Good Evening, And Welcome To Kansas! - A Conversation with Rich Williams
Rock band Kansas took the Mohegan Sun Casino by storm with a rockin', tight set that featured such classic hits as "Carry
On Wayward Sun," "Dust in the Wind," "Point of Know Return," and "The Wall." Led by violinist/frontman Robby Steinhardt and
lead vocalist Steve Walsh, whose voice sounded amazing (even after over 25 years of Relentless *pun intended* recording and
touring), Kansas proved to the excited crowd that they have not lost a step. If anything, like fine wine, they keep getting
better and better. The crowd was very excited and extremely loud, even for a casino crowd. But these people weren't here for
Black Jack or Roulette, they were here to be enraptured by the magic of Kansas. Music that defies logic and transcends reason,
music that reaches into the deepest part of your soul, music for people of all ages to enjoy. That is the magic of Kansas.
Just ask the elderly gentleman who became a fixture in front of the stage and, much like the pied piper, lured others to join
ask the fellow who drove 5 hours just to see the show, or the gentleman who flew in from Texas, or anyone that stayed behind
after the concert was over to preview the new song, "Icarus II" off their new album Somewhere to Elsewhere (Out July
11 - Magna Carta). Ask them and they'll tell you they love Kansas, and they'll tell you why, and they'll share Kansas stories,
and for that very moment when everyone sings "All We are is Dust in The Wind" emotions fill the air, memories fill our minds,
and love conquers our souls. That is the magic of music, the magic of Kansas.
Let's go back a bit. One hour to show time and excitement fills the air as we are ushered into the backstage
area for a talk with Rich Williams. Williams has been playing guitar for Kansas since its inception, and is one of two members
(the other being drummer Phil Ehart) to have been a part of every one of the band's lineups. Furthermore, it's safe to say
that Rich is the only member to have played in every tour with the band. Amazing, isn't it? Even more amazing is Rich's talent
as a guitar player; he has developed his own definitive style that is now known to Kansas fans all over the world as "MeatWall".
We are greeted in the backstage area by Steve Brownlow, Kansas' tour manager, and somewhere in the back bassist Billy Greer
and vocalist Steve Walsh share a laugh. We are pleasantly surprised to find drummer Phil Ehart in the interview room -- he's
not scheduled to do the interview, but has decided to "hang out." Thoughts of Rock N' Roll legends pop into our heads as we
share warm greetings, and the conversation begins...
House of Shred: Do you guys have any surprises for us tonight?
Hmm...no. No surprises. We're at the end of our old tour right now. We'll start working up the new stuff soon.
HOS: OK, Rich...
Rich Williams: Yes.
HOS: What are your main influences?
Rich: Ahh...an impossible list. I mean,
you'd have to go back to, you know, I guess to before the band started. We played all sorts of different things, mostly what
was on AM radio at the time which, in Kansas, was from country to really everything. What really caught our ear, though, was
the British invasion and The Beatles. As soon as I saw The Beatles, I had to have a guitar. One of my earliest influences
ever was Eric Clapton. His early stuff was, to me, Guitar 101.
HOS: To a lot of people, I think.
Rich: Yeah, you learn this and you'll be
able to play.
HOS: When did you start playing? I mean, how old were you when you picked up a guitar?
Rich: (Pauses to think) Between ninth and tenth grade, I guess, so about fifteen.
HOS: In the early eighties, Kerry's Christian lyrics were a point of contention for
certain people. How did you reconcile that on the new album?
Rich: Well, there wasn't really anything to reconcile.
Kerry has done that, you know, with his solo project and really, that wasn't what he wanted to do on this project. He didn't
write it that way. It's written by a Christian, from a Christian viewpoint but it is not a Christian album about Christianity.
HOS: That's one thing that always impressed me about Kerry. Even though his beliefs
are so strong, he doesn't really feel the need to bash everybody over the head with it, you know?
Rich: Well, yeah...time
will do that.
HOS: Who coined the nickname "MeatWall"?
Rich: I do not know. I think maybe Phil. (Smiles and
looks at Phil. Phil smirks as if he's guilty.)
HOS: Has the band considered releasing a video from the symphonic tour or even a video
with vintage clips like the Kirshner shows?
Rich: The vintage clips, that'd be kinda neat. We've considered a symphonic
show, it's just, you know, the expense of doing it and that album (Always Never The Same), I mean, we got no airplay, we got
no press. I know we wouldn't want to sink a lot of money into it, and I don't know who would. I'd like to have it. I think
it would be a great video to have and to see, but I'd be more interested in doing something for the new project.
HOS: You still use an acoustic guitar for your acoustic parts, why don't you use a
simulator like other people are doing now? Do you prefer the real acoustic sound?
Rich: I use the Chet Atkins, which
is not really an acoustic guitar. It's a solid body acoustic, but still I think it sounds more acoustic than, you know, a
regular guitar with a PZM on it.
HOS: What's your favorite Kansas song?
Rich: Favorite Kansas song?
HOS: We get asked that all the time, so we thought we'd turn the tables.
I think one of the best-written songs we've done is probably "The Wall," but then "Journey From Mariabronn," that was one
of the most fun songs to play. But, you know, right now one of my favorites that we just finished is "Icarus II," which you
haven't heard yet.
HOS: Heard about a minute of it, it sounds great!
Rich: Yeah, it's funny. I saw some people
on the People of the Southwind page and some dickhead gets on and he's bitchin' because there's not enough guitars on it.
He's heard one minute of an almost eight or nine minute song (laughs).
Rich: ...and it's got about the heaviest middle section,
it's just balls out, one of the heaviest things we've ever done. All the verses, once they kick in, are all guitar and it's
got one of the most majestic endings Kerry's ever written and, you know, somebody's whining 'cause there's not enough guitars
in it. Well, it's got to build! I wrote him a nasty letter but as soon as I hit send, my computer dumped! It must've been
too hot of a letter or something.
HOS: I've read some of your replies to some of the fans and I mean, for those of you
in the band who lurk the email list and stuff like that there's a lot of comments that are kind of shaky sometimes. How do
you guys deal with that? You know, people bitching about this or that...
Rich: Most times I just kinda let it go.
There's been a few times when I've snapped just 'cause ... well, they made me mad! Most of the stuff I let go because it just
goes and goes and goes. You know people read so much into things! You know people sit down on their computers and look at
our new album cover, and some are seeing our faces in the wheatfields and stuff. You know, let 'em look! Let 'em stare at
it for hours! (laughs). I'm tellin' ya...there's more stuff on that than the cover of the first Santana album! (Big laughs).
HOS: Can you estimate the number of gigs that you guys have played since '74?
Well, we're averaging about let's say ninety to, let's average it at a hundred shows. But there was times before when we did
more than a hundred shows, a lot more, but there was times in between when we did less, so let's average it at a hundred for
twenty six years, so that's like twenty six, twenty five hundred shows.
HOS: Yeah, there's not too many bands that have logged as many miles and as many gigs
Rich: Yeah, I'll bet the Stones haven't played "Satisfaction" as many times as I've played "Dust in the
HOS: I don't think so, because they only tour about every four or five years. Maybe
Jethro Tull? They've been around a long time, but...
Rich: Yeah, but they don't tour every year.
HOS: Yeah, they go away and then come back. Can you describe how it felt to record
with the original line-up again? Was it strange or familiar?
Rich: It was...it was strangely familiar. (laughs).
HOS: Somehow I knew you would say that. (laughs)
Rich: It was like, it was
just very comfortable. Um...God, we grew up together. Really, there were no hatchets to bury or anything. It was, we walked
right in and started working. Working with Brad Aaron, who we had worked with a lot in the past and Kerry had worked with,
it was just very easy. You know, growing up in the same town, we just... in between moments there was a lot of really just
fall-on-the-ground, grab-your-gut belly laughing! (chuckles). We just had a lot of fun! Kerry and Robby got me real bad one
day. There was a difficult acoustic part and it was something I didn't know I was going to be playing you know, 'cause on
the demo, you couldn't even hear it. So, I had just learned this part and it's pretty intricate and I'm concentrating so hard
on it. Well, Robby had brought this sound effects tape for Kerry, you know, if he wanted to use it for anything and he gets
to this one thing where it was, what was it? Anteaters or baboons or something and he's got it on the CD player and he's got
a remote for it and he's going to run it back into my headphones. So, he'd be talking and as soon as he'd get off, all of
a sudden ERRRT, ERRRT, ERRRT (laughs) you'd hear this sound. It sounded like some sort of digital feedback at first, like
ERRRRRRT! (laughs) You know, I started to...the more I...
HOS: (laughing hard) So, you go around the corner and they're pissing their pants laughing,
Rich: Well, yeah, I mean Robby's always kinda standing backward (laughs) and Kerry's like this (covers
mouth discreetly) (Bigger laughs). And I didn't have a clue, totally clueless and finally got, you know...(mimicking Kerry)
"are you sure you're hearing it?" and he'd come out in the room. I mean, I started feeling like I was going crazy, but I knew
I was hearing it, so I said, "Listen, you come out here, I'll push the buttons and you can...". Then Kerry comes out all dad-like,
"You know, we want to really get this moving, we'll chase it down later." Okay, fine. So, after a couple hours, we're done
with this part, so I walk into the studio and he pulls out the remote control and hits that button and here's that tape rollin'.
(Laughs) (With mock anger) You mother..! (Big laughs) I mean, just a lot of things like that during the day.
HOS: Yeah, that's the good stuff.
Rich: Of course, you know, we're recording
in a barn surrounded by animals. There are big horses and little horses, goats and every time, since there was no plumbing
or underground plumbing, he had this turd-mulcher thing, a little grinder that you had to ride unless you wanted to walk two
hundred yards to the house. You couldn't pee in it, so you'd go back by the sheep and the sheep would just blankly stare at
you (laughs). It was a lot different than recording in New York City, walking out onto the street. You know, you'd walk out
onto the field and, you know, I was talking to the turkey before I left! (Big laughs)
HOS: If you could sum up "Somewhere to Elsewhere" in one word, what would that word
Rich: One word...(thinks a second)...PURCHASE!! (Laughs)
HOS: How does Kerry differ as a producer from Jeff Glixman?
Rich: Well, Jeff
is, you know, his talents lie a lot more in the engineering field. You know, he's got a great set of ears. Kerry's expertise
is in, you know, musical knowledge. When you put the two of those things together, then you've really got something! Kerry
is a good engineer. Jeff is a premiere engineer. Kerry is, you know, a musical genius. Jeff can play Hammond...kinda. (Laughs)
HOS: Having Billy sing lead on a track is very cool and he sounds really good. Whose
idea was that?
Rich: Oh that's something we've kind of tossed around for a long time. As we were going through material
we just said it would be great to have a song for Billy to sing and as the songs were selected, I think Phil and Kerry selected
that song for Billy. It just seemed perfect for him.
HOS: It sounds kind of Beatlesque to me.
Rich: Oh, it is! I think Kerry wrote
it sort of intentionally that way.
HOS: Since Robby's return in '97, Kansas obviously sounds more authentic. Was it just
as natural a chemistry as it seemed to your audience?
Rich: Well, Robby is a power all on his own, you know, besides
just his style. Ragsdale was so good. Steve Morse was also good, but it was really, you know, that original six and the way
we all blended and played together and approached things which made the original Kansas sound. When Morse was with us and
we did old Kansas songs, it sounded more like Steve Morse does Kansas. I mean, he covered everything, you know, all the violin
lines, he was all over it. It sounded great, but it didn't really sound like us.
HOS: Right, that's how we felt about that, too.
Rich: With Robby back, Robby
was always the frontman and had become the main focal point and presence and with Steve singing everything, you'd kind of
forgotten how much of a vocal part Robby played. If not just lead singing, in background singing. And Robby sings two songs
on the new record.
HOS: Are we ever going to hear "The Pinnacle" live again?
Rich: I'm pulling
hard for it for this tour. We're not going to be able to do it on the Yes tour, because we've only got an hour and it's a
HOS: Are you going to do a whole hour?
Rich: Um, fifty five to an hour, yeah.
Rich: It really depends on, you know, curfew. When there's
curfew, when there aren't curfews. I mean, we don't want to start we're supposed to start say, at eight o'clock, we don't
want to start at seven-thirty just so we can play an hour and fifteen minutes to an empty house.
HOS: Right. You have a point there. What's your best memory from the road?
Best memory? (Pauses a bit) Got a lot of bad ones! (laughs) Got an idea, Phil?
Phil Ehart: No. (laughs)
HOS: You guys have played so many shows, it's not really a fair question.
Well, some of the symphony gigs are pretty hard to top, you know, as far as gigs.
Rich: Oh, as far as best gig? I was kind
of looking at the whole thing. Um...I mean still what stands out as one of my favorite shows we ever did was Kansas City at
the baseball stadium. It was sold out with us headlining, Steve Miller, and an unknown trio called ahh...
Phil: Van Halen.
Van Halen. (Laughs)
HOS: What was that, like '78, '79?
Rich: Yeah. We had such
a monstrous P.A. It sounded like just the perfect stereo, you know it was just a tremendous night. The most in awe I think
I ever was on stage was when we were doing the live album, "Two For The Show", and Robby had announced that we were recording
for a live album. I don't know how long this went, but the screaming went on, it must have been at least a minute. I was standing
in the middle of the loudest bunch of screaming I've ever heard. You couldn't even hear yourself think!
HOS: Was that in Canada?
Rich: No, that was at the Spectrum.
And it was very overwhelming. I've never had a feeling like that.
HOS: Wasn't Pennsylvania one of your best states?
Rich: Yeah, it was definitely.
In the beginning, that state really helped get us off the ground.
HOS: What do you think of the current US music scene? Or lack thereof?
Well, it seems like recently, I don't know, maybe I'm just paying a little bit more attention to it, but I mean there's always
bands there, but it seems that, maybe because of the internet, and just technology as far as home studios and stuff. There
seems to be a lot more bands that are in a prog arena and are at least getting material out there to be heard.
HOS: Yeah, there's a huge underground and eventually, I think something might hit home.
Yeah, It's something that hasn't existed until the last few years. It's like some kind of new underground. Until radio pulls
its head out of its collective butt, it'll be a very quiet underground.
HOS: Yeah, I don't think the average person wants to hear that kind of advanced playing.
HOS: It's always been that way though.
Rich: It always has been to some extent,
you know, where radio is at now is if it's not rap, it's Britney Spears. And, you know, she is a relief compared to most of
the stuff (laughs) She can sing and she's cute.
HOS: It's funny you mention that. I have a ten year old daughter and she likes Britney
Spears, but she also loves Kansas, so maybe there's hope.
Rich: Yeah, well we do pick up, I mean I don't think we
lose too many fans, except via death! (Big laughs) but...
HOS: Maybe not even then.
Rich: Yeah, we do pick up a lot of younger fans
all the time. I don't really know how quick a pace it is, but our fan base consistently grows.
HOS: I think if they're exposed to the music, they'll dig it. The problem is getting
people exposed to the music these days.
Rich: Well, hopefully this record, I mean, I'm not gonna count on it, but
I'm just gonna, I'm gonna dream. This album- nobody's even heard it yet and I can't even count the amount of interviews just
I have done. There is a buzz going on about this record!
Rich: You know, and Rolling Stone comes out and states that
"Carry On Wayward Son" is the number one most played song in classic rock radio.
HOS: It still sounds fresh, too!
Rich: Aerosmith puts out a new record, that
same station will play it. They'll play the new Aerosmith, Why won't they play us?
HOS: Yeah, that's what I was going to get to. There's so many classic rock format stations
that, especially in the past few years, have sprung up or whatever, but they're playing the same old crap that they played
twenty five years ago.
Rich: But, some bands they will play even new releases.
HOS: I haven't heard much. I'd definitely like to see some more of that.
I'm not kicking Aerosmith, I'm maybe envious, but if we ever had a shot, you know, just 'cause there's such a buzz about this
record and it's a good record. So, where we have had slim and none, I think we've got a teeny chance now of getting some airplay.
HOS: I think Magna Carta was a good choice for you guys.
Rich: A very good
HOS: There are a lot of good bands on that label and now you're top dog, you know what
I mean? Rather than being...
Rich: Well, you know, they don't have one rep that's selling, you know three new country
acts and then some gospel stuff and five rap bands and Kansas. (Laughs)
HOS: Yeah, it makes sense.
Rich: All the same...down the same alley, anyway.
HOS: A lot of fans have asked about a solo project from you mainly because they'd like
to hear a solo Rich Williams project. Would that ever happen?
Rich: Oh, I don't know. It's just a big undertaking.
To do an album, it's a big undertaking. Billy's working on one right now, Steve just finished one and it's taken Steve a long
HOS: Does he have Mike Slamer and Steve Morse both on his solo album?
He doesn't have Steve Morse.
Rich: Walsh? No. Just Slamer.
HOS: That's okay.
Rich: Yeah. Kerry's in the middle of a couple of them.
I'm not set up to do it and I don't have the burning desire to do it, I really don't.
HOS: If you could have a dream band, meaning play with whoever, who would the musicians
HOS: (counting on fingers) Well, Phil Ehart...(laughs)
Rich: Yeah, well I've
played with Phil since 1965.
HOS: So another drummer would probably fuck you all up. (Big laughs)
Let's hope so.
Rich: A dream band, that's a hard one to say, I mean that's because if I said anything I'm just making it
up because it's not really something I think about. I mean at one time I thought, like in the late seventies, early eighties,
when Steely Dan had a lot of guest guitar players I thought, "Boy I'd love to be on one of those", because that was some of
the all-time great music.
HOS: Oh, yeah. Some wicked guitar playing.
Rich: The solo stuff was okay,
but I bought some of the albums' sheet music and, though it sounds pretty easy and palatable, fuck...I mean I couldn't figure
it out! (laughs) Those jazz cats, boy...they're just talking another language.
HOS: Who was it, Larry Carlton?
Rich: Larry Carlton. He really did some of
the sweetest stuff.
HOS: "Reelin' In The Years", was that him?
Rich: No, no. That was...oh, I
think he did an album with Kirshner, too at the same time we were out. Oh, if I heard his name, I'd remember it.
HOS: So, what does the future hold? Yes tour...
Rich: Yes tour, then we will
continue on through the year after the Yes tour.
HOS: And that's when you're bringing out "The Pinnacle"? All the fans want it, man!
I know they do!
HOS: I know I want it bad! You know the medley with "Lamplight" and it segues into
"The Wall" or whatever and you do that piece that's the fadeout of "Mysteries and Mayhem" and the beginning of "The Pinnacle"?
I've seen you guys do that and there's always this big roar from the crowd like they think you're going to do "The Pinnacle"
and then you don't do it and it's like (dejectedly) "Awwww...."
Rich: Well, you know I've been lobbying really hard
for "The Pinnacle" this year and even if we don't do it in its entirety, because it does gobble up a lot of minutes...
HOS: Yeah, eleven, twelve.
Rich: Yeah. But, you know, I think we could still
do the song justice like say at seven minutes. I mean it is a pretty cool song, but it does have a lot of, I'm going to say
a bad word here but, noodling. I don't really mean it in a bad way it's just, you know, live there's just not... we've got
so much stuff we have to play and we need to play and those we want to get on from our new album. I'd rather cut out part
of "The Pinnacle" and add a song off the new album to take its place. But, it's a very dramatic moment for Steve, the vocal
HOS: So, you guys are going to continue on 'til the end of the year touring and take
it from there?
Rich: We virtually don't stop. Around Christmas time we stop. We played last New Year's, I don't
know what's in the future for this New Year's. If we get a cool offer, we'll do it. We were in Okinawa last New Year's. Then,
I'm sure January and February's usually dead and then we'll be back at it. The deal with Magna Carta is a two album deal,
HOS: Oh, it is? Excellent! I hadn't heard that. That's great because there was a rumor
saying you guys were gonna call it quits and stuff like that after the new millennium. Internet rumors, you know those.
HOS: So, I'm glad to hear that.
Rich: Well, you know, the more rumors, the
HOS: Well, I know you guys have to go onstage soon. Thank you.
yeah...we have a gig tonight. Boy, this is a weird setup. (Talking about the Wolf's Den, a small music theater with a rock
outcropping kind of stage sitting right in the middle of the Mohegan Sun Casino.)
HOS: I know, huh?
Rich: Wow, I walked out there and it was like whoa!
HOS: Thank you so much for your time.
The conversation continued off the record while photos were shot and much laughter was heard. And as Rich
looked at some amusing pictures from a 1994 show, we came to realize that even though we were indeed talking to legends, it
felt more like we were talking to old friends.
The House of Shred would like to thank Rich Williams and Phil Ehart for being so gracious; also Steve
Brownlow and Michael Mazur for making this interview possible. Finally, we would like to thank Kansas for all the years of
Check out our review of Kansas' latest CD - Somewhere to Elsewhere
Visit the Official Kansas Website at www.kansasband.com