John Elefante (KANSAS)
John Elefante is an American singer-songwriter, instrumentalist, and producer. He is known for his tenure as frontman of the rock group Kansas, and is currently touring with several groups that have featured members from classic rock bands.
John Elefante (born March 18, 1958) is an American singer-songwriter, instrumentalist, and producer. He is known for his tenure as frontman of the rock group Kansas and is currently touring with several groups that have featured members from classic rock bands.
Born in Levittown, New York, his family soon moved to Long Beach, California. Growing up, he sang and performed drums for his family band, The Brotherhood. As an artist, his credits include writing and singing lead vocals on three multi-platinum albums; as producer, his albums have earned numerous GMA Dove Awards, four Grammy Awards (most recently in 2000) and ten Grammy nominations. He has maintained a close working relationship with his brother, Dino (co-writer of several Kansas songs), throughout his career and has been married since 1986 and has three children.
His career began in earnest when a young John Elefante auditioned as the new lead singer and keyboardist for Kansas, in 1981. That year, the band was one of the top-grossing concert acts in the world and Elefante had never been in a band apart from his family. Although several of the top vocalists of the day applied for the job (e.g. Sammy Hagar, Doug Pinnick, Jim Stafford), Elefante received the part.
Elefante sang the lead vocals and performed keyboards on two Kansas albums. He was also a major songwriting contributor (along with lead guitarist/keyboardist/songwriter Kerry Livgren). On 1982’s Vinyl Confessions, he co-wrote and sang the No. 4 Billboard Mainstream Rock hit, “Play the Game Tonight”. He also wrote the acoustic-based classic “Chasing Shadows”, along with the Top 40 single, “Right Away”. The next year, on the following album, Drastic Measures, he wrote the early MTV favorite, “Fight Fire with Fire”, which remains the band’s highest charting single at No. 3 (Mainstream Rock) as well as a staple of Kansas’ live shows to this day. Elefante was also responsible for “Everybody’s My Friend,” which was released as the second single from the album and reached No. 34 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart.
Around this time the band began to buckle under the increasing strain of maintaining the consistent radio hits and record company commercial expectations. In addition, contemporary pop music was quickly becoming antithetical to the band’s organic, sophisticated aesthetic. A new age of sequenced synthesizers and drum machines confronted Kansas with the near-impossible challenge of maintaining their musical essence and commercial integrity. In 1984, on the retrospective collection The Best of Kansas, Elefante wrote the album’s one new track, “Perfect Lover”. That same year Elefante, Kerry Livgren, and Dave Hope left Kansas.
In 1985, “Young and Innocent” appeared on the soundtrack to St. Elmo’s Fire and was credited to “Elefante” as a collaborative effort by brothers John and Dino Elefante.
Elefante discovered another calling while still with Kansas—record producer. In 1984, he produced Perfect Timing for ground-breaking Southern California group, Sweet Comfort Band. While not a major commercial success, Petra’s Back to the Street was a Grammy-nominated, breakthrough, commercial success for both Elefante and the band. He also contributed songwriting, keyboards, background vocals and engineering to the effort.
With both John and Dino Elefante as the band’s primary producers, Petra’s already popular Christian pop/rock niche was given a timely boost. Their accolades include multiple gold albums, 10 consecutive CCM Magazine Reader’s Choice Awards, induction into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame and Hard Rock Cafe, and the only artist to ever have four albums in the SoundScan top-100 Christian chart.
In 1987 while producing a various artists album called California Metal, the album’s production team of John and Dino Elefante ended up one track short and they decided to add a song written for Kansas called “Wasn’t It Love” (originally entitled “What About Love”) under the name Mastedon. Regency later requested a full-length album which became Mastedon’s debut, It’s a Jungle Out There.
Closing out the decade, Elefante had produced five major label albums, and performed on 12. Over the next five years, Elefante worked at an almost frenetic pace as one of the most in-demand producers in Nashville. In addition to Petra’s further releases, he worked as the producer on 30 other albums. He usually performed on the releases as well, often sharing songwriting credits, as well. Elefante was committed to his role as producer, eschewing other opportunities such as an offer to replace Bobby Kimball as lead singer for Grammy winners, Toto.
Elefante began focusing on heavier music in the early 1990s. Among many notable albums was the Guardian release, Fire and Love, which was played in regular rotation on MTV. Elefante also felt the songwriting muse, and formed a metal band with his brother, Mastedon. The band’s name was a pachyderm-inspired reference to the brothers’ last name. Although Elefante was an accomplished vocalist and performer, the Mastedon albums featured multiple lead singers and performances by other artists, creating an eclectic sound anchored by Elefante’s songwriting. His brother Dino played a prominent role, contributing songwriting and handling most of the guitar work.
Mastedon’s first release was titled It’s a Jungle Out There! (1989). A year later, the band released Lofcaudio. This album continued the guest performance theme, though Elefante sang more of the lead vocals. Unfortunately, John and Dino’s production schedule preempted any touring to commercially support the album (though the band did appear at least one Christian rock festival, Cornerstone, in 1991). Even so, the albums charted at No. 25 and No. 10, respectively. To this day, they are considered classics in the genre.
John and Dino Elefante formed their own record label, Pakaderm. Most of the music they produced on in the next 10 years was released on it. With major distribution through Word Records and A&M Records, Pakaderm became an important element in the brothers’ success. Their label afforded them and their artists significant creative control, while still benefiting from major label resources.
Given their intense recording schedules, the brothers decided to build their own recording studio in Nashville. They broke ground on the 28,000-square-foot (2,600 m2) Sound Kitchen in 1993. In addition to their own productions, the brothers planned to rent time in the studio to other artists and producers.
Throughout the latter half of the 1990s, Elefante continued his breakneck pace as producer, and now record label chief. He decided it was also time to begin a solo career. Elefante released two solo albums: Windows of Heaven (1995) and Corridors (1997).
Meanwhile, the Sound Kitchen was taking on a life of its own. Under the brothers’ management, the studio was quickly establishing itself as one of Nashville’s most popular. Artists such as Bruce Springsteen, Faith Hill and Tim McGraw, and Buddy Guy had recorded there. The complex was soon expanded to 80,000 square feet (7,400 m2).
Elefante was hired by Pamplin Records in 1998, working with Dino to generate artist development. This period saw the release of an astounding 32 albums with Elefante at the helm, most of which feature him as arranger and performer, as well. The styles ranged from rock to gospel; pop to metal.
In 1999, Elefante released his most popular solo effort, Defying Gravity (1999). It spawned several hit singles and mainstream music videos. Elefante geared up for a 25-date solo tour to promote the album. Tragically, however, he was badly injured in an accident before the first concert, and had to cancel the tour.
Elefante rebounded, beginning the new millennium with the production of Petra’s Grammy award-winning album, Double Take. He continued at Pamplin, producing 20 more albums for them in just three years. Simultaneously, he and Dino continued their role managing the Sound Kitchen, which continued to grow in size and popularity.
The new year also saw Elefante’s schedule becoming too hectic, however. Success was taking away too much time from his family. In 2002, he left Pamplin after a string of successful albums, including the debut for Natalie Grant.
The same year, John and Dino sold the Sound Kitchen. It had become the largest recording studio in the southeastern United States. Artists included Alabama, Amy Grant, Barry Manilow, Brad Paisley, Brooks & Dunn, Carrie Underwood, Dixie Chicks, Dolly Parton, Donna Summer, George Strait, Gretchen Wilson, Jewel, Jimmy Buffett, Julio Iglesias, Keith Urban, Kenny Rogers, LeAnn Rimes, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Michael W Smith, Peter Cetera, Reba McEntire, Rascal Flatts, Third Day, Trisha Yearwood and Vince Gill.
Elefante started a new major-distributed label with his brother in 2003, Selectric Records. Having their own label again allowed Elefante to set his own pace for production. Along with co-managing the label with his brother, he produced 10 albums over the next three years. As a singer, he recorded with artists ranging from Pat Boone to Bono.
In late 2006, Elefante took this opportunity to consider something he had never done in his career: catch his breath. Even with his reduced schedule, he needed a break. The brothers closed the label, and Elefante could finally take some time away from the industry. This proved more challenging than expected, and despite his best intentions, he served as producer on three albums in 2007.
Elefante finished the decade with a new Mastedon album, 3, featuring former Kansas bandmate Kerry Livgren. Its style is similar to Mastedon, his Kansas work, and his solo albums.
2010 and onward
At the dawn of 2010, Elefante had produced and/or performed on more than 100 major label albums. The Elefante brotherhood had endured, and the two brothers had together achieved considerable artistic and commercial success. Elefante realized, though, that he was still a songwriter at heart.
In 2010, Big3 Records rereleased 3 as Elefante’s Revolution of Mind.
His latest studio album, On My Way to the Sun, released in May 2013,reunited Elefante with former Kansas bandmate Rich Williams and also featured current Kansas violinist David Ragsdale.
In 2013, Elefante released a single accompanied by a music video titled “This Time” that tells the story of his adopted daughter, who was nearly aborted by her birth mother. The video shows a pregnant teenager entering an abortion clinic and then having a dream about a little girl she knew to be her unborn daughter. Elefante said,
“I can’t imagine life without my daughter, Sami, and it just breaks my heart that pregnant young women much like her birth mother, instead of choosing life for their babies, are denying them the chance to be born. … If our song can in any way bring attention to this issue and encourage those who are considering abortion to choose life through options such as adoption, then we couldn’t be happier.”
Elefante is currently touring with several groups that feature members from classic rock bands. From Mike Reno, Vince Neil, Kenny Arnoff, Ansley Dunbar, Micky Thomas, Bill Champlin, John Cafferty, Steve Augeri, David Pack, Kelly Keagy, Bobby Kimball, and Jay Sekulow Band.