Down The Road To A New Pinnacle with Kansas

It’s been a long strange trip, to borrow a phrase from another legendary group, but to see the band Kansas in their current iteration four times in the last year is something I never would have expected to do. Certainly not back when I was spending hours on end listening to their albums ‘Song For America’ and ‘Masque’ in my youth. The current lineup has a very strong chemistry and has gelled into a powerful touring band. Their performnaces, which sometimes go for 2-hours, are inspiring, and hearing all those great songs delivered so perfectly and with such passion is an uplifting experience.

Kansas band
Kansas performs at The Plaza Live in Orlando, Florida on March 17, 2017.

Just to back up a little, with the end of the 1970s and the release of ‘Point of Know Return’ my interest in the band waned. I did like the early 80’s era with John Elefante and songs like “Fire With Fire” and “Play The Game.” I was impressed that the band was able to transition successfully and update their sound. But after that I didn’t listen to them for a long time, even with Steve Morse on board. Not until recently when my wife’s undying devotion to their music, particularly from those ensuing years when I wasn’t listening, rekindled my interest. And then she got us tickets for a show in Atlantic City in early 2016.

rich_williams_photo
Richard Williams

I’m not typically into bands from my youth that are now in some reconstituted form with maybe one or two original members. But…Kansas is very different...THIS Kansas is a still viable and living band.

A New Found Enthusiasm

Seeing them perform at the Trump Taj Mahal in February 2016 was a pleasant surprise… they were amazing! And the attendance was more than respectable…it was a full house and an enthusiastic audience. The three other shows we’ve seen in the past year were no less impressive and coincided with me getting back into regular practice on the drum set. I’ve wanted to improve certain aspects of my playing that I feel have been neglected despite regular performance for almost 40 years and these guys kicked my butt to do it.

From L-R: Billy Greer, Ronnie Platt, David Ragsdale.

I’m not typically into bands from my youth that are now in some reconstituted form with maybe one or two original members. But this current Kansas is very different. True, there are only two members from the original lineup – drummer Phil Ehart and guitarist Rich Williams – but bassist Billy Greer replaced original bassist Dave Hope in 1985 so he’s virtually an original member by now. He brings so much to the table with great bass playing and vocals, plus he was a member of Steve Walsh’s band Streets. The other members, violinist/guitarist David Ragsdale, keybordist David Manion, and vocalist/keyboardist Ronnie Platt are all virtuosos in their own right and complete a stellar lineup. It’s my honest opinion that Ronnie is the best choice the band could have made to replace original vocalist Steve Walsh. Mr. Ragsdale is not only a brilliant violinist but also an incredible guitar player, ripping some of the best Kansas guitar solos. And David Manion is worthy of inclusion in the pantheon of progressive keyboardmen like Emerson and Wakeman.
 

I highly recommend seeing Kansas in all their polished and powerful presence.

And of course, drummer Phil Ehart is nothing short of amazing, pounding out the best of Kansas’ repertoire on the drums for two hours straight each night. I know what kind of stamina this requires. His uique self-taught style has always been a big influence in my own playing. I’ve been performing “Down The Road” from Song For America in different cover bands for many years, and Phil’s intricate parts are always a challenge to pull off right.

New Blood

Zak Rizvi

Of particular note is the inclusion in the lineup (as a pemanent member) of good friend Zak Rizvi on guitar. Zak is a fellow New Jersey musician and has the disticntion of co-producing and co-writing the new album, The Prelude Implicit. It’s great to see him reach this level of accomplishment in his career and I’m looking forward to the band’s future creative efforts with him involved.

I highly recommend seeing Kansas in all of their polished and powerful presence. Each performance has been flawless. This is not a retread act just going through the motions…these guys truly love what they do and the music is as fresh, intricate and passionate as ever. It shines through in every performance.

You can visit the band’s official website at Kansasband.com

A Note About The Pictures

The photos in this post were made with my iPhone 7 Plus smartphone. This goes against my core belief regarding how I choose to practice photography. I am not a proponent nor a practitioner of smartphone ‘photography.’ But it was the option I chose for the show because I didn’t want to worry about my camera all night and I didn’t know if they would let me in with it. Getting good pictures with the phone was difficult at best, what with zooming in, having to deal with resulting shake and shutter lag, and the harsh JPEG artifacts caused by the poor quality of light (intensity). I made a lot of pictures anyway but found myself wishing for my Fujifilm X-T10. But the problem with that is it’s currently fitted with a fixed focal length 35mm lens, which would’ve been too wide for getting closeup photos from where I was sitting. So I used the phone…it was just more convenient.

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The Jimi Hendrix Memorial – Message To Love

The first time I visited the Jimi Hendrix Memorial was in December, 2011. It was a late on a cold and bleak winter afternoon, and I was on my way to back to New Jersey from visiting family in Olympia, Washington for Christmas. Enroute to SEA-TAC airport my brother and I made a short side stop in Renton where the memorial park is located. Jimi was actually from another nearby town, not Seattle, as most people think. I can’t remember the name but I do remember is that he went to Garfield High School, which is in Seattle.

Jimi Hendrix’ gravestone at his memorial site

The Forty-Sixth Anniversary

Jimi Hendrix influenced, and continues to influence, millions of artists…

Fast forward to September 18, 2016. My friend Ric was in town for a few days and rented a place in Bellevue, a really nice suburb of Seattle that’s home base to such Rock luminaries as the guys from Queensryche and the Wilson sisters of Heart fame. We had planned to meet up after he arrived and since Ric is a huge Hendrix fan I thought Jimi’s memorial would be a good place to go. It was a beautiful September afternoon and there were a lot people hanging out sharing the good vibe with more showing up every half hour or so. Seattle has a reputation for overcast, dreary, put a gun to your head weather, and in the winter months it’s true, but in the late Spring, Summer and early Fall it is absolutely stellar. What hadn’t occurred to either of us was that it was the 46th anniversary of Jimi’s death…on the very day we were visiting. That explained the number of people there. There was something bordering on a celebratory air, and rightly so…Jimi Hendrix achieved legendary status as an artist and musician, an accomplishment that few artists get to realize. Of course, that kind of success comes with a huge price in terms of privacy and one’s sanity. But he was a soft-spoken, seemingly down to earth, nice guy despite his fame and fortune.

Jimi Hendrix’ Influence

When you visit a place like Renton you see it’s a very unremarkable place and you realize that uniquely gifted people can come from anywhere. I had discussed this with my brother afterwards, how those people who achieve great things in their lives often come from small, out of the way, nowhere places. Thinking about it serves to ground the hugeness of a person’s celebrity; not detracting from it but putting it in perspective; not necessarily stoned but beautiful, as one of Jimi’s lyrics emotes. That may or may not fit, but it came to mind and seemed appropriate in an artistic, abstract way.

Visitors leave musical instruments at the memorial so anyone can offer up music

The main thing is that Jimi Hendrix influenced, and continues to influence, millions of musicians, artists…and just people. Pretty incredible to consider when you drive around Renton and see that it’s basically “anywheresville” USA. Most everyday places are searingly desolate in terms of excitement. And Jimi’s family wasn’t exactly well-off so you wonder how a gifted person like him could have evolved and ‘made it;’ not only to international stardom but to the mythical eternal pantheon of Rock innovators. The question in my mind is always, how did they do it, against all odds? I guess you could ask the same question of Springsteen or Jon Bon Jovi, who both come from working-class towns in New Jersey. The whole thing seems hugely improbable. But Jimi’s influence is continuing and legendary. He changed the way the electric guitar is played and he was a prolific songwriter as well. You wonder what he would have accomplished had he lived. There’s no way to know but he certainly accomplished a lot in his short time on Earth.

My buddy Ric at the memorial

Visiting his memorial is an almost surreal experience. Your mind can’t fully grasp that you’re really standing there; it seems more like a movie playing in front of you. But the ‘experience’ brings you down to earth and you realize that we are all human. And the Jimi Hendrix Memorial is beautiful place. There are flowers there all the time that fans bring and instruments that anyone can pick up and play, and you will meet other fans and share stories. A very positive experience. It’s definitely worth the short drive if you’re in Seattle. And you’ll meet lots of other trippy people who come to feel the love and dig on the vibe of the happening!

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