Born To Be Wild — The unlikely backstory behind an iconic hit record

Scott Westerman
7 min readMay 24, 2019

Life is an evolutionary art. We are in a constant state of becoming and never know at the beginning how things may turn out.

Such was the case for Canadian Dennis Eugene McCrohan. He and his brother Jerry, changed their names to “Edmonton”, in honor of one of their favorite cities. They felt the brand might generate some memory traction when they were recruited by Dave Marden to join his band, The Sparrows, in 1964.

Marden was a British emigree who changed his name to Jack London. The Sparrows endeavored to capitalize on the British Invasion, affecting English Accents and attempting to channel the vibe that was making the Beatles and the Stones famous.

John Kay — Joachim Fritz Krauledat

The group also attracted the attention of Joachim Fritz Krauledat. Born during the Second World War in what would become East Germany, Krauledat learned English the same way he learned to love Rock & Roll, listening to American Forces Radio. Plagued by vision problems as a youth, he developed an enhanced ability to hear the nuances of the music and taught himself how to play the guitar. By the late 1950s, he had relocated to Canada, changing his name to the more pronounceable “John Kay“, joining Dennis and Jerry in The Sparrows in 1965.

The group took a circuitous route to Los Angeles, connecting with musician, songwriter and producer, Gabriel Mekler, who urged Kay to reconstitute the Sparrows as Steppenwolf, a nod to Hermann Hesse’s novel of the same name. The group landed a deal with ABC Dunhill, home to The Mamas & The Papas, and went into the studio to with Mekler try and concoct a hit.

By then, Dennis Edmonton was no longer with the band and had rebranded himself as the ethereal Mars Bonfire. At the time, he was broke and failing as a would-be Hollywood songwriter. When he acquired a used Ford Falcon, the ability to explore the California’s mountains and dip his feet in the Pacific Ocean felt liberating. He told Canadian journalist Juliette Jagger, “The feeling that came with being out on the road in my car was total freedom.”