Rich Williams and the state of KANSAS
By Rose Botkin-Beuck and Jules E. Beuck   Staff Photos by Rose Botkin-Beuck and Michelle Mills

The group Kansas has been playing and recording together in one form or another for around thirty years now. They are in the midst of a major concert tour this summer, sharing the bill with the British group Yes, which they brought to the Glen Helen Blockbuster Pavilion in Devore on June 24. In conjunction with this tour, Kansas has also released a new album on Magna Carta, titled "Somewhere To Elsewhere."  Editor's note: For a concert review, please read B Notes in this issue. Also, watch for an upcoming review of Kansas' release.

Guitarist Rich Williams, an original member of the band, recently gave us his take on the "state of Kansas" - the band that is.

Williams discussed the groupís beginnings in Topeka, Kansas. His first band was in high school with drummer Phil Ehart, also an original member. They were in a lot of bands together, but as they reached college age, people started dropping out to pursue other interests until the "last men standing" were the six musicians who came to be known as Kansas.

Williams credits seeing the Beatles on television as one of his early influences. He also liked the Rolling Stones and early British rock in general. The first album he bought was by Herman's Hermits, but Eric Clapton was the first guitarist to make an impression on him. Williams found the album "Blues Breakers, John Mayall With Eric Clapton" enlightening, as it showed him how expressive one could be with the guitar. When discussing the music of today, Williams admitted that there is not much new music out there that "grabs" him.

According to Williams, the original six members of the band have not been on stage together since the early eighties. Original bassist, Dave Hope, is a youth minister at a church in Florida, while principal songwriter, Kerry Livgren, has a farm in Kansas. Williams explained that though Livgrenís wife encourages him to go out on the road with the band, the responsibilities of running a working farm are too much for him to be able to leave behind for any length of time. Williams told us that he feels Livgren has it made because he has a working studio in his barn where the new album was recorded.

We asked how songs for the band are written.

"Kerry wrote the whole LP," said Williams. "He was working on a solo project and had been setting some of the songs aside for Kansas."

Kansas2.jpg (14988 bytes)Last winter, the band went to Livgrenís farm and heard a whole bunch of his new songs. They picked ten and were "up and running." Steve Walsh wrote a lot of songs too, but he is in the middle of a solo project and did not feel his material would fit the band. Other members of the band do occasionally collaborate on the music as well.

When asked how the band keeps their creative energies up, Williams explained that Kansas enjoys the road and tries to not work so hard that they "burn-out." He then said, "Ask me August first." In the past, the band would only perform Friday through Sunday, however, with the new album coming out, they are on a seven week tour with Yes.

The album ended up on Magna Carta because the band did not feel they had a good enough handle on the business end of the industry. According to Williams, the group felt that Magna Carta, with its roster of "progressive Rock bands," was a perfect fit for them. They recorded the new album in seven weeks. "We had the best time recording 'Somewhere To Elsewhere,' said Williams. "The time together with the guys was a constant laugh."

Williams completed our interview by thanking the bandís fans and asking us to encourage them to visit their Web site at http://www.kansasband.com. He told us that site visitors would not only be able to purchase band paraphernalia, read bios of the band and get tour information, but they will also be able to view ten to fifteen second movies showing humorous backstage activities.

Williams is proud that Kansas has been in the top ten of requested groups on radio, but he would like to encourage fans to request something other than "Dust In The Wind," as that song seems to get played at the expense of the rest of the Kansas catalog.

We are sure that if you saw Kansas in concert this summer you enjoyed yourself. If you missed this date, you can pick up "Somewhere to Elsewhere," it was released on July 11. As a parting shot, Williams requested that fans "beat up radio stations" in the quest to have the new album played on the air.

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