Kerry Allen Livgren (born September 18, 1949) is an American musician and songwriter, best known as one of the founding members and primary songwriters for the 1970s progressive rock band, Kansas.
Livgren was raised in Topeka, Kansas by his father, Allen Leroy, an industrial engineer, and his mother, Betty (nee McElhiney). He was drawn to music at a young age, his first musical interests developed with classical and jazz influences. His musical odyssey started with an electric guitar he built using a cheap Stella guitar, a Sears amplifier and a low-quality Astatic microphone. Along with learning guitar, Livgren also focused on learning to write songs due to his desire for more creative expression and originality. He attended Washburn University for some time.
Livgren was a member of numerous bands in the late 1960s and early 1970s and quickly developed a reputation for complex compositions and poetic lyrics that explored spiritual themes. His investigations into various religions are reflected in the lyrics of his songs on Kansas' first six albums.
Livgren formed his first band, the Gimlets, with several close friends in high school including John Pribble, drums, Scott Kessler, bass, Tim Strauss, guitar, and Dan Wright on keyboards. They soon found themselves booked after school and on weekends throughout Kansas and neighboring Missouri, where they played their original compositions, which were a blend of pop, English and psychedelic rock. After graduating from Topeka West High School in 1967, Livgren continued to perform with the Gimlets through college before joining a predominantly black mainstream rhythm and blues band named the Mellotones, in which he met keyboard player Don Montre in 1969.
Forming a deep friendship, Livgren and Montre decided to leave the Mellotones and join the more commercially viable band The Reasons Why, which included Lynn Meredith and Wright. Though this band was doing well financially, Livgren became frustrated because of his desire for more creative expression, and he and Montre decided to start their own band. They briefly reformed the Gimlets with former members Scott Kessler and Wright along with several new members. A short time later, they renamed the band Saratoga after the name on the pencil that Livgren was using to write songs. Saratoga included Meredith, Montre, Wright, Livgren, Phil Ehart and Dave Hope.
In 1970, Livgren and Ehart decided to form a new group by combining the best members from Saratoga and Phil's band White Clover (which included Steve Walsh, Rich Williams, Hope and Jeff Glixman). While Livgren and Ehart were discussing what to call the new band, Hope walked in on the conversation and suggested they call themselves Kansas. This version of Kansas (referred to as "Kansas I" by fans) was known for its complex musical arrangements and originality, but this lineup lasted for only one year.
In 1971, Ehart and Hope left the group, and Livgren reworked the band and continued it under the name Kansas. (This group later became known by fans as Kansas II and is the lineup that reformed decades later as Proto-Kaw). Kansas II continued to perform Livgren's original works that fused experimental rock with psychedelia and jazz. During this time, Kansas II recorded a demo cassette that was released commercially 30 years later. Kansas II generated a loyal fan following, and the built-in audience helped the band secure concert bookings. However, financial problems plagued the band, and after a record deal with Jefferson Airplane's label failed to materialize and an old school bus broke down while the band was on the road touring, the band dissolved in 1973.
Shortly afterward, Livgren was invited by Ehart to join the reformed White Clover, which also included vocalist Walsh, violinist Robby Steinhardt, bassist Hope, guitarist Williams and Ehart on drums. Prior to Livgren's joining the band, White Clover had sent out a five-song demo tape, which Don Kirshner was interested in for his new label. As part of the effort to sign with Kirshner, the players soon renamed themselves Kansas, becoming the third, and eventually the best-known, lineup to use this name.
After three albums in two years failed to provide them with a hit single, Kansas was under pressure from Kirshner and CBS records to write a hit. Livgren and the band realized it was their last chance. Due to Walsh experiencing writer's block, Livgren wrote or co-wrote all the songs for the group's fourth album, Leftoverture. On the last day of rehearsal for the new album, Livgren brought the band one more song, which they performed once before heading to the studio. The song, "Carry On Wayward Son", became Kansas' first hit, reaching No. 11.
Riding the success of Leftoverture, Livgren wrote "Dust in the Wind" for the Point of Know Return album. Like "Carry On Wayward Son," "Dust in the Wind" was added to the album at the last minute. Livgren said the song was an acoustic guitar warmup. While playing it one day at home when his wife was doing laundry, she told him he should put it on the album. Since the album at that point had extra time available, he presented the song to the band and it was included. It became their highest charting single, reaching No. 6.
In early 1979, Livgren became interested in The Urantia Book, a series of papers that claim to be a revelation authored by supernatural beings. Its influence can be felt in the lyrics of Kansas' 1979 album Monolith. Livgren subsequently rejected Urantia doctrine, and while on tour with the band in support of Monolith, he converted to Christianity. This was a result of a series of debates in the back of the tour bus with Jeff Pollard of Louisiana's Le Roux, the opening act for Kansas during the tour. The discussions between Livgren and Pollard concerned whether the Bible or the Urantia Book was the accurate record of the life of Jesus Christ. Because of the debates, Livgren became convinced that the Bible was the genuine record of Christ and that he had been mistaken in following the teachings of the Urantia Book. After a private hotel room conversion experience, he became an evangelical Christian.
In 1980, Livgren released his first solo album, Seeds of Change. The album features several members of Kansas, along with Ambrosia singer David Pack and noted heavy metal singer Ronnie James Dio, who sang on the tracks "To Live for the King" and "Mask of the Great Deceiver."
Livgren recorded three more albums with Kansas. However, tension was growing among the band members as a result of the increasingly Christian perspective of his lyrics. He was increasingly dissatisfied with the band's musical direction (at least in part due to his newfound faith) and Steinhardt and Walsh left the band. This led to Livgren's exit from Kansas in 1983.
Livgren has continued to appear occasionally with Kansas on various tours since the 1990s and contributed new songs to The Kansas Boxed Set in 1994 ("Wheels") and to Freaks of Nature in 1995 ("Cold Grey Morning"). In 2000, the original and current members of Kansas reunited at Livgren's studio to record a new album written entirely by Livgren, titled Somewhere to Elsewhere. Though the album received very favorable reviews, sales were not comparable to Kansas' past successes decades earlier.
In 1983, after his departure from Kansas, Livgren recorded his second self-produced album for CBS, Time Line with Hope, Warren Ham, Michael Gleason and drummer Dennis Holt. By the end of the recording sessions, the session musicians had jelled, and he decided to name the group AD.
Due to legal entanglements caused by his contractual obligations with Kansas, Livgren was unable to market AD in the mainstream secular market. After negotiating with the record label, he received a waiver to perform with AD in the Christian rock market. Unfortunately, this would become a hindrance to commercial viability for the band. AD toured extensively between 1983 and 1986, sometimes playing bars and clubs one night and then churches the next. Livgren has stated on several occasions that he experienced some of the highest and lowest points in his career during his time with AD. Livgren mentions in his book Seeds of Change: The Spiritual Quest of Kerry Livgren that his time playing live with AD was his best as a guitarist.
AD released Art of the State in 1985. Due to financial difficulties, AD faded away in 1986 after releasing the album Reconstructions, though no official breakup was announced. In 1988, Livgren released a collection of previously unreleased AD songs titled Prime Mover. Livgren played all instruments, and all vocals were performed by Ham.
In 1997, Livgren rediscovered recordings of two AD performances from 1984 and 1985 that had been recorded by the soundboard engineer. Though they had not been made for release, Livgren remastered them and released them as a "thank you" to fans on a CD-R title called AD Live. The performances include mistakes and technical problems left intact and is meant as an archival release.
In 1989, Livgren released his first all-instrumental album, One of Several Possible Musiks. He played all instruments on the album, which combines orchestral, jazz and rock styles. This effort won Livgren his first Dove Award for Instrumental Album of the Year.
Livgren then released a double-CD retrospective celebrating 10 years since his first solo recording titled Decade. It included Livgren's first two albums, Seeds of Change and Time Line, in their entirety plus tracks from other albums and previously unreleased songs. Enthusiasts of Livgren's music continue to hold this album in high regard, making it very hard to find.
In 1994, after moving back to Topeka, Kansas, Livgren created GrandyZine (presumably a wordplay of the phrase "grand design") production company and Numavox Records. He converted a restored barn on his farm into a state-of-the-art recording and production facility.
In 1995, Livgren released his next solo album, When Things Get Electric, on his new label. In 1996, he released his first soundtrack for Sony's fourth Mind's Eye computer animation feature titled Odyssey into the Mind's Eye. In 1998, Livgren mostly re-recorded the album Prime Mover and added five new songs and a new version of "Fair Exchange" from the Kansas album Vinyl Confessions to the reissue, Prime Mover II. (He reworked and reissued the album again in 2008 as Prime Mover (Redux).)
In 2000, Livgren released Collector's Sedition, featuring several vocalists including his nephew, Jake Livgren. At this time, Kerry Livgren was writing new songs prolifically and realized that some of them "sounded like Kansas." Kerry called up Phil Ehart and offered him the opportunity to hear the songs. This led to a reunion album with Kansas titled Somewhere to Elsewhere, which featured the then-touring version of Kansas along with Livgren and Dave Hope, the original bassist. The album was recorded at Livgren's Grandyzine Studio in his converted barn where he performed on the album as lead guitarist and keyboardist and produced the album. This was the first time Livgren had written all the songs for a Kansas album.
Shortly after the release of Somewhere to Elsewhere, Livgren began work on The Best of Kerry Livgren. Both retrospective and forward-looking, it contains tracks from all his solo releases and some AD tracks. The album also includes two new songs and new recordings of four older songs. Each of these new versions features the original vocalists, including Ham, Gleason and Dio.
In 2003, Cuneiform Records issued a collection of material recorded by Kansas II, the early lineup that had included Livgren, Meredith, Wright, Montre, John Bolton, Rod Mikinski and Brad Schulz, calling the group Proto-Kaw. The band then reformed under that name and released Before Became After in 2004 on Inside Out Records.
They released their second album, The Wait of Glory, on January 31, 2006, also on Inside Out Records. Unlike Before Became After, this work was composed of entirely new material written by Livgren as well as a live DVD of Proto-Kaw's appearance at the 2005 NEARfest.
On May 20, 2007, Proto-Kaw announced that band members were back in the studio working on a new album consisting of new material and reworking older songs from Livgren's solo works. The untitled album's release date was not announced.
In December 2008, Livgren announced that Proto-Kaw was no longer together due to the band members' other commitments. The CD they had been working on, when and if released, will be a solo release by Livgren with no definite release date.
In late 2010, Livgren announced that the members of Proto-Kaw had decided to finish working on the band's partially finished CD. Although he could no longer play guitar or keyboard, Livgren worked diligently with other band members to finish recording the CD and did all the mixing and post-production work at his home studio. On August 6, 2011, the band had a CD release party in Kansas City for their fourth CD, entitled Forth.
Livgren has resumed work on one of his most ambitious works to date, titled Cantata: The Resurrection of Lazarus. It is an epic, orchestral and vocal composition based on the Biblical story told in John, Chapter 11, and is still in production. It has been in development for more than 20 years and features a large ensemble cast. Numerous vocal talents are being considered for the roles.
Livgren also currently teaches an adult Sunday School class at Topeka Bible Church and has posted a theological study on his Web site.
Though Livgren is known for his music, he is quick to point out that it is only one of his many pursuits. On his Web site, he quotes his biography: "I'm a family man, I have a role in my church, I'm running a record label, a studio, a production company, a farm, and I have more hobbies and interests than there are hours in the day."
As primary songwriter, lead guitarist and keyboard player for Kansas, having penned such hits as "Carry On Wayward Son" and "Dust in the Wind", Livgren propelled the band to worldwide success and critical acclaim, with numerous gold and multi-platinum albums and more than 14 million recordings sold to date. Kansas produced eight gold albums, one platinum album, two quadruple-platinum albums, one platinum live album, and a 1 million-selling gold single, "Dust in the Wind", according to the Kansas State Historical Society.
"Carry On Wayward Son" has been covered by bands including Dream Theater, Rachel Rachel, Critical Mass, Shryne, Yngwie J. Malmsteen, Stryper, and country superstars The Oak Ridge Boys as well as continuing appearances on album soundtracks such as the movies Heroes and Anchorman. It is also featured in the video games Guitar Hero II, Rock Band 2 and Guitar Hero Smash Hits. The song also was used prominently in the TV series Supernatural.
"Dust in the Wind" has been covered by Sarah Brightman, Gabriel & Dresden, Christian artists Billy Smiley and Acappella and by New York Yankees center fielder and aspiring jazz guitarist Bernie Williams on his 2004 debut album The Journey Within. It has also been referenced in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. The song was featured in a Subaru commercial in 2006 and in the film Old School. It was also prominently featured in several episodes of the television series Highlander: The Series. It could also be heard at the end of a 2010 Honda commercial as rendered by a marching band. In a small twist of irony, "Dust in the Wind" was also covered in 2006 by John Elefante, Kansas' lead singer following the departure of Steve Walsh, who sang lead on the original version in 1977. The single was certified gold as a digital download by the RIAA in 2005, almost 30 years after it sold 1 million copies as a single.
Livgren's music is used by permission for the Theophilos Bible Software. The intro music is an excerpt from "And I Saw, As It Were … Konelrad" from the album One of Several Possible Musiks. Other portions of the software use the following songs or excerpts from songs: "All Creation Sings" from Art Of The State; "Beyond The Pale" from Time Line; "Highway to the Heart" and "No Standing" from Reconstructions; "I'll Follow You" from Prime Mover; "Just One Way" from Seeds of Change; "Racing Away" from When Things Get Electric; and "Smoke Is Rising," "Two Thousand Down" and "When Things Get Electric" from When Things Get Electric.
Kerry Livgren is listed as a "Famous Kansan" by the Kansas State Historical Society. The platinum record awarded to him for the Kansas album Monolith hangs in the Kansas Museum of History. He was also honored by the Kansas State Legislature with a commendation on April 28, 2006.
Livgren's keyboard and guitar playing can be heard on the 2nd Chapter of Acts albums Rejoice (1981), Singer Sower (1983) and Night Light (1985). He also plays on the Robin Crow album Electric Cinema (1992) and contributes a guitar solo to "Long Story," a song on Neal Morse's album Testimony (2003). In addition, Livgren recorded a guitar solo on the song "Rockstar Now" on the Crunchy album Loserville (2007).
On his Web site, Livgren reported in July 2009 that he had recently contributed to the new album by former Kansas band mate John Elefante. According to Elefante's Web site, Revolution of Mind by John Elefante and Mastedon is to be released soon.
In 1983, Livgren published his autobiography, Seeds of Change: The Spiritual Quest of Kerry Livgren, co-written with Kenneth Boa. A revised and expanded edition was released in 1991 that updated the book to cover his time with AD.
On September 1, 2009, Livgren had a stroke early in the day. His condition was reported as "serious, but stable." By September 4, family members called his condition positive and said his progress in recovering was encouraging. Livgren underwent surgery and received two stents in his carotid arteries. The area of his brain in which the stroke-causing clot formed deals with language and other high-end skills. Livgren's family says his face did not have the "sagging" often found in stroke victims, he recognized family members, and would squeeze their hands in recognition. The family established the Kansas band Web site as the only authorized source for information on Livgren's recovery. Livgren has now recovered partially and has resumed work on his various musical projects.
He made his first post-stroke appearance with Kansas on January 28, 2011, when he conducted the Kansas State University Symphony Orchestra for "Dust in the Wind" during a special concert celebrating the 150th anniversary of the state of Kansas. Livgren was greeted with a prolonged standing ovation.
Live and compilations
Oct 31, 2016
Feb 20, 1992
Jan 1, 1988