The story of Kansas began more than four decades ago when a group of musicians formed a progressive rock group in their hometown, Topeka, Kan. Vocalists Lynn Meredith and Joel Warne, keyboardist Don Montre, keyboardist Dan Wright, and saxophonist Larry Baker soon joined the founders – Dave Hope, Phil Ehart and Kerry Livgren. Some of the musicians had already performed together in a band called White Clover.
After a number of lineup changes, in 1973 Kansas signed with Don Kirshner's eponymous label and released their debut album “Kansas” in 1974. Band members now included original founding members Ehart on drums and percussion, Hope on bass and vocals and Livgren on guitars, keyboards, synthesizers and vocals. Added to the mix were Robby Steinhardt on violin and vocals, Rich Williams on guitars and Steve Walsh on keyboards, synthesizers, percussion and vocals.
This lineup remained the same through seven studio albums and endless touring in the 1970s. Albums during this period included “Kansas” (1974), “Song for America” (1975), “Masque” (1975), “Leftoverture” (1976), “Point of Know Return” (1977), “Monolith” (1979) and “Audio-Visions” (1980). Kansas steadily developed a cult following through 1975, and finally achieved chart success with the release of “Leftoverture” which featured the hit single “Carry On Wayward Son.” The album reached No. 5 on Billboard’s pop album chart. The follow-up, 1977’s “Point of Know Return” peaked even higher, at No. 4. That album produced the band’s best-known hit, “Dust in the Wind.”
Then and now
One could make a valid argument by saying that Kansas introduced two recognizable phrases to rock and roll parlance: “air guitar” and “arena rock.”
During the ’70s and ’80s, Kansas put together a string of gold and platinum-certified hit albums, sold out tours, and penned some of classic rock’s most instantly recognizable and enduring tunes. While it has been nearly 40 years since the group’s self-titled debut in 1974, today the band is as strong as it ever was. Featuring singer/keyboardist Steve Walsh, guitarist Rich Williams, violinist David Ragsdale, bassist Billy Greer, and drummer Phil Ehart, Kansas released its fifth live album, “There’s No Place Like Home,” on CD and DVD in 2009. The DVD charted at No. 5 on the Billboard Music DVD chart the week of its release.
In a press release issued by Chipster PR & Consulting Inc., Ehart unveils several reasons as to why Kansas continues to flourish.
“We have the best fans in the world,” Ehart said. “Their responses are always solid, insightful ... and they will tell you what they think.”
The classic songs Kansas recorded have shown that they hold up fine, attracting new generations of fans.
“New fans are discovering us every day, thanks to video games, movies and TV shows that use our music,” Williams said. He offers his thoughts as to why Kansas continues to rule the classic rock airwaves. “[The songs] have retained a relevance through the years that only a small percentage of recordings do.”
“There's Know Place Like Home” was recorded Feb. 7, 2009, in Topeka, Kan., at Washburn University. For the concert, Kansas paired with the Washburn University Symphony Orchestra. The evening’s set-list included several orchestral arrangements. Kansas will be accompanied by a rock symphony at its Ruth Eckerd Hall concert, too.
“It's always an adventure,” explained Ehart about playing with an orchestra. “Adding another 50 people to your ‘band’ can always prove eventful.”
Fans coming out to catch Kansas on tour can be confident that they’ll be catching one of rock’s most finely tuned machines.
“We are more relaxed and comfortable with who we are now than we have maybe been ever,” said Williams. “We’re playing with the confidence that comes with experience.”