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Kansas violinist Robby Steinhardt takes his final bow

Bill DeYoung

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Robby and Cindy Steinhardt on their wedding day, April 14, 2016. Photo provided by Cindy Steinhardt.

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.”

Glory days: Steinhardt (fourth from left) and Kansas. Sony Music.

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

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18 Comments

18 Comments

  1. Avatar

    JOHN DONOVAN

    October 25, 2021at3:31 pm

    Kansas is one of my all time faves from the later 70s onward. Completely unique sound.

  2. Avatar

    Mary Ann

    October 25, 2021at4:46 pm

    This album is a great send off! Robby will always be a piece of my musical sound track of my life!

  3. Avatar

    Mike Huegel

    October 25, 2021at8:33 pm

    Kansas is America’s progressive rock band. Steinhardts contribution to it’s unique sound was unmistakable. RIP, R.S.

  4. Avatar

    LordPuck

    October 26, 2021at9:38 am

    Kansas was the epitome of Rock N Roll with an ingrain of Classical revival; Steinhardt was the driving wheel to that Kansas symphonic sound, Walsh’s voice was that North American Indian wailing true to his spirits that embraced the dark history of Indian genocide, who subliminally crafted his voice to allude to this great sacrifice. Kansas will always be my favorite, Kerry Livgren was a poet too, and it’s a sad transition to see them fall from that lofty place, they will forever be in my mind. God bless, Kansas.

  5. Avatar

    Robert Nelson

    October 26, 2021at11:01 am

    I bought Song For America based solely on the cover while at NTSU in 1974. Been a fan ever since
    I saw the band in 1977 in South Florida while in the military. Styx was the support act.

  6. Avatar

    John Caverly

    October 26, 2021at12:33 pm

    I have deep gratitude for Robbie’s contribution to making my life more enjoyable and exercising my brain as well.He will be missed of course more than words can say…wow but what an immense legacy he has left for posterity,all those hot licks and rhetoric….Eagerly anticipating his latest work of love…..and Ian Anderson is included…I will now listen to another treat Robbie covering a new day yesterday..

  7. Avatar

    Michael Nicolay

    October 26, 2021at12:59 pm

    I grew up as Kansas was growing. Saw them several times. RS will be missed RIP.

  8. Avatar

    Daniel Fuhs

    October 26, 2021at1:06 pm

    The’ll never be a band like Kansas thanks for all the good memories,Robbie steinhart may you rest in peace.

  9. Avatar

    Jessee

    October 26, 2021at3:04 pm

    I saw Kansas twice in the 70’s & early 80’s, and was amazed at how they put 150% into their show, you really felt that, these guys were giving it their all.

  10. Avatar

    Sylvia Rusche

    October 26, 2021at4:11 pm

    I used to see him on planes flying out of TIA. I sat next to him once and told him he looked familiar. He replied that he was a musician and I said would I know his work. He just looked at me smiling and said “Dust in the Wind”.

  11. Avatar

    Scott J Dunfee

    October 26, 2021at5:06 pm

    I was born in 1967.7 years after, I was “properly” introduced to the band Kansas, the debut release, at my neighbor next doors’ place. Rob Montgomery, an amazing Bassist out of New Hope, Minnesota, the neighbor. As he taught himself and learned every piece by Kansas and Rush at rehearsal level sound, the songs were FELT, not only HEARD. Not 1 Kansas album EVER have I overlooked since day 1 ! A PINNACLE within the vast majority of my 54 years here on Earths grounds, Rob & Kansas are most literally a part of my entire being, I wish for a tremendous continuous success of his personal release. I thought he’d recovered, I only learned of his passing just now so I am deeply shocked. RIP Rob, you’re gonna be missed dearly . Condolences belated to all friends & family near and far. Keep the music audible & spread legacy proud 👍

  12. Avatar

    Scott Simmons

    October 26, 2021at9:22 pm

    Another tremendous piece Bill. Thank you bringing us up to date.

  13. Avatar

    Robert Christian

    October 26, 2021at10:01 pm

    As being a born and bread Kansan, breaks my heart to hear the news.rest in peace Kerry.Thanks for the memories.Carry on my wayward son,ride the lightnings hand thru the closet chronical.You will be missed RDC Wichita kansas

  14. Avatar

    Scott B.

    October 26, 2021at10:05 pm

    Masque and Point of No Return are always in play in my car. , They are my 2 favorites from the extraordinary Kansas. Never not in the mood to listen to Kansas. The songs Robbie sing are my favorites. No lack of respect to Steve love Steve..
    Robbie always got the biggest ovations at the live shows. I really look forward to this album.
    Robbies kindness will always be remembered.

  15. Avatar

    Robert Christian

    October 26, 2021at10:08 pm

    As a born and bread Kansan,breaks my heart to hear the news.to many memories to list.carry on the wayward son,on the lightnings hand for the song for American.You Will be missed.Robby

  16. Avatar

    Scott

    October 27, 2021at1:25 am

    This beautiful soul and great musician left his mark in music history with his violin on “Dust”, a song that will live forever.

  17. Avatar

    Mike Wilkerson

    October 27, 2021at1:38 am

    Grew up listening to Kansas. Saw them 3 times in birmingham alabama. They never got the credit that they deserve. Rest in peace. Mr Stienhardt

  18. Avatar

    Joe Boudreau

    October 27, 2021at9:19 am

    Robbie and his “Close personal friend” Scott Robbins are in rock & roll heaven.

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