Interview With Ronnie Platts of Kansas – by John Wenlock-Smith

Ronnie Platts of Kansas talks about the band’s latest album ‘The Absence of Presence.’

Ronnie is the current lead vocalist for American rock legends Kansas and had the very difficult job of filling the role vacated by Steve Walsh when he decided to retire from the group where he had been a mainstay of for some 41 years. The band looked for a suitable replacement and they found it in fellow Midwesterner Ronnie, who had previously been in local bands that had opened shows in the Chicago Area for Kansas, after which he was involved with Shooting Star. When Kansas came calling Ronnie was ready to step up into the Big League. Here are his comments on the new album and on being part of the Kansas brand.  

John Wenlock-Smith (JWS) – Good day Ronnie, it is a pleasure to talk with you, how are you doing?

Ronnie Platts (RP) – Hi John, I’m fine thank you, struggling like everyone else at this strange time (this conversation took place as both the UK and the USA are in lockdown battling the Covid 19 pandemic that has affected the world significantly). 

JWS – We are supposed to be getting information this Sunday from the Prime Minister of how they intend to lift the lockdown, so we are all waiting on that announcement really.

RPThings are starting to lighten up here as well, as things are starting to turn around a little.

JWS – I think they have finally started to get a handle on things, I mean it is all about keeping the rate of transmission down and keeping people away from each other

RPYes (laughs) but that is a hard thing for social animals!

JWS – Very much so, I mean we have been at home here for 6 weeks now and we have only been out once to the local town which is a couple of miles away.

RPOh my goodness.

JWS – Yes it has been quite hard going at times but, as the weather has been good, we have been able to do some work in the garden, which has been nice.

RPThat is exactly what I am doing as well, planting my garden.

JWS – Right let us talk about Kansas for a bit if I may, you have a new album out in July?

RPYes that is right, have you heard it yet?

JWS – Yes I have and I am thoroughly enjoying it too, tell me how much of this one did you write this time?

RPI wrote two songs, Never, which is from a title from Phil Ehart, and Circus of Illusion, but we shared writing responsibilities with Tom Breslin and Phil came up with ideas for song titles for folks to write around. The first one being Throwing Mountains, which is pretty epic for Kansas don’t you think?

JWS – Yes, it is a great song and the video is great too.

RPI think we wanted to give the fans an insight into the working behind the band and show that we are not so serious all the time. Actually, we spend lots of our time laughing and fooling around joking. In this business I think you have to really.

JWS – I am glad to hear that Phil is throwing out titles for songs.

RPWell Phil is the boss, he’s the guy that has kept the ball rolling all these years and he is very excited by the recent success that we’ve been experiencing with this line up, we’ve been doing very well. I know from my time in the band that our audience has been growing and we’re seeing our fans bringing not only their children but also their grandchildren and the shows are getting bigger. The members might have changed but the title has not and neither has the intent or the quality of the music.

JWS – You’re obviously still hungry?

RPWell I think you must credit Phil and Rich for that as they have been in the band for 47 years now. One of the things that surprised us was how much of (previous album) ‘The Prelude Implicit’ was sold on vinyl.

JWS – Well I think vinyl has had a resurgence as people like the artwork, the sleeves and the inserts.

RPAt my age you need a microscope to read the sleeve notes which is why vinyl is a great thing. You get so many bands that used to print the lyrics and all that stuff was especially important.

JWS – Are you looking forward to taking the album on the road?

RPJohn, I cannot express enough just how excited I am to come to England and Europe and for folks to be able to see us play for them!

JWS – It’s been quite a journey for you really?

RPYes I’ve always been in bands when I wasn’t out driving my truck. All that paved the way for me to join Kansas, I’m nearly 60 now and it seems like days rather than 5 years. If we had been able to continue, I’d be nearing my 500th show now, in the first year we did 98 shows (2016) and the next we did 99! Way more than expected and a pretty full schedule. We’ve to Brazil and Chile so I’m really excited to be coming over to you.

JWS – So what did you carry on your truck?

RPCorrugated packaging.

JWS – I used to work for Bentley and everything came in that sort of packaging, we had a lot of cardboard!

RPOh, Bentley the car manufacturer? Getting back to the album anything that stands out for you from what you have heard?  

JWS Throwing Mountains and The Absence of Presence both stand out but, really, I am still in the listening and absorbing stage.

RPI might be biased because I’ve been so involved with this album as we’ve had more time to come together as a band and gel together but, I think that when people get to hear this for themselves, that they may be very impressed with all they hear from the band now.

JWS – I first heard Kansas on the Old Grew Whistle Test playing ‘Journey from Mariabronn’ and then I heard ‘Point of Know Return’ and I worked backwards from there.

RPFor me it was a similar experience except it was ‘Leftoverture’ then I worked backwards too, I guess we are of a similar age?

JWS – I am 60 now…

RPYou have a couple of years on me as I am 58 now.

JWS – Well Ronnie, sadly my time has gone so it remains for me to thank you for your time, stay safe and hopefully I will see you at the palladium in November once all this is over?

RPThanks to you too John, stay safe too and yes, hopefully I will see you there too. Thank You!

‘The Absence of Presence’ will be released on July 17th, 2020.

Review – Kansas – The Absence of Presence – by John Wenlock-Smith

It’s now the third month of the Coronavirus shutdown. In efforts to conquer the virus and to stop its devastation of both our economy and, more so, of the peoples of the world, certain politicians, who should know better before talking, have suggested some strange solutions, bleach anyone, for instance!

There is some light at the end of this dark tunnel, however and, for me, this has been the fine music that has made each day a little better. So it was great news to hear that American legends Kansas had a new album nearing completion for release at the end of June 2020. That album is called ‘The Absence of Presence’ and it is certainly very welcome in these strange times.

Everyone should have a little Kansas in their collection (and their lives) as their impressive history and collection of fine progressive rock deserves a place in every home. Well, I am glad to report that the album does not disappoint, in fact it bristles with real vigour and presence. This is the second record the band have released in three years and is a worthy follow up to ‘The Prelude Implicit’, which was the first album with new vocalist Ronnie Platts (who has replaced Steve Walsh after the latter’s 41 year tenure with the band). We are also introduced to Tom Breslin (formerly of Yes and Camel) who joins on keyboards.

The album begins with title track The Absence of Presence which opens with a few of Tom Breslin’s piano notes before a violin sweep from David Ragsdale plays a main theme before returning to a gentle piano backed melody as Ronnie Platts’ vocal is introduced. The song appears to be speaking about one who has left but whose presence is still very much felt, maybe in memories but is still tangibly missed.

The song is somewhat of an epic song from Kansas with a running time of 8 Minutes and 22 seconds and that time is wisely used to show the not inconsiderable talents of the current band with some lush symphonic sounds and some hard edged guitars and drums and that graceful violin. This is an extraordinarily strong and dynamic opener, you certainly know it’s Kansas as there are none that sound like they do and that makes a new album a welcome event indeed.

Throwing Mountains follows which has an awesome video (you can watch it at the end of the review) that you really need to see as it captures the excitement of a live Kansas performance wonderfully.

The third single from the album is next, called Jets Overhead. This track opens with some graceful piano before a hard guitar riff and violin lines are introduced, all sounding very strong and appealing. The song has some fabulous drum patters from Phil Ehart and a soaring violin part at the 2:58 point that really adds to the power. It shows Kansas are not prepared to simply rehash old ideas but carry on striving to bring us more worthy music as they head towards their 50th anniversary.

The brief track Propulsion 1 swiftly follows, an instrumental song propelled by some sturdy drumming and some fine keyboards. This segues nicely into the rather excellent Memories Down The Line which is the second single from the album again with another powerfully emotive video.

I know Kerry Livgren is no longer involved with the band yet, somehow, his presence still remains in these emotionally formed songs that could so easily have flowed from his hands. That is one of the great strengths about Kansas, the emotional connection between the words and the music and in this song they certainly have caught that connection beautifully and it is one of the standouts on this sublime album.

Circus of Illusion is next, and this features a more muscular variant of the band firing on all cylinders with some strong surging basslines from Billy Greer anchoring the song to its rhythm section and letting it fly loose.

This is followed by Animals On The Roof, which has another fine Platts’ vocal and yet more strong propulsive drums sat among some fiery guitarwork from Richard Williams and Zak Rivki. This mid paced rocker plays to all of the strengths of the current band and is another excellent excursion for all with a great violin part at the 2:42 point before reverting back to the vocal again. There is top-class stuff on offer here, hopefully we will be able to see these guys in London next year and, if so, you can definitely count me in for that!  

The penultimate track is Never which again opens with Tom Breslin’s fantastic piano before a violin line from Ragsdale begins. This is a far more gentle and softer offering than what has gone before but that gives room for the vocals to soar across the song, meaning you can really feel the warmth in this lovely song.

The album closes with The Song The River Sang which gives the whole band a window to show us their wares brilliantly and, with a fine vocal from Ronnie Platts to support everyone’s efforts superbly, this track works as a fine conclusion to what is an album of classy songs, expert musicianship, strong melodies and fine performances. As Geoff Barton of Sounds said in 1977, “Pomp Rock Lives Run For The Hills…”, he was right then and he’s still right now, I urge you all to listen to this masterful album for yourselves.

There is a common theme to many of these songs of time passing and the change that brings to us all, maybe as we are all getting older Kansas are beginning to both realise and appreciate the value of the time that we have available to us. However, whatever the thinking behind these songs, they certainly never fail to impress. The band have delivered an album that is a wonderful representation of modern day Kansas and I, for one, am very glad of that. Having been a fan for over 40 years, I am glad to still have the band in existence.

Released 26th June 2020

Buy ‘The Absence of Presence’  from Burning Shed here: