Steppenwolf’s Jerry Edmonton: The Man With The ‘Born To Be Wild’ Beat
He passed away at just 47, but the drumming of Steppenwolf’s backbone left a permanent mark on rock fans from the late 1960s onwards.
As one of the most underrated drummers in rock, Jerry Edmonton was the man with the “Born To Be Wild” beat. The Canadian drummer with Steppenwolf influenced more fellow percussionists than he’s ever given credit for.
Edmonton sadly died in a car accident in 1993 when he was just 47, but his drumming left a permanent mark on rock fans from the late 1960s onwards. Born Gerald McCrohan on October 24, 1946 in Oshawa, Ontario, he was the brother of Dennis, better known in the Steppenwolf legend as Mars Bonfire, the man who wrote the timeless, era-evoking mega-hit of 1968, “Born To Be Wild.”
“Jerry was not just our drummer,” said Steppenwolf frontman John Kay, eulogizing Edmonton in later years. “He wrote songs, he sang some of the songs. But perhaps more than anything else, being the drummer, he was able to provide rhythm, and sit in the middle of the band and hear the band from a perspective that none of us other guys could.
“I was either singing and/or playing guitar,” Kay continued, “so you’re listening to what you’re doing and the rest of the guys around you, you hear as a secondary thing. Jerry could hear the whole band, almost as a conductor.”
Listen to uDiscover Music’s Steppenwolf Best Of playlist.
Edmonton was with the band through their glory years and, after a hiatus from 1972 in which he played with the bands Seven and Manbeast, he was back for Steppenwolf’s 1974 reunion which produced three more albums. Jerry, who also went on to pursue his interest in photography, was the writer of Steppenwolf’s last American chart single, the 1974 Top 30 hit “Straight Shootin’ Woman.” He was the backbone of a rock institution that sold some 25 million records worldwide.
Buy or stream “Born To Be Wild” and more great drum work by Jerry Edmonton on the album Steppenwolf.
October 25, 2014 at 8:56 am
Every time I watch Easy Rider how good Steppenwolf were
February 9, 2015 at 1:12 pm
Right you are Ken !
October 26, 2014 at 12:36 pm
Being Toronto born and raised, I remember so well the amazing Yorkville scene during the 60’s where Sparrows would play and Jerry was certainly the main beat of this band. Have followed John and fellow band members ever since, through all the ups and downs. They continue to rock my world.
October 26, 2014 at 2:27 pm
Thanks, Glen, not a lot of people will remember Sparrow…
February 9, 2015 at 1:11 pm
Mine too Glen ! 🙂
May 29, 2019 at 12:21 am
You are so lucky, I would have loved to have seen the Sparrow live back in the day, I thought they were great!
K T TROUBLE
August 8, 2015 at 9:56 am
from the early albums to their later solo gigs , I just plain dug / dig it. STEPPENWOLF LIVE was one of the 1st albums I bought…………….T
September 24, 2015 at 6:50 pm
His drumming remains some of my favorite to this day. Man, could he drive the band!
September 24, 2015 at 7:41 pm
Steppenwolf the second was my all time best album. I saw Steppenwolf live at the California, Inglewood Forum in 1968, they blew the roof off the place. I saw John Kay about 15 years ago at a show he did in Los Vegas. He was still looking good playing the organ, with his trade mark sun glasses. (what ever happened to John Kay)?
October 24, 2016 at 3:43 pm
I think you might have meant Goldy, Jim. John was the front man with the remarkable voice who also on occasion played rhythm guitar and slide – often on a fabulous Rickenbacker.
October 24, 2016 at 4:06 pm
Goldy hasn’t played with the band since around 1975. Andy Chapin was his replacement. After the band was reformed as John Kay and Steppenwolf, Michael Wilk has always been the man on keyboards.They have now been nominated for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
September 25, 2015 at 6:13 am
Jim, I don’t think John Kay plays organ but still rocks with John Kay and Steppenwolf at about a dozen shows a year. Make it a point to catch them somewhere next year. I will!!
September 25, 2015 at 4:14 pm
saw them live 1969 Ottawa civic centre; great show
September 25, 2015 at 4:40 pm
Steppenwolf was certainly one of my all-time favs back in the day, but I then had listened to so many other bands for several decades afterwards that they got lost in the shuffle. But I started listening to them again over the past year. And their music is not only timeless, but damn great. The Second, Seven, For Ladies Only, Live, all great albums. And Jerry’s beat was awesome. Some of the best rock beats ever recorded.
October 24, 2016 at 2:21 pm
Don’t forget “At Your Birthday Party.”
May 16, 2017 at 10:09 pm
Fantastic drummer. Most underrated and overlooked. He deserves to be ranked among the best.
May 17, 2017 at 8:28 pm
And a great voice!
June 14, 2017 at 7:25 pm
And the second photo in the article is a self-portrait by Jerry.
October 24, 2017 at 10:31 pm
I think they sounded better in the Studio than live.
October 25, 2017 at 9:44 pm
Jerry is my fave drummer of all time, or at least in an always rotating top 2 or 3. He was an atypical rock drummer for the late 60s, when thrashing / plodding around the kit like a wild man was the norm. Jerry was better than that. He was more of a groove / pocket guy who could turn on the flash when needed. But, with him, the song came first and his playing always added to the piece as a whole, and did so with fire and intelligence. I’ve drummed with Buddy Guy, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, and a host of others. Whenever anyone asks about drumming influences, I always tell them that Jerry E is at the top of the list.
January 25, 2018 at 3:29 am
Jerry Edmonton is my favorite drummer of all time
March 6, 2018 at 9:36 pm
Did Jerry manage to keep the rights and hence the royalty checks to Born To Be Wild ?
October 10, 2018 at 1:13 am
Ray- Jerry didn’t write “Born to be wild” his brother did.
I learned how to play drums just by listening to Jerry and his playing, he was one of the greats that more people should know about. I am lucky enough to have a letter that he wrote in response to mine and some Steppenwolf things he sent me, it was a truly sad, dark day when I learned of his accident.
Rest in Peace Jerry, you were awesome!!!
October 7, 2021 at 6:09 am
I have a book called “Great Rock Drummers of the Sixties”, it has a chapter devoted to Jerry Edmonton. I also have John Kay’s book “Magic Carpet Ride”, which is a must-own for any Steppenwolf fan.
John Kay also credits Jerry as an arranger. He wrote that many times, Jerry would come up with unique/special ideas that would tweak a song performance from mundane to great. It’s really too bad that small group arrangers generally don’t get credits and royalties, unless that’s pre-specified in a contract.