The luckiest guy in the world6/1/2016
Kansas vocalist Ronnie Platt talks to Cityview about his good fortune and what it’s like to front an iconic rock and roll band.
Ronnie Platt used to be a truck driver in Chicago before getting a text message in mid-2014 that led to the long-time cover band singer becoming the new frontman of the iconic rock and roll band Kansas.
Platt now plays nearly 100 shows a year, traveling the country and performing for sold out audiences. Kansas will be in Des Moines at Wells Fargo Arena for Boston’s 40th Anniversary Tour on June 2.
“I’m the luckiest guy in the world,” Platt said. “I really feel like I am.”
CV: What was it like getting the job? What was the process?
Platt: It happened so fast. If you blink you’re going to miss it. I mean, that’s what it was like. I was coming home from work one day and friend of mine texted me and said, “Did you see Steve Walsh’s press release announcing his retirement?”
I immediately went on Facebook and sent Rich (Williams, Kansas guitarist) a message. I wrote, “Rich, (this is) Ronnie Platt of Shooting Star. Give me some consideration.” He called me the very next day. I talked to Rich – and that was a Thursday – and on Friday I talked to Phil (Ehart, drummer). They flew me down to Atlanta on Monday. Tuesday morning I got the email from Phil, saying “congrats,” I got the job. It was that fast.
CV: When you went to Atlanta, did you try out?
Platt: No. That’s one thing that Phil and Rich said to me, because they had seen me in Shooting Star. They both stressed to me, “We’re just happy to come down to meet with you, to see if you’re a good guy, to see if you’ll fit in with the band. We’ve seen you sing. We know you can sing your butt off. We just want to know if you’re a good guy.” We had like a three-hour meeting and maybe the first 10 minutes of it was talking business. After that we were just telling stories and laughing most of the time and having a good time. They made me feel really welcome. It was like sitting down with a couple of buddies to have a beer.
CV: So the first 10 minutes were business, then you spent the rest of the time telling stories and laughing. Has it been all laughs since?
Platt: It has been. I mean, the band and the crew — there are 13 of us who travel together — we’ve all become like a close family. It’s always a good time. We’re always joking. But boy, when it comes to the music, when it comes time to step up to the plate, we’re all business then. It’s really been such a dream come true, I couldn’t tell you where the last year and a half has gone.
CV: It’s been a blur?
Platt: Really it has been a blur. In some respects it seems like yesterday, and in other respects it seems like I’ve been here for 20 years.
CV: What parts seem familiar and what parts feel brand new?
Platt: You know, we’ve done so many shows now, and you do that routine of getting on a plane and going to the city that you’re playing and checking into your hotel and getting your stuff together and doing the soundcheck and doing your meet and greet and then doing the show. Then you go back to the hotel and then do the same thing the next day. It’s that routine — that repetitive routine — that kind of makes you lose the concept of how much time you’ve been doing it. But then, on the other hand, when you look at the calendar, in July it’ll have been two years since I got the job.
CV: How many shows have you done with Kansas?
Platt: Last year we did 95. My first full month, I don’t remember, was it 25 gigs? Or probably more than that. Probably 35 gigs. So it was like, “Welcome to the band.” We haven’t stopped since. We did 95 last year, and this year we have 96 booked, and we’ll probably hit 100, if not break 100.
CV: That’s a lot right? What’s that workload like?
Platt: “I’ll be fine.” (mocks in a highly-strained voice). “No problem.” You know, it’s intense. Let me put it this way, when we have those 7 a.m. lobby calls? Everybody doesn’t exactly look too chipper. It’s like a climb over each other to the coffee pot. There’s free coffee in the lobby, get out of my way. It’s fun stuff. It can be a little grueling, but it’s all good.
CV: What’s the worst job you ever had?
Platt: In the entertainment industry? Or my worst job ever?
CV: On those 7 a.m. coffee calls, do you think, “Well, no matter what, this is better than (blank)?
Platt: Well, let me put things in perspective for you here. Just a few short years ago I was driving an 18-wheeler around the beautiful streets of Chicago. And in January and February, when I left for work in the morning, and the temperature gauge in my truck said 20 (degrees) below zero and you’re heading to work and you’re cranking up the landing gear of a trailer in 45-degree below zero wind chill and snow, you know, that’s pretty tough. But I think everything is what you make of it. And even though that was extremely grueling, I still enjoyed it. I guess I’m just one of these people who seems to find the good side of everything. And even though it was painful at times, it was a good job, and I liked it. I drove a truck for 25 years, and it enabled me to be a musician. It allowed me the freedom to still be a musician. I was working 50-55 hour weeks driving a truck, and I still had a local cover band that was playing 85 shows a year.
CV: So 100 shows is probably nothing.
Platt: Yeah that’s just it. A friend who I travel with — we both fly out of Chicago — he always says, “We don’t get paid to play shows, we get paid to travel.” The shows are free. It’s the traveling that’s the grueling part.
CV: You were in a cover band before, but how did you go about learning all the Kansas songs?
Platt: Even though I knew almost all of Kansas’s library or anthology or whatever you want to call it, there’s a difference between knowing a song and having it up to performance level. There’s a much bigger intensity with having it up to performance level, especially when you’re filling the shoes of Steve Walsh. That’s a pretty high hurdle to jump. So you know that brings back some pretty serious intensity, transitioning from learning songs in a cover band and going out and having a good time playing with your buddies on the weekend as opposed to finding yourself as the lead singer of Kansas. The Kansas fan is an intense listener. People who listen to Kansas music listen with a defining ear. Kansas isn’t the type of music you’re going to play for background music at a party.
CV: Is thre any Kansas song you gained a different or deeper appreciation for, or saw in a different light, as you learned them all at a more intense level?
Platt: Yeah. A couple of them, as far as performance level, the deeper cuts — the songs that have a lot of passion to them, “Closet Chronicles” or “Icarus,” — are just really demanding songs musically and vocally and very intense. To do those songs live, it really gave me a new perspective and a new appreciation. This isn’t easy stuff. It’s vocally challenging and musically challenging. In “Miracles Out of Nowhere,” there are a few parts in the middle where everybody’s playing these intense overlapping parts, and you all need to pay attention to each other or it could all fall down like a house of cards. But that comes with repetition and getting a feel for one another as players. We’ve really polished the music over time.
CV: How have the fans been?
Platt: Oh my God. It’s a gift that I’ve really received. I’ve gotten so much positive feedback.
CV: How would you describe the forthcoming new album to fans?
Platt: We were going to start playing a new song from the new album in a set this month, but under influence from the record company, and also realizing ourselves (that) the album is so diverse, we didn’t want to start playing a song now and give people one impression of what the whole album would be like. There are a couple songs on there that are really classic sounding Kansas. There are a couple of songs that are pretty heavy, there are couple of songs that are moody. There are a couple of songs that have a wider appeal, especially in this world where everybody has a camera and everybody has a phone. It’s so funny, we do something on stage, and before we’re off stage, it’s already on YouTube, or it’s already on Facebook. It’s wild. We have to give that some consideration. We’re so excited (and) we’re really proud of it. We can’t wait for it to come out mid-September.
CV: How is it working with Boston on the 40th Anniversary Tour?
Platt: (We get) just a couple of shows (with Boston). But boy, Tommy DeCarlo (Boston vocalist), you’re not going to meet a nicer guy. He has just got Brad’s (Delp, ex-Boston vocalist) tone and Brad’s talent. What a phenomenal singer and a super nice guy. We love doing shows with them. We wish we were doing more.