Kansas is an American progressive rock band that became popular in the 1970s initially on album-oriented rock charts, and later with hit singles such as "Carry On Wayward Son" and "Dust in the Wind". These two most popular songs of Kansas have been covered by other artists, and featured on film and television soundtracks. They were from the beginning just an ordinary rock band, but were quickly transformed combining the musical complexities of British prog-rock with the soul and instrumentation of the American heartland. They became one of the biggest selling and most successful touring acts of the 1970s. The band currently tour in North America and Europe.
1970–1973: Early years
Keyboardist Don Montre, vocalist Lynn Meredith, keyboardist Dan Wright and guitarist Kerry Livgren were performing in a band called The Reasons Why in their hometown of Topeka, Kansas. After changing the band's name to Saratoga, they started playing Livgren's original material with Scott Kessler on bass and Zeke Lowe on drums. In 1970, they changed the band's name again to Kansas and merged with members of rival Topeka progressive rock outfit White Clover. Thus, Dave Hope (bass), Phil Ehart (drums, percussion), and Kerry Livgren (guitars, keyboards, synthesizers) formed the progressive rock group, along with vocalists Lynn Meredith and Joel Warne, and keyboardists Don Montre and Dan Wright, and saxophonist Larry Baker. This early Kansas group, which lasted until 1971 when Ehart, Hope, and some of the others left to reform White Clover, is sometimes referred to as Kansas I. Drummer Ehart was replaced by Zeke Lowe and later Brad Schulz, bassist Hope was replaced by Rod Mikinski, and Baker was replaced by John Bolton on saxophone and flute. This lineup is sometimes referred to as Kansas II, and 30 years later would re-form under the name Proto-Kaw. In 1972, after drummer Phil Ehart returned from England (where he had gone to look for other musicians), he and bassist Dave Hope once again reformed White Clover with Robby Steinhardt (vocals, violin, viola, cello), Steve Walsh (vocals, keyboards, synthesizers, percussion) and Rich Williams (guitars). In 1973 they recruited guitarist Kerry Livgren from the second Kansas group, which then folded. Eventually they received a recording contract with Don Kirshner's eponymous label and decided to adopt the Kansas name.
1974–1979: Rise to national prominence
Their self-titled debut album was released in March 1974, nearly a year after it was recorded in New York. It defined the band's signature sound, a mix of American-style boogie rock and complex, symphonic arrangements with changing time signatures. Steinhardt's violin was a distinctive element of the group's sound, being defined more by heartland rock than the jazz and classic influences which most progressive rock violinists followed. The band slowly developed a cult following, due to promotion by Kirshner and extensive touring for the debut album and its two follow-ups, Song for America and Masque.
Can I tell you
Song for America
Icarus (Borne on wings of steel)
Carry on wayward son
Point of know return
Drastic Measures followed in 1983 which had some hard rock material on it, including the song "Mainstream". For various reasons, Livgren contributed only three songs to the album. The rest were penned by the Elefante brothers (who later became successful producers for contemporary Christian music artists, including Sweet Comfort Band, Petra, Bride, Rick Cua, and Guardian). With violinist Steinhardt leaving the group before the recording sessions, the result was an even more mainstream pop-rock album. Though the album charted lower than any Kansas album since Masque, peaking at number 41, its single "Fight Fire with Fire" fared better. It did not crack the Top 40 on the Billboard Hot 100, but reached No. 3 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart. It was the highest chart position of any Kansas release on any chart, though this particular chart did not exist prior to 1981. 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), which has sold over 4 million units in the US alone. The song would eventually be removed in favor of other songs on the remastered release of the compilation. The group disbanded after its release, which thus became the final Kansas recording with Elefante. Since leaving Kansas, Elefante has become a popular CCM artist, and has not performed with the group since.
1985–present: Reformation and touring
In 1985 the band came back together 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 No. 19. It also received considerable airplay on MTV. Two more singles, the title track and "Can't Cry Anymore," were less successful, "Power" hitting the lower end of the Top 100 and getting substantial play and charting on the Rock Charts, but "Can't Cry Anymore" receiving little airplay despite a clever video.
Bells of Saint James
I Can Fly
Look at the time
Song for America (1975)
Point of Know Return (1977)
Vinyl Confessions (1982)
Drastic Measures (1983)
In the Spirit of Things (1988)
Freaks of Nature (1995)
Always Never the Same (1998)
Somewhere to Elsewhere (2000)