(EDITOR’S NOTE: This interview with Robby Steinhardt–conducted by Bob Andelman–was original published in Music Magazine on August 25, 1982.)
Once Upon A Time, in a land of grain and fairy tales, a musical ensemble squirreled themselves away, as was their wont, to produce a new edition of their own special magic. Many days and weeks passed before any member of the group emerged from the place called Studio. At last, one came out, he of the Voice, and pronounced his work done. Then he quit.
“Later!” Steve Walsh shouted as he walked out of the studio door. (Some had said that the door was on its last hinge, anyway.)
Stunned and dismayed, his fellows cried out, “Which way did he go, which way did he go?” They looked high and low, far and wide, but Steve Walsh was gone for good.
What to do, what to do?
One day, the Mailman brought a package to the discouraged band. It contained some magic like the kind Walsh took away, plus a little extra. The ensemble became happy again. They sought out the New Voice and soon began to work again. spreading happiness everywhere.
Actually, Kansas was not as hard-pressed by the sudden departure of longtime lead singer/songwriter Steve Walsh as one might expect. True, the remaining boys in the band auditioned 200 replacements, but then John Elefante slipped in, smooth as a diamond stylus on fresh wax.
Violinist/vocalist Robbie Steinhardt recently took time out from the current Kansas tour to talk about the cast change and the stage of his union’s rock. Steinhardt is a Tampa semi-native, making his home here three to four months each year. He is a Rowdies soccer fan but admits a deep, long-standing distaste for the football Buccaneers.
ROBBY STEINHARDT interview excerpt: “‘Dust’ is a pleasure to play because the crowds get off on it so much. lt helps me a whole lot in my performance. I need feedback from the crowd for me to perform to the best of my ability. ‘Wayward Son’ is a neat tune. It motivates me onstage, it gets the crowd going.”
Speaking from a hotel in Philadelphia, Steinhardt said that the tour the band is on has gone well, but like record sales, not as well as the group would hope.
“People don’t seem to have a lot of money. We’ve had more than reasonable attendance; in some places it’s been sold out. Everybody’s been in good spirits… after Point Of Know Return selling 3,000,000 then Monolith and Audio-Visions selling 500,000-600,000 each, that was a slump. But in comparison to what was happening to everybody else, we were doing alright.
“The economy is so screwed up,” he continued. “We’re not losing money we’re doing fine. But we could be doing better business you have to compare it to everything that’s happening around you.”
Touring now with Survivor (and Artimus Pyle in Florida), Kansas is certainly benefitting from a band with a #l hit (“Eye Of The Tiger”), in addition to their own top single, “Play The Game.”
Last time around, Kansas was lucky enough to have another hot new band, Loverboy, start their shows.
Of course, the question on the minds of most ardent admirers of Kansas is, What about this guy Elefante? Odd name-can the dude sing or what?
Steinhardt believes, unequivocally, the answer is yes.
“He performs very well, feels right at home,” said the violinist, “Things are working out much better than I ever expected they would.
Choosing Elefante from the 200 possible candidates for Steve Walsh’s job turned out to be uncomplicated. “He’s the one who had the voice and the music, (Like Walsh, Elefante also contributes original material.) He fit the description of what we wanted, We needed a guy with the range that Steve has to reproduce live some of the songs we were going to be doing. He’s got a range not quite as high as Steve’s, but all he can do is progress from here.”
Among the other differences between Walsh and Elefante is one that Steinhardt finds agreeable in the latter Unlike his predecessor Elefante does not bounce about the stage with the same type of energy as Walsh.
“No, Jesus, I thank God. No way… some people liked the way Steve moved around. I didn’t. lt wasn’t particularly for me. John moves, but he doesn’t do acrobatics onstage. I thought it was demeaning. because I think of us as a classy act. I don’t think gymnastics are a part of what we do.”
The only hint of negativity at all, in regard to the new lead singer, is when Steinhardt says Elefante has to get used to being on the road. “But that’s something you can’t tell anybody about.
“Nobody has complained, or said he didn’t meet up to the standards that Steve Walsh left behind. Not one person.”
About Robbie Steinhardt: He played the violin or sung partial and ‘back-up vocals on every one of the nine albums Kansas has released. As mentioned, he has a home in Tampa, but would prefer to be on a boat in Hawaii or the Cayman Island. He also spends sizable chunks of each year in Atlanta, in addition to several months touring with the band. Steinhardt hails, originally, from the town of Lawrence, in Kansas.
Of the nine albums he has written just five songs. “I’m missing out money-wise, but not otherwise. I just haven’t been motivated to write for several years,” although he does hope to try again eventually. Steinhardt is best known for his play on “Dust ln The Wind”, a song that was a big seller and also very popular in concert.
“‘Dust’ is a pleasure to play because the crowds get off on it so much. lt helps me a whole lot in my performance. I need feedback from the crowd for me to perform to the best of my ability. ‘Wayward Son’ is a neat tune. It motivates me onstage, it gets the crowd going.
“If people are too far away from the stage, if they’re sitting down, calm and relaxed, sometimes it’s hard to get it out,” Steinhardt said. “It’s really tough sometimes when it’s a reserved seat affair, But I understand that certain crowds that we play for are just trying to listen to what’s going on-some of the crowds are a little older, like myself (32), and would rather be in a reserved seat situation, like I would—but when I have to play for someone, I would prefer it were a general admission show.”
Vinyl Confessions, the new Kansas album, is only riding the mid-range of Rolling Stone magazine’s Hot 100, despite the popularity of the single, “Play The Game”. The second release from the LP, “Ride Away”, is catching on slowly around the country.
A video clip of “Play The Game” is appearing on MTV regularly (“I think it came out really neat,” opined Steinhardt), and a pair of concerts were taped in Omaha f or future small screenings. The prospect of doing more work in front of the camera does not make our resident Kansan enthusiastic.
“It takes hours to do. We spent two days in the studio, about ten hours a day-make-up, all that stuff-just hanging around, mostly. It’s real boring.”
Robbie Steinhardt may be one of the few rockers of the day who isn’t particularly anxious to embrace the marriage of rock and the boob tube. He is, however, enjoying the music Kansas produces, more now than before, because the edge is off.
“l like this album better than any we’ve done. It’s the only one I actually sit down and listen to. There was no tension in the studio this time, it was a lot more up. Everything about it was a pleasant experience. The other albums have been like pulling teeth,” said Steinhardt.
Kansas was a model of the last decade. a fusion of many sounds within a stylized performance. The original still holds up, and today’s sounds are fresher and livelier yet.
It may be time to put Dorothy in a home, Toto in a shelter, and move to another state. Arizona, perhaps?