Where’s the line between real deal and cover band? In Kansas maybe

Ronnie Platt didn’t watch the most confidence-building documentary before he sang his first show as the new frontman of Kansas.

It was the VH1 “Behind the Music” about Styx, one of the best in that beloved series in the humor department. The new singer, Lawrence Gowan, was talking about how even a year after he took over for Dennis DeYoung, people were still yelling for DeYoung and, as Platt says, “not exactly being too welcoming to Lawrence.”

“I’m like, ‘Oh my God, please don’t let that happen to me,’ ” Platt recalls with a chuckle. “It put a little element of fear into me.”

Instead, Platt says “the Kansas fans have been great” about him taking over when Steve Walsh, 64, abruptly stepped down from the group two years ago.

But Gowan has been with Styx for 17 years now, which may help explain why fans grow more accepting even as the lines get blurrier between a classic-rock band and a cover band of said classic-rock band.

Case in point: When Kansas plays The Foundry club at SLS Las Vegas on Friday, it will be with two original members, guitarist Rich Williams and drummer Phil Ehart. Two more have years of tenure with the band: bassist Billy Greer and violinist David Ragsdale. And three are new: Platt, keyboardist David Manion and guitarist Zak Rizvi.

A few more factors may have eased Platt’s transition into the band and explain a more common trend for classic rockers who are frequent guests of casinos:

■ Precedent. Replacement singers aren’t a new trend. If you want to go back to 1985, Jason Scheff has been singing for Chicago (due back in town at the Palms on July 9) much longer than Peter Cetera. And do we want to dig up that whole Platters/Drifters/Coasters thing? No, we don’t.

■ Singers age and so do fans. As boomers creak more when they wake up in the morning, they understand bands can go through divorces too, and that maybe a guy in his ’60s gets tired of sleeping on a tour bus. It was Journey and Arnel Pineda, combining youthful energy with sound-alike vocals for Steve Perry, which tilted most fans into thinking the ability to keep hearing beloved songs is more important than who is singing them.

■ Cover bands aren’t so bad, either. Platt points out that Foreigner is essentially a cover band now, with no original members. Why don’t people care? Just look to the suburban casinos and how many people actually buy tickets to see tribute bands to everyone from Abba to Zeppelin.

Platt adds another explainer. “I think it starts being a cover band when the band stops any ambition to create new stuff. When they’re just resting on their laurels.”

Kansas had been squarely in that category since its last studio album in 2000. And who can blame it, when radio only plays the classics, and fans tend to use the new songs as a chance to get rid of a beer and replace it?

But Platt says the new guys have motivated the group into recording a new album, “The Prelude Implicit,” due in September.

“The band has made a transformation. It’s hard to explain,” Platt says. “The ambition just started picking up momentum.”

Platt is also a fan of Yes and — wait for it — once played in a Yes tribute band called Drama. So it’s an odd parallel that just as new Yes singer Jon Davison was the organizing force behind that band’s last album, “Heaven &Earth,” Platt says “a couple of new ingredients to the soup” got the new Kansas album rolling.

“Now, instead of the status quo, Phil and Rich are seeing the enthusiasm me and (Manion) had to perform, and our desire to go beyond that. I think it planted the seed: ‘Hey, you want to do more? We’re here. We are hungry and ambitious about working and want to do it in any capacity we can.’

“I think Phil and Rich just looked at that and one thing led to another.”

The band won’t be playing any of the new stuff Friday, because it would have to pick one song, which would immediately end up on YouTube, and no one song represents the whole album.

That’s always been the case for Kansas, which sprang out of the bar scene of its namesake state and mashed up heartland rock with the grandiose prog-rock coming out of England.

“There’s so many overlapping parts and such diversity and differences in the songs,” Platt says of the new album. “Everything from classic, classic Kansas sounds to a couple of tunes that are really heavy rockers, to a couple of tunes that are really moody, emotional songs. And a couple of songs have a wide appeal, what you might say are radio-friendly songs. God forbid they ever get played on the radio,” he adds with a laugh.

The 42-year continuation of a rock band helps explain how a sound can be preserved when fans become members. Chicago-area native Platt, who was 52 when he joined Kansas, also is a veteran of Shooting Star, another band from Kansas (the state) that carried the rap of being a Kansas wannabe.

“Isn’t it ironic? A guy from Chicago ends up in a prog-rock band from Kansas City that has a violin player, but it’s not Kansas. And then eventually ends up in the band Kansas. What are the chances?” Platt says with a laugh.

But maybe it’s not such a coincidence.

“We’re really just a product of everything that has influenced us,” Platt says. “But you kind of develop your own style, your own persona, from refining that.”

Read more from Mike Weatherford at reviewjournal.com. Contact him at mweatherford@reviewjournal.com and follow @Mikeweatherford on Twitter.

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