Kansas’ Leftoverture

Iconic American Prog
Kansas’ Leftoverture
Richard Williams onstage with his Gibson L-6S on the band’s 1977 tour.

Progressive rock emerged from the British psychedelic scene in the late ’60s with bands like the Nice, Procol Harum, Moody Blues, King Crimson, Yes, and Gentle Giant. The genre blossomed in the first half of the ’70s, still dominated by Brit bands, with one exception – Kansas.

After forming in Topeka in 1970, Steve Walsh (vocals, keyboards), Phil Ehart (drums), Richard Williams (guitar), Kerry Livgren (keyboards, guitar), Dave Hope (bass), and Robby Steinhart (violin, vocals) quickly came to love playing complex musical arrangements. But they could also rock out.

“King Crimson, Yes, or Genesis couldn’t – or wouldn’t – play a straight-up rock song,” Hope points out. “We could do either equally as well.”

Protégés of music mogul Don Kirshner, Kansas’ acclaim and album sales grew steadily beginning with their first, in March of ’74. By late ’75, they already had three albums under their belt as they journeyed to Studio in the Country, in Bogalusa, Louisiana, to begin recording what would become Leftoverture.

Williams recalls they were upbeat and determined going in, and their attitudes only got better once the sessions were underway, thanks in large part to Livgren’s songwriting.

“What no one could have predicted was Kerry’s creative explosion,” he said. “Songs were pouring out of him – great songs that were complicated, musically, and lyrically moving. The anticipation of ‘What’s Kerry bringing to the table today?’ was palpable.”

Williams also credited producer and engineer Jeff Glixman with boosting attitudes.

“Jeff was really coming into his own as a producer, and Bill ‘Bleu’ Evans, the owner of Studio in the Country, was an unsung hero as the engineer. He built the studio from the ground up and had total command of its technical capabilities.”

“Jeff was my best asset in the studio,” Hope added. “He not only got good drum and bass tones, he mixed our rhythm section like a rock band, not like the classic prog groups like the Moody Blues and Genesis, which were more laid-back in the mix and had a lighter, jazzier feel.”

Williams’ guitar of choice was a new L6-S, which he later endorsed on a Gibson poster. His amp was a Marshall 100-watt Super Lead running into a Univox 6×12 cab; his only effects pedal was a Maestro phase shifter. The acoustic guitar on songs like “Miracles Out of Nowhere” was his first – a Martin D-28 purchased a few years earlier, after the band began touring nationally. In a February ’01 interview with VG, Livgren recalled that his primary guitars in that era were an ES-335 and a Hagstrom Swede. Hope counted on a Precision Bass.

Leftoverture kicks off with the a cappella intro to “Carry On Wayward Son,” which set the tone for the album while also serving as a microcosm of the things that set Kansas apart from other bands, including Walsh’s soaring vocals, abrupt time-signature changes, plaintive lyrics, and note-for-note riffing with guitars, bass, and violin anchored by a rock-and-roll sensibility.

Following “Wayward Son,” “The Wall” opens with another unique element – opening harmony passages played by Steinhart and Williams.

“You cannot underestimate the influence that the Allman Brothers’ harmony guitar work had on guitar players of that time, including us,” Williams said. “But ‘The Wall’ intro is my solo with Robby harmonizing on violin. To this day, I love how beautifully a guitar and violin work together as a section in ensemble.”

The album’s final track, “Magnum Opus,” lives up to its name, its six movements careening through arrangements ethereal to frenetic; at the 1:00 mark, Hope and the Precision step out front to play a lead melody with tone that foreshadows the 1983 Metallica/Cliff Burton solo “(Anesthesia) – Pulling Teeth.”

“It’s my bass cranked through Rich’s Marshall for distortion,” said Hope. “Bass players in the mid ’70s had to come up with their own sounds because the few effects that were available sounded like horrible toys.”

Leftoverture was released October 21, 1976. Its assortment of rock riffs and complex arrangements had a broad appeal, and the album climbed to #5 on the Billboard Top 200 chart. Its sales eventually hit quintuple platinum. Released as a single in early ’77, “Carry On Wayward Son” reached #11 on the Top 40 and became the band’s signature song.

This article originally appeared in VG’s April 2023 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.

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