1-on-1 interview with Kansas drummer Phil Ehart

Drummer Phil Ehart and the other members of Kansas came together Saturday night to carry on their music to both new and old generations alike.

Brandon Bills

Interview with Phil Ehart, drummer and manager of Kansas

Q: So, you’re returning to Topeka for a 35th anniversary concert and filming a DVD. Why White Concert Hall?

A: Good question. Yeah, that’s a very good question. Well, it kind of happened accidentally. It being our 35th anniversary, we’ve always wanted to record something with a symphony on video and it’s never been done for us anyway, so we kinda thought of different places to go, different cities around the country and we thought about the concept of bringing the music of Kansas back to Kansas. That’s really what this is about. A number of us actually went to Washburn, and were students there, and some of us actually played in bands that played for the opening of White Concert Hall, which was in the early 70’s. So it just kind of made sense. One of our band houses is on 17th street, right across the street there in College Hill area, so the band was writing music right there across from Washburn. We were attending Washburn, we were playing at Washburn. So it just made a lot of sense to come back there for this. And of course, to use the university orchestra and the pipe organ and all that kind of stuff. So we came up there a couple months ago and checked out the hall and just looked at each other and went ‘man this would be great.’ I think the hall had just been refurbished.. It just seems like a natural place for us to come and do this on our 35th anniversary.

Q: What was the music scene in Topeka like at that time?

A: The music scene in Topeka was always very active. It was very strange how many bands there were in Topeka, and in Lawrence and Manhattan, and the whole area was just-there were billions. It seems like everybody was in a band. But as time went on, going into the early ’70s, a lot of them started clearing out and guys got jobs, so there was just only a handful of us left that really wanted to pursue it as a full time endeavor. We were obviously very fortunate to be discovered, and as they say, the rest is history, Believe it or not, for being out in the middle of nowhere, there were a lot of guys-and a few girls-that were in bands; a lot of them. You’d go to a lot of the music stores and all the bands had their band cards up, and there’d be hundreds of them.

Q: What’s it like partnering with the orchestra for this?

A: Well, it’s been great. Norman Gamboa has been very helpful in making this work. We understand it’s a bit of an endeavor for the orchestra to accommodate a rock band coming in and we really appreciate all they’ve done. We’re building staging, we’re bringing in a 10-camera shoot. People aren’t going to recognize White Concert Hall. It’s going to be very cool.

I think we’re going to be using close to 50 of the musicians there in the orchestra. We’re going to be bringing in all sorts of moving lights and really cool stuff. Kerry Livgren, our original guitarist from Topeka, is going to join us, as well as Steve Morris who was our guitarist for a couple of years, who now plays for Deep Purple. There are going to be a lot of surprises and a lot of cool stuff.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish on this DVD?

A: We want to visit, though a musical piece or song, every album that we have recorded. So there will be a lot of music there, but it will all be done with the orchestra, which is something we’ve never done before for a recording on DVD. That will be something that I think will be very cool to see and make a musical statement with the orchestra, what Kansas has accomplished and our music works very well with an orchestra and that we’re not just your everyday rock band.

Q: You released you last album in 2000, are there any plans to do anything else in the future?

A: Well, yeah. We may have a new song on this DVD, we won’t be recording it the night of the show, but we might later, since there is going to be an audio CD with it also, we’re thinking about putting a new song on that.

Q: And the DVD comes out in August?

A: Yes.

Q: When you started out 35 years ago, did you ever think you’d be back here filming a live concert in Topeka?

A: No. I always felt that the band would be successful. I never doubted that once the band got together we’d get a shot for somebody to hear us play that we’d deliver the goods, but, no. We would have just been happy to have an album out or a song on the radio. That’s about as far as we were thinking at that time-‘Gosh, if we could just get a song on the radio’-so we surpassed any expectations we might have had, living there in Topeka.