Carry on all you wayward classic rock listeners!
Kansas is ready to rock the brand new Capital One Hall in Tysons, Virginia, on Dec. 19.
“We’re going to be one of the first bands to desecrate it,” lead singer Ronnie Platt told WTOP. “We’re really looking forward to just being back on the road. We’ve been doing our classics set since May. … We’re going to bring something special to our Kansas fans.”
The band will perform the full “Point of Know Return” album, as well as other huge hits.
“The biggest compliment I’ll hear if I’m leaving the casino or running into people at the coffee shop the next morning is, ‘We weren’t expecting it to be that good,'” Platt said. “We’re firing on all cylinders. Our sound is so big. We’re really proud of our presentation. Our lighting director Scott Pearson does a freakin’ phenomenal job lighting up the stage.”
Formed in Topeka, Kansas, in 1972, Kansas began as a proverbial garage band.
“What the heck was in Topeka, Kansas, in 1972?” Platt said. “There must have been something in the water in Topeka! To have six guys at such an incredible level of musicianship come from the same area. To quote the documentary ‘Miracles Out of Nowhere,’ they were as far as you could be from any kind of music industry stuff.”
They were discovered by Wally Gold, who worked for Don Kirshner of the label Kirshner.
“They sent a demo to New York and they had a guy bring it to Don Kirshner’s office,” Platt said. “The guy walks in and there’s just all these tapes on the desk. The chances of them even being heard at that point was probably a million to one, but eventually over time someone listened to it and Kirshner’s guy Wally Gold was sent to see them in Kansas.”
Gold was impressed by the show and signed the band for their debut album in 1974.
“They put together this show in Kansas, gave away a bunch of free beer and attracted a lot of people,” Platt said. “The thing that really stood out with them was, of course, Robby Steinhardt having a violin so prominent in the music. That’s probably the one element that stood out amongst other demo tapes. … That was the beginning of the whole story.”
Soon, Kansas began touring with rock legends like Queen and Aerosmith.
“Aerosmith didn’t like it when the opening band went over time,” Platt said. “They had a little scuffle with Steven Tyler, but boy, all the bands that they’ve played with over the years. … I’ve heard stories about all of them between Blue Oyster Cult and Cheap Trick.”
Their fourth album, “Leftoverture” (1976), featured the smash hit “Carry On Wayward Son.”
“It was the last song,” Platt said. “They were pretty much breaking down everything in the studio and Kerry [Livgren] came in and said, ‘Hey, I have another song.’ … Every segment of that song is a hook. … The vocal beginning is a hook, the guitar riff is a hook, the second guitar riff is a hook. It just has all those elements that seamlessly went together.”
Platt remembers first hearing “Wayward Son” as an impressionable teenager in Chicago.
“I was in high school when ‘Leftoverture’ came out and you could not turn on the radio and not hear ‘Wayward Son,'” Platt said. “It really did put the prog-rock influence in me. I really just gravitated to the instrumentation. … Then of course going out and buying the big vinyl album, you’re always excited to see the artwork and everything inside with the lyrics.”
The band’s successful fifth album, “Point of Know Return,” featured a hit title track with a catchy refrain (“How long?”), as well as the timeless existential ballad “Dust in the Wind.”
“Where have you not heard ‘Dust in the Wind?'” Platt said. “You’ve heard it everywhere, whether it’s in your home, in your car, in your dentist office, in the shopping mall, in the elevator, you’ve heard it everywhere. It really crossed so many genres of radio stations from rock to country to easy listening … bringing Kansas the popularity that it’s seen.”
He cracked up when Will Ferrell sang “Dust in the Wind” in the movie “Old School” (2003).
“I was really nervous about my job — not!” Platt said. “If I ever run into Will, I’m going to do my impression of him doing ‘Dust in the Wind.’ The thing about Will Ferrell, it is just ironic how much Chad Smith from the [Red Hot] Chili Peppers, they look like twins! … Chad Smith actually wears a t-shirt on stage that says, ‘I am not Will Ferrell.'”
Today, the band has gone on to sell more than 30 million albums worldwide.
“[What] really drew me to Kansas at a very young age is the dynamics in the songwriting,” Platt said. “You’ve got a heavy rocker like ‘Wayward Son’ where you’ve got screaming guitar and blasting B3 organ, then you’ve got ‘Dust in the Wind,’ which is this mellow, acoustic guitar with this flowing violin solo. The rest of the library is everything in between.”
Platt took over as the lead singer when frontman Steve Walsh retired in 2014.
“It is a pretty tall order because Kansas music is pretty demanding, very dynamic and very intense music,” Platt said. “If there’s one thing this band never stops doing it’s woodshedding. … This music demands high-intense practicing and constant drilling.”
The lineup still includes original drummer Phil Ehart and original guitarist Rich Williams.
“I stand next to Phil Ehart every night we play and the man never ceases to amaze me; 71 years old and he’s beating the drums like he’s 25,” Platt said. “The amazing thing about Phil and Rich is not only their work ethic but their desire to keep the ball rolling and keep putting out new music. … Both of these guys have just been there the whole time.”
The lineup also features longtime bass player Billy Greer, violinist David Ragsdale and keyboardist Tom Breslin a.k.a. The Man with the Golden Resume.
“He was Blondie’s keyboard player, Meatloaf’s keyboard player, he toured with Yes, and if you’re touring with Yes, you’re no slouch,” Platt said. “The guy is so talented it’s sickening. It really is. To have him on board puts that high-octane into the Kansas gas tank.”