Sunday, June 5, 2011

Rich Williams of the Legendary Band Kansas Interview

The multi gold and platinum album selling band Kansas has a new symphonic DVD out entitled There’s Know Place Like Home and will be playing Red Rocks on June 8th. I spoke with the band’s guitarist Rich Williams who has been with Kansas since 1974 about what it was like to add 50 people to their band for the DVD, how he felt about reuniting with some former members of Kansas, and his thoughts on Red Rocks.

The new Kansas symphonic DVD There’s Know Place Like Home looks like it was a pretty huge undertaking. What was it like putting it together?

Rich Williams: You know the performing is really the easy part. We’ve done it lots of times ourselves and lots of times with symphonies. The hardest part was deciding where we were going to do it so that it made sense. You could have gone to Baton Rouge and played and I’m sure it would have been fine but it doesn’t make any sense. It wasn’t until we looked at going back home where we got our start in Topeka that things started to gel. We contacted White Concert Hall at Washburn University in Topeka to check out that facility and it turned out that the girl who runs it her father owns the music store that we hung around in back then so it really started to become a coming home event. Then every twist and turn started to make sense. So then we advanced the charts to the school and they had a chance to work on it long in advance so the music part was actually the easiest thing. Getting the stage prepared, the lights in, mobile trucks prepared, all that was a huge undertaking none of which fell on my shoulders. (laughs) That was a management and record company that handled all those things. We just stood there looked pretty and played that’s what our job was. (laughs) Afterwards, after the event there’s a tremendous amount of work in post production. There were ten cameras shooting so you have to look at every camera shot, determining which ones to take and then mixing the entire album with us plus a fifty piece orchestra.

When you approached the symphony what was their reaction to all of this?

Rich Williams: We did an album with the London Symphony Orchestra 13 years ago and we have been doing symphony shows ever since. So we’re pretty used to doing this and we have worked with a lot of colleges already. So we kind of knew what questions to ask and how to approach them plus we had a product to show in terms of something that they could hear. Larry Baird who is our conductor, he wrote all the scores, he started with the Moody Blues doing all the stuff for their shows he’s been doing this for a very long time so he know the way to explain through all of this to the schools or whatever. With a school it’s different because they’re not set up for advertisement, set up for marketing, or set up for selling tickets to these things so the learning curve is a lot different. Which means it will take more time to set it all up.

So with the college symphony shows do you ever get somebody who gets all star struck on stage with you guys?

Rich Williams: Well sometimes we’ll pull people from the city orchestras who are a little bit jaded and they have to be there and other times it’s “Hey this show is coming and who would like to perform on it?” and then you get fans who really want to do it and that’s fun. For some of the college kids they have never even heard of us, maybe some of them know us from their parents or from playing video games like Guitar Hero or Garage Band where we have stuff on it. The fun part working with the college kids is that they bring so much excitement to the table. They know that we have been doing this for a long time and it is inspiring to be around that energy.

For the DVD what was it like playing with Steve Morris again?

Rich Williams: We hadn’t worked with him since he was in the band and so that was really fun it was just like another day. He popped in and we had rehearsal and he was ready to go. He’s so good it doesn’t take him long to jump back in the saddle plus it was fun for Kerry and Steve to play together because they had never played together before because they were both in Kansas at separate times.

Were there any songs that didn’t work with the symphony and had to be shelved?

Rich Williams: The song Portrait it doesn’t work that well it sounds a little bit trite and it kind if takes some of the oomph out of it where a song like Cheyenne Anthem really comes alive with a symphony.

You guys are playing Red Rocks on June 8th. Now what’s your take on that venue?

Rich Williams: I think this is our fourth time there. Of all the places to play that definitely has got to be in the top three and I really can’t think of anything I would put above it. There’s just something incredibly special about playing at Red Rocks. Universally with any musician I talk to when we start talking about favorite places when you mention Red Rocks its “Oh yeah, that is the place.” There’s a few places that you almost get nervous to play and Red Rocks is one of them. It’s an unexplainable feeling of “This is not a normal show”. There’s something like “This is an event” and an honor almost to be there. I don’t get butterflies very often but Red Rocks will do that. It’s just a very special night for the performer to be there.

The June 8th show at Red Rocks is you and Jethro Tull do you have any openers on that show?

Rich Williams: No, I think it’s just the two of us. They invited us to play on their whole tour and we wanted to but they are not doing a lot of dates in the states, only select dates and the offer for us to go to Europe for a month came up do we had to jump on that but we said, “We can make the Red Rocks show.” If that would be okay and they said “Sure” which is really where we wanted to play (laughs) so it all worked out and I haven’t seen Tull in a long time so I’m looking forward to that.