“Once I rose above the noise and confusion/ Just to get a glimpse beyond this illusion…” are possibly some of the greatest lyrics in existence. The song, “Carry On Wayward Son,” is off of Kansas’ 1976 album, Leftoverture. “It summons up all of this imagery in your mind,” David Ragsdale says of the track. “The riffs throughout the song are magnificent. The melodies are great. It’s just incredibly well-constructed. There is only a handful of those in existence,” he tells AXS over the phone in between shows.
In fact, that song is so beloved it’s even become the anthem for one of the most popular shows on television, The CW’s “Supernatural.” In 2017, fans of the series got an extra special treat, when Kansas made a surprise appearance at Comic-Con in San Diego, to kick off their panel. Ragsdale even says it would be awesome to have the cast join the band onstage at one of their shows for a live rendition of the fan favorite. Imagine that?
2016 marked four decades of popularity for the chart-topping album. The group celebrated with the Leftoverture 40th Anniversary Tour, leading to the album, Leftoverture Live & Beyond. It also marked the first time in 16 years that the band put out new music. The Prelude Implicit is the band’s 15th studio album. Their well-received body of work reinvigorated longtime fans reminding them that the classic Kansas sound carries on; new players and all.
The band is currently comprised of violinist/guitarist David Ragsdale, original drummer Phil Ehart, bassist/vocalist Billy Greer, keyboardist David Manion, vocalist/keyboardist Ronnie Platt, guitarist Zak Rizvi, and original guitarist Richard Williams. Kansas is presently on tour and takes on California this weekend. Tickets to the concert in Anaheim on Sept. 16 at City National Grove are available here at AXS.
AXS had the pleasure of catching up with Ragsdale in advance of their upcoming Point of Know Return Anniversary Tour, which is in honor of the sextuple-platinum album’s 40th anniversary. Beginning Sep. 28 in Atlanta, GA, fans are in for a rare treat. Concertgoers will get over two hours of iconic Kansas tunes. They’ll hear Point of Know Return performed in its entirety, classic hits, deep cuts, fan favorites, and some songs the band has not performed live in years - maybe even decades.
AXS: Now, your first run with Kansas was from 1991-1997. What made you take a break and come back in 2006?
David Ragsdale: I had been working on a solo project that I was real proud of. I ended up doing several things and then came back to the band in 2006. The band had gone through another transition and I was ready to come back, they were ready to have me back. It all worked, and here I still am.
AXS: And you first linked up with the band in ‘91 through their accountant?
DR: It’s the most unlikely story you’ve ever heard. At the time, I was playing with Louise Mandrell; this was back in the ‘80s. Kansas had broken up for a period of time and had re-formed with Steve Morse, one of the greatest guitar players on the planet, and he had a band that featured a violinist. So I was a big Steve Morse fan. I was in L.A. [with Mandrell] and we were doing “The Tonight Show.” I had a childhood friend of mine who I grew up with in Georgia who had become a special effects makeup technician and I was hanging out with him. I didn’t even know that Kansas had gotten back together and had released a new album. Then I found out that Steve Morse was on the record. I said holy cow, who’s the violin player? My friend said there are no violin players. So, we sat there and listened to the record and I could hear the violin parts. He said, ‘You need to go home, put this on your 4-track machine, add the violin parts you say you hear and send them your tape.’ That’s what I did. There were three songs I selected off the Power album, added the violin parts, and it was through the most unlikely sequence of events, no one would believe it. It was through a friend of mine who was a friend of the banker that Kansas was using at the time. He got the tape to the banker, who got the tape to the tour manager, who got the tape to Phil. It was just an incredible sequence of events.
AXS: Incredible. I want to talk about your songwriting as well. You wrote on Freaks of Nature in ‘95 and also 2016’s The Prelude Implicit. What do you pull from for inspiration when you’re writing and how do you know when you’re penning it that it fits that classic Kansas vibe?
DR: You just sit down with the song and parts come from where they come from. It’s kind of a spiritual thing, but they do come from someplace that I’m not clever enough to take credit for. I know that sounds kind of weird but every time it’s happened it’s been something that is just way too clever for me to have come up with. So, that’s my answer. I’m sticking with it [laughs].
AXS: What were people’s reactions when you first announced you were putting out new music?
DR: Thrilled. The Kansas fan base is an amazing mass of people and they were delighted, we were delighted. One hand washes the other. It’s a really cool thing.
AXS: Throughout 2016-2017, you guys celebrated the release of that, and the 40-year anniversary of Leftoverture, which brought about Leftoverture Live & Beyond. Now that you’re about to embark on the Point of No Return Anniversary Tour can we expect another live album to follow?
DR: It’s possible. Especially if it goes over as well as the Leftoverture tour did, I don’t see why not. We have the technology. I think it’s going to be a really good show. The setlist has been very well-crafted. I think the fans are going to be delighted.
AXS: So, I know there are a lot of “fan favorites” but what’s the one song that fans get most excited about and does that actually differ from city to city?
DR: “Carry On Wayward Son” is always going to be the one fans get excited about. But all the standards, “Point of No Return,” “Dust in the Wind,” the entire library gets noticed. It’s a huge fan base and everyone’s got their favorites. Some of them are less well-known than others. No matter what we play, someone out there is really happy about it.
AXS: What’s next after the tour?
DR: There are rumors and hints of another venture into the studio. I surely wouldn’t promise anything, but there are indicators out there that something new may be coming out. The future looks bright. We aren’t going anywhere.