As a key member of the rock band Kansas, classically trained violinist Robby Steinhardt sold more than 14 million records – eight gold and two four-times-platinum albums. His instrument, and his harmony vocals, gave the Topeka group a distinctive edge on the ethereal “Dust in the Wind,” a million-selling 1977 single, and the hard-charging classic rock staple “Carry on Wayward Son.”
Unlike the other principals in Kansas, Steinhardt, who’d relocated to the Tampa Bay area in the early 1980s, had yet to record or tour under his own well-known name. In 2017, he set out to fix that.
By mid-summer this year the album, Not in Kansas Anymore, was finished. He heard the final test pressing and pronounced it to his liking. He approved the cover. And he began pulling together a band to take it on the road.
Then, on July 17, Robby Steinhardt died, from complications of acute pancreatitis, at Tampa General Hospital. He was 71.
His widow is releasing the album (subtitled “A Prog Opera”) today. “I am so proud of Robby,” Cindy Steinhardt says. “He’s got to be the most remarkable person I have ever met.
“He was so determined to do this. He did it in his way. And I’m just really sad he’s not here.”
The basic tracks for Not in Kansas Anymore were recorded in the Orlando studio of producer Michael T. Franklin, a musician and songwriter who’s worked with dozens of names from the classic rock oeuvre, including Rick Wakeman, Bruce Hornsby and Patrick Moraz – and Jon Anderson, for whom he produced the successful 1000 Hands album.
Those sessions included a who’s-who of progressive rock, classic rock and jazz legends including Jean-Luc Ponty, Ian Anderson, Chick Corea, Larry Coryell … and Robby Steinhardt.
Franklin and his brother Tim composed the songs on Not in Kansas Anymore, with input from Steinhardt, whose reputation as a perfectionist was taken into account and tested (there’s also an orchestral remake of “Dust in the Wind”).
Guests on the heavily arranged and fully orchestrated record include Ian Anderson, Steve Morse, Billy Cobham, Liberty DeVitto, Chuck Leavell, Rick Derringer, Pat Travers, Les Dudek, Toto vocalist Bobby Kimball and Rolling Stones singer Lisa Fischer. Most of their contributions were recorded separately and mixed into the tracks.
The fact that it happened at all is somewhat miraculous. Steinhardt suffered a heart attack in 2013, and underwent quintuple-bypass surgery, spending a total of 52 days in the hospital.
Not long afterward, Franklin began reaching out, proposing a solo project for the Kansas legend.
Acknowledging Steinhardt’s health issues, Franklin told Cindy “It’s my goal to help this guy go out on a huge note.” She shivers, remembering the conversation.
“Premonition? I don’t know.”
They met in 1996. Robby Steinhardt had a duo project with Tampa guitarist Rick Moon, called Steinhardt-Moon, gigging frequently around the bay area and beyond. They stopped into a Clearwater sweets shop called Ice Cream Corner, and owner Cindy Jacobs-Longfellow offered them free cones if they’d give her a CD and autograph it.
For Robby and Cindy, it was the start of a lengthy, if slow-burning, friendship. “He only came in maybe once or twice a year,” she recalls. “I didn’t ‘know’ know him – he was just a cool guy to have in my store. It wasn’t something either one of us set out to do.”
Over time, things changed, and in 2006 they moved in together, settling in north Hillsborough County.
Both had already been married and divorced. “Robby and I made a pact when we got together, that our lives, previous to being with each other, were just that,” Cindy Steinhardt says. “I came from a very protective upbringing, never did a drug in my life, never drank to get drunk, never defied the rules.
“In the early days, he looked at me once and said ‘You and I have nothing in common. We would never work.’ I told him ‘Maybe you need a little bit of me and I need a little bit of you. And that way we would work.’ It turns out, it’s true.
“He and I fell into an effortless, comfortable relationship. To say we completed each others’ sentences is so passe, but we knew what each other was thinking, all the time.”
They were inseparable, as Steinhardt-Moon morphed into a band called Stormbringer (Robby would sit in often) and as he reunited, on several occasions, with the current touring edition of Kansas.
(The “classic” lineup came together for the 2015 documentary Kansas: Miracles Out of Nowhere.)
“Their relationship was like a lot of people’s, if you don’t talk to them for a while you can pick up right where you left off,” Cindy Steinhardt reflects. “That’s kind of how they were. I guess because they were on the road so much, they basically left each other alone at home.
“But they were brothers. It was really nice that way.”
Robby and Cindy married April 14, 2016
Although he was a bay area resident for 40 years, more or less, Robby Steinhardt wasn’t one to hop up on a stage with just any old band. “People would say ‘Hey, we’re going to be playing at so-and-so. Why don’t you bring your violin and come jam with us?’ Robby wouldn’t jam. Robby wanted people who knew his work, who could play it well. And Stormbringer was that, because he knew the quality of musicians that they were.”
With Stormbringer, Cindy recalls, he particularly enjoyed a series of dates they played as “Robby Steinhardt and the Music of Kansas.”
“It gave him a lot of encouragement to even do this album now,” she says.
During the darkest days of the pandemic, the Steinhardts spent weeks at a stretch in Orlando, staying in the Franklin family home and working night and day on Not in Kansas Anymore.
In May of this year, Robby Steinhardt was hospitalized with acute pancreatitis. Sepsis set in, and the outlook, initially, was dire.
But he was on the mend when the final CD arrived from Orlando. “He was proud of it – in fact he was like, OK, that one’s done – let’s do the next one.’ He had ideas about how he wanted his next album to go. And he was really excited to go on tour. In the hospital, he kept saying ‘I gotta get better, I gotta get better.’”
He went “into distress” at 9 a.m. July 17. Robby’s doctor, says Cindy, had planned to discharge him that very day.
“He was supposed to go in for physical rehab,” Cindy says wearily, “because laying in bed for 65 days took a toll on him. But they had started to come in that week and really working with him. He was going to do the in-house rehab at Tampa General.
“It was a good day. It was a good week. We were finally getting over it. But the sepsis had other plans.”
Online presales of Not in Kansas Anymore began late afternoon Sunday. In less than four hours, more than 1,000 copies had been ordered (official website).
“I’m so proud of him,” Cindy says. “And I really hope it’s received well … and I hope Michael gets his dream, that Robby went out on top.”
In the sleeve notes to his one and only solo album, Robby writes:
In my wildest dreams, I never thought a project such as this would be possible. I am honored and privileged to have some of the finest players in our business contribute their talents to make it so. I am thankful to restart my career with these exceptional pieces of music.
A lot of love went into the making of this album and when you listen to it I hope you feel moved like we did. My thanks to everyone, musicians and friends alike, who have made my life so much richer than it would have been without them. And speaking of love … Cindy, you’re IT. Robby