Robby Steinhardt and Solar Studios announce Robby’s first and only solo recording, Not in Kansas Anymore. Release date: October 25th, 2021.
You know him as the legendary violinist, vocalist, and frontman for the band KANSAS, recording 9 albums that reached gold, platinum, and double platinum status, and is now making another mark on the world with his first and only solo album.
The new album, Not in Kansas Anymore is a powerful, well-thought-out offering of Prog Rock magic. Timely songs with incredible arrangements and virtuoso performances. Robby’s vocals and signature electric violin come through on this continuous work labeled a “Prog Opera”.
In his only interview for the project, he spoke with Bill Shafer of PBS. Steinhardt was asked what the meaning behind the title Not in Kansas Anymore was. Steinhardt responded, “It’s not slight against the band, no never! My time with Kansas defined a big part of my life, of which I am very proud of. Ever since The Wizard of OZ, those words have become an American axiom for moving forward, you can never go back etc.” Robby laughed, “I guess it has a special meaning when it is fixed to me.”
The album, produced by Michael Thomas Franklin, is his latest production since the highly acclaimed Jon Anderson 1000 Hands Chapter One. Franklin used a similar approach using a large cast of renowned musicians to lend their talents. Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull, Steve Morse of Deep Purple/Dixie Dregs, Billy Cobham of Mahavishnu Orchestra, Bobby Kimball of Toto, Chuck Leavell of The Rolling Stones, Liberty Devitto (Drummer on Billy Joel’s hits), Jim Gentry, Pat Travers, Billy Ashbaugh (Moody Blues/Pat Benatar), Lisa Fischer (longtime vocalist for The Rolling Stones), 1000 Hands members Michael Franklin, Tommy Calton, Tim Franklin, Jocelyn Hsu, Rayford Griffin and Benoit Lajeunesse and many others including Orchestra and Choir.
The songs provide powerful lyrics, hard to forget choruses, combined with crafty playing. All this combined with Franklin’s lavish and complicated arrangements makes listening toNot in Kansas Anymore a wonderful hour well spent. The stunning album artwork created by Tom Lupo of Magnificent Pictures and subliminal song quotes from the Wizard of OZ are another added feature to this complex Prog Opera. Currently, four videos are in the works.
Robby was a big fan of local vinyl vendors. Here is where you will be able can to find LPs and CDs locally www.solarmusic.com/
Bill Shafer Growing Bolder at PBS Growing Bolder episode featuring Robby in 2018 before he started the project can be found here: https://growingbolder.com/stories/robby-steinhardts-unlikely-incredible-journey/
PoP: Thank you for sitting down with us here at Power of Prog.
John: Thank you. It is a privilege!
PoP: Tell us a little about yourself, your musical training?
John: I started taking piano lessons when I was five years old but stopped at around ten years of age. My teacher, a wonderful elderly woman, would only let me play classical music and hymns…but it introduced me to some gospel-type playing. I then did not play much until I was about 14 when I got into my first rock band. At that point, I returned to the piano and taught myself all about chords so that I could start to write music. In college, I took a few music theory courses and I continue to learn to this day.
PoP: How long have you been a professional musician, and who or what inspired you to become a musician?
John: My first inspiration to get into a band came from artists like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Joe Cocker, Leon Russell, Humble Pie, Deep Purple, and many others. My first paid gig was when I was 15 in a band named Anxiety’s Moment. It was a good introduction because most of the band were at least 4 years older and experienced. I fronted that band as lead vocalist but didn’t play keyboards. We did a lot of Uriah Heep and Deep Purple. After that I started to get into prog-rock bands like King Crimson, Genesis, Yes, and ELP, which led me and my close friend, guitarist Ron Dominicis, to start bands that largely did original material. That culminated in the formation of a band named Harlequin (currently renamed Harlequin Reborn) that booked out of Pittsburgh and played the Pennsylvania/Ohio/West Virginia market. That band was a combination of prog and glam with a lot of theatrics. I gave up on music for quite a while to get my Ph.D. and become an active biomedical research scientist. After a twenty-year hiatus, I started playing with other musicians in blues bands in San Antonio where I rediscovered my love of the piano, songwriting and playing live.
PoP: You are working on your debut album with your band Sun King Rising an Americana Rock band, can you tell us a bit about the album? For example who is on the album?
John: Sun King Rising is just what I call my solo non-prog project versus being a full-blown band, although it is likely that I will put a band together around it. This album is really focused on my love of more organic rock music like that of Joe Cocker, Leon Russell, early Elton John, Dan Penn, and a host of others. It reflects my love of southern rock and country soul. The album is calledDelta Tales because it focuses on southern themes and I live in the Texas delta of the Rio Grande Valley. I have a lot of great musicians on this album. Steve Acker, from the great 70s band LAW, is producing. He also plays guitar and provides background vocals. Without Steve, this album would not be getting done as fast or be as good as we think it is. My cousin, Steve Schuffert, is playing lead guitar on the album. He is an amazing musician who spent a lot of time in Nashville as a session musician as well as producing quite a few albums as a solo artist or as part of his blues band. David Granati of the Granati Brothers is also playing some guitar, as well as doing some of the engineering. The drummers include George Perilli who played extensively with Michael McDonald, John Sferra of the incredible band, Glass Harp,Andy Taravella of the ADD Band, and Mark Francis who is my drummer from Harlequin Reborn. The bass players include Jeff Bremer, Bambo Kino, and Eddie Costa (also of Harlequin Reborn). Hermie Granati, also of the Granati Brothers, provides some additional very soulful keys. Jacob Wynne wrote the horn charts and provides the talents of the fantastic Cold City Horns. Katherine O’Neill also plays some pretty violin parts on it. Most of these players are from the Pittsburgh and Northeast Ohio area where I grew up. There are also some fabulous back-up vocals by great singers such as Shawn Mayer of Nashville.
PoP: Who writes your songs? What are the main themes or topics for most of your songs? Do you think these topics will change over time?
John: I’ve written most of the songs on the album. Steve Acker is contributing an additional two songs and Steve and I have co-written another. While not a concept album, Delta Tales is thematically coherent. It is about the southern experience. The songs reflect vignettes of love found, love lost, family, faith, historical burden, betrayal, sin, and redemption set in a southern cultural landscape. The root subjects are pretty universal.
PoP: What makes a song stand the test of time such as The Beatles’ Let It Be?
John: The song needs to have a great hook and it needs to connect to the listener emotionally. Most of the great classics have these features. Take the songs of the truly great songwriter, Jimmy Webb. A song like Wichita Lineman paints a picture that draws the listener in and then imprints it in memory with an awesome melody. The true greats of Americana songwriting like Randy Newman and Leon Russell have this ability. They are literate, melodic, harmonically interesting, and classically memorable. Their songs are strongly evocative, loaded with atmosphere, and can mean different things to different people.
PoP: What is the creative process like?
John: It varies quite a bit. Usually, a song comes to me when I’m sitting at my Yamaha grand piano and playing, which I try to do for at least an hour a day. I’ll develop a chord progression and a melody. Sometimes, I’ll already have a lyrical theme in mind or even a title. I keep a document filled with phrases that I come up with that I can incorporate in songs. The Sun King Rising songs tend to be simpler and shorter, of course, than what I write for Harlequin Reborn.
PoP: Where do you sing besides the studio or a live performance?
John: I sing in the car a lot when I’m working out phrasing! Also, I’ve been known to go out to do competitive karaoke.
PoP: What instruments do you play?
John: I mainly think of myself as a singer/songwriter but the piano is my number one instrument that I connect with the most strongly. I’m not bad at playing Hammond organ either. I play both on the SKR album. Of course, I play lots of other keyboards in HR including various synths and my prize mellotron.
PoP: What is the most trouble you’ve ever gotten into as a musician?
John: Ha! Luckily, I’ve not been in much trouble at all.
PoP: What was the most memorable time in your music career?
John: It probably has been working on the Delta Tales album. It has been a truly wonderful experience to work with such great musicians. The first Harlequin Reborn reunion show in 2015 also was awesome.
PoP:` How about a track by track break down?
John: Sure. We are still working out the exact list and running order of songs. Because we want to put it out on vinyl also, we have some physical constraints that remain to be worked out. Beneath the Southern Sun is a new song that I wrote for the album that is a real rocker and features a jaw-dropping guitar solo by Steve Schuffert. It is a song about a fictional southern family’s history. Let There Be Light is a song with a hope-filled message that I probably wrote 10+ years ago. It is also up-tempo and has a pretty good hook in it. Milkweed and Thistle is one of my favorites. It’s a new song about loss but still rocks and probably has my favorite lyric on the album. It has the flavor of an early Elton John song when he was in his more country period. Horns play an important role in several songs since I am a big fan of those powerful horn sections heard so often on southern soul records. Love Turns Grey is a Leon Russell-Esque funky song that has some awesome horn lines in it. In a State of Grace is a mid-tempo rocker that also has a good horn section in it. There is also an amazing cover version of an old R&B song, The Snake, with a huge horn and background vocal sound that is like something that Joe Cocker and Leon Russell could have put together on their Mad Dogsand Englishmen tour! Down the Delta Road is a poignant southern love song with a cool violin part by Katie O’Neil. Evangeline is a newer song I wrote with Steve Acker. It is a beautiful southern ballad of lost love with only piano and strings backing it. Steve also has contributed two other songs on the album including a remake of his wonderful song Take It Down that he originally recorded with LAW. He also wrote The Lions of Gettysburg which is a song about the Civil War with an awesome hook in the chorus.
PoP: Let’s say I asked you to describe your musical style as if you were a painter. How would you describe your music pallet using vivid colors?
John: For the Sun King Rising, I’d use the colors of earth, sea, and sky to depict the cotton and cane fields of the southern delta country. Maybe they can be painted in an expressionist style so you can sense the heat, humidity, and the smells of the soil and wetlands. Figuratively, I’d want to show the southern human textures of toil, honor, hospitality, and grace infused with religious references that still dominate the southern cultural environment.
PoP: How long has this project been around and when do you plan to release it?
John: Some of my songs on it are as old as fifteen years but several are very recent having being written specifically for the album. The album will be released on PeacockSunrise Records hopefully in the summer of 2020. The vinyl may be a problem due to a worldwide shortage, but we will also be releasing it digitally and on CD.
PoP: You are also in a progressive rock band, Harlequin Reborn, a band that is as different as night and day from the Sun King Rising. Can you tell us about this project?
John: Harlequin Reborn is my symphonic prog rock band that has been resurrected, or reborn. It allows me to write more complex and longer pieces. I also tend to sing quite differently in HR. Basically, I suppress my southern twang! HR songs are harmonically more complex and let me write more literary lyrics that can be more abstract. HR songs generally start from a concept and then I find the music within myself that fits the story. HR also functions as a live act with a significant stage show, although we haven’t played in the past two years. We had to cancel a gig recently because of the untimely death of our incredible keyboard player and my close friend, Tom Dyer.
PoP: Are you working on a release for Harlequin Reborn?
John: We have worked on a release since 2015 but have abandoned our original idea to initially put out a live album. We scrapped that and are now well into a studio album. It will be called Scenes From the Harlequinade. I will return to the studio to finish it up after we wrap up all the final bits of the Sun King Rising project. We have not signed with a record company yet but are in initial talks.
PoP: Are you planning a tour or select shows with either of the bands?
John: We are just now working on some initial plans to do a couple of select gigs for Sun King Rising. SKR is substantially easier to organize for live performances than HR which is really limited to large stages due to the theatrics. Luckily, we do have a complete production company (led by my production manager, Jeff Schuffert, and our front-of-house genius Pat Benigas) that can handle quite a range of venues. Anything more than a short tour would be hard due to the burdens of day jobs etc. We would also be very interested in any festival work that may come our way once we are out of the plague season!
PoP: What process is more magical, playing live and sharing your music or creating the magic of music?
John: For me, it is the creative process. Writing the song, arranging it, and searching for that golden artistic spark is extremely satisfying.
PoP: If you could put together a band of your idols (past or present) for a one-time album and tour, who would be a part of it and why?
John: Leon would be playing the piano that is for sure. Maybe add Booker T on the organ! I’d like to have Ray Charles backup singers also! There are tons of great rhythm sections that I’d be happy with. On guitar, I’d want my cousin, Steve Schuffert, because he is as good as anyone I have ever heard.
PoP: What ten albums should be in every seriously good music collection?
John: I can’t do it. There are way too many. It changes daily for me! From a SKR perspective, I would have to include albums by BobDylan, Joe Cocker, Leon Russell, Randy Newman, Jimmy Web, Carole King, Laura Nyro, John Hiatt, William Topley, and Al Green.
PoP: What’s the last album you listened to?
John: The last three according to my Amazon music account are: Music for Piano, Voice and Chamber Ensemble from The Thomas De Hartmann Project, All in the Downs by the remarkable William Topley, and the Italian prog band Saint Just’s eponymous album, a little known gem from 1973.
PoP: What makes you happy and what ticks you off?
John: People being kind and thoughtful to one another makes me happy. A beautiful work of art or a great book also make me happy. Being with my friends, hearing live music, and playing music make me happy. Traveling the world makes me happy. Debussy’s harmonies make me happy. A fine champagne definitely makes me happy. Ignorance and greed tick me off. People who abuse children or animals enrage me. Bad drivers upset me. And bands who wear shorts and tennis shoes on stage (unless you are a drummer and then I’ll probably hide you behind tinted plexiglass)! Not being able to tell the band from the audience is a real drag for me, although I realize it is idiosyncratically shallow of me to reveal such sartorial contempt.
PoP: What does success mean to you, not as a musician, but as a person?
John: Success is reflected in the kindness and charity that you show others in need. I have been very fortunate in life. I try to help others, especially musicians when I can.
PoP: How has the music landscape changed since you have become a professional musician?
John: There are nowhere near as many live venues for young musicians to hone their performance skills and they don’t pay nearly as well as they once did. However, the ability to have high-quality recording technology in the home has benefited musicians by giving them greater access to audiences. The sheer amount of new music that is now available due to this technological egalitarianism is daunting, however.
PoP: If you could put one thing back into Pandoras Box what would it be?
John: The advent of software-based autotuning tools that have led people who should not be singing to put out records that are fit only for the demons of Gehenna to listen to.
PoP: Do you see value in streaming services such as Spotify and YouTube for example?
I don’t use Spotify but I often go first to YouTube when I’m checking out a new band or trying to find an old song. I like Bandcamp because they have an incredible variety of great music available and it is “close” to the source of the music, the musicians themselves.
PoP: If you could perform anywhere in the world, where would it be? And who would be your warm-up act?
John: My goal is to play in Europe, especially the UK and Italy. I am friends with lots of musicians, so I’d probably choose somebody local who complements whatever act I was touring. If it was a prog show, there is no doubt that I would want my good friends in This Winter Machine to play on the bill, although I think it more likely that we’d be warming up for them!
PoP: What influences your songwriting?
John: My mood, a painting that I see, or a nice lyrical phrase all can stimulate the process.
PoP: What is the best advice you’ve been given professionally?
John: Frankly, it was to go to graduate school because the likelihood of having a career in music was vanishingly small. Also, in my early years, someone suggested that I learn as much music theory as possible because it would greatly expand my musical palette. They were correct!
PoP: What advice would you give to an aspiring musician?
John: Make sure you get a good education that can provide you with the necessary expertise and a skill set that can help you have a sustainable career even if the ultimate focus is not music. Music will always be there to inspire.
PoP: Have you ever thought about being something other than a musician? Oh, wait you do… you have a Ph.D. in Genetics. That’s some pretty heavy stuff, tell us a little about it?
John: Ha! I am a professor of Human Genetics at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine. I am a biomedical research scientist working in the area of the genetics of common complex diseases like heart disease, diabetes, psychiatric diseases, neurological diseases, and infectious diseases to name a few. My group does a wide variety of things including genome sequencing, stem cell biology, and the development of mathematical and statistical models to enhance discoveries relevant for advancing human health. I am far better known in science than I am in music! I’ve published about 700 peer-reviewed papers in the biomedical literature and have been fortunate to have been asked to give talks in more than 40 countries and all continents except Antarctica (still waiting for that invitation!). It has been a wonderful career that I have been very fortunate to have experienced. I also co-own a predictive data analytics company, 4TellX, that is based in Austin and that primarily works in the education space by helping school districts better understand and utilize their data to tailor education appropriate for individual students.
PoP: Dare I ask your thoughts on the current situation of the Coronavirus (COVID-19)? How do you see this affecting the musician and the people of our planet in general?
John: It has certainly been an eye-opener to see how the planet can almost come to a stop due to an extremely simple organism. It has already been devastating to musicians who require live engagements to sustain their lives. In general, I think it is very scary for people and there is a lot of disinformation that would be less impactful if we did a better job at teaching the importance of scientific process and knowledge. I grieve for places like Italy that have been hit so hard. As a scientist, I am confident that we can quickly minimize the loss of life with existing treatments and then develop a vaccine that will reduce the potential for future outbreaks. I also have developed a project in the last few weeks for identifying human genetic variations that are contributing to the different responses that we see amongst individuals who are infected.
PoP: In closing, I want to thank you for taking the time to do this interview with us. Do you have anything that you would like people to know that we did not talk about?
John: I think it has been pretty wide-ranging! Thank you very much for the stimulating questions and this opportunity to introduce myself to your audience.
“Whoosh!” follows their worldwide chart-topping albums “inFinite” (2017) and “NOW What?!” (2013). After the suspense and speculations among the fan community created by cryptic messages and interviews by singer Ian Gillan during last December, the band finally confirms the release of their 21st studio album on June 12th, 2020 on earMUSIC.
For the third time, Deep Purple join forces with producer Bob Ezrin, who invited the band to Nashville to write and record new songs. Together they created the most versatile album in their collaboration. Deep Purple “stretched out in all directions” without any limitation, letting their creativity go. “Deep Purple is putting the Deep back into Purple” was the half-joking motto in the studio after the first songs made it clear that Ezrin and Purple were on their path to creating an album pushing the boundaries of time while voicing their resentment about the current situation of the world and addressing all generations.
Ian Gillan, Roger Glover, Ian Paice, Steve Morse and Don Airey continue to travel the scope of hard rock — the textures and nuances of their recent works are anything but thudding re-treads. If you set a random play setting for the band’s entire catalogue, the result is one of the finest musical outputs to grace rock music. The band’s 20th studio album “inFinite” has become one of their most successful albums ever. It broke chart records accumulated by the hard rock legends over an impressive 50-year history, becoming their highest charting album worldwide since their milestone 1984 reunion album “Perfect Strangers”. It entered the German Official Album Charts at #1, having been awarded Gold for over 100.000 copies sold and, moreover, reached the Top 10 in an impressive number of 10 countries worldwide. It followed the release of “NOW What?!” (2013), which charted at #1 in 5 European countries, the Top 10 in over 15 countries worldwide and earned Gold Status in Germany for over 100.000 copies sold. In recent years, Deep Purple has progressively moved into new areas, piquing the interest of fans who were not born when the mighty Purple machine ruled the music world. Their holy grail of “In Rock” (1970), “Machine Head” (1972) and “Made In Japan” (1973) catapulted Deep Purple to the top in concert grosses and album sales around the world, with tracks such as “Smoke On The Water” ascending them to mega-status.
“When the Deep Purple falls Over sleepy garden walls And the stars begin to twinkle In the night…” Ian Gillan
“We’ve included everything that made the whole band smile, including Bob Ezrin. We’ve always enjoyed making music and having the incredible luxury of a loyal audience.” Steve Morse
“I‘ve been asked a lot: Is this our last album? I remember when we did “Now What?!” which is now what…8 years ago? And then we did “InFinite” or “Infinite” and Don was asked is this the last album? He said: I thought the last album was the last album” Roger Glover
Throw My Bones Drop The Weapon We’re All The Same In The Dark Nothing At All No Need To Shout Step By Step What the What The Long Way Around The Power of the Moon Remission Possible Man Alive And the Address Dancing In My Sleep
Ten Jinn have taken upon themselves a monumental task. It’s one thing to do a cover song of a famous artist and quite another to do an entire album covering that one artist. And when the artist being covered is someone as huge as David Bowie, the mountain to climb looks pretty forbidding. Additionally, when that artist has recently left us and everyone is quite likely wanting to do tributes but at the same time perhaps having second thoughts about touching the sacred shrine so soon, there’s every reason to leave the notion well alone. Ten Jinn, however, have boldly decided to pay their respects to Mr. Jones by following their hearts and recording an album entirely of Bowie covers.
They say that the best way to do a cover song is to either make it totally your own and arrange it in a completely different style (as Deep Purple used to do with Beatles‘ songs) or to strike that delicate balance between capturing the original song’s motif and its appeal while simultaneously putting the covering band’s own stamp on it. I have never been a Bowie fan (I totally respect his talent and what he gave to popular music but I just never became a fan) but I am familiar with many of his hit songs. So it’s very interesting for me to hear what Ten Jinn has achieved with their Ziggy Blackstar album because I can hear the Bowie in the music, and even at times in the vocals, but at the same time these songs sound fresh and new to me. Some of the songs Ten Jinn have covered are unfamiliar to me so they sound like new material, and if asked for my opinion I might say that they have a Bowie-esque quality to them. Vocalist John Paul Strauss manages to affect some very close Bowie-isms but never sounds like a hopeful mimic. He is confident in his own voice and that’s one of the reasons the songs come across not as copycat tribute songs but as interpretations by John Paul Strauss and Ten Jinn.
The music nearly all sounds original to me. I don’t know most of the original songs well enough to say how close Ten Jinn‘s versions are to the originals, but from my perspective, they have gone ahead and arranged the music to their capabilities and once again I am hearing fresh new music. I admit I was surprised by the album opener “I’m Afraid of Americans” because that is one Bowie song I have always really liked thanks to Trent Reznor‘s involvement. During the first listen to Ten Jinn‘s version I felt that they made a valiant effort but could not beat the original. But after the second listen I changed my view. They still can’t beat the original but what they have done with the song is, once again, made it their own and in the end, their result is a stand-alone effort. It’s like when you hear Paul McCartney praise a band for their personal take on a Beatles cover; I think Mr. Jones would have approved.
Other moments that caught my attention were the insane piano solo in “Aladdin Sane” (I don’t know if that’s in the original but it’s very cool here) and the surprising (to me) intro to “Future Legend” because it sounds so Ayreon.
Basically, I’ll say this: Ten Jinn‘s album sounds great to someone who does not have a deep familiarity with David Bowie‘s music. It can be enjoyed as an album on its own. Bowie fans might be more critical and zero in on details that go past me. But I think Ten Jinn have done a splendid job of doing an album entirely of Bowie cover songs. They struck the right balance between tribute and originality.
Ritchie Blackmore has gotten over his bad feelings about Deep Purple, and he’d play with them again if he was invited, he’s said.
The guitarist co-founded he iconic British outfit in 1968 and played a leading role in all lineups until they split up in 1975. He took part in the reunion of the Mark II band lineup in 1984 but quit in 1993 – and spent many years making negative comments about his former colleagues.
Asked about his feelings for the band now, Blackmore told The Guardian that he “bears no malice” and that he’d agree to work with them if he received an invitation – but he added: “It’s probably not probable, though.”
His revamped version of Rainbow are about to release their first recordings, and they’ll perform four dates in the U.K. next month. Though it would appear that his career is enjoying a purple patch – and despite a comment he recently made about his daughter making him laugh – he remains determined to avoid having any fun.
“I work very hard at not having fun,” Blackmore noted.
“I don’t think the world is a fun place. I’m very content in my own mind – but fun, I’m not too sure about. I don’t quite know what fun is. I don’t know why I should walk around with a perpetual grin on my face, saying everything’s wonderful. I just don’t fit into the fun area. A lot of musicians go, ‘That was fun.’ I like to think that music is very serious. It’s not fun. I’m not one of those guys that likes jamming with people and having fun. Music is too serious. I don’t feel like I can relate if I’m having fun.”
Still, he’s grateful for some things.
“It’s hard work and it’s really gratifying to do,” he said. “But fun? Fun is where someone tells a joke and they laugh for 10 seconds. Music’s much deeper than that.”
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