Although Kansas had faced some personnel changes over the years, save a brief departure in the early 1980s, Steve Walsh was always the voice and face of the progressive rock band.
His decision to retire in 2014, the year after the band appeared as part of the 2013 Foellinger concert series, could easily have put the band’s future in question.
Instead, it served to revitalize the group.
Fresh inspiration and a New Record
Having refused to record anymore, Walsh had been content to play a certain number of shows each year, a number which dwindled as he required more time off between performances.
His retirement ultimately freed the band from all of those constraints. With the addition of Ronnie Platt on vocals, Kansas was now able to record again and set to begin work on The Prelude Complicit, their first collection of originals in years. They decided to bring in Zak Rizvi to help produce the album and contribute some songs. Rizvi, long-time Kansas fan himself, was among many who initially had qualms about the band’s future without Walsh.
“I had been such a huge fan that I had a hard time imagining them without Steve,” Rizvi said. “This was the band I grew up with, that I had learned to write music listening to. They had such a life changing effect on me. I had seen Kansas probably 50 times, but when I saw them with Ronnie, he was just as good as Steve. And there was an amazing new energy when they played that incredible catalog of music.”
Erasing those concerns about his favorite band is one thing, but to ultimately join that band is something else altogether. When Rizvi first received the call, however, it was not about joining the band. Not quite yet, anyway.
“I had no idea I was going to become a band member,” he said. “I was called to come in to do some pre-production on their album. They hadn’t recorded in 17 years and had started work on The Prelude Complicit, and I had some songs that I had written and was helping to produce it. One day there was a technical glitch, and Phil said, ‘I need to speak to you over lunch today.’ And I thought, ‘I am so fired.’”
Instead, Phil Ehart, the band’s drummer and, along with Richard Williams, a remaining founding member, asked Rizvi if he’d like to join the band. The offer came as a surprise — and required a bit of re-recording of the guitar tracks.
“I felt incredibly lucky,” he said. “But I had written the guitar part for one guitar, and that was for Rich Williams. He had recorded everything to that point, but he said, ‘Obviously you need to be on this record so take off some of my tracks and take some of them yourself.’ It turned out to be a super comfortable transition, and I ended up being on about 80 percent of that album.”
In the last few years, Kansas has managed to comfortably straddle new music while celebrating their illustrious past at the same time. While continuing to perform songs from The Prelude Complicit and work on a new album for 2020 release, Kansas has been paying tribute to a couple of their most popular and successful albums.
Their Leftoverture tour proved so successful that what was to be a series of 15 to 20 shows grew into a slate of 85. Last summer, when Kansas performed at the Honeywell Center in Wabash, the band was doing their Classic Hits tour. This year they’re paying homage to what is arguably their biggest album ever.
“Since the Leftoverture tour did so well, we’re doing the 40th anniversary tour for Point of Know Return,” Rizvi said. “That’s probably the biggest record since it has ‘Dust in the Wind,’ and we’re doing the same kind of show for it that we did for Leftoverture. We started doing this tour in September, it’s basically a three-part show. The first part is that we do a five-song acoustic se,t so we’re essentially acting as our own opening act. Then we do an hour of hits and classic material, and then we’ll do the entire Point of Know Return album to finish the show.”
NO time to Pack it up
Although fans of Kansas likely remember Walsh being not only the singer but the energetic frontman, serving as concert emcee and doing the occasional headstand on his keyboards, he had tempered much of that by the 1990s, leaving bassist Billy Greer to interact with the audience more and more. Although not an original member, Greer has been with the band for almost 40 years now.
Likewise, violinist David Ragsdale has been with Kansas off and on for more than 20 years. The balance of veterans and new blood, including Tom Brislin who joined the band last year and covers many of Walsh’s keyboard parts, has brought the band to a new era with no end in sight.
“We’ll probably play another 75 to 80 shows by the end of the year,” Rizvi said. “We’re going to get in some work on the new album before the Point of Know Return tour ends so that next year we can mix it and get it ready to release. This whole experience has been so much fun, and the band is really on an upswing right now. I think we’re all just enjoying this, and there are no definite plans for anyone to retire any time soon.”
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