Sounding Off: Kansas finds a way out of Chicago — with help

 By  Gary Gasper
Kansas replaced Queen on the bill of a show at Chicago's Auditorium Theater in the early '70s. (Epic/Legacy/Neal Preston/CORBIS)
Kansas replaced Queen on the bill of a show at Chicago’s Auditorium Theater in the early ’70s. (Epic/Legacy/Neal Preston/CORBIS)
It was the early ’70s and the concert scene in Chicago was a cornucopia of talent.

I had already had witnessed The Who and Herman’s Hermits in 1967 at the International Amphitheatre and Humble Pie in Berlin, Germany in 1971 while in the Army. Some of the gigs in and around Chicago prior to 1974 that I was fortunate enough to see were The Kinks, Lindisfarne, Foghat, Dr. Hook, Steely Dan, Cat Stevens, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and Henry Gross to name a few.

May 21, 1974 is where my story really begins though. Queen and Mott The Hoople were to perform at the Auditorium Theater. I wasn’t quick enough to acquire a ticket for the show and had to ask my wife’s cousin for a favor. Cousin Val worked for an advertising agency in the city, and one of their clients was an FM rock station that, by the way, still operates today! A lot of freebies were presented to my wife and I in all areas of entertainment for years because of “connections” within the media. I’d rather be lucky …

Val was unable to get me a seat ticket but asked if a backstage pass would be OK? No brainer here! Fast forward to my drive to Chicago. After finding a place to park, I made my way to the little alleyway just off of Michigan Avenue where the backstage entrance is.

This is also where the equipment trucks unload the gear for the shows. Upon arrival at that door, I was met by one of Chicago’s finest who, upon glancing at my pass, opened the big door for me — I’m sure just like a doorman would at The Ritz!

Making my way around taking in the sights of the backstage world I came upon a large, long-haired, bearded man wearing bib overalls, leaning on an amp, staring out at the theater saying to no one in particular “Whew, man.” I asked him what was the matter. His reply was that he never played a place like this. Now if you remember what Queen and Mott looked like back then, this guy was nowhere near it! I asked him who he was, and he said, “Dave Hope from Kansas.” And I said, “I’m Gary from Indiana.” Dave says, “No, the group Kansas. We’re opening for Mott.”

I asked him what happened to Queen, and he said they had medical issues and couldn’t play.

I was really bummed hearing this because I really wanted to see Queen. But the show must go on. (No pun intended…)   Now Dave told me they had their first album out, and I said that if you guys play loud and fast, the crowd won’t throw stuff at you. A show at the Aragon two years prior to this had Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show opening for The Kinks, and it was a constant barrage of garbage finding its way to the stage. They were good sports about it, though.

I wished Dave well and good luck and shook hands with him as he left the area. Then the lights dimmed, the crowd cheered, and the announcer proclaimed that Queen couldn’t play and here was a new group opening for Mott called Kansas. I was offstage left hiding behind a giant amp waiting for the barrage, but it never came. The lights came on and there were now six long-haired, bearded guys, one with a violin. My first reaction was that they don’t stand a chance. Robbie Steinhardt took the mic with his violin and said “We’re Kansas and we’re opening for Mott the Hoople” 

They started the first few bars of “Can I Tell You,” the first song on their first album. I was immediately hooked. The stage bounced like a trampoline. After each song, and as more and more people were entering the theater, the applause was getting louder. They were getting hooked, too!  I’m pretty sure they played just about the whole first album that night.

Dave walked past me on the way offstage, and I remember patting him on the shoulder and saying, “Ya done good man!” 

Mott came out, did a terrific show with all the glitz and props they excelled at, and afterward I found myself eyeing a large wine bottle on the grand piano. I figured this could be a nice souvenir for the night.  A Mott roadie spotted me eyeing the bottle and beat me to it. I really felt out of my element at this time with all the groupies and photographers and people just thinking they were somebody, so I made my way to that big steel door. Getting to the door at just the same time was yet another long-haired bearded guy with a Don Kirshner T-shirt and all six Kansas members behind him. 

He asked me if I could direct them to the Congress Street parking garage. I told him, “Sure, follow me.” We made our way out the door into the alleyway where limos were waiting and groupies were stalking. Walking through this maze, I’ll never forget leading a road manager and his group Kansas out of the alley and getting pats on the back from everyone there for a great show.  My hair was on my shoulders back then, and it was easy to see the mistaken identity.

Once on Michigan Avenue, the group gathered around me like a football huddle as I directed them to their destination. They thanked me and all seven of Kansas, at the time, unbeknownst to them, walked down the yellow brick road as I found my ’73 Vega and made my way home.

A great show, a great and true story, and make no mistake about this, if it weren’t for me, Gary Gasper, Kansas would have never gotten out of Chicago on May 21, 1974.

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