BY Jane Spietz
WHERE: Waterfest, Oshkosh WI
WHEN: Thursday, July 14, 2016 Gates open at 5:45 PM
COST: Reserved VIP $30/General admission $20/Admission before 7PM $15
Iconic American progressive rock band Kansas produced hits such as “Carry On Wayward Son,” “Dust in the Wind,” “Hold On,” “Song For America,” “All I Wanted,” “Play The Game Tonight,” “Miracles Out of Nowhere,” and “Point Of Know Return.” In addition to traditional rock instruments, Kansas incorporated strings, various keyboards and percussion, synthesizers, vibraphone, brass, woodwinds, and complex vocal harmonies to produce a rich orchestral experience for listeners. Kansas generated three sextuple-platinum albums, eight gold albums, a platinum live album and two one million-selling gold singles.
This September Kansas will release its first new studio album in 16 years, The Prelude Implicit, featuring the band’s trademark sound. The 40th anniversary of the classic Kansas album, Leftoverture is being celebrated this year as well.
Members of Kansas include Phil Ehart (original drummer/guitar), Richard “Rich” Williams (original lead guitar), Billy Greer (bass/vocals), David Manion (keyboards), Ronnie Platt (lead vocals/keyboard), and David Ragsdale (violin/ guitar) and Zak Rizvi (guitar).
Not long ago I spoke with Rich Williams.
Jane Spietz: Hi Rich. How is the current tour going?
Rich Williams: It’s going great, very busy. Work, work, work. We’re going to probably hit 100 shows this year. Plus, we have the new album coming out.
JS: Yes, The Prelude Implicit. Tell us about it.
RW: It’s the first one we’ve done since 2000. We’re very excited about it coming out. It is absolutely a Kansas record! Kansas fans are going to really like it. The emphasis was to aim for a quintessential Kansas record. Be ourselves as much as possible. We’re not aiming for hit singles, were not aiming to follow any current trend. Were just being ourselves. The worst thing about it is that we can’t play it until the album comes out in September. Now that it’s finished, it’s been frustrating to not be able to actually perform it. But September will be here soon enough. Every record that comes out now needs a bonus track so we’re assembling some bonus tracks right out here on the road. You have this idea, just set up a mic in a hotel room and you record it. You build upon it. It’s a lot of fun to do things that way. It’s a very impromptu, organic type of thing. The whole project has been very much like that, with everybody contributing lots of ideas and very democratically open to trying all things and concepts.
JS: Kansas will be celebrating the 40th anniversary of Leftoverture in October.
RW: Yes, we will be starting a Leftoverture tour. We will be doing Leftoverture in its entirety, in order. We’ve never played every song on Leftoverture, for that matter. And a lot of the new album as well, so it will be a lengthy concert. Two, two and a half hours. I’ve always thought it would be a fun thing to do. And now were finally going to do it.
JS: I saw that a Commemorative Leftoverture SE Custom 24 guitar was commissioned and donated for the 40th anniversary with a beautiful overlay of the album cover on the guitar. Why was this created?
RW: A friend of ours, Paul Schmutzler, became involved with autism research. He does an auction every year for autism research through us. This year we talked with Paul Reed Smith Guitars and got them to donate a guitar with the Leftoverture album cover imprinted on it. It was auctioned off for autism research. I still have it with me. The person who won the auction is going to be picking it up at our July 2 show in Topeka. We’re playing a celebration for Fourth of July weekend there back home. They rejuvenated the whole downtown area. The streets are now back open. It will be a great block party for the reopening of downtown Topeka.
JS: Talk about the time Jim Morrison of the Doors sat in for a session.
RW: That was with White Clover, which was one of the bands that everyone from Kansas evolved from. I was in White Clover, and Phil was. That particular version I wasn’t in. Actually the only guy from Kansas for that one was Phil. They played at the New Orleans Pop Festival and White Clover was also playing down at this club called The Roach in New Orleans. Jim Morrison came in to this little seedy club and got up and sang with them. And that was as it turned out, I think, his last performance. In the same time period we met Jerry Garcia. We were living down in New Orleans in ’69 and ’70, again as White Clover. The Grateful Dead played at a place called The Warehouse that had just opened. We went to see them and then went back to the band house. One of the girls that lived with us brought Jerry Garcia over. We sat and talked with him all night. He was this grand old man of rock’n’roll, you know, spewing his wisdom. He was probably 26 at the time but he seemed like an old man to us. He was a great guy. It was very fun to talk with him. I never met him again. I had always wanted to ask him if he knew that the guys in New Orleans that he sat and talked with all night had turned into Kansas. The end of the story is that it was early morning so we drove him back to his hotel in the French Quarter. We dropped him off; he went inside and got busted. And that’s the song “Truckin’” – “busted, down on Bourbon Street.” I always thought it was kind of interesting that we were the guys that dropped him off at the hotel! (Laughs)
JS: I read that you recently took an unfortunate tumble off the stage. What happened?
RW: We were at a casino in Louisiana. After the set, before the encore, to walk back to the area where I’d come up on the stage. I was blinded by the lights and turned into the darkness. Where I thought the stairs were, they weren’t. I walked right off the stage. There was a ramp and then steps. I kind of hit the hole in between. I had slices all across my elbows, cut my hands up, and my right thigh smashed into the ramp. I had a lump on it the size of a grapefruit. When I hit the ground by the steps, I broke my left ankle. Of course, now it was time to play the encore. Everybody was clapping and screaming. Nobody could see that I was down in this hole which was just wide enough to fall in between. Now the stagehands were grabbing me and trying to jerk me out of there. I’m yelling, “Don’t touch me!” I didn’t know if my back was broken and was just doubled up in pain. Phil’s looking down into the hole where I am. I just gave him a circular motion like, “Keep going!” I couldn’t get up. So Phil goes up and they start playing. The other guys go, “Where’s Rich?” Phil says, “He fell off the stage!” (Laughs) So I played sitting in a chair for a couple of months, but now I’m good to go. Now I have a flashlight with me everywhere I go, along with a bunch of people following me around!
JS: It is so great that Kansas will be appearing at Waterfest in Oshkosh Wisconsin on July 14 at the beautiful Leach Amphitheater.
RW: We are excited to be coming there. We’re a bunch of guys that are dedicated to doing what we do. We’re all here because this is what we’ve chosen to do. This is our profession, it is our hobby, it is our love. I appreciate the Kansas legacy. More than that, I love what’s coming next. The joy is in the actual doing, of making music. We are looking forward to performing in Oshkosh.