With back-to-back quadruple platinum albums Leftoverture in 1976 and Point of Know Return barely eighteen months later, the band Kansas was assured of permanent statehood in rock history. Formed organically as a” band of brothers” in Topeka, over the course of more than four decades Kansas has proven to be bound together as much by shared struggle as by shared success. Having sold over thirty million albums since their 1974 debut, that’s impressive.
Kansas original band members Kerry Livgren, Phil Ehart, Steve Walsh, Dave Hope, Richard Williams, and Robbie Steinhardt shared a dream and honed their tight sweeping sound 1500 miles away from the American music business hubs of New York, Los Angeles, and Nashville, but band co-founder and ex-guitarist/keyboard player/songwriter Kerry Livgren told me In the Studio that the members of Kansas studied the leading British progressive rock bands as if their lives depended on it.
“Being from Topeka KS, just because it’s surrounded by wheat farmers in the Midwest, didn’t mean that we weren’t exposed to every kind of music,” Livgren reminds us. “You could live in Cody WY and go in a record store there and buy the same records as someone in New York City. People assumed that because we were from Kansas that we should be a fiddle band or something. We heard all kinds of British rock from Cream to King Crimson.”
Drummer Phil Ehart recalls those early pre-“Wayward Son” days ,” We were all poor as church mice. Nobody had a nickel to their name. We all lived in a “band house”, and every dime we made went back into the band and keeping our bass player Dave in cigarettes!” Kerry Livgren concurs.” In 1970 for the year I made five bucks. That’s below any poverty level I know of.”
It would take Kansas no less than four trips to the plate before they would touch all the bases with their 1976 Leftoverture release, but even after selling four million copies, many rock critics continued to dismiss the band even though most couldn’t have found Topeka with a map. “The fact that we were an American band which emulated a lot of the progressive rock from England bugged a lot of American music critics,” Livgren explained. “They thought, ‘You shouldn’t sound like that if you come from Kansas’! Apparently real people didn’t seem to care, ’cause we sold millions of records anyway (with the next Kansas album in 1977, Point of Know Return).” –Redbeard