Kansas’ Phil Ehart on the Opening Fill to “Carry On Wayward Son”: “I Thought It Was Too Simple”

Phil Ehart, photo by Mark Schierolz

Sometimes, the most iconic musical moments emerge from an accident. Such is the case for Kansas’ seminal 1976 hit “Carry On Wayward Son,” which features a signature drum fill after the band’s a cappella intro. According to the band’s longtime drummer, Phil Ehart, the fill was only intended to be a placeholder when recording the song.

In a new interview feature for Modern Drummer‘s April 2023 issue, Ehart breaks down how the fill emerged. “On one of the first breaks of ‘Carry On Wayward Son,’ I play the opening bass drum fill that ends with a big flam on the snare, everybody knows that fill,” Ehart tells Modern Drummer, “But I wasn’t gonna keep it, I just put that in there for a holder to come back and re-record later. I thought it was too simple. I thought it should be something ‘cooler.'”

Yet, as the band recorded their individual parts and listened through, they quickly realized how memorable Ehart’s original fill was. “All of a sudden, the other guys start asking, ‘Is it me, or does everybody like that opening drum break?,'” says Ehart. “Everybody agreed that it was a pretty cool way to bring in the next section of the song, so we kept it in.” Advertisement

It wasn’t long before the simple fill became celebrated by audiences everywhere. “Every night when we play it, when we get to that part, the whole audience stomps their feet and claps along to that break,” Ehart says, “It’s become a major part of that song. That’s what the song needed. I didn’t think about it, and it turned out okay. But I never intended it to be there!”

Needless to say, Ehart feels a fair amount of pride seeing audiences connect with that section of the song in particular — but he claims it’s a testament to “not overthinking things.” “If you start thinking, ‘I’m in a prog band so I gotta come up with a lot of complicated stuff,’ that’s fine, but it’s not always what’s going to sound the best,” he says. “Sure, I’ve had to come up with complicated stuff because that’s what the song called for, but that break in ‘Wayward Son…’ is the perfect example of not overthinking things.”

Elsewhere in his lengthy interview with Modern Drummer‘s Mark Griffith, Ehart discusses the band’s new compilation Another Fork In The Road – 50 Years of Kansas, his evolution as a rock drummer, serving as the band’s manager after all these years, and the drummers who’ve inspired him throughout his time in Kansas. Read the profile on Kansas’ Phil Ehart here. Advertisement