Why You Should Know Him
If you haven’t been living under a rock for the past 30-plus years, chances are you’ve been exposed to at least one of the mega-hits that Kerry Livgren penned during his years in the American progressive rock band, Kansas. He was with the band for 13 years and lent his talents to nine Kansas studio albums during the ‘70s and early ‘80s, and then again in 2000. Livgren is responsible for the guitar work on two of the band’s most identifiable late ‘70s tracks (and mega-hits): “Dust in the Wind” and “Carry on Wayward Son.”
The ‘80s were a busy time for Livgren. His first solo album, Seeds of Change, featuring Ronnie James Dio on two tracks, was released in 1980. By 1984 Livgren had released the first album from his new Christian rock group, AD, which also featured former Kansas bassist, Dave Hope. The group released five albums of Christian-themed rock throughout the decade. Then, Livgren released another solo album in 1989 on which he played multiple instruments. But the first few years of the ‘80s also saw Livgren recording new records with Kansas, including 1982’s Vinyl Confessions, which featured the band’s third most successful single, “Play The Game Tonight,” and contributing three songs to 1983’s Drastic Measures, after which he left the group to focus on his other work.
Livgren’s playing style should be instantly recognizable to fans of Kansas, and though his solo music allowed him to delve deeper into his own personal interests for subject matter, the guitar work on his AD albums is just as impressive as his work in Kansas.
His extremely melodic style is undoubtedly the reason that so many of the songs he wrote during his time with Kansas not only became hits, but also provided listeners with tunes they couldn’t help but sing along to as they enjoyed each and every riff and guitar solo.
Over the years Livgren has played an assortment of different guitars. He has been known to play Gibson and Dean guitars, as he had endorsement relationships with both companies during his time with Kansas. Livgren’s longest relationship is with Dean guitars, and he is often seen playing a Dean Cadillac, which is essentially a Les Paul design with a V headstock, as well as Dean Vendettas and Hardtails.
Like many other artists during the ‘80s, Livgren used 100W Marshall heads and 4x12 cabinets, however today he plays through a custom built, hand-wired Jones KL-100, which he describes as an amp with the capabilities of switching between a 100W Marshall head and a Fender Twin.
We’ll try not to bore you too much with keyboard talk, but in addition to being an outstanding guitarist, Livgren also performed a substantial amount of the piano and synthesizer parts during his time with Kansas, often using a Minimoog and a Korg PS-3200.
Where Is He Now?
Livgren and several of the original Kansas members began the band Proto-Kaw after getting together to work on a project, releasing their first album in 2002. The group split in 2008 and in 2009 Livgren suffered a serious stroke.
Fortunately, he has made a significant recovery and continues to write and perform despite some physical limitations. Though no longer an active member of Kansas, Livgren has on several occasions performed with the group as a featured guest.
According to Livgren’s personal website, he is currently working on a large-scale orchestral and vocal composition based on the biblical story of John Chapter 11 entitled Cantata: The Resurrection of Lazarus. This work has been under development for over twenty years, but we have faith that it is finally nearing completion.