Back in the 1970s and well into the ’80s, the name Kansas was probably more recognizable as an iconic rock band than even the state from which the band originated.
Formed in 1974 in Topeka, the band dominated the radio air waves back then with hits such as “Carry On Wayward Son,” “Dust in the Wind,” “Point of Know Return,” “Magnus Opus” and others. Their self-titled debut album and two subsequent follow-ups were enough to gain the group significant recognition, but their fourth LP, “Leftoverture,” catapulted Kansas into superstardom while their follow up, “Point of Know Return,” cemented their legacy as one of the most beloved American rock bands in history.
Kansas songs remained on the Billboard charts for more than 200 weeks in the ’70s and ’80s. In their heyday, the group played to sold-out arenas throughout North America, Europe and Japan. The group produced 15 studio albums, the most recent of which being 2016’s “The Prelude Implicit” — their first studio album in 16 years.
Kansas returns to Hard Rock Hotel & Casino’s Sound Waves theater for two shows Friday and Saturday, May 31 and June 1. Longtime bass player and co-lead vocalist Billy Greer spoke with Atlantic City Weekly in advance of their upcoming show.
Atlantic City Weekly: How would you assess your personal musical journey thus far, starting with the band you, your brother and cousin formed as teens growing up in Tennessee?
Billy Greer: Well, as far as regrets go, I had children when I was still in college (at East Tennessee State University) — my mother insisted that I go to college so that I had something to fall back on if this music thing didn’t pan out — so being away from family for so long was kind of tough. But thankfully I’ve been able to accomplish quite a bit in music, which has always been my passion. So in that regard, there are no regrets.
ACW: How did you first become a member of Kansas?
BG: I was with (original Kansas keyboardist/co-lead vocalist) Steve Walsh in the band Streets from 1982 to ‘85. When Steve rejoined Kansas in 1985 as their lead vocalist, I came with him as a backing vocalist and bass player. That was my pathway into the band in 1985.
ACW: And in 2006, you became the band’s lead vocalist after being primarily a backing vocalist up to that point, right?
BG: Well, Kansas has always been a two-lead vocalist type of band. Robbie Steinhardt, the (original) violin player, also sang a lot of lead vocals on early Kansas records (with co-lead vocalist and songwriter Kerry Livgren). Now, about five or six years ago Ronnie Platt took over for Steve when he retired. Ronnie’s a few years younger and has a high-pitched voice, and I’ve kind of taken over the role that Robbie played for years as the second vocalist. Lots of songs that Kansas has recorded on their albums had Robbie and Steve switching back and forth. One would sing a verse and the other would sing another. But yes, I’m now one of the lead vocalists with the band.
ACW: Obviously you’ll play all the time-tested hits in Atlantic City, but will you go into deeper cuts too that maybe only your longtime fans might recognize?
BG: Absolutely. We have to keep it interesting for our fans as well as ourselves. And some of our fan base is every bit as familiar with “Dust in the Wind” as they are “Song for America” or some of the deeper tracks that weren’t played much on the radio.
last time we were there (prior to last spring) we were the opening band (along with classic rockers Styx and Foreigner) and only had about 45 minutes to go on, which was barely enough time to break a sweat. We were done by 8:30 and ready to go to the bar and have a drink.
ACW: Kansas released its first studio record in 16 years about three years ago. Anything like that in the works for you guys in the near future?
BG: There absolutely is. I’m staring at my computer screen right now and there’s a brand-new song we’re working on, and after this weekend we’re going into the studio to work on final arrangements on several other songs for a new album. I don’t have a timetable yet, but we’re shooting for some time for maybe early next year.
ACW: As well as vocalist and bassist, you also write songs, so will you be contributing to the material on the new album in that regard?
BG: Well, I’m trying my best to. One of the guys in the band who co-produced the latest album, and our newest guitar player, Zak Rizvi, we found out was an excellent songwriter. He’s written the lion’s share of the music that’s going to be on the newest album. But Zak’s not much of a lyrics writer, so that’s where I’m trying to throw in my two-cents worth.
Zak is a Jersey boy, by the way. We have a couple of Jersey boys in the band now, in fact. Our new keyboard player, Tom Brislin, is from New Jersey also, so New Jersey is taking over Kansas.
ACW: I know the band Kansas formed in Topeka, Kansas, but I read that you’re home base eventually became Atlanta. How did that come about?
BG: Let me tell you that story. Kansas got its first record deal and went on tour, and they were opening up for established acts like Queen and Mott the Hoople and all these other big bands. Well, they ended up the tour at this club in Atlanta called Alex Cooley’s Electric Ballroom.
The place was about the most happening club in the entire south, and Atlanta was — and still is — one of the most happening cities in the entire south. Music-wise all the top names played and hung out at the Electric Ballroom. There were lots of beautiful women who outnumbered the men, there were friendly people everywhere, great weather, a major airport to fly out of.
So, according to what I’ve been told by original members of the band, they asked themselves ‘Why are we going back to Topeka, Kansas? There’s snow up to your knees in the winter and 45 mile-per-hour winds most of the year.’ So they migrated down to Atlanta, and that’s been their home for over 40 years now.
ACW: What are your crowds like now during shows?
BG: Our original fans began having children who are now grown up, and the fans that stuck with us all these years raised their children listening to our music, so we’re seeing them in concert now.
Plus, “Carry On Wayward Son” is the unofficial theme song for the TV show “Supernatural,” so we got a bunch of people from that show who are fans of the band. And from the internet to social media to all different sources, we now have a very mixed crowd of older and younger people.
There are two or three generations coming to our shows. I feel blessed to have that.