Milestone moment for Kansas, band with reach across genres

During one of Garth Brooks’ stints at Wynn Las Vegas, a documentary crew interviewed him about one of his big influences.

George Strait? George Jones?

Not this time. It was Kansas, the ’70s rock band with a reach that spanned from progressive-rock fans of Yes and Genesis to future country superstars.

Band members will be reviewing a rough cut of the documentary around the time they play outdoors at Red Rock Resort on Saturday, as part of the 40th anniversary year of their first, self-titled album.

“We just needed to tell the story while we still could,” guitarist Rich Williams says of the film due for home release later this year. It will focus on the band’s formative years, and how a sound that rivaled the pomp of British bands such as Queen and Emerson, Lake &Palmer rose from the bar-fight circuit of small-town Kansas.

“That’s the most interesting part of the story,” Williams says. “We wanted to encapsulate that time, the climbing to the top of the mountain and getting there, and just kind of stopping the story there (after the success of ‘Leftoverture,’ the 1976 album that took them from regional to national stars).”

Guitarist Williams, singer-keyboardist Steve Walsh and drummer Phil Ehart carry on as original members, joined by longtime bassist Billy Greer and violinist David Ragsdale. “The new guys aren’t new and the old guys are really old,” Williams says with a laugh.

Kansas plans to play a cross-section of its history, resisting the prevailing concert gimmick of playing full albums in order. “You really have to want to do that and we really don’t. It just wasn’t in the cards,” Williams says.

But the group has always varied its set list, balancing certified hits such as “Dust in the Wind” with FM radio classics such as “Song for America” that never officially charted.

“We’re not Foreigner. We don’t have enough hits to play an hour and a half. It’s a blessing and a curse.”

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at or 702-383-0288.