Kansas is an American progressive rock band that became popular in the 1970s initially on album-oriented rock charts and later with hit singles such as "Carry On Wayward Son" and "Dust in the Wind".
1970–1973: Early years
Dave Hope (bass), Phil Ehart (drums, percussion), and Kerry Livgren (guitars, keyboards, synthesizers) formed a progressive rock group in 1970 in their hometown of Topeka, Kansas, along with vocalists Lynn Meredith and Joel Warne, keyboardists Don Montre and Dan Wright, and saxophonist Larry Baker.
A year earlier, Meredith, Montre, Wright and Livgren were performing in a band called The Reasons Why. After changing the band's name to Saratoga, they started playing Livgren's original material with Scott Kessler playing bass and Zeke Lowe on drums. In 1970, they changed the band's name again to Kansas and merged with members of rival Topeka progressive rock outfit White Clover. This early Kansas group, which lasted until 1971 when Ehart, Hope, and some of the others left to reform White Clover, is sometimes referred to as Kansas I.
Ehart was replaced by Zeke Lowe and later Brad Schulz, Hope was replaced by Rod Mikinski on bass, and Baker was replaced by John Bolton on saxophone and flute. (This lineup is sometimes referred to as Kansas II, and 30 years later would re-form under the name Proto-Kaw.) In 1972, after Ehart returned from England (where he had gone to look for other musicians), he and Hope once again reformed White Clover with Robby Steinhardt (vocals, violin, viola, cello), Steve Walsh (vocals, keyboards, synthesizers, percussion) and Rich Williams (guitars). In 1973 they recruited Livgren from the second Kansas group, which then folded. Eventually they received a recording contract with Don Kirshner's eponymous label and decided to adopt the Kansas name.
1974–1979: Rise to national prominence
Their self-titled debut album was released in March 1974, nearly a year after it was recorded in New York. It defined the band's signature sound, a mix of American-style boogie rock and complex, symphonic arrangements with changing time signatures. Steinhardt's violin was a distinctive element of the group's sound, being defined more by heartland rock than the jazz and classic influences which most progressive rock violinists followed. The band slowly developed a cult following, due to promotion by Kirshner and extensive touring for the debut album and its two follow-ups, Song for America and Masque.
Kansas released its fourth album, Leftoverture, in October 1976, which produced a hit single, "Carry On Wayward Son", in 1977. The follow-up, Point of Know Return, released in October 1977, featured the title track and "Dust in the Wind," both hit singles.
Leftoverture was a major breakthrough for the band, hitting number 5 on Billboard's pop album chart. Point of Know Return peaked even higher, at number 4. Leftoverture and Point each sold over four million copies in the U.S. Both "Carry On Wayward Son" and "Dust in the Wind" were certified gold singles, selling over one million units each. "Dust in the Wind" was certified gold as a digital download by the RIAA in 2005, almost 30 years after selling one million copies as a single. Leftoverture was eventually certified five times platinum by the RIAA in 2001.
During this period, Kansas became a major headlining act and sold out the largest venues available to rock bands at the time, including New York's Madison Square Garden. The band documented this era in 1978 with Two for the Show, a double live album of recordings from various performances from its 1977 and 1978 tours. The band gained a solid reputation for faithful live reproduction of their studio recordings. In 1978 the band was named UNICEF Deputy Ambassadors of Goodwill.
The follow-up studio album to Point of Know Return was Monolith (1979), which, like the live album, was self-produced. The album generated a Top 40 single in "People of the South Wind", whose title refers to the meaning of the 'Kanza' (Kaw) native American people, after whom the state and the band are named. The album failed to garner the sales and radio airplay of its two predecessors. Nevertheless, the album eventually went platinum. Livgren's platinum award for the album is on display at the Kansas History Museum.
1980–1984: Creative tensions
Kansas' band members began to drift apart in the early 1980s. Livgren became a born-again Christian, and this was reflected in his lyrics on the next three albums, beginning with Audio-Visions. "Hold On," a Top 40 single from that album, displayed his new-found faith. Hope soon converted to Christianity as well. This would be the final album with the original lineup (until they reunited in 2000), and also the last Kansas studio album to be certified gold by the RIAA.
Due to creative differences over the lyrical direction of the next album, Walsh left in October 1981 to form a new band, Streets. In early 1982, Walsh was replaced by vocalist/keyboardist John Elefante, who—unknown to Livgren and Hope at the time—was also a Christian. He was chosen from over 200 applicants, such as Sammy Hagar and Doug Pinnick. Kansas' first album with Elefante, Vinyl Confessions, was released in June 1982. The record renewed interest in the group and generated the band's first Top 20 hit in several years, "Play the Game Tonight," which hit number 4 on Billboard's newly-deployed Mainstream Rock chart. The album's mostly Christianity-based lyrics attracted a new audience. Still, sales of the album fell short of gold status.
Drastic Measures followed in 1983. For various reasons, Livgren contributed only three songs to the album. The rest were penned by the Elefante brothers (who later became successful producers for contemporary Christian music artists, including Sweet Comfort Band, Petra, Bride, Rick Cua, and Guardian). With violinist Steinhardt leaving the group before the recording sessions, the result was a more mainstream pop-rock album. Though the album charted lower than any Kansas album since Masque, peaking at number 41, its single "Fight Fire with Fire" fared better. It did not crack the Top 40 on the Billboard Hot 100, but reached No. 3 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart. It was the highest chart position of any Kansas release on any chart, though this particular chart did not exist prior to 1981.
During the band's time with Elefante as lead vocalist, Livgren became increasingly uncomfortable with Kansas representing his Christian worldview. After a final New Year's Eve performance on December 31, 1983, Livgren and Hope left to form AD with former Bloodrock member Warren Ham, who had toured as a sideman with Kansas in 1982, and Michael Gleason, who had done the same in 1983. They were joined by drummer Dennis Holt. Elefante, Ehart, and Williams sought to continue as Kansas, and recorded one more song, "Perfect Lover," which appeared on the retrospective The Best of Kansas (1984), which has sold over 4 million units in the U.S. alone. The song would eventually be removed in favor of other songs on the remastered release of the compilation. The group disbanded after its release, which thus became the final Kansas recording with Elefante. Since leaving Kansas, Elefante has become a popular CCM artist, and has not performed with the group since.
In 1985 the band came back together with Walsh, but without Livgren, Hope or Steinhardt. The new line-up included bassist Billy Greer (of Streets) and guitarist Steve Morse (formerly of the Dixie Dregs). The re-formed band released Power in November 1986. The first single, "All I Wanted," became the last Kansas single to hit the Billboard Top 40 chart, peaking at No. 19. It also received considerable airplay on MTV. Two more singles, the title track and "Can't Cry Anymore," were less successful, "Power" hitting the lower end of the Top 100 and getting substantial play and charting on the Rock Charts, but "Can't Cry Anymore" receiving little airplay despite a clever video.
The new lineup released a second album, In the Spirit of Things, in 1988. The concept album and subsequent tour were popular with the fan base but did not receive widespread airplay beyond the "Stand Beside Me" video on MTV. Morse temporarily left the band at the end of the tour in 1989.
In 1990, a German promoter arranged to reunite all the original members of Kansas (except for Steinhardt) for a European tour. Greer joined them, along with keyboardist Greg Robert, who had first joined Kansas on tour in 1986. At the end of the tour, Hope left again, but Livgren remained on into 1991.
1991–1997: Addition of David Ragsdale
In 1991, violinist David Ragsdale joined the group and the return of the violin allowed Kansas to perform earlier material in arrangements closer to the originals. Livgren left during the 1991 tour, to be replaced temporarily by Steve Morse again. After the tour, Morse left the band for good to become a member of Deep Purple, and Ragsdale took over the extra guitar parts, leaving Williams as the primary guitar player. The resulting lineup of Ehart, Greer, Ragsdale, Robert, Walsh, and Williams lasted from 1991 to 1997.
This period saw one live album and accompanying video, Live at the Whisky (1992) and one studio album Freaks of Nature (1995). On July 28, 1996, Kansas was inducted into the Rock Walk of Fame in Hollywood.
In early 1997, Robert and Ragsdale left the band and Steinhardt returned.
1998–2006: Return of Robby Steinhardt
In 1998, Kansas released Always Never the Same, which featured Larry Baird conducting the London Symphony Orchestra. The album was a mix of older Kansas material (with new arrangements by Baird), several new songs, and a cover of "Eleanor Rigby". Somewhere to Elsewhere, released in July 2000, featured all the original members of Kansas, plus Greer, with all songs written by Livgren.
In 2000, Kansas was the opening act for Yes during their "Masterworks" tour. In 2002, Kansas II (the lineup prior to the recording and release of Kansas' first album) released an album under the group name Proto-Kaw, featuring demos and live material recorded from 1971 to 1973. This led to a new studio album, Before Became After (2004), with most of the Kansas II members participating. Proto-Kaw released a third album, The Wait of Glory, in 2006.
The year 2002 brought another live album and DVD, entitled Device - Voice - Drum, which was recorded in the band's present home of Atlanta on June 15 of that year.
2006–present: Continued touring and regained popularity
Kansas has continued to tour every year. The 2006 tour was delayed for a few weeks due to Steinhardt's second departure, and Ragsdale subsequently returned to the lineup. In 2008, the Kansas website announced that four of the five current members (Ehart, Ragsdale, Williams and Greer) had formed a recording group called Native Window, and they released their self-titled debut album in June 2009.
In February 2009, Kansas recorded a concert in Topeka, Kansas featuring a full symphony orchestra, with Larry Baird conducting. Morse and Livgren appeared as special guests on several songs. The performance was released on CD, DVD and Blu-ray and the DVD hit No. 5 on the Billboard Music Video Chart the week after its release.
As of July 13, 2010, Kansas had recently completed a 30-day "United We Rock" tour with fellow classic rock acts Styx and Foreigner.
Kansas began a collegiate tour in September 2010. On this tour, they performed with the symphony orchestras of various U.S. colleges in an effort to raise money for the individual schools' music programs. The success of the tour led the band to start another one the following year.
On September 13, 2012, Kansas began a new tour with a performance at the Best Buy Theater in New York City. Opening for them was the band King's X and a one-man-band called That 1 Guy. This tour featured many hits from the albums Leftoverture and Point of Know Return, as well as material from a number of their other albums.
The band kicked off 2013 being featured on the Rock Legends II cruise. The floating rock festival for a cause aboard Royal Caribbean International’s Liberty of the Seas, departed January 10, 2013 from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Other big names included Foreigner, Paul Rodgers, Creedence Clearwater Revisited, Bachman & Turner, 38 Special, The Marshall Tucker Band, Blue Öyster Cult, Foghat, and Molly Hatchet.
On March 1, 2013, Kansas announced a 40th anniversary celebration was in the works. "Celebrating 40 years as a band, legendary American Progressive Rock Band KANSAS is taking a break from their regular touring schedule to say 'thank you' to their legions of loyal 'Wheatheads' with a once-in-a-lifetime fan appreciation concert scheduled for August 17, 2013 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania." their press release read.
The statement continued, "To start the concert KANSAS will perform a set backed by a 35-piece symphony orchestra. Following an intermission, KANSAS will then rock out a traditional band set of classics from their repertoire. The night will be highlighted by special guest appearances throughout the concert by original members Dave Hope, Kerry Livgren, and Robby Steinhardt—marking the first time all original members of the band will be on the same stage together in more than 30 years." However Steinhardt suffered a heart attack days before the concert and was unable to participate.
Kansas' two most popular songs, "Carry On Wayward Son" and "Dust in the Wind," have been covered by other artists, and featured on film and television soundtracks.
"Carry On Wayward Son" has been covered by: Critical Mass, Dream Theater, Yngwie Malmsteen, The Oak Ridge Boys, Rachel Rachel, The Showdown, Stryper, Gwar, and an off-the-cuff live version by the Foo Fighters. The riff and parts of the song was also shortly featured live by Pantera in their song "Cowboys from Hell."
"Dust in the Wind" has been covered by: Sarah Brightman, Scorpions (Acoustica), Christian artists Acappella and Billy Smiley, progressive trance DJs Gabriel & Dresden, former New York Yankees center fielder and jazz guitarist Bernie Williams (The Journey Within), and ex-Kansas lead singer John Elefante (2006). It was sung by Will Ferrell during the movie Old School. It was prominently featured in several episodes of the television series Highlander and was referenced in the film Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. It gained additional exposure when used as the music for a Subaru commercial.
Additional covers include: "Point of Know Return" by Vanden Plas (Beyond Daylight), "The Wall" by Lana Lane (Covers Collection), and "Fight Fire With Fire" by Frost (Raise Your Fist to Metal).
"Carry On Wayward Son" has been included on soundtracks for the following movies and television shows: Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Family Guy, Gentlemen Broncos, Happy Gilmore, Heroes (1977), Scrubs, South Park ("Guitar Queer-o" episode), King of the Hill ("My Own Private Rodeo"), Strangers with Candy ("Yes You Can't"), and Supernatural (during the intro for each season finale), and Supernatural: The Anime Series (as the ending for each episode). It was also featured in the Guitar Hero II, Guitar Hero Smash Hits, Rock Band 2 , and Rock Band Unplugged video games.
- 2011 Collegiate Symphony Tour (2011–12)
- Fall 2012 Tour (2012)
- Official website
- Billy Greer
- Kerry Livgren
- David Ragsdale
- Steve Walsh
- John Elefante
- Kansas discography at MusicBrainz
- AllMusic: Kansas - Artist Biography
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