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Kansas

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Kansas is a 1970s American rock and roll band, specializing in progressive rock with a distinctly American flavor. In spite of a harsh critical reception then and now, Kansas has remained a classic rock radio staple.

Dave Hope (bass), Phil Ehart (drums), and Kerry Livgren (guitar, and later keyboards) formed a progressive rock group named Kansas in 1969 in their hometown of Topeka, Kansas, along with vocalist Lynn Meredith from Manhattan, Kansas, keyboardist Don Montre, keyboardist Dan Wright, and saxophonist Larry Baker. This was the first lineup of Kansas and lasted until 1970, when Ehart left for England. Fans refer to this lineup as Kansas I.

Ehart was replaced by Zeke Lowe and later Brad Wright. Hope was replaced by Rod Mikinski on bass, and Baker was replaced by John Bolton on saxophone and flute. Fans refer to this lineup as Kansas II.

In the meantime, Ehart and Hope formed a group called White Clover with Robby Steinhardt (violin), Steve Walsh (keyboards, vocals) and Rich Williams (guitar). They changed their name to Kansas when they recruited Livgren from the second Kansas group, which then folded. Kansas III soon received a record deal with Don Kirshner’s eponymous label, and they recorded the first Kansas album shortly thereafter.

A somewhat successful debut album, Kansas, was released in 1974, and showcased Kansas’ signature mix of guitars, keyboards, vocals, and Steinhardt’s ever-present violin submerging American-style boogie-rock in complex arrangements and changing time signatures. Relentless promotion by Kirshner and touring behind the debut album and its two follow-ups slowly brought Kansas' name to households across America.

On the strength of the major hit single, “Carry on Wayward Son”, the band’s fourth album, Leftoverture (1976), was a smash hit and a constant presence on the burgeoning radio format. The follow-up Point of Know Return (1977), featured the title track and “Dust in the Wind”, both hit singles, and was an even bigger hit than Leftoverture. The 1979 album, Monolith, which featured lyrics influenced by The Urantia Book, was less popular, although it included the hit single, “People of the South Wind”.

Kansas began to fall apart in the early 1980s. Hope and Livgren both became born-again Christians circa 1979-1980, reflected in the Christian-influenced lyrics in some of the songs on the Audio-Visions album. Walsh left in 1981 to form a new band, Streets. Walsh was replaced by vocalist John Elefante, also a born-again Christian and otherwise best known for producing albums by Petra along with his brother. Robby Steinhardt left after the ensuing tour. In spite of the major hit single, “Play the Game Tonight”, and two successful albums, Vinyl Confessions (1982) and Drastic Measures (1983), the group split at the end of 1983 following a live performance on New Year’s Eve. Kerry Livgren and Dave Hope left to form A.D. with former Bloodrock member Warren Ham, who had toured with Kansas in 1982, and Michael Gleason, who had toured with Kansas in 1983-84; Elefante has since become well-known as a contemporary Christian music musician and producer.

In 1986, the band reformed with Walsh but sans Livgren, Hope, and Steinhardt. They released Power with new bassist Billy Greer (whom Walsh had worked with in Streets), guitarist Steve Morse formerly of The Dixie Dregs, and notably, no violin player (though in concert, Morse would perform the solo on “Dust in the Wind” on a violin). “All I Wanted”, from Power, became the last Kansas single to hit the Billboard Magazine Top 20 charts.

The 1990s saw a string of barely noticed releases, though many fans consider 1995’s Freaks of Nature a return to classic form. Kansas has continued to tour year after year, but the band has never been able to regain any mass popularity or critical notice even despite the high sales of Somewhere to Elsewhere, an album that featured all original members of Kansas III plus Greer, with all songs written by Livgren. The album sold very well on the Internet, but those sales do not typically garner notice due to their not being monitored by Soundscan.

In 2002, Kansas II, the Kansas lineup before the group that recorded the first album, released an album of demos and live material they had recorded from 1971-1973. For legal reasons and a desire not to ride on the success of Kansas III, they decided to use the name, Proto-Kaw. This led to a new album by most of the Kansas II members called Before Became After in 2004 and simultaneous tours by both Kansas groups. Proto-Kaw released a third album in 2005, entitled The Wait of Glory.

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