Classic Rock Profiles: Introduction to Kansas


Kansas at a glance

Kansas is the name of an American rock band, most popular and active throughout the 1970s and the 1980s. First formed in Topeka, Kansas in 1973, the group released their eponymous debut album the following year. It soon became a best seller and went gold, and Kansas were performing in sold-out concerts at the biggest venues.

Six studio albums followed which also became commercial successes while their singles such as “Carry On Wayward Son” and “Dust In The Wind” became hits. They have become staples of the album-oriented rock (AOR) radio stations even up to this day.

In the 1980s, the group, as they began to experience creative and personal tensions, shifted to contemporary Christian music as some of their members converted into born-again Christians. As with other many rock bands, Kansas have also undergone personnel changes since 1985 when they reunited. Kansas’ music has been classified as progressive rock, hard rock, art rock and heartland rock, and their distinctive sound relies on the string section (courtesy of vocalist-violinist Robby Steindhardt).

The evolution of Kansas

Originating in the Kansas capital of Topeka, founding members guitarist/keyboardist Kerry Livgren, bassist Dave Hope, and drummer Phil Ehart started to play together while they were still in high school. In 1971, they changed their name into White Clover when they recruited violinist/vocalist Robby Steinhardt, keyboardist/vocalist Steve Walsh and guitarist Rich Williams. By the time their lineup was complete, they had reverted to their old name Kansas.

Kansas signed a deal with Kirshner Records and released their eponymous debut album in 1974; it landed at #174 on the Billboard 200 chart. The following year they released two albums: Song For America (peak position: #57) and Masque(#70), signaling better things to come for the band.

Out of obscurity and into stardom

In 1976, Kansas achieved their breakthrough success with Leftoverture. Although the album received mixed reviews from critics, its commercial success was uncontested. It sold over four million copies and went multi-platinum. Most importantly, it finally pulled Kansas out of relative obscurity and into stardom. The album’s single “Carry on Wayward Son” was just a shy away from making it into the Top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100.

Kansas followed Leftoverture with 1977’s Point Of Know Return. The album’s strongest single was “Dust in the Wind” which reached its peak single at #6 on the Hot 100. This helped Point Of Know Return to sell over four million copies and hit the multi-platinum certification. In the wake of the success of their albums, Kansas played sold-out dates at huge venues.

The following year Kansas issued their first live album, the double-LP Two for the Show, which struggled on the charts, peaking only at #35. Kansas resurrected this with 1979’s Monolith which broke into the Top 10 pop album territory, helped by the Top 40 single “People of the South Wind” (at #23).

Rifts, lineup changes and subsequent split

But by the time 1980’s Audio-Visions album was released, the band members began to drift apart largely due to Livgren and Hope’s conversion to born-again Christianity. Their newfound faith was manifested by their later songs, and this didn’t sit well with the other members. Creative differences further severed the band members’ relationship, and Walsh left in late 1981 to form his own band Streets. Kansas recruited John Elefante to fill the void left by Walsh.

he new version of Kansas released the album Vinyl Confessions in the summer of 1982. The new album re-generated some interest in the band, helped by the Top 20 pop hit single “Play the Game Tonight” (at #17 pop, #4 rock). The following year Kansas issued Drastic Measures, and by then Steinhardt was absent in the album as he had already quit just prior to its recording. The single “Fight Fire with Fire” didn’t reach the Top 40 although it did peak at #3 on the mainstream rock charts.

Drastic Measures was the last hurrah for much of the original lineup before they disbanded in early 1984. Livgren and Hope left to form their own band, the Christian rock outfit AD.

Re-formation and later career

But only two years after the split, Kansas surfaced anew. The reformed lineup consisted of original members Ehart and Williams with newer member Walsh, together with the most recent members bassist Billy Greer and guitarst Steve Morse. The new version of Kansas released Power in the autumn of 1986. The album’s single “All I Wanted” just reached the Top 20, and reached its peak at #10. The same lineup also released the follow-up to Power with In the Spirit of Things before Morse left the band temporarily. He then came back in 1991 to fill in Livgren’s absence in the middle of Kansas’ 1990-1991 reunion tour, before leaving the group for good. In 1991 violinist David Ragdale joined Kansas, and since then this lineup (Ehart, Walsh, Williams, Greer and Ragsdale) has still been intact up to this day.

In 1998 and 2000, Kansas released the albums Always Never the Same andSomewhere To Elsewhere, respectively. The group has continued to tour each year, with occasional appearances by Livgren, Hope and Morse.

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