I was 19 years old when I joined Lambda Chi Alpha. Everything I learned about the fraternity I learned from my big brother Lee Thomas, the High Kappa (new member educator), or other senior members in our chapter.
When they told me the fraternity was founded in 1909, I believed them. Likewise, when they played Steppenwolf’s song “Magic Carpet Ride” at every party and told me lead singer John Kay was a member of Lambda Chi Alpha, I had little reason to doubt them.
But they were wrong.
When I first began working for Lambda Chi Alpha’s headquarters in Indianapolis, I was told that there was no direct fraternal connection to the song “Magic Carpet Ride,” and that none of the band’s members attended college or joined Lambda Chi Alpha.
It was if I had just learned the truth about Santa Claus — I couldn’t believe it. Though I never researched headquarter’s disputed claims, I eventually accepted their position as my new truth. Having never researched the topic, however, my doubts remained.
Finally, I feel I can put this issue to bed. I decided to personally research these claims by publishing an article called “Carpet Ride Unraveled” in the July 2006 issue of the Cross & Crescent magazine.
I purchased John Kay’s autobiography entitled John Kay Magic Carpet Ride. Chapter Eight (titled “Magic Carpet Ride”) tells the complete history of how the song was created, who wrote the lyrics, and who came up with the tune.
In John Kay’s words, “‘Magic Carpet Ride’ evolved out of something Rushton (the bass player) had been messing around with. He played a three chord pattern … on his bass and sang, ‘I like my job, I like my baby.’ That was it.”
Kay then said he took the rough recording of Rushton’s song home and played it one his new hi-fi sound system — which gives reference to the line “I like to dream right between my sound machine.”
According to Kay, “Twenty minutes later, the whole thing was finished.”
Writing credits were assigned to John Kay and Rushton Moreve.
So that was it. John Kay, born April 12, 1944, as Joachim Fritz Krauledat in Tilsit, East Prussia, wrote the song’s lyrics in 20 minutes. Rushton Moreve, born John Russell Morgane in 1948 in Los Angeles, California, wrote the tune.
In Lambda Chi Alpha’s database of 250,000 members, there are no matches for the surnames Kay/Krauledat (b. 1944) or Moreve/Morgane (b. 1948). I even looked up other members of the band, with no matches.
I also tried to confirm all I had learned with members of the band. Though they didn’t return my calls or email, long-time fan, historian, and friend of the band Van Epperson filled me in.
Epperson wrote, “I am a fan of the band who has befriended most everyone still alive who has ever been in Steppenwolf. I also have a tremendous knowledge of the band’s history.”
“The old guys from the MAGIC CARPET RIDE days were hippies in the late 1960s. College was not the road they chose. Instead, they explored the world, their music, the hippie culture, the drugs of the day, and the ‘flower power’ of love,” wrote Epperson.
“The Lambda Chi question came up two or three times a few years back and the band responded directly with the same answer I have now provided you. No one who has ever been in STEPPENWOLF has ever been a member of Lambda Chi. This is an ‘urban legend’ that is 100 percent false. The lyrics to MAGIC CARPET RIDE were written by John Kay. He did not attend college and has never been a member of Lambda Chi.”
So there you have it. John Kay’s autobiography says he wrote the lyrics in 20 minutes and never attended college. More so, the band members’ names do not appear in Lambda Chi Alpha’s database. Lastly, a friend of the band and Steppenwolf historian confirmed my findings.
Though some members may continue to believe or dispute, I’m convinced there is no fraternal connection to the song. Perhaps I should next research the Rituals in the Library of Congress myth…