Interview with Rich Williams of Kansas

Published on March 10th, 2010

By: Justin R. Beckner, Rock Concerts Correspondent

Rich Williams is too modest to tell you himself, but he is one of the greatest and most enduring guitarists of his generation. Kansas has been together and touring for 40 years now and unlike most bands of that era who still tour, they still have the original core of the band. I remember the first time I saw Kansas, it was at a festival in Northern Minnesota and I was blown away by Rich’s guitar playing. I found myself wondering why they weren’t headlining the festival.

This summer Kansas is United in Rock with Styx and Foreigner for a rigorous nationwide tour. But that’s nothing new for a man who churns out 70-75 shows every year with his Kansas bandmates. But don’t worry, there’s some fun along the way too. Below is an interview with Guitar Legend, Rich Williams.

JB: What is your least favorite interview question?

RW: Well there are some. One we get is, “Where are you guys from?” but I think my least favorite is a question that they ask more over in Europe but we get it here too is, “What can we expect from you guys when you come to town?”. You know, what can you say to that, “I’m not gonna play that night. I’m going to put on a sausage making seminar.” It’s kinda obvious. But I don’t want to be a dick about it so I just tell them that were going to play a great show and blah blah blah. I guess maybe they’re looking for some cheap pro wrestling type bit.

JB: How is the vibe with the band right now, are you working on any new material?

RW: Things are going really well, today we were going over some old songs that we’re adding to the set this year to change things up a bit. We’re going to spend most of the summer promoting the new DVD we just put out. We do have some future plans although I cant really discuss them right now because not all of the parties have been spoken to yet. But its going to be a very busy year for us. We’re doing 50 – 70 dates with Foreigner and Styx this summer as well as a bunch of symphony gigs on our own. So we might hit 100 dates this year which is very busy for us. We work at a pretty casual pace most of the time. This year is going to be different but usually we leave on Friday and come home on Sunday all through the year. So we usually end up with 70-75 dates a year. This year we’ll be out for three months at a time doing four or five nights a week. So that’s something that will be different for us that we’re getting ready for.

JB: I wanted to ask you about how you feel the role of technology has changed the music industry. Particularly things like Guitar Hero, MySpace, iTunes, etc. Is it good or bad?

RW: Well, Guitar Hero has been great. I hear people complain all the time that its not really a guitar which its not, it’s a game. But it gets kids involved in classic rock music. The music is kind of a by product of the game. And I’m sure there been many a kid who has played the game and thought, ya know, I think I’d like to learn how to play a real guitar. And if the game can spark that, then I cant see any harm in it. As with the internet, you have to get on board and change with the times. You cant stop people from buying albums (or not buying albums) online. So might as well embrace it. Its just the way things are done now. I’ve seen where a band is on the radio and you buy an album for those two songs and the rest of it is crap. Well, now you can download the songs for 99 cents a pop. So why go into a studio and record 12 songs – run up a quarter of a million dollar bill in recording costs when you can just record four songs and put out an EP. It gets music out to the fans quicker, reduces recording costs. The people get more of what they want.

JB: Now, you’ve got some great looking PRS Guitars. Have you thought about getting some new guitars?

RW: My two main guitars are PRS and one of them is the first PRS guitar I bought, God, about 25 years ago. And I also have a Dragon PRS that I use more as a backup. I got that 18 years ago. I got that guitar the same year my daughter was born. I love those guitars.

JB: What does your practice regiment look like these days?

RW: We don’t get together that much in our off time anymore. I play everyday – some days more than others. It is very important to pick up a guitar everyday and fiddle with it.

JB: You’re playing a few dates in the Midwest this year. Do you have any memorable moments that come to mind when you think about the Midwest?

RW: The first one that comes to mind, we were playing at Royals Stadium in Kansas City, so it was a really big gig for us. I hadn’t thought about it much and we were working on a lot of new material at the time so we decided that we would try out some new songs at the show that night. I remember driving up to the stadium and you can see inside as you’re driving up and that place was jam packed. So, we decided not to unveil any new songs that night. We were too nervous. But we played a great show. The crowd was amazing and they brought in a huge sound system. I remember sitting in my dressing room before our set and hearing this amazing guitar playing. And I was like, who the fuck is that? Turns out it was Van Halen. They were just getting started.

JB: Who is the greatest guitar player of all time in your mind?

RW: Jeff Beck. Without a doubt. He’s not all flash but he can be if he wants to. Another one might be Eric Clapton. His Bluesbreakers album really opened my eyes. It was the first time I had heard a Les Paul plugged into a Marshall cranking out the blues. The Yardbirds had Jeff Beck, Clapton, and Page. That’s kinda the gold standard for guitar playing minus Jimi Hendrix.

JB: Are there any lessons you’d like to share that you had to learn the hard way?

RW: Yeah on a personal level, its never too early to get off the party wagon. I drank a little more than I should have. It went from a fun thing to being a problem. I’m glad I stopped. Best thing I ever did. I never played really too drunk. It was more off the stage stuff. Another thing people ask us is how we’ve stayed together so long. I was never the greatest guitar player in the world but I have a good attitude. You really have to surround yourself with good people with a common goal. Its hard to work with people with one foot out the door. It’s a lot harder to be in a band and be on the road in a van with a bunch of assholes.

For more info on Kansas, check out their website.

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  1. Posted by Jeff on April 16th, 2011, 01:00 [Reply]

    Rich Williams Rocks!
    He is such a unique guitarist-and way underestimated.
    He and Kerry together were (in my never be so humble opinion) are/were the best guitar Duo ever! How this man has handled the music of Kansas on his own is a testament to his skill, mastery and might I say “Meatwall” sound.

    I have had the pleasure of socializing with Rich on several
    occasions. He’s funny as hell, smart and one of my all time



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