Kansas, Product Creation, and Customer Demand

One of my musical heroes is Kerry Livgren, perhaps best known as the mastermind behind the band Kansas during its glory days.

Despite superb musicianship and songwriting prowess, he nonetheless has no idea what makes for a winning song — a fact he freely admits.

For example, when rehearsing prior to recording the Leftoverture album in 1976, he waited until the band had put all their gear away before announcing his new song. Drummer Phil Ehart tells the story:

When we did Leftoverture, we had practiced up in Topeka, getting
ready to go to Bogaloosa to record, Bogaloosa, LA. Kerry walks in on
the last day – I mean I’m breaking down my drums – packing them up – and
Kerry goes “I’ve written one more song for the album. I don’t know if
you guys are interested in doing it, but I’d like to at least try – once
we get down – we don’t have time to rehearse it here. Let’s rehearse it
when we get to Bogaloosa”. And I said, well OK, does it have a name?
He said yeah – it’s called Carry On Wayward Son.

Carry On Wayward Son (abbreviated by diehard Kansas fans as COWS), of course, became a monster hit. It’s played on classic rock stations regularly and was featured on the game Guitar Hero 2.

That latter fact accounts for the perpetuation of the song’s influence amongst many of today’s youth.

As an aside, there exists a possibly anecdotal story in which Kerry finds himself in a restaurant washroom when COWS came blasting over the stereo system.

A teenage boy — washing his hands in the sink nearest Kerry — said: “That song is on Guitar Hero 2! Have you heard it?”

Kerry replied, “Yeah, I’m somewhat familiar with it.”

🙂

After COWS being responsible for millions of dollars in revenue and a staple for concerts, even long after Kerry exited the band, that is quite an understatement.

In his autobiography, Kerry relates how the record company kept pressing for the band to release material it considered “hit worthy”.

Ever the purist, Kerry refused to cave in and just continued writing music that he enjoyed.

The point is simple: he had a huge hit on his hands and he did not have a clue! What he had going for him is he kept on putting out material and finally stumbled upon a song that met both his high standards and that of millions of fans.

This fact alone shoudl be a great encouragement to you.

Keep throwing oatmeal at the wall and eventually something will stick.

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