Carry on wayward sons

(L-R) Richard Williams, Billy Greer, Zak Rizvi, Phil Ehart, Ronnie Platt, David Manion, and David Ragsdal. Photo: Michie Turpin

The music may have started with four guys in a garage, but it’s still going strong today.

It all started in 1969, a memorable year in many ways, with four guys in a band called The Reasons Why. They mostly performed locally in their hometown of Topeka, Kansas. They actually began as a garage band. Does that still happen these days?

According to Ronnie Platt, who’s the band’s keyboardist and vocalist, it does. “My neighbor’s son has a band, and his dad turned the garage into a rehearsal studio for them.”

Anyway, Lynn Meredith, Don Montre, Dan Wright, and Kerry Livgren changed the band’s name to Saratoga and added Scott Kessler and Zeke Lower while playing Kerry’s original material. But it wasn’t until they merged with rival Topeka band White Clover and added Dave Hope, Phil Ehart, and Larry Baker that the band achieved notoriety as Kansas. That was 1970, and the rocking continues.

Kansas’ current members include Ehart, the original drummer, Greer on bass and vocals, keyboardist David Manion, vocalist/keyboardist Ronnie Platt, violinist/guitarist David Ragsdale, guitarist Zak Rizvi, and Williams, the original guitarist.

Through the years, some members left and came back, and lots of rock ’n’ roll happened before the band received a recording contract from Don Kirshner’s eponymous label and Kansas sprang to life. The self-titled debut album was released in 1974 and introduced the band’s signature sound, which includes American boogie-woogie rock and ear-pleasing vocals along with intricate symphony arrangements with changing time signatures.

With a career spanning more than four decades, Kansas is definitely one of America’s iconic classic rock bands. When you hear song titles like “Carry on Wayward Son” or “Dust in the Wind,” the music starts rolling in your mind. Kansas appeared on the Billboard charts for more than 200 weeks during the ’70s and ’80’s and played to sold-out arenas and stadiums throughout North America, Europe, and Japan. “Carry on Wayward Son” continues to be among the top five most played songs on classic rock radio, and “Dust in the Wind” has been heard more than three million times!

Ronnie says Kansas endured because it was ahead of its time. “We’re talking about music that’s so intense it hangs on,” he says. “In the late 80s, classic rock started to tank because you had grunge and different types of music…but now it has reappeared.”

The group disbanded in 1984, but Kansas wasn’t lost forever. In 1985, Ehart, Rich Williams, and Steve Walsh reunited and added Billy Greer and Steve Morse. They released the album “Power” in 1986, and the first single, “All I Wanted,” peaked at No. 19 on the Billboard Top 40 chart. Greg Roberts joined the group. Beginning in 2006, Kansas began touring regularly again and celebrated its 40th anniversary March 1, 2013.

“I think the band is firing on all cylinders now, and in the three years I’ve been with the band, I’ve seen our audiences grow,” Ronnie says. “And I’ve seen our audiences growing younger. We like to call that job security, but it’s also really  gratifying to see young kids develop an appreciation for this music.”

It appears Kansas is here to stay. Along with the band’s success with continued touring, it has appeared on such popular TV shows as “Supernatural” and “South Park” and was featured in the films “Old School” and “Anchorman.”

The group performs at 7pm Saturday, Dec. 9, at The Sharon L. Morse Performing Arts Center in Spanish Springs Town Square in The Villages. Tickets are $55-$125, but the band’s music is priceless.

Ronnie warns concert goers, “Use the bathroom before you sit down. This is a public service message. We play a two-and-a-half-hour show with no breaks. Strap yourself in. We’re gonna rock you.”

The Kansas: Leftoverture 40th Anniversary show includes songs from 11 albums, including a new one, “The Prelude Implicit,” and culminates with the album “Leftoverture” performed in its entirety.

“People will go back in time, and those being introduced to our music will be enriched,” Ronnie says. “We’re very proud of what we do, and every time we hit the stage we do our best.”