On Monday, Steve Walsh posted a message to his website announcing that violin player and second lead vocalist Robby Steinhardt had been released from Kansas. See the 3-27 message on his Wait Until Tomorrow section. There's still been no official announcement from the band, but this seems to be a done deal. It happened right after some shows in Las Vegas, where David Ragsdale, Kansas' violin player from 1991-1997 has been playing since he left the band. The buzz seems to be that Ragsdale has returned. Several fans who know band members have dropped hints in that direction, saying that it's already settled.
I piece the following together from three sources: Steve Walsh's above-mentioned comments, several hints from those in the know, and interviews from Steve Walsh, Phil Ehart, and Kerry Livgren. Kerry Livgren is busy with Proto-Kaw and sending all his songs that way. Walsh's songs have been reserved for solo albums. He's said several times that he doesn't think he can write for Kansas anymore. Perhaps a teamup with Ragsdale would allow him to do that again. They haven't had a new album since 2000, and Livgren wrote every song on it. The last one before that had only three new Kansas songs on it, by Walsh, and that was 1998. Before that it was the 1995 album that Ragsdale was on. So this may well be about Kansas wanting to keep moving forward and recording new material. They do have an obligation to Magna Carta Records, with whom they have signed on for one additional album. Their live sets have also gotten somewhat stale in the last few years. I last saw them in 2001, and since then there were maybe 1 or 2 songs that they've done since that I really wanted to see them so I could see them perform those songs, but it's nothing like the variety in setlists from year to year that they had from 1991-2001. I might have seen them if they were in town, but I wasn't going out of my way to see them with the infrequent changes in setlists. I would go out of my way to see Kerry Livgren and Proto-Kaw.
So back to my suspected account. I'm guessing that they tossed around the idea of bringing someone else in to help write new material, and David's name came up. The issue of what they would do with two violinists came up, and somehow or other Robby ended up out of the band, either at his own initiative because the others insisted on having David part of this or at their initiative because they didn't want two violinists themselves. People will always jump to conclusions about how this happened, but I don't see any reason to assume anything. This does seem to be my best guess as to what's going on, though.
I have to say that I will miss Robby. I've met him twice, and he's a very nice guy. He always went out of his way to meet fans after shows, and he was probably the friendliest of all the members who have ever been in the band. He's got a great stage presence, and his frontman role will be missed. I'm not sure how they'll fill that role with the lineup as it is. There also isn't anyone else in the band who can sing his parts the way he does, and they'll be going down to two vocals instead of the nice three-part blend they've had since he returned. Unless they bring someone else in besides David, I think the vocal parts will be less interesting live. Above all, though, it's sad to see him go. I like him as a person and hope this won't mean things will be sour between him and the rest of the band. He was really close with some of them.
At the same time, it will be nice to see David Ragsdale again. I got to see the band once with him, and it was in a huge arena when they were opening for Styx. I didn't get to see very much. David is a consummate musician. He's an excellent guitar player as well, and his instrumental album David & Goliath is excellent. It's too bad it went out of print shortly after its release, but I saw Amazon listing its re-release due out next month. The material David contributed to Freaks of Nature in 1995 was some of my favorite Kansas music, and I look forward to seeing their next album. His take on material that Robby originally played is always interesting, and he's a very good player. They're more likely to do songs they haven't done in a while from albums Robby never played on. So all in all I have mixed feelings about this, but I'm looking forward to what they might do.
[Update: It is confirmed. David Ragsdale is back in Kansas, and they say it was a mutual decision.]
[Update 2: Two posts on kansasfans.com from people in daily contact with Robby say that it was his decision to quit and that he's happy with the decision. So he wasn't fired. Now I don't know what to think of the original Walsh message about how he didn't know who his friends were anymore. Maybe it was just some resentment over Robby's decision.]