Steppenwolf founding member Goldy McJohn, whose roaring organ sounds and big hair brought a powerful presence to the group behind the classic-rock staples Born to be Wild and Magic Carpet Ride, has died.

The Canadian keyboard player died on Tuesday of a heart attack, according to a post on his Facebook page. He was 72.

"He died at home in my arms, that's all I can say," McJohn's wife, Sonja, told The Canadian Press by phone from Seattle on Friday, adding they had been together for 30 years.

He was playing the organ right up until the day before he died, she said.

"I bought him an organ that he wanted really bad and he played it almost every day since I got it for him. And I wish I could hear him now."

A funeral service has been scheduled for next Friday in Seattle.

McJohn's given name was John Goadsby, but he picked up the nickname Goldy in the late 60s and decided to stick with it. He added Mc to his surname to honour his late mother (whose maiden name was McIntyre).

OBIT Steppenwolf McJohn 20170804

Steppenwolf's keyboard player Goldy McJohn has died. He was also one of the Canadian founding members of the band, best known for the classic-rock staples Born to be Wild and Magic Carpet Ride. (Rock and Roll Hall of Fame/Canadian Press)

McJohn and Toronto-raised lead singer John Kay were among the founding members of Steppenwolf. The group also included Canadians Jerry Edmonton on drums and Nick St. Nicholas on bass.

The band got its start as The Sparrows, playing gigs around Ontario.

Rockabilly musician Ronnie Hawkins recalls them playing at his club, the Hawk's Nest, on Yonge Street in Toronto.

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"They were just starting when they were at the Hawk's Nest, but I remember them and the piano player had that afro or whatever you call that great big head of hair," Hawkins said by phone Friday from his home in Peterborough, Ont.

"[The crowd] loved them. That's what got them started. They were so good at the Hawk's Nest, they started getting jobs everywhere."

Though the group disbanded as The Sparrows, the bandmates re-formed under the new name Steppenwolf and found huge success with a self-titled 1968 debut album that included the hits Born to Be Wild and The Pusher.

Tribute show in September

McJohn was also a member of Little John & The Friars, the Mynah Birds, Humble Pie and Manbeast.

Steppenwolf had been considered for induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame earlier this year, but was ultimately not selected. The band continues to tour — now under the name John Kay & Steppenwolf — with a mix of original and new members.

Goldy

McJohn is seen performing at a gay pride event in Seattle in June 2015. (Aaron Meyers)

McJohn was not touring with the band in its current incarnation. He had been living with his wife Sonja in Washington state, where he enjoyed golfing and playing music.

He had been scheduled to play a show in Indio, Calif., in September. The gig will now be a tribute concert in his memory.

With files from CBC News