When Kansas set out to make its forthcoming documentary Miracles Out of Nowhere, drummer and co-founder Phil Ehart wasn’t expecting an epic endeavor.
“I figured, ‘Yeah, it’ll take three or four months and we’ll have it done,” he tells Billboard. “Wrong. With Kansas, nothing is easy — not even a documentary. So here we are, two and a half years later, and it’s finally coming.”
The aptly titled film, which premiered Feb. 2 at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival and will be released with an accompanying CD on March 24, traces the prog rock group’s formation and rise from Topeka — more REO Speedwagon country than King Crimson — to an unlikely deal with the late Don Kirshner’s record company and international stardom with enduring hits such as “Carry On Wayward Son” and “Dust in the Wind.” Director Charley Randazzo’s film deals with the first six years and five albums of the group’s history, an underdog’s triumph that left Ehart and his bandmates even more surprised by their success now than perhaps during the mid-’70s.
“It just never should’ve happened,” Ehart says with a laugh. “There’s just no way this ever should’ve happened to six guys in the middle of nowhere. There’s no way you could ever script that — especially with a guy as famous as Don Kirshner, who couldn’t have been farther away from progressive music. It just didn’t make sense. But at the time we didn’t think that. We just kinda went, ‘OK, well, he’s into the Monkees and he’s into Kansas. Onward!’ The whole thing…It really was a miracle, you know?”
Billboard is premiering an exclusive clip from the documentary. Watch below as the band talks about the inspiration behind “Dust in the Wind.”
All six of the original Kansas members take part in the film — including guitarist, keyboardist and songwriter Kerry Livgren who suffered a severe stroke in 2009, and singer-violinist Robby Steinhardt, who had a heart attack during August of 2013 and subsequently re-shot his interview sequences in the film after losing a great deal of weight. The musicians recount tales of recording next to John Lennon and an enraged Steven Tyler trying to cut the group’s set short during a particularly inspired opening set in its home state. Most surprising to Ehart, however, was the emotional resonance he and the others felt while watching Miracles Out of Nowhere, especially as they returned to Topeka and revisited the former band house and other key sites — including the town’s historic Burnett’s Mound, on which they took an iconic publicity photo at the start of the group’s career.
“Y’know, it all went so quickly and we were traveling and working a playing so much we didn’t have a chance to really remember or realize what we were going through at the time,” Ehart says. “When some of the guys started seeing the rough edits and things I would send them, I had two or three guys tell me it was very emotional for them because they literally didn’t remember it. It’s the first time they’d actually gone back there and revisited those times, and when that ends with all of us standing on that mound in Topeka for the first time in 40 years…I was like, ‘Really, you got emotional?’ ‘Oh, yeah man. I sat there and cried like a baby.’ That’s something I didn’t expect.”
Miracles Out of Nowhere‘s release coincides with another crossroads in Kansas’ career. Last year singer-keyboardist Steve Walsh announced his retirement after two separate stints in the band, leaving Ehart and guitarist Rich Williams as the only founding members. There are no hard feelings, says the drummer. “That had been coming for a while — and it’s coming for all of us. It’s not like we’re all gonna do this forever,” Ehart says. “It was bro hugs and back pats and handshakes and a few tears and ‘Wish you all the best, man.’ ” Meanwhile, Kansas is continuing with new singer-keyboardist Ronnie Platt and former lighting director David Manion also on keyboards, which Ehart notes “gives us that two-keyboard sound like we had back at the beginning, so we’re very excited about that.”
There’s no end date on Kansas as far as Ehart is concerned, but he doesn’t think future projects will include a sequel to Miracles Out of Nowhere telling the rest of the band’s story. “No, the story’s been told as far as I’m concerned,” Ehart says. “And we’re very thankful we had the opportunity to do this and get together and have everybody friendly and getting along. People say you can’t go home again, but I think we did. We didn’t go home and stay but we went back to where we were, and between the six of us those places and those memories are still there, and it was impactful.”