by Laura Youngs
Photos by Michie Turpin
It is a great time to be a classic rock fan. Think of one of your favorite bands and there is a good chance they will be playing at a venue in your area before too long. In truth I could write an entire article about the decline in royalties for groups, which is one reason they are so many that have to go on the road for income. I had James Pankow of Chicago fame bend my ear on the subject for 30 minutes during an interview so it is definitely a hot topic in the industry. When the discussion returns to music, however, the common theme is they are playing because they love it.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Richard Williams, the original guitarist for the 1970’s rock band Kansas, who will be on tour with their “Point of Know Return Anniversary Concert Tour” on November 2nd at the Tobin Theater. After over 40 years of touring I thought it was a natural question to ask “How long are you going to continue playing?” Williams responded “ Until Death. I love it. Doing it is greater than it’s ever been. I see my friends who quit – that look on their face. I don’t ever want that.” And play he has done. Richard and the original band members were from Topeka, KS and they all played in local bands. At one point there was actually a Kansas 2 and a Kansas 3 as band members split up to form new groups.
Eventually, however, there was only one Kansas and it did not take long before they found their sound and success. The groups debut album, aptly named “Kansas” was released in 1974 to mixed reviews. This was followed by their successful album “Leftoverture” which gave us a song that is still one of the top five most played songs on classic rock radio “Carry On My Wayward Son”. In 1977 it peaked at No. 11 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and became their first top 20 entry in the nation. That same year their next album “Point of No Return” was released. It spawned the Top 10 single “Dust in the Wind” and the album certified four times platinum. The band has gone on to record fifteen studio albums and five live albums, produced eight gold albums, three sextuple-Platinum albums, one platinum live album and two one million selling gold singles. In simpler terms this means they have sold over 30 million albums! Not bad for a group of high school friends from Topeka, Kansas.
In spite of all those recordings they only had one top 10 hit on the Billboard charts. At the risk of getting hate mail from the diehard Kansas fans there is not much more to say about the band. Not due to a lack of talent but a lack of hits. It is duly noted on this writing that the two major hits they had fall in to classic rock history but there isn’t much history after that. Unless you are in the music business you likely could not name a member of the band, which changed constantly. The group Journey fronted by Steve Perry has had twenty-five hits in Billboards Hot 100 and could do an entire concert playing only those tunes. The Doobie Brothers had twenty-seven songs featuring the iconic vocals of Michael McDonald. An astounding 46 songs have charted in the Hot 100 for the legendary group Chicago! A plethora of hits can definitely make the band more memorable but there have also been many “one-hit wonders” whose tunes are forever a part of our musical memories. My personal favorite is “Radar Love” by Golden Earring with its driving bass line. Argent had “Hold Your Head Up” and the 70 ‘s hit “All Right Now” recorded by Free is still a favorite of every bar band. They could all be on the list of “Where Are They Now?” along with a multitude of bands but their songs and the impact they had will always last.
Back to the subject of Kansas. Regardless of how many hit songs they have had they still have a legion of fans that have been going to their concerts for decades. JJ Huschka of Skinny Rocker Productions is a great example. “I’ve seen Kansas over a dozen times in a variety of settings from arenas to theaters to theme parks to a small club where I was standing just feet from them. Always a great show with excellent showmanship.” He has already bought his tickets for the November concert. Fan Heather Graulich said “Seen them twice and enjoyed both. They sound as good today as they did when I first started listening to them in the 80’s.” I asked radio deejay Mark Carrillo his thoughts on the upcoming concert. “Oh, I’m going! I played their stuff on KISS and KMAC (radio stations) and have a distinct memory of a song called “Can I Tell You Something”. It was a WOW moment!” And no doubt their show WILL be a “wow” moment. The Tobin Theater is acoustically perfect and arguably the best venue any where for live music. The 2-hour concert will begin with an acoustic set and fan favorites followed with their Multi-Platinum album “Point of Know Return” played in its entirety. Yes, they only had two major hits but am I going? I wouldn’t miss it!