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co-founder of Kansas
Kerry Allen Livgren was born in Topeka, Kansas, on September 18, 1949. His passion for music started at an early age, and he taught himself to play the guitar and other instruments while also writing his own music. His professional music career began while he was still a student at Topeka West High School, as a member of the Gimlets -- with Livgren (guitar and vocals), John Pribble (drums), Scott Kessler (bass), Tim Strauss (guitar), and Dan Wright (keyboards). The band featured original compositions by Livgren that blended elements of pop, English and psychedelic rock, and was soon playing across Kansas and Missouri. He graduated in 1967 and attended Washburn University for some time, but stayed with the Gimlets until 1969, when he joined the Mellotones, a rhythm and blues band. Wanting to front his own band again, Livgren left the Mellotones after a short time and formed a new version of the Gimlets, which he subsequently renamed Saratoga. In 1970, he and Phil Ehart combined their respective bands to form The Kansas Band, which went through several line-up changes before being signed as Kansas by Don Kirshner in 1973.
Kansas released its self-titled debut album in 1974, but it 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. Although Livgren wrote most of the songs for both albums, he shared songwriting duties with Steve Walsh, and the two were often at odds due to their very different musical philosophies; Livgren tended to focus on philosophical themes, while Walsh tended to focus on more traditional rock music themes. Sales of the band's third album, Masque (1975), were lackluster, and both Livgren and Walsh knew that Kansas would have to have a major hit soon or face losing their contract with Kirshner.
In 1976, 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 the resultant album, 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. Livgren also wrote most of the songs for Point of Know Return (1977), including both the title song and "Dust In The Wind," which like his previous hit was added at the last minute.
Livgren became a born-again Christian in 1979, and released his first solo album, Seeds of Change (which was sold with a copy of his autobiography), that same year. He continued to record and tour with Kansas, however, until conflicts over the increasingly Christian influences in his music led him to leave the band in 1983 and record his second solo album, Time Line. He subsequently formed A.D., a Christian rock band, which released two albums and toured extensively before breaking up in 1986. Although he contributed a few songs to the continuing Kansas over the next several years, he focused primarily on his solo career. His most important albums during this period were Prime Mover (1988) and One of Several Possible Musiks (1989), which won a Dove Award for Instrumental Album of the Year.
In 1994, Livgren returned to his native Topeka and founded GrandyZine production company and Numavox Records in a converted barn on his property. In 2000, he and five of his former Kansas bandmates reunited in his GrandyZine studio to record Somewhere To Elsewhere, for which Livgren wrote all new material. He and another group of original Kansas members formed "Proto-Kaw" in 2003, and they released Before Became After (2004) and The Wait of Glory (2006) before quietly disbanding. Although he suffered a major stroke in August of 2009, Livgren continues to operate both GrandyZine and Numavox, and at last report was writing new material for a new version of "Proto-Kaw." He also teaches a regular Sunday School class at Topeka Bible Church. He lives with his wife Victoria, with whom he has two children.
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This page was last updated on 09/23/2017.