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Carry on, Wayward Sons

Special to the Daily
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Many surviving acts from rock ‘n’ roll’s storied past come together for craven reasons alone: The potential for filthy lucre sometimes proves irresistible, even for musicians who nominally hate each other, like The Police. This isn’t the case with Kansas: For them, it’s all about the music.

“We’ve been together twice as long as the original lineup,” says Kansas’ founding guitarist Rich Williams. “This is what I’ve always loved to do; my hobby turned into a career. All the people that didn’t want to do it left. It’s not an effort to keep it going – it’s a will and a labor of love.”Kansas’ progressive mix of guitars, keys, violins and technical proficiency wasn’t necessarily designed to resonate with the masses, but it did anyway: Songs like “Carry On Wayword Son” and “Dust in the Wind” became rock radio staples and made Kansas arena-rock kings in the latter part of the ’70s. In the ’80s, Kansas’ output fell prey to the typical rock demons – among them creative differences and substance abuse – but Williams and original drummer Phil Ehart stuck around to guide the ship. The current Kansas is as strong as it ever was, with original singer Steve Walsh and longtime bassist Billy Greer in top form.”We’ve learned how to do it right – we don’t go out on (tour) on long stretches,” Williams says. “At the height of popularity, everything was something new, but now I can appreciate it for the moment. We’re not worried about the record business or getting our foot in the door. 33 years laters, I still can’t believe what fun this is.”

Kansas has plans to tour with symphonies around the country in celebration of the 30th anniversary for “Point of Know Return,” which featured the hit title song and “Dust in the Wind.””We’re going to a showcase in Nashville where all the symphony buyers are so we can see what we’re getting into,” Williams says. “Sometimes you get snobbery playing with orchestras, but it depends on who you play with. Contract players have to play whatever comes through town, but if you get volunteers, or people who want to play, the experience can be magical.”Williams had to deal with a personal challenge when he became Kansas’ sole guitarist in the mid ’90s. This meant covering rhythm parts and solos, which in the past he’d divided with Kerry Livgren and legendary hired gun Steve Morse.”It was intimidating at first, but I learned to solo back and forth and play both parts all the way through,” Williams says. “(Violinist) David Ragsdale plays on three or four songs, but it just took a little rearranging and now I love it. I’m just busier – once in a while I’ll have a drink of Coke, but that’s about all the time I’ve got.”Outside of Kansas, Williams, Greer, Ehart and Ragsdale are pursuing a side project called Native Window, which gives Williams the opportunity to pursue other musical interests in addition to Kansas.”We’re not trying to be anything like Kansas,” he says. “It’s just Americana – not country, not progressive. We’re focused a little bit more on acoustics, but it’s just a different project and an opportunity to be someone else.”With a son graduating from Western State and a sister in Broomfield, Williams has strong Colorado connections. He says his sister plans to come to his Beaver Creek shows.



“My dad lived in Denver for years, and Colorado was the closest vacation destination from Kansas,” Williams says. “Colorado’s been a part of my life as long as I can remember.”Once Williams arrives in Beaver Creek, we can expect him to tear into his hits with just as much gusto as in the late ’70s; though some artists may tire of their hits, the accomplished guitarist with the trademark eyepatch never loses enthusiasm for the songs he built his name on.”It’s never like, ‘let’s just do ‘Dust in the Wind’ again,'” says Williams. “From the first note, there’s this swell of crowd recognition, and you’re all part of this whole living, breathing experience. I don’t know how you could get so jaded that you’d be tired of being a part of that. In all of human experience, there’s no other experience like that.”Arts & Entertainment writer Ted Alvarez can be reached at 748-2939 or talvarez@vaildaily.com.Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado


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