The ’70s were arguably the most fertile and diverse decade of rock music ever. Thanks to the sheer number of bands in a music scene jammed with heavyweights – Chicago, Aerosmith, Boston, Rush, Styx, Alice Cooper, Cheap Trick, Emerson Lake and Palmer, Foreigner, Journey so many more – it was extremely competitive.
Rising out of it all was Kansas – live Friday at the Old Town Amphitheater in downtown Rock Hill – a band that found its niche with a unique hybrid of rock and progressive rock fused with classical and even orchestral qualities. Creative art, a signature sound, clever word play and interesting instrumentation all bring to life the visionary style of Kansas.
Emerging in 1973-74 from – where else? – Kansas, specifically Topeka, the band’s solid Midwestern roots and hard work ethic also contributed to the total musical alchemy.
The result was two monster hit songs, “Carry On Wayward Son” and “Dust in The Wind,” and sales of 30 million records overall. Kansas racked up eight gold albums, three multiple platinum albums – “Leftoverture,” “Point of Know Return” and “The Best of Kansas” – plus a platinum live album, “Two for the Show.” In many ways the success of Kansas has never really waned. Their music is memorable, timeless, speaks to all ages and remains at the top on classic rock radio.
Over the decades, some things changed including the Kansas lineup. The current lineup features original members Phil Ehart on drums and Richard Williams on lead guitar. They are joined by Billy Greer, bass/vocals; David Manion, keyboards; Ronnie Platt, vocals/keyboards; and David Ragsdale, violin/guitar.
Recently, I called founding member Richard Williams in Atlanta to discuss all things Kansas, including the upcoming, now-sold-out show in Rock Hill. “It’ll be a great weekend,” he predicted. “Everything’s close: a show in Florence, playing there in Rock Hill then back to Atlanta for a show this weekend with Boston. We’re absolutely looking forward to the concert there,” then added, “It’s sold out, and that’s always good.”
Williams avoids categorizing music. “I don’t even worry about labels,” he said. “It’s all music to me. I like some stuff I don’t like other stuff. That’s kind of my prerogative,” then added, “Music is something to be enjoyed. If it tickles your ear drums, then listen to it.”
As a founding member of Kansas, he does have an opinion on the band’s success and longevity. “We were just a good band with meaningful lyrics that stood the test of time, with songs to perform, no matter what your age,” he said. “We were fortunate to pick music and subject matter with a youthful expression.”
Is there some advice in that for young/aspiring musicians? “I’d advise anyone – if you’re a musician then just do it and enjoy it,” Williams said. “Don’t expect too much from it, because the odds are not in your favor.”
Then, after a pause, he added, “I mean, I was not the best guitar player in Topeka when we put together this band. I was a good team player, and that worked. It’s my 43rd year at this now. There is a certain matter of luck involved as much as talent, so just enjoy it and surround yourself with what you need. Then if something good comes out of that, OK. If not, then OK, you’ll have something interesting to look back on.”
What about his own memorable moments? “That’s just an impossible question,” Williams is quick to say. Then he pauses and continues, “There are milestones! Oh yeah” – another pause, then, “Of course, getting a record deal was important. We had no thought of being in the big arena. There were all these bands already that were our heroes.”
From that point the milestones would pile up quickly: recording an album, touring, then more albums, airplay (especially college airplay). Then the fourth Kansas album, “Leftoverture,” with its hit song “Carry On Wayward Son,” changed everything. “It all exploded!” Williams said. “It was ultimately a platinum record, then a multiple platinum record.” That upward trend continued to another album. “And suddenly,” he said, “we were playing arenas with our peers. To this day it amazes me.”
Friday, we really will be in Kansas, live at the Old Town Amphitheater at City Hall, 155 Johnston St., downtown Rock Hill. For more information on the music go to kansasband.com or find them on Facebook.
Friday: Angel Incident Unplugged at The Handle Bar Tavern, Catawba; Amy Lawton, TC Hinson, Hunters’ Travest at Sylvia Theater, York; Almost Famous Band at The Silver Dollar, Gaffney; The Stranger-Billy Joel Tribute Band at Lake Wylie Bowl & Bounce, Lake Wylie; Heroes at Last at Harmony Hall-Carowinds, Fort Mill; Shotgun Saints at McKoy’s Smokehouse & Saloon, Charlotte; GBH, Total Chaos, The Beatdowns, The Fill-Ins at Tremont Music Hall, Charlotte; Christopher Williams, Melissa Morgan at Amos’ Southend, Charlotte; Crashbox at Wild Wing-Epicenter, Charlotte; Tommy Lopez at Romare Bearden Park, Charlotte; Cosmic Charlotte at Visulite Theater, Charlotte; Mother Mother at Double Door Inn, Charlotte; Kidz Bop at The Fillmore, Charlotte; Southerm Experience Band at Bootlegger’s-NC Music Factory, Charlotte; Gene Gene & The Blues Machine at Bar Louie, Charlotte; Luke Edwards at Puckett’s Farm Equipment, Charlotte; NoDa Summer Musicfest at Chop Shop, Charlotte; Diamond Shaped Daylight at Titan’s Tavern, Monroe; Scoot & Scooby at Pleasant City Grill, Shelby; Striking Matches, The Secret Sisters at Neighborhood Theater, Charlotte; Barnstock Music Fest; Humming House, Christian Lopez Band at Evening Muse, Charlotte.
Saturday: Amy Speace at Sylvia Theater, York; Scoot, Bren, Tony at Wild Wing-Ayrsley-Charlotte; Superheaven, Diamond Youth, more at Tremont Music Hall, Charlotte; Purgatory 64 at Amos’ Southend, Charlotte; Leslie & Rico Duo at Mickey’s Shag Shack, Fort Mill; Rock the Park Fest w-Casting Crowns, Skillet at Carowinds, Charlotte; Stolen Hearts with Pam Taylor at Comet Grill, Charlotte; Crashbox at RiRa, Charlotte; King Day Party at Vault-EpiCenter, Charlotte; American Aquarium at Visulite Theater, Charlotte; Flatland Tourists at Double Door, Charlotte; Fundraiser with Blanco Diablo, UltraLush, Leadville Social Club, more at Snug Harbor, Charlotte; Almost Famous Band at Big Al’s Pub, Charlotte; Everclear, Fuel, American HiFi, Toadies at Uptown Amphitheater-NC Music Factory, Charlotte; Eldon Huff at Bootlegger’s-NC Music Factory, Charlotte; Tab Benoit, J Roddy Walston & the Business, Lefty Williams, more at US National Whitewater Center, Charlotte; Shot in the Dark at Puckett’s Farm Equipment, Charlotte; Junior Astronomers, Dear Blance, more at Neighborhood Theater, Charlotte; Antje Duvekot, Rod Picott, Cale Tyson at Evening Muse, Charlotte; Lana Del Rey, Grimes at PNC Music Pavilion, Charlotte.
Sunday: All Day Music Bash with Matt Collins, Vanilla Cornbread, McGroover, Deja vu Variety Band, Lipstick on a Pig, more at Debbie’s Dine/The End Zone, Rock Hill; Kyle, Biggie Whit, Nappy Tribe, Nige Hood at Visulite Theater, Charlotte; David Childers, Loudemilks, Slim Pickens at Snug Harbor, Charlotte.
Tuesday: Minsky Delmonte at Romare Bearden Park, Charlotte; Carly Rae Jepsen, MKTO, Jordin Sparks at The Fillmore, Charlotte.
Wednesday: Coming Up Brass at Romare Bearden Park, Charlotte; Luke Wade, Koa at Double Door Inn, Charlotte; Hurray for the Riff Raff, Clear Plastic Masks at Visulite Theater, Charlotte; Self-Aware Records Residency w-Alright, Mineral Girls, Music & Bone, more at Snug Harbor,Charlotte; Charlie Wilson, Kem, Joe at Bojangles Coliseum, Charlotte; Hozier, Dawes at Uptown Amphitheater-NC Music Factory, Charlotte; In Motion, Swim in the Wild, Rothschild at Milestone, Charlotte.
Thursday: Justin C. Cross, Craig Veltri, Gifted Mjusik, Mona Bailey, Tim Childers. more at Sylvia Theater, Fort Mill; War on Drugs, The Everymen at Amos’ Southend, Charlotte; John Ellis at Jazz Room, Stage Door Theater, Charlotte; Jon Caneda at Village Tavern, Charlotte.
“And that was all she wrote.”