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New members bring fresh energy to Kansas

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

Posted: Thursday, August 13, 2015

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Kansas fans were surprised, and disappointed, to hear of singer-keyboardist Steve Walsh's departure from the band -- for a second time -- last year. But drummer Phil Ehart says there were no hard feelings.

"That had been coming for awhile -- and it's coming for all of us," says Ehart, 64 -- who along with guitarist Rich Williams remains from Kansas' original lineup -- says by phone from his home in Atlanta. "It's not like we're all gonna do this forever. It was bro hugs and back pats and handshakes and a few tears and 'Wish you all the best, man.' "

And, Ehart adds, the change has brought in fresh blood that's energized Kansas. Walsh was replaced with not one but two new members -- former lighting director David Manion on keyboards and singer-keyboardist Ronnie Platt, returning the group to the two-keyboard lineup it had during the heyday of hits such as "Carry On Wayard Son" and "Dust in the Wind." Ehart says the group is also "talking to a couple of labels" now about making some new music, Kansas' first since "Somewhere to Elsewhere" in 2000.

The group's main project this year was "Miracles Out of Nowhere," a documentary about the group's formation and its first five albums, bringing all six original band members back together for detailed remembrances about Kansas' peak period. "I figured, 'Yeah, it'll take three or four months and we'll have it done," Ehart says of the project, which premiered during February at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. "Wrong. With Kansas, nothing is easy -- not even a documentary. So here we are, two and a half years later, and it's finally here."

Ehart adds that the experience was "very emotional" for he and his bandmates, who last played together in 1980. But he doesn't predict a sequel to deal with the rest of Kansas' career.

"No, the story's been told as far as I'm concerned," Ehart says. "And we're very thankful we had the opportunity to do this and get together and have everybody friendly and getting along. People say you can't go home again, but I think we did. We didn't go home and stay but we went back to where we were, and between the six of us those places and those memories are still there, and it was impactful."

Now he's hoping the new Kansas lineup will have its own opportunity to make an impact. Ehart says he and Williams understand there's a premium on the group's original lineup but he contends that the music matters more than the members.

"We do look at it more as Kansas music; it's the music of Kansas that's so much bigger than anybody in the band, and it became that way a long time ago," Ehart explains. "Those songs are bigger than anybody in the band. You ask 100 people if they know 'Dust In the Wind' and they go, 'Oh, I know what song!' Then you ask, 'Do you know what band did it?' 'Uh, no. I have no idea.'

"It's been that way for quite a long time, and we're OK about that. It's just about the music, not who's playing bass or who's playing drums or whatever. As long as there's a band that can play this music and play it well, that's all that matters."

Kansas and Whiplash Classic Rock

8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 14.

Rockin' On the Riverfront at the GM Renaissance Center in downtown Detroit.

Admission is free.

Call 313-567-3126 or visit www.gmrencen.com.

Web Site: www.gmrencenc.om

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