Robby Steinhardt was “the voice” of progressive rock band Kansas, a theatrical and charismatic presence whose massive mane lashed the air as he performed, explains former bandmate Kerry Livgren.
“From the moment I met him until the day he died, he was an absolutely unique person,” said Livgren. “It was an extreme privilege to have known him.”
Livgren, 71, who lives in Berryton in southeast Shawnee County, spoke to The Capital-Journal on Tuesday about Steinhardt.
The former Kansas violinist, singer and emcee died at the age of 71 of complications from pancreatitis on Saturday at a hospital in Tampa, Fla., Where he had been a patient for 65 days.
Livgren, who had kept in touch with Steinhardt, said he was surprised to learn that his friend had died after suffering a sudden drop in his condition.
“We thought he was recovering,” said Livgren.
Livgren said he wrote in his computer diary on Monday: “It’s a devastating day. I lost a very good friend.”
Steinhardt, who grew up in Lawrence, and Livgren, who graduated in 1967 from Topeka West High School, were among the co-founders of Kansas, who trained in Topeka.
The other founding members of the group were Rich Williams, Phil Ehart and Dave Hope, graduates of Topeka West in 1968; and Steve Walsh, who grew up in St. Joseph, Missouri. They all survive.
Steinhardt served as master of ceremonies and shared lead vocals with Walsh while performing with Kansas from 1973 to 1982 and 1997 to 2006.
After:Robby Steinhardt, former violinist and singer of Kansas band, dies at 71
Robby Steinhardt is remembered for his hair, his independent streak
Many people will fondly remember Steinhardt, Livgren said.
He said Steinhardt was an “absolutely independent” person who kept the same hairstyle for decades, until the day he died.
Steinhardt was quite proud of her “amazing” hair and the fact that it didn’t get thinner despite her advanced age, Livgren said.
“He wasn’t going to change for anyone, not even Father Time,” he said.
Steinhardt’s sense of independence at times made him difficult to work with, Livgren said.
“You never knew what he was going to say next,” he said.
But Steinhardt was also very generous and kind, said Livgren.
Livgren recalled that as the Kansas members gathered at Livgren’s Berryton studio to record “Somewhere to Elsewhere,” released in July 2000, Steinhardt regularly brought in fresh donuts and pastries from a Lawrence bakery.
“He was just a very thoughtful person like that,” said Livgren.
Topeka disc jockeys recall Kansas influence
Steinhardt was known to be kind to fans and also for his impressive stage presence, Topekan Marshall Barber said.
Barber, graduated in 1968 from Topeka West, became the first disc jockey to play Kansas music on the radio.
He said he played songs from a band the band created while working early in the morning on Topeka’s KTOP-AM radio.
“I was actually playing their records before they had one,” Barber joked.
Steinhardt’s violin playing was a key part of what made Kansas music unique, he said.
Violins were not unknown in rock music at the time, having been used in songs such as “Eleanor Rigby” by the Beatles, Barber said.
Still, Kansas has used the violin as a solo instrument in a new and different way, he said.
The band’s songs had a sense of sophistication and creativity, both lyrically and musically, that didn’t tend to exist in other popular music of the time, Barber said.
Kansas has sold over 15 million records while placing seven hits in Billboard Magazine’s US Top 40.
Kansas has created “some of the greatest songs of all time,” said Ethan Jackson, associate director of programs for Topeka-based classic rock radio station KDVV-FM / V-100.
Jackson, 23, said age prevented him from seeing Kansas in its prime. Jackson said he still appreciates the band’s music and the significant influence it has had on progressive rock.
Kansas’ greatest songs include “Carry On Wayward Son,” “Point of Know Return,” and “Dust in the Wind,” Jackson said.
The latter was the group’s biggest hit, reaching No. 6 on the Billboard Top 40 in 1978.
‘Dust in the Wind’ and writing for violin
Livgren, who composed “Dust in the Wind,” recalled Tuesday that at the time of writing it, he didn’t think the song was good for Kansas.
But the other members of the group, including Steinhardt, convinced him otherwise.
Steinhardt was the only member from Kansas to read music, recalls Livgren, who was one of the group’s main songwriters.
He said that when he composed music he usually used a piano to show Steinhardt the violin parts he had written for him.
On “Dust in the Wind,” said Livgren, he wrote parts for violin and viola that Steinhardt played.
“I don’t think he had a viola,” Livgren said. “Maybe he rented one.