The name Kerry Livgren (Topeka, 1949) may not ring as many bells as that of
other great guitarists and many of us would indeed have to take to the Internet
to find out who the man is: a North American guitarist, composer and leader of
the rock band Kansas. This almost
unknown musician was in fact one of the greatest influences of rock music back
in the seventies and the composer of the iconic song Dust in the Wind, which is still to be found on the playlists of
music lovers the world over.
In the era of rock supergroups, just before the dinosaurs were about to be wiped out by the meteor that was punk in 1976, a promising North American group released their fourth album in a do or die attempt at fame. Leftoverture came close, reaching number five in the charts and selling no less than three million copies.
One of Livgren's first hits, Carry on Wayward Son, was the main reason for the album's success and the perfect song to go against the typical radio formatted tracks that ruled the roost up until then. This breadwinner was a bolt from the blue in an album otherwise replete with symphonic rock offerings and more in line with what the UK's music listeners (who had their finger right on the musical pulse more than anyone else in those days) were wanting to hear; and before Phil Collins took up the reins of Genesis to take them towards the realms of pop.
In Leftoverture, we can appreciate the influence of the band's leader in the music in general but most especially in the sound of its guitars, which are the connecting thread throughout the album. From the opening track Carry On up to the incredible Magnum Opus (with undeniable references to the British band); this album's deep instrumental richness is quite out of this world, with loving attention paid to every tiny detail.
Back at home, competition for the top spot was also fierce, with Boston's More than a feeling being their biggest rival in the record stores. Both groups shared the same objective of fusing American rock with that of the other side of the Atlantic in an attempt to achieve more 'serious' music. Once again, we find in Livgren another example of a musician obsessed with the 'Classics'. Robbie Steinhardt's violin isn't there for any old reason and is perfect in its dialogue with his guitar. In their next work, Point of Know Return, they would reach sublime perfection.
Steve Walsh also does a fine job behind the microphone and at the keyboards and serves as the face for a group that boasted such great instrumentalists as Dave Hope, Phil Ehart, Rich Williams and those that would join further down the line, albeit fleetingly, such as Steve Morse.
Kansas's fourth album may not be counted among the essential guitar works, as here technique, although impeccable, was subordinated to the general sound of each song. It is the main tool used and the star guest in a musical creation that is, however, essential for those who wish to understand all that we have listened to over the last 40 years.