Local boy Ronnie Platt, age 50, became the new lead singer for legendary progressive rock band Kansas last year. It was a dream come true for the veteran cover-band lead singer who grew up listening to Kansas, Journey, and similar bands.
We caught up with Ronnie a few days before he and Kansas performed at Ron Onesti’s Arcada Theatre in St. Charles last month, to talk about what it’s like to become the lead singer of a band you idolized in high school.
FVM: So how’s the first year going? It must have been an incredible experience so far.
Ronnie Platt: The last year has gone by like a blink of an eye. But when I think about the first show in Oklahoma City [roughly a year ago], it’s plain. It seems like it was 10 years ago. How do you really put that into perspective? As I would be doing 95 shows this year, when you’re moving like that you don’t stop moving. No idle time there.
FVM: I really have to ask you, how does it feel to be the lead singer for a band that I’m pretty sure you grew up listening to? It must be kind of amazing.
Platt: Not only listening to but idolized. I’ve always been a prog rocker. I’ve always loved progressive rock. I was with a friend of mine from high school – this was like the early 80s – and I was in a bar. We were watching this cover band, and they started doing this song. And the bar just went crazy. I’m with my friend Dave, and I said, “So Dave, who is this? Why is the bar going crazy?” He says, “You don’t know this song?” I said, “I don’t know this song.” It’s Livin’ on a Prayer by Bon Jovi. And I was so oblivious to the “hair bands” back then, it didn’t appeal to me because I was such a hard core prog rocker. I wasn’t listening to that stuff because I was spending the hours of my day trying to figure out a Kansas riff.
I was consumed in my own world of trying to figure out Kansas songs or trying to learn a Rush bass line, so I kind of missed that whole boat there in the ’80s with the hair band.
FVM: What was the initial transition like? I mean, I’m sure you’ve been asked this question a bunch of times, but the lead singer is obviously the face of the band, typically, and people attach themselves to that individual. That initial transition was probably pretty difficult I would think.
Platt: Well, I’ve been lucky because I’ve become the lead singer of a band where the music is the forefront and not the players. I mean, the music is just so intense. I’ll use Journey as an example. When you think Journey, you immediately think Steve Perry, and you’ll identify it with Steve Perry. Not so much in Kansas – not to take anything away from Steve Walsh, he was just the ultimate entertainment – but the music itself is just so rich that it becomes so much bigger than the performers. So I’m lucky in that respect.
Also, with Kansas, sure, I handle the mother lode of the lead vocal, but Billy Greer does a lot of lead vocal – you know, you have two lead singers. But then we’ve also got that focal point of the violin. When we do a show, David Ragsdale is center stage. I’m at the side of the stage while Rag is doing a solo or doing the intro to Play the Game and I just look at the audience and they are just transfixed on him. So it’s evenly divided amongst the members of Kansas. Of course, Rich Williams and Phil being there from day one, people draw their attention to them because they are the real deal. They are founding members.
FVM: You said something interesting about the “real deal,” and I was actually going to ask you about that. I guess I’m wondering what you think your influence on the band is or has been – it’s early days, I know.
Platt: Oh, exactly, exactly. There is a new energy with me and Dave Manion, who handles the mother lode of the keyboard duties. I do the solemn part, Dave is the one that’s swapping that B3 and just killing it. With Manny and I – Dave Manion, we refer to him as Manny – we’re just pumped, and the energy that we have of course is infectious to the rest of the band. It’s just adding new energy to the band and everybody just feeding to one another on it, and that conveys to the audience.
FVM: Are you guys writing new music now? Because I remember when the announcement came, there was kind of a hint that that was the case.
Platt: Again, this was part of the surrealness for me — the gifts to me just keep on coming. To get in the band, to be able to be a part of Kansas is just huge in itself, but to get into the band, but then have the band have the ambition to do a new studio record, that’s another gift to me. We’re writing like crazy, everybody is just — we just have this big giant pile of ideas shimmering and we’re going to spend a week in Florida just locked in a room for a week of intense writing sessions and get basic foundations down for the songs that we decide to pursue. And then January and February, we’re going to be recording and then do post-production after that. While post-production is going on, we’re going right back in the shows.
So, you know, to be in the band, and then to have a new contract with a new label, have a new CD coming out, it’s all fantastic and just one gift right after another to me.
FVM: That’s got to be a kind of a different I would think, going into the studio and the writing and then the studio and that stuff, I mean that’s kind of be a different, because that’s really pure creation as opposed to performing.
Platt: It’s really an amazing process, it really is. We got our feet wet back in June. We ran into the studio and recorded one song and turned it into something that’s really Kansas. Just to make an experiment as to how we will work together and make sure the chemical mix is right. You know, you’re listening to Phil play his part, and then it inspires an idea. Manny comes up with something that’s like, “That’s cool, that’s cool, play that, play that.”
Then Rag was like, “Let me try to play it so I’m over that, while you’re playing there.” It becomes this big ball of momentum of creation that is really exciting and exhausting at the same time. But it’s really cool, it’s a cool process. Every song takes on a life of its own. It’s a very interesting process, and I just pray that the Kansas fans accept what we’re doing.
FVM: You’re a Chicago guy. I think you grew up in Lombard, right?
Platt: I actually grew up in Bellwood. My mother still lives in Westchester and I live in Lombard now. I’ve lived in Lombard for 15 years now.
FVM: Okay, so you’re a Chicago guy.
Platt: Yeah. I’m a Chicago guy.
FVM: So how does it feel coming home and playing? I know you guys have been down to South America and I’m sure you’re just popping all over the joint, but playing in Chicago as the lead singer of Kansas, can you put that into words, basically in your hometown, your home region? It’s crazy. How does that feel?
Platt: There’s, like, an elevated excitement. Not only myself but my friends. I know they’re all proud of me and everything and it’s really nice.
So many things are going through my mind, like “please stay healthy, please stay healthy.” You want to do great. I just want to show my friends that I’m putting 110% into what I’m doing. Isn’t it funny how you could be playing guitar by yourself, or you play guitar and dance somewhere in a bar or something, but at a family get-together, when you’re playing in front of your family, it’s a little bit of a different feeling.
FVM: Yeah, that’s a really good point.
Platt: There’s a little different feeling. That’s what it’s like, but I don’t know, I’m just so excited and I want to do the best that I can at every show, at every show.
That’s a tough thing to express, you know, how does it feel coming home. It’s different when you’re playing in front of people that you’ve known your entire life. And it’s funny when you become the lead singer of Kansas, you got friends that you didn’t realize you had before.
“Remember me? I sat behind you in Math class in seventh grade.” Oh sure.