32: Phil Ehart

32: Phil Ehart

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Billy Graham & Me

• 32 •
PHIL EHART

Co-founder, drummer and manager of the rock band KANSAS, creators of the classic hits “Dust in the Wind” and “Carry on Wayward Son”

What could the Reverend Billy Graham and a drummer in a rock band possibly have in common?

Though I’ve never had the honor of meeting Dr. Graham, he was definitely in my life as a young man growing up. I remember his sermons on the television, his many books around our house, and the distinct sound of George Beverly Shea singing “How Great Thou Art.” My parents even sang in the choir at one of Dr. Graham’s crusades. So at an early age, and into young adulthood, Reverend Graham had planted the lessons of God and the Bible in my soul.

It was at this time that the band KANSAS, a band that I help start in Topeka, Kansas in the early 1970s, was beginning to see success on a national level. We had signed a recording contract with music mogul Don Kirshner and released our first album in 1974. We went on tour from Topeka to open for bands like The Kinks, Queen, Bad Company, the Eagles, and KISS. It was an incredible time for a group of six small town young men from Kansas!

As we continued to tour, our fame increased and radio airplay on the FM stations around the country was building a solid fan base for the band. In 1976 we released an album called Leftoverture that contained a song called “Carry On Wayward Son.” This song shot up the charts on pop radio and became a huge hit for the band around the country, and the world. We became headliners in many venues in the U.S.

Success with the band did not slow down. In 1977 we released an album entitled Point of Know Return that contained two more hit songs, including the title track “Point of Know Return” and the acoustic smash hit “Dust in the Wind.” The band was now selling out 20,000-seat arenas everywhere. Our time had come!

With all this success, drugs and alcohol were everywhere in the music business and in the 1970s culture in general.

But through all this success and craziness, I chose to do no drugs and drink no alcohol. It went all the way back to my days in high school and playing in bands then…. I drank no alcohol and did no drugs… ever. But why? Why did I make that choice? To be perfectly clear, I was a sinner, but I never looked down on anyone who drank and did drugs. I never sat in judgment of them. In fact, I really never gave it much thought! I just chose not to partake! But I didn’t know why I made those choices! It’s not like I had some personal abstinence agenda that I was pushing on everyone! Why, through all those years, did I choose to do no drugs and to never have a drink?

As the years went on, our popularity started to wane, and the band started to lose members, with different incarnations of KANSAS starting to appear in the 80s, 90s and 2000s.

It was at this time that my wife Laurie was having a discussion one day with my mom, Martha. Laurie had mentioned to my mom that so many people found it so odd that through all the years of playing in a world famous rock band, that I had never succumbed to the music business pressures of drinking and doing drugs. My mom didn’t miss a beat. She said, “Laurie, when Phil first started playing in bands, I went to my knees every night and asked the good Lord above to protect him from those pressures around him. I asked the Lord to please never let the world tempt Phil with drugs and alcohol or influence him in a sinful manner. I knew Phil had Jesus in his heart and would be okay… it was those in the music business that I was worried about!”

When Laurie came in and told me what my mom had said, it hit me like a freight train! IT WAS THE PRAYERS OF MY MOTHER! All these years people had been giving me the credit for abstaining from drugs and alcohol, but I knew down deep that I did not deserve the accolades. I wasn’t that different from those around me, but the answered prayers of my mother made me different!

Over the next few days, I started to think back through all the many years, and never once, not once, could I recall anyone ever offering me a beer or mixed drink. No one ever offered me a joint or a hit of acid, or any cocaine. Never. Not once! The answered prayers of my mom!

And now, as the band’s fortieth anniversary comes in 2013, I’m sitting here, humbly writing about how Dr. Graham touched my mom’s life in those early crusades, and she in turn touched my life, in so many ways. And I’ll try to pass on to my kids the lessons planted in me so many years ago, by Dr. Billy Graham.

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