By Jeb Wright
Photos by Brad Neville
I first met Ronnie Platt when he was a member of the band Shooting Star. When I heard he was pegged to replace Steve Walsh in the band Kansas I knew they had the right man for the job.
Kansas has released The Prelude Implicit , their first album in 16 years. It is their first to feature Ronnie Platt as the lead vocalist.
In the interview that follows Ronnie takes us on an in-depth trip through his cover bands, his job as a truck driver, his frustrations with Shooting Star and his time with Kansas. His is a story of perseverance, belief, talent and luck...both good and bad!
Read on...or should i say carry on? Either way...check out this amazing, and detailed interivew with one of rock's newest talents, and nicest guys!
Jeb: The first time I met you was in Shawnee, Kansas and you had come down from Chicago to play with Shooting Star and Edgar Winter actually opened for you guys at that show.
Ronnie: That was 9 years ago.
Jeb: Okay, I was trying to put it in terms of my son’s age, because he’s 23 now and was still very young then. Now I’ll say this with all due respect, you were there with a girl who was, how shall I put it… very blessed in ‘looks’, and my son was very short and she had big boobs… after the show she thought he was really cute and she gave him a big hug and he came up to about that level, and Ronnie….
Ronnie: Did he need oxygen from the EMT’s afterwards?
Jeb: He couldn’t talk for about an hour, so I know he’s always been a big fan of yours since then…
Ronnie: And an even bigger fan of hers!
Jeb: That’s true. You know Van and I go way back, and when he told me, ”Wait until you hear this singer...”, well you know what… every guy I’ve ever been around in a band that has a new singer states, “Wait until you hear the singer…”, you’re the one exception where it was like…. holy shit! I mean, you’ve got an amazing talent and you’re right where you need to be, man.
Ronnie: Thanks, it makes me glad I didn’t take the job in Foreigner.
Jeb: Were you considered?
Ronnie: I auditioned.
Jeb: I didn’t even know that!
Ronnie: Yeah, I mean, I’ve been blessed by getting into this band, there’s no doubt about that. I forgot about that, but let me tell you I had a rocky road… I mean I paid my dues. I had some huge, huge disappointments. The first one being back in the late 90’s when I was approached by Frankie Sullivan’s brother.
Jeb: From the Survivor gig?
Ronnie: From Survivor. And you know I thought that was it! I mean, I was so excited, I was driving an 18 wheel dump truck and I talked to a guy by the name of Zack Mister and Jack was running sound for Survivor back then, we knew each other through the channels and he got my phone number from someone and called me up and said, “ Is it okay if this guy gives you a call, his name is Kevin Sullivan, he’s Frank Sullivan’s brother, he’s part of the management team for Survivor.” Like hell, yeah! So any way, long story short I was real excited, I thought that was my break after 20 years of playing in bars, and I mean it was over before it began. So that was really a let-down for me, disappointing… and then my cover band ARRA, 3 years later, I mean we had been together for 13 years and we kind of like ran out of gas, you know… I was just so anxious to do something else. ARRA was very, very successful, we played all the summer festivals and I was like, why would I walk away from something like that?
I was just so hungry to do something else and I announced in January of 2003 that I was going to leave ARRA at the end of the festival season which would be the end of September in 2003. Even before I was out of ARRA I had another band going called The Head Games.
We played a set of Journey, a set of Bon Jovi, but also a set of Foreigner and the bass player Jamie, he started a website for us, you know, and tagged a bunch of stuff for… you know if you were a Journey fan or a Bon Jovi or Foreigner fan. We were practicing getting ready for our gigs and Jamie comes to me one day and says, “Hey man, this guys called me up and wanted to know if you would be interested in doing any commercial work?” And I’m like hey, I’m never going to turn down work, there’s a thing called a mortgage, you know… boy Jeb, I’m really giving you the deep cut here.
Anyway, my bass player tells me about this guy calling, I’m like yeah, yeah, I kind of blew it off and a couple of weeks later Jamie says to me again, “Hey this guy called me again about you doing some commercial work, you want to contact him?” I’m like yeah, give him my number, and give me his number, whatever. So anyway, I finally get around to talking to this guy and his name is Jeff Jacobs and I call him up and he goes, “Look, I’ll be honest with you, I don’t have any commercial work or anything. I’m actually the keyboard player for Foreigner, I live in Chicago, my studio is right at Halsted and Grant... would you come and audition for Foreigner?” And I’m like are you kidding me?! So I went down there and at that point Jeb, I really didn’t know if this guy was legit, you know, because being in Chicago, there’s a lot of people in Chicago… everybody knows someone and this and that, so I was still kind of skeptical. Is this guy giving me a line of crap? So anyway, go down to his studio and I walk in and here’s this big platinum album on the wall… “Thank you to Jeff Jacobs from Billy Joel”, for assisting on keyboard playing, I forget which Billy Joel album that Jeff played on… But you know right then and there it hit me, like woo! This guy is legit!
Jeb: Jeff Jacobs joined the Billy Joel band for the "Storm Front" album. “We Didn't Start the Fire", he did the opening riff on that song, and "I Go to Extremes." Then he went to Foreigner for 15 years.
Ronnie: So the song Jeff had me learn was “Urgent.” Jeff says, “Are you familiar with ‘Urgent’ from Foreigner?” The song has been on the radio a million times, so I go in the recording room and I sing “Urgent” and you know I could see his eyebrows going up and he’s like… Jeff was sitting at the board, I just see his eyebrows going up and he turned to my travel buddy Dan, and I could see him say, “Crap, this guy can sing.”
Ronnie: So the song Jeff had me learn was “Urgent.” Are you familiar with “Urgent” from ‘Foreigner’? The song has been on the radio a million times, so I go in the recording room and I sing “Urgent” and you know I could see his eyebrows going up and he’s like… Jeff was sitting at the board I just see his eyebrows going up and he turned to my travel buddy Dan, and I could see him say, “Crap this guy can sing.”
So I come out of the recording room and he had an acoustic guitar and goes, “Do you know any other Foreigner songs?” Are you kidding me?! “Cold as Ice”, “Long, Long Way from Home”, you know “Women,” you name it. So I ended up doing like a verse or a chorus of 4 or 5 other songs and he’s like shaking his head… he’s like, “Man there’s no doubt you can do this job, but…”, and here’s where the big ‘but’ comes in, he says “Mick Jones is the boss. What he says goes and I know he is not only having everybody in the band try to recruit singers, he’s also recruiting singers himself.” And again, at that time the only thing on my resume was cover band singer from Chicago, right? Whereas Kelly Hansen, he had been in a signed band…
Jeb: Yeah, he did that stuff with Stuart Smith's Heaven & Earth, the guitar player out in California, as well as some stuff way back with Hurricane… I know him.
Ronnie: Yeah man, Kelly kicks ass. But Jeb, I’ve got to tell you, I have a soft spot for Foreigner because Lou Gramm is one of my favorite singers of all time. I was kind of thinking that I could do a better job than Kelly, but the thing is my resume compared to his was just… I understand, you know, when you’re the boss and you’re looking at applications, you’re going to go with the person you feel is qualified for the job… I understand that totally. Jeff said to me in the studio, “Man there is no doubt that you can do this job, but please just understand, this is a one in a million shot.”
I mean it was the one in the million that I didn’t get. Was I disappointed? Yes, did I really feel I was going to get it? Not at all, not at all… I mean, I knew it was really an ice cubes chance in hell. Then, my band Head Games lasted one show.
So anyway, after that a friend of mine called me and he goes, “Look there’s this band they want to do this gig called NEARfest. Have you ever heard of NEARfest?
Jeb: North East Art Rock Festival, sure…
Ronnie: Yeah, so I hooked up with this band Yezda Urfa, have you heard of this band?
Jeb: Yeah, I know who they are.
Ronnie: Crazy name, I mean talk about the best way to describe that band is Frank Zappa meets ‘Yes’. I mean it was really some crazy-ass music, but it was fun. I mean as prog-rock crazy as you can get! Then I bounced around a couple of bands in and out for a couple of years. Then John Schenk, I don’t know if you know John Schenk, a friend of Van’s, who lives in this Schaumburg area around Chicago… anyway, I did a few benefits with ARRA, he calls me one day and says “Hey do you know the band Shooting Star?” I’m like, “Hang On For Your Life, I had that album on my turntable for like forever.”
Jeb: I wondered if you knew from the beginning who they were. Hang On For Your Life… That’s a great album, man.
Ronnie: Oh absolutely. I’ve always loved “Last Chance” and then getting “Hang On For Your Life.” I played the death out of that album, that was in the ‘80s. John says “Van McLain, the guitar player of Shooting Star is looking for a singer, would you like to audition?”
I ended up talking to Van and he’s like, “Let’s come down and sing a couple of songs in the studio and we have this gig for this company called Musician’s Friend… they just opened up a new warehouse in Kansas City, it’s a distribution center and because we have a different gig coming up I can’t bill it as Shooting Star…” Because, you know how they have these time and distance clauses, if you take this gig you can’t take a gig within 100 miles a month before or a month after the gig because they think that it’s going to hurt ticket sales or something.
So we ended up doing this parking lot gig, in Musician’s Friends parking lot and God I think I sang 6 or 7 songs, and the next week Van called me and said, “The band is looking to make a permanent change in the lead singer position… do you want to take it?” I’m like, I’d love to! And Jeb, I’m going to give you some dirt here… Don’t get me wrong, I love Van like a brother, but I’d also like to wring his neck like a brother… anyway talked to Van and took the job in Shooting Star and we got this gig in Cheyenne, Kansas and God it happened really fast… they just dumped all this music on me to learn and I think it was a week or maybe two weeks tops.
I knew the popular stuff by Shooting Star, but there’s a difference between knowing it and having it up to performance level. Here I am just cramming to learn all this music and still working a full time job for my dad and I’m learning all this music and we do the Cheyenne, Kansas gig… and wow, playing with Edgar Winter you know… how frigging great was that, you know? So I did that gig… that went great… I met with Joe Comparato the next morning, he was managing them. That was the next morning, he goes, “Look, we’re looking at doing probably 12, 13, 14 dates in July, probably 10-12 in August then things will lighten up after awhile after the summer festival season, but we’re going to keep on booking gigs…” and in my mind I’m going, “That’s it, I’m going home, I’m giving my two week notice on my job…” and Jeb, thank God I didn’t... Because, and this is tough part that makes me bite my tongue, when I went home that day, and that was what June? It was the beginning of June, June 5 or 6th was that show in Shawnee, Kansas… Jeb, I didn’t even get a return phone call from Joe or Van for the rest of the year.
The intervals between calling Van and Joe became larger and larger, so I’d let a week go by, then I would let 2 weeks go by, then I’d let a month go by then two months go by, still not returned phone calls, so I pretty much said ‘well that was it’. Then January I finally get a call from Van and you know, you can’t blame me, I’m a little ticked.
Jeb: Exactly, I can see that.
Ronnie: That really wasn’t right. What also transpired in that process and I forget the exact time line, you know he was in the process of writing “Circles”, which I love every song on that CD. Again, it’s one of those executive things that I understand. Kevin Chalfant has name recognition and two popular bands that were signed bands, you know. Are you kidding, Greg Rolie? He was in Santana, he played Woodstock for Christ’s sake, you know Kevin Chalfant was in a band with him, I understand the executive decision hiring Kevin to sing on “Circles” but I was really disappointed that I didn’t and that was another blow to me. So the CD got recorded, then Van calls me up one day and says, “Would you drive down to St. Louis because we want to make a remake of ‘George’s Song’”.
I guess Kevin didn’t want to tour, I guess he didn’t join the band because he didn’t want to tour with Shooting Star. I really did not know his reason for not becoming a full member of Shooting Star. I’m sure money was a big factor in that. But anyway, they called me up and we ended up re-recording “George’s Song”, which my version is very different from Kevin Chalfant’s version as far as they put more guitars in my version and Van was playing the guitar version through a Leslie which was really cool sounding. So the song had a different tone, but as cheesy as it might have been, it’s still my first music video that actually got some recognition. ‘Shooting Star’ ended up being really disappointing to me because we would do a handful of gigs, and I mean a small handful of gigs…
Jeb: As it turns out we can put a positive spin on it… I’ve known the Moondance Jam guys for a long time. I had been giving them my unsolicited advice on getting Shooting Star in there at the early slot on one of the days during the festival in Minnesota. I told them I can put them in touch with Van and then, so it finally happened and that’s where Kansas was as well, on the same day.
Ronnie: Jeb, that’s what I’ve always said: ARRA got me into Shooting Star, and Shooting Star got me into Kansas.
I remember doing the Moondance Jam show and looking at the side of the stage and seeing Rich Williams sitting there watching our show and it was not weather friendly. It was cold, it was windy, it had rained, and there was really just a smattering of people out in front. But for me, I look over at the side of the stage, I’m like ‘holy crap Rich Williams is watching our show, how frigging cool is that!’ Then I know Phil was listening from behind the stage, and I remember this vividly, I could picture it in my head, Van and Rich talking to each other walking down the stairs behind the stage then Van back in the dressing room telling me, “Rich Williams and Phil, they were just going on and on about what a great singer you are, and where in the hell did you find this guy” you know. I should say were they privy of Steve’s retirement back then? What was that, 2009, 2010?
Jeb: July, 2009.
Ronnie: I mean, were they privy to Steve retiring back then? I don’t know.
Jeb: I don’t think so.
Ronnie: I don’t think so, but I just know that Rich kept me in his back pocket, so to speak and then at that time ARRA, the lead singer that was in ARRA was also doing shows with another band and they started having conflicts and their scheduling, and Tyler who was singing for ARRA at the time called me up and said ‘can you cover me here, can you cover me there’ and I ended up doing more and more shows and Van was kind of bent I’m doing shows with my old band, but yet Shooting Star wasn’t working, I’m like hey man I got to eat, I’ve got to earn money.
I gave Shooting Star first priority and it’s like the gigs were just less and less and I ended up going back to ARRA full time and was doing good, I mean we were doing 80 shows a year and playing all the festivals and everything. Let me tell you ARRA has played with everybody. Paul Rodgers, 38 Special, Survivor, Rare Earth, Steppenwolf, Dennis DeYoung from Styx, the list goes on and on, all those big names that we played with over the years and I’m like, ‘I like working’… so I stuck with ARRA, then one day I get a text message from a friend of mine, Dina, who is actually Dennis DeYoung’s niece.
Dina and her sister Lisa, long time ARRA fans, long time fans of mine who have come to see me forever, and I don’t consider them fans anymore, I consider them friends… for Pete’s sake, Jeb! I’ve put in Dina’s kitchen faucet! I mean, talk about a multi-tasker!
Anyway… She just texted me one day and said ‘did you see this’, and here it was -Steve Walsh’s press release announcing his retirement and this was a Wednesday and I’m like ‘no, I did not see that’ and right then and there I Facebook messaged Rich, and Jeb all I wrote was, “Rich, Ronnie Platt formerly of Shooting Star give me some consideration” and the next day I was just about to walk out the door to cut my mother’s lawn and I’m like ‘yeah yeah I better check my messages before I scram’, and here’s a Facebook message from Rich, “If you get this message within the hour we’re about to go on stage” and I think it was Houston, “We’re about to go on stage if you get it within the hour, please give me a call.” So I called Rich and ended up talking to him for 15 minutes and he says, “Look Phil will call you tomorrow” and I went ‘great’.
I talked to Phil Friday and he says to me, “Would you be willing to come to Atlanta Monday and meet with Rich and I, just for a few hours. We’re not having you come to audition, we already know you can sing your ass off; we just want to know if you’re a good guy and you can fit in with the band.” So Monday we flew to Atlanta, JR picked me up and brought me to Phil and Rich, I met them at one of the hotels, right next to the airport and we talked business for maybe 10 minutes tops and the rest of the time we were just laughing and telling jokes and telling stories and they really made me feel like I was sitting with a couple of buddies.
It was so funny, when I’m walking out with Phil and Rich, Phil looks at me and he goes, “Well that went well…” kind of like tongue in cheek like, he’s looking at me trying to convey to me, “I want to tell you have the job right now but we at least got to wait a day” you know. I mean, it was so funny just the smirk on his face, he knew, he knew already and the very next morning I’m back at work at my 18 wheeler dragging corrugated around the beautiful city of Chicago and I happened to be at a stop where I had to sit in my tractor while they unloaded me for awhile and I just checked my email and got an email from Phil, ‘congrats you got the job, the band is pumped!’ In a matter of 4 days I became the lead singer of Kansas.
I was euphoric but also keeping that safety net, you know. It’s like, okay, I might have been told that I have the job, but, Steve is still singing… I don’t’ start rehearsal with the band until the end of August… anything can happen between now and then you know… and you know, again, I know they talked to John Elefante and again, if I was in the executive position, you’ve got a guy who was previously in the band. If they would have went with John, I would have totally understood, but it didn’t turn out that way, thank God. But I did have that safety net thinking okay, I’m excited, I’m euphoric, I did give my job 2 weeks’ notice… “Hey got some news for you folks: love you to death but I won’t be here in 2 weeks.”
Can you imagine what was going through my mind the month before that first rehearsal? I still had a slew of gigs to do with ARRA, of which I ended up leaving even a week earlier than I told them, leaving my buddies out to dry… but they had me covered with a couple of guys that filled in, but to have that anticipation just boiling in me and getting to that first rehearsal was just like, okay it’s really time to kick it up a notch and if that’s even possible, because Jeb let me tell you, Dina and her husband Andy have been long time friends of mine… she gave me a bracelet and I wear it on stage from time to time and when I got the job with Kansas, we went out to dinner with Vicky, Dina and Andy… the four of us went out to dinner and they gave me this bracelet and it says “100% every time.” She’s always said to me, now this is someone who’s been watching me 25 years now, and she said, “You know, wherever I’ve seen you sing, whether you were in the stinkiest, beer rotten, urine smelling bar or whether you are playing some huge festival for some huge band, you always give 100%.” I don’t know how not to, not only are you cheating the people who come to see you, but you’re cheating yourself if you’re not. It’s just my perspective and I’ve always had the frame of mind, I want to be better than my last show.
Jeb: Playing with Kansas… even in the rehearsal, were you going, “This absolutely is the next level”… was it obvious?
Ronnie: That first rehearsal, let me tell you, oh my God, Jeb, here’s one for the record books. My band Chaser, who was very successful, together from ‘82 to ’87, we played a lot of Kansas. I’ll tell you, here’s two cover songs that no other band has ever played… Chaser played “Windows” and “Right Away”.
Jeb: Soon, we have to jump into talking about this new record, man… we’ve got to talk about it at some point but I’ve seen Kansas, I don’t know how many times… probably not 100, but it’s not too damned far from it.
You have not only been given an opportunity by them, you’ve also given them an opportunity and I think Rich or Phil know that. Partially it is because of your attitude and your talent, but there’s a chemistry and that’s where I’m trying to go with that and now with Zak and of course getting Rags back, there’s a chemistry in Kansas right now that’s very… energetic isn’t even the right word…. it’s alive, that’s probably the best word, the band is more alive than I’ve seen them in a long time.
Ronnie: The total sum is much greater than its individual parts. That’s how I look at it, and Jeb, ARRA had opened up for Kansas three or four times. I remember we played Itasca Fest, and not to put any dark air or anything, but boy I remember seeing those guys before the show… we just got done, they were cleaning stuff up off the stage and getting Kansas ready and you could feel the tension in the air. I mean none of those guys were smiling. You got the sense that they just had a knock down, dragged out argument, that’s what it felt like to me. And you know my friends are there standing around me helping my band mates and they’re like, “There’s Steve man, Steve’s sitting right there go talk to him!” and I’m like what am I going to do… walk up and go, “Gee, Steve, I’m the lead singer in the backup band.” I could feel the tension, and I know some things about what the atmosphere of the band was like before I got there, and without giving any details it’s unfortunate, but now it isn’t… it’s a different thing, I mean we all have a gas together. We are laughing all the time.
There is a expectation of work ethic, it’s a work ethic of really trying. There’s no such thing as achieving perfection, there is no such thing, but talk about a group of guys that want to get to it as close as possible and we constantly correct and refine stuff and go over stuff, like right now, the stuff we’re doing on stage now, we are pretty much on auto pilot because what we’re doing now before the show is we’re rehearsing The Leftoverture show. So, let me tell you, Jeb I got to tell you when I got into this band I was oblivious, I was really naive to what this band was going to entail. This band is a lot of work. It’s a labor of love, but it’s a lot of work. This is not Cheap Trick music.
I love Cheap Trick, they’re frigging neighbors of mine, I could drive to Rockford in an hour and be at Rick Nielsen’s house. But this music is intense, and when I joined the band I really didn’t know what I was in for. Did I know that I was going to be singing “Carry On My Wayward Son” and all the songs off the old albums…Yes, when I met with Phil and Rich for at least 10 years they’ve been doing what 60, 65 shows a year and you know Phil put it to me, “Yes we hit it hard during festival season but you might want to squirrel it, you know save your nuts for the winter, you know budget yourself because we really don’t play December, January, February.” Ha ha! Not since I’ve been in the band! You know, it’s like I did that first gig in September…
Jeb: And it hasn’t stopped…
Ronnie: I was looking at the schedule and December / January had a couple of gigs and then all of a sudden a couple more and it’s like wow this is cool, far out; and another thing I need to convey to you, not only did I win the rock and roll lottery becoming the lead singer for Kansas and being able to sing all these great Kerry Livgren and Steve Walsh songs, but to be able to work this much, because I still have that dark spot in the back of my brain from my Shooting Star experience when I had such a desire to work and the work just wasn’t coming and to work this much with the band. In 2015, 95 shows…
This year we are over 100 shows, at the conclusion of this year we’ll be over 100 shows and that is just fantastic. I mean, getting the job was one gift, getting all this work was another gift, but then signing a record contract as the lead singer of Kansas… woo big gift! To have my voice on a new studio Kansas record, another gift.
Jeb: Now I want to talk about that. I have one hard question I want to hit you with and you’re a good guy so I probably know how you’re going to answer this one.
Ronnie: Jeb, you could club me over the head like a baby seal, I’d still get up and answer your question.
Jeb: I mean, you replaced fucking Steve Walsh, man...
Ronnie: Jeb, I got to tell you, I’ve got this friend… every time I talk to him he says, “Dude you’re the lead singer of Kansas.” I get it, “No man, you’re the lead singer of Kansas!” He just like elevates it every time, you know. It’s like… yeah, yeah… there is an element in me that it is still surreal to me.
I’ll tell you right now the guys that inspired me and developed my voice because I was so obsessed with emulating these guys, Steve Walsh number 1, and probably Lou Gramm. Steve Perry from Journey, Jon Anderson from Yes, here’s a curve ball, Geddy Lee. I love Geddy Lee’s voice on the album “Caress of Steel” and “Farewell to Kings” on “2112”… his voice is intense, just intense. These are the guys that I emulated. Lou Gramm from Foreigner… listen to that first album, the song “Woman oh Woman”.
Oh my God! The intensity in his voice is just, I mean he just sells it… if you’re not buying that, it’s because you’re broke… and of course, there’s Brad Delp. I mean these guys, I’m probably a mixture of all these guys and when you put all the ingredients in a pot and mix it up you end up with a unique soup that has elements of all the ingredients… well that’s what I am.
Jeb: I would be scared shitless to sing a new song more than an existing classic, and I would also be more self conscious about contributing because…
Ronnie: Ha ha ha! Jeb, I’ve got one for you. In the studio, right? I do my first vocal, and Phil comes up to me and says, “Look I don’t want to put any ideas in your head… just relax, do a good job, enjoy yourself just forget that there are 2.1 million people waiting for this right now.” Thanks pal!
How funny was that. You know it was the same thing as singing “Dust in the Wind” for the first time as the lead singer of Kansas. It was like, woo! I am now singing a new Kansas song in the studio, recording a studio album as the lead singer of Kansas… that’s kind of intense.
Jeb: Do you remember which of the new ones was the first one?
Ronnie: Oh my God! I know “With this Heart” was one of the early ones, if not the first one. Again Jeb that’s another element of the gift that keeps on giving called Kansas… you know all the things that I mentioned, getting the job, singing the songs, getting work and signing the record contract. Imagine my adrenaline and my nervousness when “With this Heart” was actually the first original submission to Phil and Rich.
Jeb, I got to tell you, I was all prepared… it’s that safety net thing. I’m like how can I be upset about anything? Got the lead singer job with Kansas, I’m working, my voice is going to be on a new Kansas studio album, things ain’t bad, you know? But imagine my nervousness when I write “With this Heart” and I submit it to Phil and Rich and I’m all prepared for them to go, “Wow this is really good, we appreciate your effort, we’ll keep this on the back burner. This is really good, but for now we’re going to go in a different direction.” I was all prepared to hear that, I was prepared for the rejection. So imagine my heart literally jumping out of my chest when Phil and Rich read it and they go, “Wow this is pretty good… we’ll use this. This is like really good, write another one.”
Write words to this one, really, really! Oh we got an idea here, write words to this one. Jeb, I ended up writing 6 of the 10 songs… I wrote and co-wrote 2 more with Billy. The only one I didn’t have a hand in writing was “Summer”. “Summer” is Billy’s song, so again, like I said, how many people can say they’ve won the lottery five times in a row?
Jeb: Did you write the lyrics to “Refugee”?
Ronnie: That was Billy and I, we co-wrote “Refugee” and “Camouflage” Billy and I co-wrote. But “With this Heart”, “Visibility Zero”, “Unsung Heroes”, gosh what am I forgetting?
Jeb: “Rhythm in the Spirit”.
Ronnie: Yes, “Rhythm in the Spirit”.
Jeb: Did you do “Voyage”?
Ronnie: “The Voyage of Eight Eighteen” I wrote the lyrics for, yes.
Jeb: Of course your best performance is “Section 60,” the instrumental.
Ronnie: Yeah, ha ha ha! The performance in that song, I will say is flawless.
Jeb: Now on this album, let’s hit a couple of the songs, lyrically, since you did it… the first one “The Voyage of Eight Eighteen” takes me back to the first album. As you’re approaching those lyrics -and Zak wrote that amazing tune- how do you do that? Was that something that was difficult for you to write in that vein? For lack of a better word, it’s not poppy, if you know what I mean.
Ronnie: No, it’s not poppy. Then you’ve got the other thing that’s going through my mind is I’m writing songs for the same band that Kerry Livgren wrote lyrics for.
Jeb: Yeah, Kerry is not only a gifted lyricist he’s one of the best of his generation.
Ronnie: Absolutely. Some of the lyrical writing in the 70’s, some of it was a little on the shallow side.
Jeb: The sex, drugs and rock and roll stuff, you know. Kansas did not do that.
Ronnie: No, Kansas did not do that at all. It’s so funny looking back, I look at this album I look at the Prelude Implicit as having the common thread of Kansas through it, but yet it’s pretty diverse. I look at “Unsung Heroes” and “With this Heart” and “Summer” it’s kind of like AOR-type of radio friendly type songs, especially “Summer.” Summer’s got that toe tapping poppy kind of feel to it, but then you listen to “Camouflage” and “Refugee” and they’re kind of like dark songs, very moody songs, quite a departure from the other three. But then oh my God, “Visibility Zero”, “Rhythm in the Spirit” these just intense guitar riff songs which are almost like dream theaterish to me, but 818, is just to me… it’s adding freshness to that Kansas formula, it sounds like traditional Kansas but it’s fresh, you know.
Jeb: I’m hooked on “Crowded Isolation” right now, a song that kind of snuck in under the radar to me. I’m hooked on “Refugee” right now, because I always skip past the slow ones. Until, you know, you start making time to listen to the whole record. That’s the plus of this record, it’s not variety so much where all the songs are different… it does sound like Kansas… but there’s depth to each song. Does that make sense?
Ronnie: Absolutely, it’s how I view it. Absolutely, every song says Kansas, but yet there’s diversity.
Jeb: You know the part that’s taking me the longest to get used to?
Ronnie: Oh oh! What’s that?
Jeb: The verse in “Unsung Heroes.”
Ronnie: The verse in “Unsung Heroes”, why?
Jeb: I don’t think I’ve ever heard Kansas do kind of a bluesy thing.
Ronnie: Yeah, it’s kind of got like a bit of a swing feel to it… I’d like to welcome everyone to the Blue Armadillo Room!
Jeb: “The Voyage of Eight Eighteen”… that’s not even challenging for Kansas fans to like. “With this Heart” that’s not challenging for a Kansas fan to like, but my point is there still are some challenges there, man.
Ronnie: Yeah, absolutely; you know what really rings out there, the work of Dave Ragsdale. You know some of those violin riffs just give it a good tie in, you know. The transitions lead by the violin riffs they just do it for me, you know.
Jeb: And on top of everything else, you’re going to go out and get to sing “Leftoverture” front to back very soon.
Ronnie: How crazy is that? I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve listened to that album in its entirety, really. Since it’s come out I could not tell you. That is just one of those albums that I just passionately loved every song. It’s just amazing that I came into the band right at the time of the opportunity to be able to do that album in its entirety as well as the sequence that the songs are on the album, which is really cool… Did Rich give you an inclination what’s going to happen in the show?
Let me tell you, the visual aspect that we have planned is just as intense as the music. The production that is going into the visual aspect of the show, you’re going to be travelling to other cities to want to see this again and again and again. The stuff that we are going to do is so cool and I’ll give you a little hint, I am going to be introducing “Section 60” and I don’t know how I’m not going to be crying like a baby….
Here I am going to be explaining the meaning of the song to the audience and then asking the audience to remain silent at the end of the song. Show respect for our fallen serviceman, that is going to be frigging intense. But what happens at that point will blow your mind…
Jeb: And to boot though, if anything happens to Rusty the truck driver, you can pitch in!
Ronnie: Jeb, you just reminded me and I was just saying this to my lovely wife… I do believe my DOT medical card is up for renewal in the next couple of months and as crazy as this sounds my CDL, I have a hazmat endorsement, so I have to renew my license every two years and take the test regardless because I am licensed to haul hazardous materials. I will be renewing my license because you never know.
Jeb: Rusty could get the flu and you might need to have that license…ha ha ha!
Ronnie: The night we signed our contract with Inside Out, we were playing Elk Grove, IL, he fell off the back of the truck and sprained his ankle. Luckily his tractor is an automatic.
Jeb: There you go! That would have sucked, to sign a contract and then… “Hey Ronnie, can you do us a favor?” Ha ha ha!
Ronnie: We know you just signed a recording contract; we need you to drive the 18 wheeler!
Jeb: You know what though? You’d do it.
Ronnie: Are you kidding, in a heartbeat! Jeb, it’s nothing I haven’t done for 25 years.
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