Kansas guitarist lives childhood dream

By John Benson


Kansas’ Richard Williams said he first started playing guitar in high school as a hobby. However, the seed of being a professional musician was planted years earlier when he was laying in bed one night listening to a live band play at a neighborhood block party.

“I wanted the whole package,” said Williams, calling from Atlanta. “It was like a little boy who wants to join a circus. I wanted to live the life and style of it: the good and the bad and rehearsals and ups and downs of it. At that point, the fuse was lit in me. And it was a hobby that turned into a career that is now my life.”

As far as the ups and downs, Williams has seen his share as the classic-rock band celebrates its 40th year together. Naturally, the highlights include eight gold albums, three sextuple-platinum albums (“Leftoverture,” “Point of Know Return” and “Best of KANSAS”), one platinum live album (“Two for the Show”) and a million-selling gold single in “Dust in the Wind.”

The band is also known for iconic songs “Carry On Wayward Son” and “Point of Know Return.” During the ’70s and ’80s, Kansas appeared on the Billboard charts for more than 200 weeks while playing sold-out arena and stadium shows around the globe.

As far as the downs, Williams points to lineup changes as being the most trying in the group.

“There was a time it was like, ‘Wow, this is kind of painful,’” Williams said. “Like when Steve Walsh quit. It was a tough time, and it was like, ‘Where is this going?’ I thought about it for a day or so and decided I wanted to see where this is going to go. So it has been hard sometimes, but it’s kind of in your nature to do this anyway. Also, playing guitar in Kansas, I’m sure there are plenty of people standing in line who would love to take my job, so it’s pretty hard to complain.”

While some legacy acts spend the entire year celebrating such a monumental anniversary as 40 years together, Kansas decided to do a special one-off fan appreciation show this past August in Pittsburgh, which Williams said was one of the first cities to break Kansas.

Parts of the career-spanning show will be made into a Kansas documentary film, “Miracles Out of Nowhere,” that is due in 2014. For now, fans can get their fill of Kansas, along with co-headliner Styx, at a show at Covelli Centre next Thursday.

Even though it’s been decades since the band’s last hit, there is something about Kansas that remains timeless. When talking about longevity, Williams said Kansas was lucky to avoid pitfalls that have befallen its peers.

“We’re fortunate to have had some songs that have stood the test of time,” Williams said. “They are musically and lyrically solid, and they’re not about cars and girls. Take Foreigner, for instance. I love them, but to be in your 60s singing ‘Hot Blooded’ would be work. That would be a hard thing to do. We have a lot of stuff we’re still proud of, and you can hold your head high and continue to perform without feeling like grandpas up there singing about chicks.”

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