"Steve Walsh quit Kansas." The words hit me like a hammer. It was 1981. I was 17 and standing by my high school locker. My friend, Tim, who had argued about music with me constantly, although he could not sing, nor play an instrument, seemed to take a small bit of satisfaction out of breaking the news to me. "I heard it on MTV last night." He smirked. At that time, if you heard it from the lips of Martha Quinn it was carved in stone.
I remember being so bummed that day. I remember it well, because I just found out that Steve has announced his retirement from Kansas, after their upcoming August show in Sioux City.
I have been a professional singer\musician for about 30 years. And I learned to sing from emulating Steve Walsh. I didn't just imitate him a little, I wanted to BE Steve Walsh. I sang KANSAS all the way to school in the morning. I skipped school at lunch and drove the gravel roads of Yankton, South Dakota, screaming along with the band's music as loud as it would go. The songwriting, the lyrical depth, there was nobody like them in my book.
Especially when it came to Steve Walsh's voice.
Steve was a pair of lungs on legs, with an incredible vocal range. But it wasn't just his range, it was the sheer POWER and thickness he had when he sang his vowels. Where most singers sound thinner when they sing the vowels of "aaaay" and "eeee," Steve's voice hit them like most people sing "ah."
I sang to Steve's voice constantly. Day and night, any time I was in my car. If you went cruising with me in my car, you'd better be ready to hear Kansas. If I went cruising in your car, I was bringing Kansas along, and I was singing at the top of my lungs all night. All my friends had the loudest stereos in town - they had to be loud to hear Steve over my screaming.
In 1981, I scored my first pair of Kansas concert tickets. I then caught the chicken pox from my girlfriend's little brother, and at the age of 17, it almost killed me. It was awful beyond words. I missed two and a half weeks of school. Then my mother dropped the bomb: She told me I couldn't go to the concert unless I went back to school first.
I went back to school the day before the show, covered with scabs, six feet tall, and weighing under 110 lbs. It looked like someone shot a stick man a thousand times with a BB gun.
But the next night, I saw my first of my sixteen Kansas shows. Walsh running all over stage, doing hand stands on his keyboards, and singing his ass off. I had never seen a keyboard player that entertaining in my life! (You mean they don't all just sit there and play? They can MOVE?)
It was a life changing experience. After that, music is all I wanted to do. Period. And that's exactly what I did with the next 12 years of my life.
Yes, Steve has had his troubles. There was a five year stretch in the 90s, before he gave up the narcotics and alcohol, where it was tough for me to listen to him live. He was hoarse, and raspy, and needed multiple breaths to get out the melodies which fell out so easily years before.
But in '98 I saw him clean and sober for the first time. Some nearby fans who knew me, and had seen him the night before, excitedly told me, "Wait 'til you hear Steve. He can sing again." Indeed, by the third song, he was hitting notes I had thought were long gone. I beamed.
I don't want this to sound like an obituary. Steve isn't dead. He's merely retiring. And he deserves to retire if, as I suspect, he's come to dread hitting the road. He's seen a lot of buses, vans, miles, and faces in the crowd. So be it.
But I also need to make it known that Steve is one of the most under appreciated singers of all time. He deserves to be mentioned in the same sentence as Paul Rogers, Brad Delp, Steve Perry, Robert Plant, and.... and Steve Walsh.
Enjoy your weekends off, Steve.