'He wasn't going to change for anybody, not even Father Time': Robby Steinhardt remembered as 'voice' of the band Kansas

Tim Hrenchir
Topeka Capital-Journal
Robby Steinhardt, who died Saturday, is shown performing with the rock band Kansas, in which he was the longtime violinist and co-lead singer, in this photo from the band's Facebook page.

Robby Steinhardt was "the voice" of the progressive rock band Kansas, a theatrical and charismatic presence whose massive mane of hair whipped through the air as he performed, says former bandmate Kerry Livgren.

"From the moment I met him until the day he died, he was an absolutely unique person," Livgren said. "It was an extreme privilege to have known him."

The 71-year-old Livgren, who lives in Berryton in southeast Shawnee County, spoke with The Capital-Journal Tuesday about Steinhardt.

The former Kansas violinist, singer and emcee died Saturday at age 71 of complications from pancreatitis at a Tampa, Fla., hospital where he'd been a patient for 65 days.

Livgren, who had kept in touch with Steinhardt, said he was surprised to learn his friend had died after experiencing a sudden downturn in his condition.

"We'd thought he was recovering," Livgren said.

Livgren said he wrote Monday in his computer diary: "This is a devastating day. I've lost a very good friend."

Steinhardt, who grew up in Lawrence, and Livgren, a 1967 graduate of Topeka West High School, were among co-founders of Kansas, which was formed in Topeka.

The band's other founding members were 1968 Topeka West grads Rich Williams, Phil Ehart and Dave Hope; and Steve Walsh, who grew up in St. Joseph, Mo. They all survive.

Steinhardt served as emcee and shared lead singing duties with Walsh while performing with Kansas from 1973 to 1982 and 1997 to 2006.

More:Robby Steinhardt, former violinist and vocalist with the band Kansas, dies at 71

Robby Steinhardt remembered for his hair, independent streak

This publicity shot of the band Kansas was taken in advance of the band's 1974 debut album.

Steinhardt will be fondly remembered by a lot of people, 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 his "astonishing" head of hair, and of the fact that it wasn't thinning despite his advancing age, Livgren said.

"He wasn't going to change for anybody, not even Father Time," he said.

Steinhardt's sense of independence sometimes 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, Livgren said.

Livgren recalled that as Kansas members gathered in Livgren's studio at Berryton to record "Somewhere to Elsewhere," released in July 2000, Steinhardt regularly brought fresh doughnuts and pastries from a Lawrence bakery.

"He was just a very thoughtful person like that," Livgren said.

Topeka disc jockeys recall Kansas' influence

Steinhardt was known for being nice to fans and also for his impressive presence on stage, said Topekan Marshall Barber.

Barber, who graduated in 1968 from Topeka West, became the first disc jockey to play music by Kansas on the radio.

He said he aired songs from a tape the band had created as he worked an early-morning shift at Topeka's KTOP-AM radio.

"I was actually playing their records before they had a record," Barber quipped.

Steinhardt's violin playing was a key part of what made Kansas' music unique, he said.

Violins weren't unheard of in rock music at the time, having been used in songs such as The Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby," Barber said.

Still, Kansas used the violin as a solo instrument in a manner that was new and different, he said.

The band's songs had a sense of sophistication and creativity, in terms of both lyrics and musicianship, that didn't tend to exist in other popular music of the time, Barber said.

Kansas sold more than 15 million records while putting seven hits on Billboard Magazine's American Top 40.

Kansas created "some of the greatest songs of all time," said Ethan Jackson, assistant program director for Topeka-based classic rock radio station KDVV-FM/V-100.

Jackson, 23, said age prevent him from seeing Kansas in its prime. Jackson said he still appreciates the band's music and the significant influence it had on progressive rock.

The greatest songs by Kansas include "Carry On Wayward Son," "Point of Know Return" and "Dust in the Wind," Jackson said.

The latter was the band's biggest hit, reaching No. 6 on the Billboard Top 40 in 1978.

'Dust in the Wind' and writing for the violin

Robert E. "Robby" Steinhard, second from the right, violinist and vocalist for the progressive rock band Kansas, died Saturday of complications from pancreatitis.

Livgren, who composed "Dust in the Wind," recalled Tuesday that at the time he wrote it, he didn't think the song was right for Kansas.

But fellow band members, including Steinhardt, convinced him otherwise.

Steinhardt was the only member of Kansas who read music, recalled Livgren, who was one of the band's primary songwriters.

He said that when he composed music, he generally use a piano to show Steinhardt the violin parts he'd written for him.

On "Dust in the Wind," Livgren said, he wrote both violin and viola parts that Steinhardt played.

"I don't think he had a viola," Livgren said. "He may have rented one."