Kerry grew up in a middle-class family in Topeka, Kansas and loved music as far back as he could remember. When he was just 14, he built his own electric guitar using acoustic guitar parts then he wired it to a cheap amplifier he purchased from Sears. He pretty much taught himself how to play guitar although he had several friends who enjoyed music so they helped each other out. He had a special knack for song writing and it became one of the most enjoyable things he did. They created a band called Gimlet and they played at various places after school and on weekends across both Kansas and Missouri. The band used a lot of Kerry’s original music.
After high school Kerry attended Washburn University in Topeka and he kept playing with the band until he left college. Most of the band members had started going different directions for more stable careers. After college he joined a few other bands trying to find the right fit both personally and professionally but didn’t find exactly what he was looking for so he decided to put a band together.
He was able to get a couple of his original band members to join along with other artists. They played a lot of Livgren's music and fused experimental rock and jazz. Their new sound began building them a great fan base and concert halls were filling up so a record label became interested in them. The band was struggling financially and then the record label went bankrupt and they never got a contract so in 1973 their band Kansas disbanded.
Livgren was devastated but he never gave up and joined with some other musicians who already had a band. In honor of Livgren, they changed their band name to Kansas. It became a tremendous group of talented musicians and due to their success CBS Records signed the group. The band recorded a few albums and toured the country but they never reached the level of success that they and CBS were expecting. Quite frankly, some of the band members didn’t care that much as long as they could continue touring and partying.
Kerry was highly intelligent and spiritual and in his band members’ words: “He kept getting more and more religious.” It got to the point where a few band members left because they didn’t feel comfortable having fun on the road anymore. He became a pretty devout Christian and it influenced his song writing.
The band still hadn’t gotten that first big hit that would put them on the map but as they were finishing their fourth album Livgren walked in last minute with a song he wanted to include on the record. The band wanted to hear it so he took an acoustic guitar and played the song; they loved it. The song was Carry on My Wayward Son and it became their first smash hit. The band didn’t know until later that it was based on a story from the Bible about the “Prodigal Son.” A lot of fans didn’t know either.
Kansas was officially on the music industry’s radar. Their next album called: Point of No Return went quadruple platinum and once again the song that was the biggest hit on the album was Christian-based and it was called: Dust in the Wind. The music video became one of the best of all time. In my opinion the song has some of the most profound lyrics ever written. Here are some of them:
“I close my eyes, only for a moment then the moment's gone. All my dreams, pass before my eyes, a curiosity. Dust in the wind. All we are is dust in the wind.
It's the same old song, we're just a drop of water in an endless sea. All we do, just crumbles to the ground, though we refuse to see. Dust in the wind, all we are is dust in the wind.
Don't hang on, nothing lasts forever, but the earth and sky, and all your money won't another minute buy. All we are is dust in the wind.”
In 1983, Livgren left the band and pursued other interests. In 1989 he won the coveted Dove Award in the Christian music industry for Best Album. Livgren began writing for orchestras and sometimes performs as the maestro at various performances. He still lives in Topeka, Kansas and teaches Sunday school. He also has a website that provides insight into his theological views.