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"Carry on Wayward Son," "Point of Know Return," "Dust in the Wind," "Hold On," etc.
Original line-up: Livgren (guitarist and songwriter), Ehart (drummer), Steve Walsh (vocalist and songwriter), Dave Hope (bassist), Rich Williams (guitarist), Robby Steinhardt (violinist).
Official website: www.kansasband.com
The Band's Beginnings
In 1970, Kerry Livgren and Phil Ehart combined their two separate bands (Saratoga and White Clover, respectively) into The Kansas Band -- which also included vocalists Lynn Meredith and Joel Warne, bassist Dave Hope, keyboardists Don Montre and Dan Wrifght, and saxophonist Larry Baker. Livgren and Ehart split the band up in 1971, however, and each pursued separate bands. Livgren and Meredith formed a new version of Kansas with Don Montre, Dan Wright, John Bolton, and two others, while Ehart reformed White Clover with bassist Dave Hope, guitarist Rich Williams, vocalist/songwriter Steve Walsh, and violinist Robby Steinhardt. Although his band recorded a demo tape in 1973, Ehart felt that White Clover needed a second songwriter to complement Walsh and invited Livgren to join the band; Livgren agreed. The band changed its name to Kansas, and was signed to Kirshner Records in 1974.
Road to Success
The band's first album, Kansas, was released in 1974, but only reached #174 on the Billboard chart. It's second album, Song for America (1975), only contained six songs because three of them were over eight minutes long. The title track was widely received and became the band's first major hit.
Most of the songs on these first two albums were written by Livgren, who tended to write about philosophical subjects. Although Livgren's songwriting would become Kansas' trademark style, it also put him at odds with Walsh, who tended to focus on more traditional rock themes.
Sales of Kansas' third album, Masque (1975) -- which featured Walsh's pop-inspired "It Takes A Woman's Love (To Make A Man)" and Livgren's epic "The Pinnacle" -- were lackluster.
In 1976, as Kansas was working on its fourth album, Walsh hit a wall of writer's block and all of the songwriting duties fell on Livgren. The extra work didn't seem to affect Livgren, however, as Leftoverture would prove to be the band's breakthrough to success. The single "Carry on Wayward Son," which Livgren added to the album at the last minute, pushed the album to double-platinum success. Other hits included "The Wall" and "Magnum Opus."
Point of Know Return, released in 1977, became the band's second double-platinum record in a row, thanks to two blockbuster single hits -- "Point of Know Return" and "Dust in the Wind." The album almost did not get completed, however, because Walsh left the band briefly after conflicts during the recording sessions; he returned after a three-day absence and the sessions resumed.
Two for the Show, recorded live during the band's Point of Know Return tour, was released in 1978. It was followed in 1979 by the studio album Monolith, which featured such hits as "People of the South Wind" and "How My Soul Cries Out for You." Although the album reached #10 on the charts, it failed to achieve platinum success.
The First Break-Up
In 1980, Steve Walsh released a solo album titled Schemer Dreamer. That same year, Kerry Livgren released his own solo album, Seeds of Change. The music on Livgren's album centered on his becoming a born-again Christian, a life-changing event that would also influence Kansas' musical direction.
Audio Visions, released late in 1980, featured Livgren's song "Hold On." Although most fans believed the song was about boy-girl love, it was actually about man's relationship with God. The single and album both achieved success, but Livgren's new writing style further strained his relationship with Walsh. Dave Hope also became a born-again Christian at this time, bringing tensions within the band to a near breaking point. The Audio Visions tour would prove to be the last time all of the original band members would play live together.
Walsh left the band in 1981, and was replaced by Christian vocalist John Elefante. Livgren and Elefante then teamed up to write the songs for Vinyl Confessions, which was released in 1982. Not surprisingly, most of the songs on the album -- including the hit "Play the Game Tonight" -- had Christian lyrical content. Violinist Robby Steinhardt left the band after the Vinyl Confessions tour.
Drastic Measures, released in 1983, included a mix of hard rock -- including the song "Mainstream" -- and Christian-influenced music -- including the hit song "Fight Fire with Fire." The album lacked the well-known Kansas sound, however, due to the absence of Steinhardt's violin.
In 1984, the band released a greatest hits compilation, The Best of Kansas, which also included the new song "Perfect Lover." By the end of that year Livgren and Hope had left Kansas to form the Christian rock group AD, while Elefante had gone on to become a solo artist in the Christian music market.
The Second Line-Up
By 1985 only two original Kansas members were left -- drummer Phil Ehart and guitarist Rich Williams. That year they reunited with original vocalist Steve Walsh, who brought bassist Billy Greer with him. The band subsequently added keyboardist Greg Robert and guitarist Steve Morse. The new Kansas signed with MCA Records and released two albums -- Power (1986), which featured the love ballad "All I Wanted," and In the Spirit of Things (1988), which featured the story-like songs "Ghosts" and "One Big Sky." Neither album enjoyed strong sales, however, and Morse left the band to pursue other interests.
The Third Line-Up
In 1990 Kansas was asked to reunite the original band members to do some tour dates in Europe. Livgren and Hope participated for a while, but neither completed the tour. Steinhardt did not participate at all, so the band added violinist David Ragsdale to its line-up. Steve Morse also participated in some of the concerts.
The new Kansas -- featuring Phil Erhart, Rich Williams, Steve Walsh, Billy Greer, Greg Robert and David Ragsdale -- signed with Intersound Records, and released their second live album -- Live at the Whisky -- in 1992. Featuring live renditions of every Kansas classic, the album also includes a guest appearance by Kerry Livgren (on "Dust in the Wind").
Freaks of Nature (1995) included one song, "Cold Grey Morning," written by Livgren, although he did not play on it. Both David Ragsdale and Greg Robert left the band following the Freaks of Nature tour.
The Fourth Line-Up
In 1998, the fourth Kansas line-up -- including original members Phil Erhart, Rich Williams, Steve Walsh and Robby Steinhardt (who had rejoined the band earlier) -- released Always Never the Same, a mix of old classics and new material recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra. Later that year, the King Biscuit Flower Hour Presents Kansas, which captured the band's performance on that hit radio show, was released. This line-up toured continuously throughout 1998 and 1999.
The Current Line-Up
In 2000, all six original Kansas members -- Kerry Livgren, Phil Ehart, Steve Walsh, Robby Steinhardt, Rich Williams and Dave Hope -- teamed with current bassist Billy Greer to record Somewhere to Elsewhere, the first Kansas album with all of the original members since Audio Visions. A return to Kansas' musical traditions, the album featured the song "Icarus II," the long-awaited sequel to their epic song "Icarus--Borne on Wings of Steel," from the 1975 album Masque.
Although they joined the studio reunion, Livgren and Hope have chosen not to go on tour with the band. As of 2011, Kansas is still touring, featuring original members Phil Ehart, Steve Walsh and Rich Williams, along with David Ragsdale and Billy Greer.
Current line-up (from left in the picture): Ehart, Billy Greer (bassist), Williams, Walsh, David Ragsdale (violinist)
Kansas (1974) Kirshner Records
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This page was last updated on 09/22/2017.