Interview with Rich Williams, original guitarist of KANSAS

By Jason Koerner

I recently had the pleasure of speaking to Rich Williams, original guitarist for the rock mega-group, KANSAS. The band is on the road in support of their recently re-released double CD, Two for the Show: 30th Anniversary Edition. They also have a new DVD coming out on August 4 entitled, There's Know Place Like Home. This DVD will feature footage from a February 7 hometown (Topeka, KS) show filmed at Washburn University. It proves to be something to see, as the band was backed by the Washburn Symphony Orchestra, filmed in high definition and played to an intimate setting of less than 2000 fans.

Rich gave me the scoop on what is going on with their tour, latest projects, and some personal tidbits to boot…

Jason: You are a busy man, so I appreciate you taking time out for me today. How have things been?

Rich: Pretty busy, actually… just getting rested up. We just finished shooting a DVD, and we're getting ready for a show tomorrow night. (Rich was referring to a 2/13 Las Vegas gig to start off several dates on the road, leading them to Florence, IN for the show at Belterra Casino on 2/28…)

Jason: How did the show go?

Rich: It went great… one of the most professionally handled shows I've ever been part of.

Jason: Tell me a little bit about playing with the orchestra.

Rich: Well, we've done that several other times over the years… after doing it for a while, we thought, "This would be a great thing to capture." …The stage looked tremendous. It was a very expensive project.

Jason: What are your expectations for this tour?

Rich: I expect that it will be what it usually is… looking at the crowd, we'll play KANSAS material… I'd be surprised if it was anything different than that. I expect it to be another fun day at the office, really.

Jason: Is there any place that you have not been that you would like to go on tour?

Rich: We've never been to Australia, never been to Eastern Europe, Russia - never been behind the old Iron Curtain. For the first time last year, we were in Bulgaria. Who knew? It turned out to be the highlight of the tour … sold out in like twenty minutes, it was a beautiful performing arts center. They said they had been waiting for us for thirty years! How would we know? Nobody told us. The whole place was singing along… they knew it so well, it was very surprising. (Side Note: The band will be going to Germany in October 2009, and perhaps elsewhere…)

Jason: What has Guitar Hero II done for KANSAS?

Rich: It's brought in a lot more of a new generation. We always get new generations along the way, but this really brought in a lot of younger kids. If they like that song, they buy an album and start liking a lot more material. It's brought us a whole new era of fans.

Jason: What is your favorite guitar? "The one…"

Rich: I've got a PRS Dragon, and I've got a PRS Standard 22 set neck. That was my first Paul Reed Smith guitar, and the Dragon was my second. The Dragon is a little bit "meatier" sounding, but it doesn't have a whammy bar, so I kind of switch between the two.

Jason: What about this side project that you guys are working on, Native Window?

Rich: We're doing some final touches on the final mixes, and the album is coming out May 12.

Jason: How does Native Window differ from the sound of KANSAS, or is it the same?

Rich: We didn't want to be KANSAS - that's why we did it, because it was different. It allows us to do something other than KANSAS. If it starts sounding too much like KANSAS, then we'll alter it so it wouldn't. It's all guitar and violin-oriented. It's not as complex as a KANSAS record… it's got some complex passages at times, but it's a little bit more straightforward and more song-oriented. … It doesn't sound like a KANSAS record.

Jason: You've done so much in your career. What do you feel is the biggest accomplishment?

Rich: Well, the biggest accomplishment is longevity. We're still standing, still working as much as we want. Just standing here I think is our biggest accomplishment.

Jason: Is there anybody that you wish that you had been able to tour with that you did not get an opportunity to?

(Rich went into a list of names including The Beatles, and also discussed his admiration for The Rolling Stones and Jeff Beck. We then went into a side-conversation about how incredible both Beck and his bass player (Tal Wikenfeld) are. I could not remember her name at the time, and it drove me crazy.)

Jason: Who do you think is out there right now, if anybody, that could kind of do what KANSAS has done? Who has just made it big in the last few years that has that same type of longevity potential?

Rich: I honestly couldn't tell you. My ear is not that close to the ground on what's going on today. Between KANSAS, Native Window, and all the other horse$h!t that goes along with a normal day, I just don't sit around and listen to records and try to keep caught up on what's current… I'm really not all that interested. I enjoy playing a lot more than I do listening, anyway.

Jason: Let me phrase it a different way. What do you think it has been about KANSAS' music that has put you guys in the position you're in?

Rich: We always wanted to do it our way. If it sounded like something else, we didn't like it. If it started sounding typical, common, or familiar- we'd alter it. That's what brought us all together in music was to be outside the box a bit.

We then switched gears to discuss a gentleman who claimed to be Rich Williams from KANSAS in his day-to-day life. Storied had circulated at one time that the individual posing as Williams was a Vietnam veteran, but later that proved untrue.

Rich: He was just a bull$h!tter as it turned out. I felt a bit sorry for him when I found out he was a vet, but now that he's not… I'm curious about how many times he got laid in my name, and how many women are out there that are pissed off at me. I didn't have anything to do with that; it wasn't me, I promise! … Even when I was drinking Kentucky dry, I would have still remembered that!

Be sure to visit www.kansasband.com to check out all the latest happenings with the band. You can also catch them live at Belterra Casino on Saturday, February 28. Best of luck to Rich and company as they swing our direction next week and bring us one of the longest-running rock shows around. It should be a treat for fans of all ages!