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Kansas Carries On With New Lead Singer

Kansas L to R is Richard Williams, Billy Greer, Zak Rizvi, Phil Ehart, Ronnie Platt, David Manion, and David Ragsdale.
Michie Turpin
From left, Kansas is Richard Williams, Billy Greer, Zak Rizvi, Phil Ehart, Ronnie Platt, David Manion, and David Ragsdale.

The words "Congrats you got the job" are likely the five most exciting and terrifying words Ronnie Platt had ever heard.

The then-singer and keyboard player for the Chicago-based cover band Shooting Star was chosen by Kansas to replace original lead singer Steve Walsh after he retired.

“It happened so fast,” said Platt by phone from his Chicago home. “A friend of mine and longtime fan, who happened to be (Styx lead vocalist and founding member) Dennis DeYoung’s niece, sent me a text one day that said, ‘Did you see this?’”

It was the announcement of Walsh’s retirement from Kansas. She knew her friend Platt was a huge fan of the band and you know … why not give it a shot?

“I immediately got on Facebook. I was already friends with (Kansas guitarist) Rich Williams. I know the Kansas boys had seen me when I was in the band Shooting Star. So I messaged Rich, and said, ‘Rich, Ronnie Platt from Shooting Star, give me some consideration,” said Platt.

It was a whirlwind romance. Platt talked with Williams the following day, and drummer Phil Ehart a day later.

“Then I flew down to Atlanta to meet with Phil and Rich for a few hours and flew back to Chicago. Went to work in my beautiful 18-wheeler the next day … got an email from Phil that said, ‘Congrats you got the job,'" said Platt.

So when Kansas plays the BCPA in Bloomington on Thursday, April 5, it will be Platt singing classic rock staples "Carry On My Wayward Son," "Point of No Return," and "Dust In the Wind." What was that like the first time out?

“It’s the greatest diet plan ever, because I think I lost 10 pounds just during that song,” laughed Platt. “It’s one thing to sing 'Carry On' in a cover band. The intensity level really skyrockets when you sing 'Carry On' as the lead singer of Kansas, and you know your first few shows are under the microscope and don’t know how you’re going to be received. But I must be doing something right because the band has been firing on all cylinders ever since.”

It’s also one thing to sing cover songs in a cover band, but how do you learn to incorporate yourself into songs that for 40 years have been associated with another lead singer? Platt said even during his cover band days he would try to make songs his own.

“But no matter how hard you try to be yourself, you are a product of the people that inspire you,” said Platt. “So there are going to be elements of them that will come out in you whether you know it or not.

What a ride it’s been. From driving a big rig full time to the lead singer of Kansas. Surreal much?

“Totally. People always ask me, ‘Do you ever wake up in the morning and you have to go back to work in your Kenworth?” he giggled. “Go back to hooking up the trailers and jacking trailers around the yard? I really have lived a double life. I’ve had the life as a truck driver, and the life of a musician,” said Platt.

And not just any musician. The lead singer of Kansas.

“I’ve lost my rookie status!” laughed Platt.

Kansas plays the BCPA in downtown Bloomington on Thursday, April 5. Showtime is 7:30 p.m.  Platt says it's one of the final times you can hear the group perform their "Leftoverture" album—in its entirety—in the sequence of the original album.

Listen to the entire interview between Ronnie Platt of Kansas and GLT's Jon Norton.

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Jon Norton is the program director at WGLT and WCBU. He also is host of All Things Considered every weekday.