Kansas still in the know before Reno show
August 14, 2008
Kansas guitarist Rich Williams probably has been asked this question many times: Do you ever get tired of playing “Dust in the Wind?”
He tells a story to qualify his answer.
Recently, Kansas performed for the first time in Bulgaria. He and the other band members did not know what to expect but were encouraged to learn the 4,000-seat concert hall sold out in 15 minutes.
“The whole place was singing along with everything, not just ‘Dust,’ ” Williams said. “To play that song in a part of the world you’ve never been to and hear them singing along and you can hear their accents. What else in life could give me that? So do I get tired of playing ‘Dust in the Wind?’ F— no.”
Kansas is the rock band from the ’70s that melded the Williams’ guitar and Robby Steinhardt’s violin to create a singular sound. It had the hit songs “Point of Know Return,” “Song for America,” Carry on Wayward Son” and, of course, “Dust in the Wind.”
Lineup changes and a sharp decline in commercial success nearly brought a permanent end to Kansas.
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“Management said, ‘Guys, maybe it’s time to quit,’ ” Williams said “The record company said, ‘Maybe it’s time for you guys to find something else to do.’ And we kind of believed it.”
But in 1990 a German promoter enticed the band to make a two-week tour in Europe. Like they were in the early days, the arenas were all sold out. When Kansas returned home, it had another well-received sellout concert in Atlanta.
“We thought how about we do this every summer and have fun with it,” Williams said. “Let’s do two weeks. And two weeks turned into four weeks, and it just never stopped. Everybody just grossly underestimated our fan base. So now we rely on ourselves, and we’re busier than we’ve ever been.”
Kansas plays about 80 concerts a year, including shows Aug. 29 and 30 at the Atlantis Casino Resort Spa in Reno.
Except for the classically trained Steinhardt, the rest of Kansas from Topeka was self-taught. In the late 1960s the nucleus of the group which was to become Kansas was called White Clover. White Clover played several local bills with a band from Hays, Kan., called Beast.
Tom Rietcheck, a pit boss at MontBleu, sang and played guitar for Beast.
“They tried out a few different singers and finally they got the right combination,” Rietcheck said. “When they got Steve Walsh it just seemed to click for them. They got the record label and they got the contract and we never saw them again.”
Kansas was signed by Don Kirshner.
“For some reason he left us alone to do what we do,” Williams said. “Here’s money, go make an album. He left us alone to create. That could never happen today.”
Kirshner may have left them alone because he had never worked with a rock band that included a violin.
“The guitar and violin are very complimentary instruments,” Williams said. “When they harmonize together they create a third instrument.”
Williams picked up guitar after he saw the Beatles on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
“I’d heard blues, but not the way the British played it,” he said. “It wasn’t a twangy guitar. It was real aggressive, nasty guitar sound. They turned it into a really unique voice.”
Yardbirds guitarists Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page, along with Jimi Hendrix, are the influences Williams cites.
“Everything since has been influenced by them,” he said. “The only person since them that was uniquely different was Van Halen.”
Williams’ mastery of the guitar is displayed on the re-release of “Two For The Show,” which came out July 1, the 30-year anniversary of printing of the four-sided vinyl version of 1977-78 concert recordings. In addition to the original tracks, another CD includes live tracks never before used.
“There was a lot of stuff we’d recorded, but with restrictions of vinyl we couldn’t put much on,” Williams said. “We got to hear this stuff for the first time, and mix it for the first time.”
The songs are much faster versions of Kansas’ studio material.
“It was adrenaline,” Williams said. “You do things in the studio, that’s one thing. Then you go live and with 20,000 people in the audience, and the adrenaline just gets flowing.”