: 253-833-6686, www.theroyalbear.com
• Future band dates: www.myspace.com/goldymcjohnandfriendz