Kansas: Rock’s Wayward Sons Carry On

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Just because they celebrated their fourth decade as a group last year doesn’t mean that Topeka, Kan., favourite sons the rock group Kansas is planning to slow down anytime soon.

The group behind timeless hits like “Dust In The Wind” and “Carry On Wayward Son” has enjoyed a long career in music.

In the last 40 years, their albums Leftoverture, Point Of Know Return, Two For The Show and The Best of Kansas have helped the group sell more than one million records. The band was a mainstay on the Billboard charts throughout the ’70s and ’80s, logging a cumulative 200 weeks while playing to sold-out arenas and stadiums throughout North America, Europe and Japan.

Currently composed of drummer Phil Ehart, bassist Billy Greer, violinist David Ragsdale, singer-keyboardist Steve Walsh and guitarist Richard Williams, Kansas remains a fixture of classic rock radio. They have also gained invaluable exposure to a new generation of fans over the last decade thanks to their presence in video games like Rock Band and Guitar Hero and via television shows likeSupernatural and movies such as Old School and Anchorman.

Perhaps no one recognizes how far this one-time garage band has come more than guitarist Richard Williams.

“The first band I was in was with (Kansas drummer) Phil Ehart. Some of the other members of Kansas were playing in different bands at that time, but that is around the time that each began playing music,” Richard says.

“Eventually though, some of the people that were playing in these different bands didn’t want to travel or didn’t want to give up their day job or didn’t see music as being anything but a hobby. And so, many of the other bands that we had each been a part of began dissolving, and those of us who shared the common goal of wanting to write original material found our way to one another. It was a perfect storm of sorts. It was the right time for it to happen.”

Richard admits that besides sharing the common goal of writing their own music, the then newly formed band knew that they did not want to play music like what they were hearing on the radio.

Despite each member bringing his own distinct musical influences to the table, Richard says that the progressive rock bands that were emerging from the United Kingdom at the time collectively intrigued them. Not surprisingly, those progressive influences found their way into the sound of Kansas.

“Individually, our influences were varied: Robbie, our first violin player, was a huge R&B and soul music fan. Kerry Livgren’s musical tastes were very eclectic as well. Dave and I grew up listening to Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels and early Allman Brothers.

“It was the progressive side of music that really caught everyone’s ear, though. It was the individual approach to that style of music that really resonated with each of us. It inspired us to want to make music that was a little outside of the box while remaining a basic rock ‘n’ roll band at our foundation,” Richard says.

Despite the group signing what Richard calls the “worst record contract ever,” the group made its living playing on stages right around the world. These days, their live schedule hovers in the vicinity of 70 shows annually, a pace that Richard says suits the band members perfectly.

“We have always been a blue-collar band. Touring is always what we have done best. Of course, these days it is the perfect retirement job. We often get to be at home five days a week, get on an airplane on Friday, play a couple of shows and then be back home on Sunday. It is nice to have some structure to what we do.

“The key at this point in our career is just to enjoy what we are doing. We have had to reinvent ourselves a few different times now, but once you’ve made peace with not being the hot new item of the month, you realize that it is a great place to be. We don’t need to worry about getting our foot in the door. Whether you love us or hate us, we are here and we are going to remain here. We might not ever be on top of the mountain again but we have a terrific view. We are very fortunate.”

In addition to a European tour later this year, Richard is also looking forward to the release of a documentary on the band. Miracles Out Of Nowhere will focus on the roots of the group through their first four albums.

“I’ve always felt as though looking backwards is kind of pointless but I’ve seen some rough edits of the documentary and found it just fascinating to watch.

“The documentary is going to serve as a snapshot of the group at a very specific period of our lives. It very much pertains to us coming out of Kansas, which was never really known as a music mecca. They were exciting times back then because it seemed as though everyone you knew was in a band. And because we were coming from a place like Topeka, as opposed to a much larger city, it made everyone try that much harder.”

What: Kansas
When: Friday, April 11, 8 p.m.
Where: Casino New Brunswick, 
 21 Casino Dr., Moncton
Tickets start at $35.99 (plus taxes and service charges). Advance tickets are available at the Casino Gift Shop, by phone at 1-866-943-8849 and online at casinonb.ca