KANSAS has established itself as one of America’s iconic classic rock bands. This legendary group has sold more than 30 million albums worldwide and is best-known for their million-selling gold singles “Carry On Wayward Son” and “Dust in the Wind.” The band’s career spans more than 40 years.
“Forty-five, actually,” said Richard Williams, guitarist and one of two original band members still with the band. Drummer Phil Ehart is the other. The two have been friends since high school in Topeka, Kansas.
Currently, KANSAS is crisscrossing the country on tour performing more than 90 shows a year.
“This year we’re going to back that off a hair,” said the 68-year-old Williams in a recent phone interview. “We were getting into the 90s, and that is a bit of a strain.”
Their current tour stops at The Event Center at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races, in Charles Town, West Virginia. The show is set for 8 p.m. Saturday. Tickets start at $50.
In 2017, the band toured to mark the 40th anniversary of their sextuple-platinum breakthrough album, “Leftoverture,” and the release of their new studio album, “The Prelude Implicit” (2016). It was their biggest headlining tour in decades, and fan reaction was so great that they released a live album, “Leftoverture Live & Beyond” (November 2017), from it.
In the years before “Prelude Implicit,” the band experienced some major changes, including the retirement of longtime lead vocalist Steve Walsh in 2014. All 10 tracks on the album were written by the band and the album was co-produced by Zak Rizvi, Ehart and Williams. Rizvi is now a guitarist and Ronnie Platt, a former technician for the band, is the lead vocalist and keyboardist who replaced Walsh. Bassist/vocalist Billy Greer, keyboardist David Manion and violinist David Ragsdale, who is essential to the KANSAS sound, round out the current lineup.
“This is definitely a KANSAS album,” Williams said. “’Prelude’ is the introduction of something. ‘Implicit’ means without question. This was absolutely a new beginning for this band.”
It was their first studio release in 16 years … but hold on: There is more music to come.
“We’re going to do another record,” Williams explained. “We’ve been working so hard the last three years.”
Band members recently traveled to a resort in Florida for five days of intensive songwriting together.
“We will start recording this coming winter,” he said.
With Walsh’s retirement due to vocal problems, the band was able to open up more of the classic KANSAS catalog in live shows.
“The last 15, 16, 17 years, our sets were limited,” Williams noted. “Steve either couldn’t sing or didn’t want to sing [some of the songs]. He had vocal struggles for a while. His voice started sagging. You hate to see somebody go. We needed to wait for him to say it’s time. Steve Walsh is one of the greatest rock singers of all time!”
Another founding member, Kerry Livgren, was the band’s primary songwriter. He wrote the iconic “Dust in the Wind.”
“He came in the studio and said, ‘I’ve got a song, but you probably won’t like it. I just want to throw it on the pile (of possible songs to record).’ He played it on acoustic guitar and on the first listen, I knew we had something,” Williams said.
The song appears on the 1977 album “Point of No Return.” The song is a meditation on Bible verses in Ecclesiastes and Genesis 3:19. In 1979, Livgren became an evangelical Christian and three KANSAS albums later, he left the band.
While the “Leftoverture” tour featured the more obscure, deeper cuts from KANSAS albums for the “hard-core fans,” the current tour features the hits — the classics that even the casual KANSAS fan will know. This tour will continue through 2020, he said.
“It’s all the songs you heard on the radio, MTV, Don Kirshner … songs that were in the top 100 that are familiar to everyone,” Williams said. “We’ve never done a tour like this before.”
All the years of touring with KANSAS has not been, as some people think, a scacrifice, he said.
“I always wanted to do what I do,” Williams said. “There’s no sacrifice to this. I just happen to be one of the lucky ones.”