Kansas is a progressive rock band that formed in Topeka, Kansas, United States in 1970. The band is best known for their international hit singles "Carry On Wayward Son" and "Dust in the Wind", from 1976 and 1977 respectively.
The band's classic lineup consisted of Steve Walsh (lead vocals and keyboards), Richard Williams (lead guitar), Kerry Livgren (keyboards and guitar), Robby Steinhardt (violin, lead and backing vocals), Dave Hope (bass) and Phil Ehart (drums). The band currently consists of Ehart and Williams alongside Ronnie Platt (lead vocals and keyboards), David Ragsdale (violin), Billy Greer (bass and vocals), and David Manion (keyboards and vocals).
The debut album, 'Kansas', was released in March 1974, nearly a year after it was recorded in New York. It defined the band's signature sound, being comprised of a mix of American-style boogie rock with complex, symphonic arrangements featuring changing time signatures similar to British art rockers. Steinhardt's violin was a distinctive element of the group's sound, which set them apart from other progressive rock groups of the era. The band slowly developed a cult following, due to promotion by pop/rock impresario Don Kirshner and extensive touring for their debut album. Two follow-ups, 'Song for America' and 'Masque', both came out in 1975 and brought them additional acclaim, the releases showing the band's philosophical-based lyricism in songs such as the myth-inspired "Icarus (Born On Wings Of Steel)".
Kansas released its fourth album, 'Leftoverture', in November 1976, which produced a massive hit single in "Carry On Wayward Son" and brought comparisons to other records such as Yes' 'Fragile'. The aforementioned tune has became a kind of 'signature song' for the band and been a staple of rock radio for years, also appearing in various TV shows and video games. Kansas' follow-up, 'Point of Know Return', was released in October 1977. Featuring the title track and "Dust in the Wind", both hit singles, it received critical praise from many reviewers.
'Leftoverture' and 'Point of Know Return' each have sold over four million copies in the U.S. Both "Carry On Wayward Son" and "Dust in the Wind" have also been RIAA certified as gold singles, selling over one million units each. In particular,"Dust in the Wind" was certified gold as a digital download in 2005, almost 30 years after its first run, having sold over one million copies as a single. Forming somewhat of a career high point, 'Leftoverture' was 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 as well.
The follow-up studio album to Point of Know Return was Monolith (1979), which, like the live album, was self-produced. While the album produced a Top 40 single in "People of the South Wind"--the title refers to the meaning of the Kaw word 'Kansas'--it failed to garner the sales and radio airplay of its two predecessors. Nevertheless, the album went platinum. Kerry Livgren's platinum award for the album is on display at the Kansas History Museum.
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 newfound faith in a pop setting. Hope soon converted to Christianity as well. Walsh left in October 1981 to form a new band, Streets. In early 1982, Walsh was replaced by vocalist/keyboardist John Elefante. Initially unbeknownst to the other members of Kansas, Elefante was also a born-again Christian. Elefante was chosen over other applicants including Sammy Hagar and Doug Pinnick. John and brother Dino Elefante were later successful producers for contemporary Christian artists, including Sweet Comfort Band, Petra, Bride, Rick Cua, and Guardian.
Kansas' first album with Elefante, Vinyl Confessions, released in June 1982, was their most successful studio release since Point of Know Return. The record renewed interest in the group and generated the band's first Top 20 hit in several years, "Play the Game Tonight." The album's overtly Christian lyrics attracted an entirely new audience. Still, sales of the album fell short of gold status, and the album has yet to be certified gold.
Drastic Measures followed in 1983. Because Livgren was holding back some Christian-oriented songs for another solo album, he contributed only three songs to the album. The rest were penned by the Elefante brothers, and without the violin of Steinhardt (who left the group before the recording sessions), the result was a more mainstream pop-rock album. The single, "Fight Fire with Fire," did not crack the Top 40 on the Billboard Hot 100 but reached #3 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart, making it the highest chart position of any Kansas release on any chart.
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). That was to be the final Kansas recording with Elefante, and the group disbanded after its release. Since leaving Kansas, Elefante has become a popular contemporary Christian music artist but has never again performed with the group.
n 1985 Ehart and Williams reformed the band 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 #19. Two more singles, the title track and "Can't Cry Anymore," were less successful. The new lineup released a second album, In the Spirit of Things, in 1988, but it was met with weak sales and Morse 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 III (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. That year, 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 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. The following year 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.
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 #5 on Billboard's 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 legends Styx and Foreigner.
Kansas will be touring September 2010 to January 2011. They will be performing with Symphonies of various colleges around the U.S. in an effort to raise money for the individual schools' music programs. The final show of the series, on January 28, 2011, is to be performed at McCain Auditorium on the campus of Kansas State University to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the state of Kansas being granted statehood. The concert will be filmed by PBS to be used in a future broadcast special in the region. Kansas will perform live on stage at the Glasgow, Kentucky Kentucky Plaza Theater on Friday May 13, 2011.