A while back an artist contacted me about moving to Nashville so he had a better chance of making it musically. Although I live here and love the music vibe, I reminded him, that I was raised in Kansas and some of my close friends in the business made it just fine from those wind swept prairies: Mike Finnigan who I played with in the battle of the bands in Wichita went on to be a part of Jimmy Hendrix’s band, he continues to play with countless other groups; “Puddle of Mud” an American rock band out of Kansas City formed in 1991, the band has sold over seven million albums and has had a string of No. 1 mainstream rock singles in the United States; and don’t forget the Artist who put the state of Kansas on the map, Kerry Livgren.
The documentary “Miracle out of Nowhere” on his band “Kansas” premiered at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival on Feb. 2, 2015
Original band members Phil Ehart, Dave Hope, Kerry Livgren, Robby Steinhardt, Steve Walsh and Richard Williams chronicle their climb from playing biker bars in the Midwest to breaking stadium attendance records.
“We had quite a reunion,” Livgren said from his farm in Berryton. “They came to Topeka and filmed the whole thing. It was very moving. It told our story so well. The band has such a unique story about where we were from and how we made it.”
Livgren left the band in 1983 after writing such hit songs as “Dust in the Wind,” and “Carry On Wayward Son.”
“Life was very meager (in the beginning),” Livgren said. “We paid ourselves $1 a day.”
Performing their original songs in the Midwest was difficult, he said. People wanted to hear music that was popular on the radio, not original songs from a Kansas band.
“From the very beginning, I wrote my own songs,” Livgren said. Kansas formed in Topeka in 1970. At first, the best members of the bands White Clover and Saratoga were combined for the band. That version of the band eventually split into two groups. Livgren and members from White Clover became Kansas in 1973. “That became the Kansas everyone knows,” he said.
The band was discovered and went to New York City to record an album. The members came back to their home state and “sat on our behinds for a year” until the album was released, Livgren said. “We got along famously,” he said of the group. “We had been through so much to get to where we were. We were and always will be friends. We made the transition from being the opening act to being a headliner.”
Walsh, the primary singer, left the band in 1980. “It was an earth shaking event for us,” Livgren said.
The original band in 2000 gathered in Topeka to record the album “Somewhere to Elsewhere.”
For the album, Livgren returned to his traditional role as the group’s songwriter, lead guitarist and keyboardist, Livgren produced the album. “I’m very proud of that album,” he said.
Currently, Livgren is working on “Cantata: The Resurrection Lazarus,” an orchestral and vocal composition in the works for more than 20 years. It is based on the biblical story from John Chapter 11.
While in the band, Livgren said he sampled all of the religions of the world. At 3 a.m. July 25, 1979, Livgren found what he had been looking for all along. “I realized Jesus Christ is the Lord and there is no other,” Livgren said. “There is only room for one at the top.” Livgren on July 25, 1979, was in Indianapolis, while on tour with Kansas. He was in bed reading a book by Christian author Hal Lindsey. “I was so desperate to find God,” he said. “It just hit me like a ton of bricks. I went to my knees to pray, and when I got up, I was a changed man. My life definitely took a different turn.”
In 2009, Livgren learned another life lesson — how precious each day is. Livgren had a stroke. “They didn’t even know if I was going to survive,” he said. Livgren had to relearn the English language and other day-to-day activities. Today, he is healthy and active — going to the gym at least twice a week. Livgren lives on a farm in Berryton with his wife, Vicci. They have two children, Kyle, 25, and Katy, 32. Besides raising cattle and growing hay, Livgren produces music out of the studio in his home.
“I take one day at a time,” he said. “Ever since my stroke, I thank God for another day.”