My Kansas Primer

Rob Maher    17 March 2012 (with updates 25 March 2012, 30 August 2016, and 19 December 2019)

I can remember in 1977 hearing the rock band Kansas' chart-topping radio hits Carry on My Wayward Son, Point of Know Return, and Dust in the Wind, but I didn't really make a connection with their astounding progressive rock album masterpieces until later.  I remember two of the viola players in my high school orchestra could play the string duet from Dust in the Wind, and I thought that was pretty cool, although I never cared enough to figure out how to play it on my cello.  I recall that the big pop music names at that point were Elton John, Billy Joel, and Fleetwood Mac.  And keep in mind that the movie Saturday Night Fever came out at the end of 1977, so the Bee Gees' disco soundtrack craze was ruling the airwaves! 

My real introduction to Kansas came during the summer of 1978, right after my sophomore year in high school, while I was at an NSF-sponsored summer science camp that happened to be held at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces.  Six weeks of working with lasers, holography, and learning to program an IBM 360 mainframe computer--which meant decks of keypunch cards!  The Apple II and RadioShack TRS-80 had just appeared, but the IBM PC wasn't released until 1981. Anyway, my roommate was a dude from a small town in west Texas.  He had a boom box cassette player (remember those?) and a few tapes, which happened to include the Kansas albums "Leftoverture" and "Point of Know Return."

I can still remember time standing still in the dorm room the first time I heard the track "Miracles Out of Nowhere" from the Leftoverture album.  There was a violin playing in a rock band!  There were fascinating synthesized sounds!  Every verse was differently orchestrated!  There was a mind-blowing, elaborately configured counterpoint section!  The song ended with an orchestral gong!

Although I never ran into my roommate again after that summer, I'm sure he has always resented me for wearing his Kansas cassettes to a frazzle.

After I returned home to Wisconsin at the end of the summer--and did my behind-the-wheel training to get my driver's license--I started visiting all the record stores (remember those?) in Madison, and discovered that Kansas had produced three albums before Leftoverture.  I bought that vinyl immediately, and over the following years of high school and college, I kept visiting the "letter K" bin in the rock section of record stores seeking the next Kansas release.

Rob, 1981, Wash U in St. LouisIn 1980-81 (see photo at right) I was a new college freshman at Washington University in St. Louis.  I heard on the radio that the Kansas tour for the new album "Audio-Visions" would be playing at St. Louis' Kiel Auditorium.  The pop hit off that album was "Hold On."  Since I didn't have a credit card--remember, all us hip 80's college students carried traveler's checks for emergencies in those days--and of course the Internet was still a dozen years in the future, so I had to ride my bike 8 miles each way from the Washington U. campus through the seedy streets of St. Louis to visit the Kiel Auditorium box office downtown the day tickets went on sale.  I bought a pair so that my college roommate and I could attend the concert.  I got him to drive us down the night of the show.  The performance was great, although Kiel Auditorium was basically a big concrete box with really murky sound.  It was mostly known as the venue for pro wrestling matches featuring "Dick the Bruiser" and Ric "Nature Boy" Flair.  I understand that the original auditorium was torn down in the early 1990s to be replaced by what is now called the Scottrade Center, home of the St. Louis Blues NHL team. But I digress...

Update 1996-2012

I kept buying the Kansas albums as they came out over the years, and followed the band through its various personnel changes, squabbles, and reincarnations.  I next saw the band live (with my wife, Lynn!) in about 1995 when we were living in Lincoln, Nebraska, during the "Freaks of Nature" tour.  Unlike the huge 1980 arena show in St. Louis, by 1995 the band was playing smaller nightclubs and dance bars--which was where we saw them in Lincoln.  There was a former movie theater on O Street that had been converted into a night club with a weird two-level stage. Billy Greer and David Ragsdale had recently joined the band playing bass guitar and violin, respectively. Billy and David were in the 2012 Bozeman show, and they are still in the band in 2016.

I bought a T-shirt at the 1995 show in Lincoln, and although it is rather yellowed, I wore it for the 2012 show in Bozeman. The 2012 show was part of the collegiate symphony tour.  Kansas plays with the local university symphony orchestra as a benefit for the music program. I am still in awe of the orchestra performance, seeing many of the students I know here at Montana State University playing on stage with my Kansas band idols... A memorable evening I will always cherish.  [See 2012 photos below]

Update 2016

Now forward a few years more, and there was recently an announcement of great importance:  Kansas will release a new studio album in September, 2016! The new album, The Prelude Implicit, features the current seven members of the band:  Phil Ehart (drums), Richard Williams (lead guitar), Ronnie Platt (vocals/keyboards), David Manion (keyboards), David Ragsdale (violin/guitar), Billy Greer (bass), and Zak Rizvi (guitar).  What's more, the band is planning a 40th anniversary "Leftoverture" tour during Fall 2016, comprising the entire 1976 album performed live, plus music from the new album.

With all the excitement about the Leftoverture anniversary and the new album coming out, I eagerly looked over the tour schedule to see if the band would be coming anywhere near to Bozeman this year. Although the 40th anniversary tour won't pass through the northwestern part of the country, I noticed that the regular tour would be in Billings on August 28, 2016.  AND they had VIP "Wheat & Greet" tickets available.  So I splurged and bought a pair of VIP tickets for the show.  The "Wheat & Greet" package includes front-row tickets to the show, a package of autographed memorabilia, a copy of the "Miracles Out of Nowhere" documentary DVD, and the opportunity to meet and greet the band members before the show!

My wife and I made the two hour drive from Bozeman over to Billings and checked out the area around the performance venue, the Alberta Bair Theater. Lo and behold, there was a street parking space literally right across the street from the ticket lobby: no problem parking! We grabbed some dinner at the Montana Brewing Company a couple blocks away, then came back to the ticket Will Call once the box office opened. We waited in the outer lobby, expecting there to be a bunch of VIP ticket-holders like us, but when I inquired at the ticket window it turned out my wife and I were the only VIP guests--it would be essentially a private meeting with the band!

The theater coordinator let us through the locked lobby door and introduced us to the band's representative, J.R. Rees,  Mr. Rees explained the procedure for the meet and greet, and was really a kind and gracious host.  He had us wait in a break room near the stage entrance, and we had a chat with the tour manager. As we were chatting another individual came into the small room and sat down next to me:  it was Ronnie Platt, the current lead singer of the band! This blew my mind!  After exchanging some quick remarks, we were invited to meet the rest of the band for some autographs and an official photograph. We also had a chance to speak briefly with each band member and hear about the upcoming tour and the new album release.  I tried to convince the band to consider performing the single "With This Heart" that comes from the new album, but they said that the record company wouldn't allow any unauthorized performances before the release date late in September.

As the band members shook our hands and returned to the dressing room to get ready for the show, I couldn't help feeling a true sense of admiration for the years of effort they have devoted to entertaining all of us.  The music of Kansas is really the soundtrack of my adult life.  Thank you, Kansas!

Lynn and Rob with the band Kansas 20160828


David Ragsdale (violin), Ronnie Platt (vocals/keyboards), Richard Williams (lead guitar), David Manion (keyboards), Zak Rizvi (guitar), Billy Greer (bass), and Phil Ehart (drums).

[See more 2016 photos below]

Update 2019

Late in 2018 it was announced that Tom Brislin would replace David Manion on keyboards, and Kansas would continue its anniversary performances of the Leftoverture album and the Point of Know Return (PoKR) album. Looking at the tour schedule, I started considering purchasing tickets to the PoKR performances scheduled for Portland and Seattle on April 12-13, 2019. I figured that Lynn and I could do some sightseeing and then attend the show...but then it turned out I was selected to give a local "TedX" talk on April 13, with a rehearsal on April 12, so no luck getting to see Kansas perform PoKR. But Kansas also announced that they would be going to the studio to record a new album for release in 2020.

And then it was announced that there would be a special one-night-only live performance of BOTH Leftoverture and Point of Know Return back-to-back in New York City at the Beacon Theatre in December! I quickly checked the date--Saturday, December 14--and saw that it was right at the end of finals week, so I likely could travel if Lynn was interested...which she was. I jumped online and secured two tickets in the center of row A (4th row), which was going to be perfect.

Lynn and I flew to New York on Thursday, December 12, and enjoyed seeing the typical holiday sights of the city: Christmas tree and ice rink in Rockefeller Plaza, decorations at Sak's 5th Avenue and Macy's, and we had tickets to see the Nutcracker performance by the New York City ballet at Lincoln Center, and a matinee performance of "To Kill a Mockingbird" at the Schubert Theater, starring Ed Harris in the role of Atticus Finch, taking over from Jeff Daniels who originated the stage role. 

The Kansas show on Saturday evening was fabulous.  Great sound, great historic venue of the Beacon, and a great and appreciative audience. The concert lasted two and a half hours (!), and included an introductory acoustic set (People of the South Wind, Hold On, Refugee, and Lonely Wind), followed by the Leftoverture album, the Point of Know Return album, and TWO incredible encores: Song for America, and Icarus: Borne on Wings of Steel. I was SO VERY APPRECIATIVE of the opportunity to be present for the special show. Wow!

[see 2019 photos below]


So, why do I think this band and its music is so great?  Why should YOU care about it?

Well, let me share a few favorite tracks.  When a band has been together for 40+ years, there are certainly going to be some duds and forgettable material, but also a lot more great songs and background information than I could ever hope to represent in just 5 tracks.  My hope is that this will whet your appetite to listen and to find music that you will want to hear again and again--like I do.

Note: the links below are .mp3 files.  You will either need a browser plug-in that can play mp3s (like Quicktime), or you will need to right-click and download the files for a mp3 player on your computer.

I mentioned Miracles Out of Nowhere as being the song that originally blew my mind in 1978.  It still does, even as the mp3 linked here.  If you need one reason to care about Kansas and to go to the concert in Bozeman, I think this is it.

The first portion includes a few introductory themes and chords, with a quiet guitar intro leading to the opening vocal verse "On a crystal morning I can see the dew drops falling, down from gleam in heaven I can hear the voices call..."

At 1:00, the second verse of the ballad starts, but with a synthesizer counter melody.  "Hey there, Mr. Madman, what you know that I don't know?..."

1:15 brings the first statement of the refrain "Here I am, just waiting for a sign, asking questions learning all the time.  It's always here, it's always there, it's just love, and miracles out of nowhere!"

Violin interlude to the third verse at 1:40, but this time with organ accompaniment.

2:00 second refrain "It's so simple lying right before your eyes, if you'll only look through this disguise. It's always here, it's always there, it's just love, and miracles out of nowhere!  Love, and miracles out of nowhere!"

And just when you expect a conventional vocal bridge to wrap things up, we get an amazing counterpoint section at 2:20, with four groups of layered timbres and tunes!  This counterpoint is restated at 2:50, but the second time with violin, synth, and rock drum support!  Yes, I truly believe Jeff Glixman, the producer/engineer on this and many other Kansas albums, was a genius in the tradition of Sir George Martin, the Beatles' engineer.

Another short violin interlude at 3:17 connects the counterpoint to the return of the original introduction material at 3:27, but again this time with cleverly altered rhythms and layering.

An unexpected--but brief--grand pause at 3:53 introduces the build up to what one anticipates to be the final statement of the refrain, which does indeed appear between 4:25 and 4:50, and seems to drive toward an inevitable wrap at the 5:00 mark. BUT SURPRISE, another unexpected turn starts! We get a full-fledged rock instrumental section lasting until a final chord that concludes the song at 6:12 with rock organ, tympani and tam-tam.  Whew!!


It's short, barely 2 minutes, but really establishes Kansas' progressive rock placement. I don't know how many different time signatures are used here, but I'm guessing a lot of it is 9/8 and 12/8. I think maybe the title "spider" comes from the time signatures, but that's just my guess.


At the other length extreme, Song For America is about 10 minutes long.  Note that this was from 1975, so it pre-dates the big arena-band hits and has definite environmental movement overtones. It's still a progressive, symphonic favorite of mine, and I expect the Bozeman concert to feature it with the orchestra--which they did in spectacular fashion!


In addition to the progressive rock and radio hits in Kansas' repertoire, they also could pull off some more traditional big rock, wailing guitar material for which the producer chose to apply heavy dynamic range compression. This song, Icarus (Borne On Wings Of Steel) is one example--but notice how the violin is still a key contributor to the sound!


Twelve years ago, and a quarter century after the Masque album, the original members of the band reunited for a really wonderful album for those of us who have followed the band over the years, "Somewhere to Elsewhere." The opening album track, Icarus II, takes some of the themes and musical motifs of the Masque album and creates a startling, if somewhat idiosyncratic, homage to WWII fighter pilots. Yes, I said it was idiosyncratic. The particular melodic reference to the 1975 Icarus is at 3:50, and then appears again at the very end of the song.


Finally, here's a sixth "bonus track" just to give an example of the work that led Kansas to start performing with college orchestras. This track is from the "Always Never the Same" album, 1998, with the London Symphony Orchestra:  Nobody's Home [played in the Bozeman show 3/24/12].  The original version was on the "Point of Know Return" album in 1978.  For some reason, for this 1998 orchestral version they tacked on a rather odd 60 second concluding section, but the concert version in Bozeman was much better.

A few photos from the show with the MSU Symphony Orchestra in Bozeman on 3/24/12.

Rehearsal, Shroyer Gym, MSU campus, Saturday afternoon, March 24, 2012. The stage was set in the south end of Shroyer, with the MSU Symphony at the back and the Kansas set-up in front.  About 20 rows of chairs on the floor, and the north bleachers were open.  Two flown arrays of EAW speakers to the left and right, above a set of bass cabinets.  Four mid-range cabinets across the front of the stage completed the rig.  Front of House (FOH) mixer console right of the aisle, with the lighting desk left of the aisle.

Music Tech students with Chad Singer, FOH mix engineer for KANSAS.  At least three of my other music tech students were playing in the orchestra.

Kansas show, Saturday night!  David Ragsdale, violin, and Steve Walsh, vocals and keyboards

Rich Williams, guitar, with Steve Walsh, and also Larry Baird, orchestra arranger/conductor.  Rich Williams switched between the electric guitar on the strap over his shoulder and an acoustic guitar mounted on a floor stand.

MSU violinist Kathryn Huether, with David Ragsdale, improvising a duet within 'Dust In The Wind'.  This duet brought the house down! 

Here's a link to a great photo of the duet made by MSU photographer Mr. Kelly Gorham: duet.

Steve Walsh singing 'Hold On'.  And the band meeting fans at the post-concert autograph session--and they stayed and signed for over an hour!  Since this was a benefit for the School of Music, the band would only sign items purchased on-site for which a portion of the proceeds supported the Music program.

The evening's playlist included:

Howling At The Moon
Icarus: Borne On Wings of Steel
Point of Know Return
The Wall
On The Other Side
Nobody's Home

Hold On
Cheyenne Anthem
Song For America
Miracles Out Of Nowhere
Dust In The Wind
Carry On My Wayward Son
Fight Fire With Fire 

A few photos from the show in Billings, MT, on 8/28/2016.

Poster outside the theater: great picture of KANSAS, but the photo was before Zak Rizvi came on board.poster

Beautiful stage setup, lighting, and sound. The giant John Henry artwork is the mural "Tragic Prelude" by John Stuart Curry, which adorns the east corridor of the Kansas state capitol building. The mural is featured in many KANSAS band artwork, most notably the cover of the 1974 debut album. Kansas stage setup

Ronnie Platt, the new lead singer, did a fabulous job. He impressed me with his vocal talents and his ability to capture the KANSAS sound and feel.Kansas stage setup

Awesome downstage trio: Billy Greer, David Ragsdale, Zak Rizvi.  David Ragsdale seemlessly switched back and forth between violin and guitar.Kansas stage setup

Billy Greer and David Ragsdale back-to-back.stage setup

Through all the gyrations by the front men, Richard Williams (lead guitar), David Manion (keyboards), and Phil Ehart (drums) kept their understated, stoic riffs going all night long.stage

Phil Ehart, the Master percussionist, is a machine!phil ehart

Richard Williams has an awesome stage presence. Quietly moving from electric to acoustic guitar, he would suddenly let loose a killer solo or a subtle detail of sound, all the while looking like it was effortless!richard williams

David Ragsdale is a wonderful violin and guitar player...and he always seems to be having a wonderful time making music!phil ehart david ragsdale

A virtual shower of light--nice effect by the lighting crew.david ragsdale

Mr. Ragsdale plays a custom 5-string violin made by Peter Seman of Chicago, Illinois.  Beautiful instrument with a beautiful sound that really shows the skill and talent of David Ragsdale.david ragsdale phil ehart

Can't get enough of that signature KANSAS sound!david ragsdale

Zak Rizvi, the newest member, provided great depth and clarity in the guitar riffs. His dramatic and subtle playing style is an excellent complement to Richard Williams lead playing.zak rizvi

Zak Rizvi switched between a variety of guitars all night...zak rizvi

It was cool to have three acoustic guitars for Dust in the Wind (Williams, Greer, and Rizvi).zak rizvi

Zak Rizvi taking the opportunity for a lead solo at the front of the stage!zak rizvi

Remarkable staging for the KANSAS Magnificent Seven.stage




Playlist, Billings, MT, 2016 Aug 28

Point of Know Return [POKR 1977]
Paradox [POKR 1977]
Play the Game Tonight [Vinyl Confessions 1982]
Keyboard solo interlude -- David Manion
The Wall [Leftoverture 1976]
Reason to Be [Monolith 1979]
Dust In The Wind [POKR 1977]
Miracles out of Nowhere [Leftoverture 1976]
Icarus-Borne on Wings of Steel [Masque 1975]
Closet Chronicles [POKR 1977]
Hold On [Audio-Visions 1980]
Down the Road [Song for America 1975]
Portrait (He Knew) [POKR 1977]
Sparks of the Tempest [POKR 1977]
Fight Fire with Fire [Drastic Measures 1983]
Carry on My Wayward Son [Leftoverture 1976]


A few photos from New York City, Beacon Theatre, on 12/14/2019.


Here I am outside the Beacon Theatre, Broadway at W. 75th ready for the concert!beacon theatre marquee

The Acoustic Set: Richard Williams, Billy Greer, Ronnie Platt, David Ragsdale, Zak Rizvi, and Tom Brislin.kansas acoustic set

Ronnie Platt, lead singer, with David Ragsdale and his 5-string Cooper electric violin.platt ragsdale

After the acoustic set, the lights came up to reveal the large Leftoverture banner and "Carry On My Wayward Son."


Billy Greer on bass, with David Ragsdale and Zak Rizvi on guitar. Phil Ehart laying down the rhythm.guitars

Phil Ehart is a tremendous drummer--especially with all of the complicated beats and rhythms of Kansas' repertoire.phil ehart

David Ragsdale has grown his hair out.david ragsdale

New keyboard performer Tom Brislin really seemed to be having a great time!

Tom Brislin

I enjoyed Tom Brislin's range of facial expressions all night.Tom Brislin

When Leftoverture was completed, the stage banner become the iconic logo from Point of Know Return.pokr banner

Founding member and lead guitarist Richard Williams, with Tom Brislin.Richard Williams, Tom Brislin

At the conclusion of PoKR, the band took a great bow to thunderous applause!


After taking the cheers for PoKR, the band left the stage for a few minutes, then returned for the epic encores: Song for America and Icarus--Borne on Wings of Steel.waving

Phil Ehart really got a workout with the albums and the encores.phil ehart

I wish the "one night only" image was available as a printed poster.poster



Playlist, NYC, 2019 Dec 14

Acoustic Set:
People of the South Wind [from Monolith, 1979]
Hold On [from Audio-Visions, 1980]
Refugee [from The Prelude Implicit, 2016]
Lonely Wind [from Kansas, 1974]

Leftoverture [1976]
Carry On Wayward Son
The Wall
What's on My Mind
Miracles Out of Nowhere
Opus Insert
Questions of My Childhood
Cheyenne Anthem
Magnum Opus

Point of Know Return [1977]
Point of Know Return
The Spider
Portrait (He Knew)
Closet Chronicles
Lightning's Hand
Dust in the Wind
Sparks of the Tempest
Nobody's Home
Hopelessly Human

Song for America [from Song for America, 1975]
Icarus - Borne on Wings of Steel [from Masque, 1975]


Incidentally, I think Kansas had some great album artwork over the years--especially in the days of 12" LP albums.  They just don't have the impact when reproduced for a CD jewel box, sign.

For more information about Kansas, see the wikipedia entry, the official Kansas band site, or visit Kansas on Facebook.

monolith cd cover