The 1970s saw a boom in geographical band names: jazzy, urban Chicago; gritty, rocking Boston; rootsy, countrified Alabama; and progressive, ultra-artsy Kansas. If the connections break down at this point, it's because Kansas strove from the start to create richly orchestrated music that rocked hard: perhaps people just don't associate that kind of energy with Kansas farmland.
The nucleus of Kansas'”Kerry Livgren (guitar), Dave Hope (bass) and Phil Ehart (drums)'”were high-school band mates. Robby Steinhardt (violin) joined them in 1971, and the band changed its name from Kansas to White Clover. A year later, Steve Walsh (keyboards and vocals) and Richard Williams (guitar) arrived. Apparently 'White Clover' didn't suit the newcomers, as the band renamed itself Kansas. Prepared to conquer the music world, the sextet started playing Kansas bars with original progressive material.
After a couple of years of grinding out their tunes to dazed and confused crowds, they developed enough of a fan base to interest Kirshner Records, home of the Archies. While the first album, Kansas (1974), was not a big hit, the band promoted it thoroughly and sold a lot of tickets to budding fans. Album sales grew to match the tickets, and, finally, 1976 brought the success for which Kansas had been striving.
In fact, Kansas became very big very fast when they released 'Carry On Wayward Son' in early 1977. Though the single just missed the Top Ten, it went gold and owned the airwaves all spring. The British-style progressive keyboards, violin, and powerful guitars underpinned sharp vocal harmonies, and the record-buying audience was ready enough to send the album, Leftoverture, to triple-platinum (eventually sextuple-platinum) status. By now, Kansas tickets were as scarce as skyscrapers in Manhattan (Manhattan, Kansas, that is).
Momentum made the next album, Point of Know Return, an even larger hit. The second single, 'Dust in the Wind,' became their second gold single and reached #6 on the charts. Now considered a classic by a variety of radio formats, this song showed how the next phase of the Kansas story would play itself out.
Kerry Livgren and Dave Hope were becoming born-again Christians at the time, and a look at 'Dust in the Wind' shows in retrospect the search of lyricist Kerry Livgren. This search for a personal truth caused tensions in the band, and vocalist Walsh fled the scene, to be replaced by John Elefante. Two albums later, Kansas disbanded in 1983.
Like so many of the great bands of the 1970s, Kansas could not resist either the urge to perform or their fans' desire to see them again. By 1986, Steve Walsh, Richard Williams, and Phil Ehart had Kansas rolling, with Steve Morse taking Kerry Livgren's guitar slot and Billy Greer playing bass instead of Dave Hope. This version of Kansas sold a satisfying number of tickets and made the Top Twenty at the end of 1986 with 'All I Wanted.'
Kerry Livgren returned for the 2000 album Somewhere to Elsewhere, which also featured Dave Hope and thus all six original band members. Though Livgren and Hope are not touring with the band now, the raw power and artfully progressive nuances of the Kansas sound are intact, and your tickets to see Kansas will be a source of joy and great memories.
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