Unleashing pent-up creativity is a gratifying experience for a band, as Kansas guitarist Richard Williams can attest. The band known for the prog-/hard-rock hybrid exemplified by “Carry On Wayward Son” and “Dust in the Wind” recently released Leftoverture Live & Beyond, which included the 1976 classic Leftoverture performed in its entirety along with material from 2016’s The Prelude Implicit.
Original members Williams and drummer Phil Ehart today lead a rejuvenated lineup that includes longtime bassist Billy Greer, violinist David Ragsdale along with three new members – vocalist Ronnie Platt, keyboardist David Manion, and guitarist Zak Rizvi. Their collective excitement is palpable on both Leftoverture Live & Beyond and The Prelude Implicit.
Leftoverture Live & Beyond is 19 songs recorded at 12 shows in early 2017.
“The only song we’d never played live from Leftoverture was ‘Questions of My Childhood.’ And we didn’t re-record anything or go back in and do overdubs,” Williams said.
“Traditionally, we’ve done a lot of rearrangements of Kansas songs – sometimes for good, sometimes for not so good. With this new lineup, we’ve gone back as much as we can to the way the songs were written and recorded. We’re trying to lean more on the original arrangements.”
Before they started work on The Prelude Implicit, the band toured, and it went so well, he said, “…the restraints were off of us, musically.” At first, doubts nagged about their ability to write new songs because former vocalist/keyboardist Steve Walsh and guitarist/keyboardist Kerry Livgren had always been Kansas’ primary songwriters; Somewhere to Elsewhere was Livgren’s material with the original members performing, but Williams said it was “an assembly-line thing” with parts recorded separately.
“It’s not the same as sitting in a room with a bunch of guys, developing ideas. That ebb and flow is really where some of our best stuff came from – not just from one person but by the combination and effort of everybody. We didn’t have that on Somewhere to Elsewhere. That’s what we had on The Prelude Implicit again,” he said. “We made the album for us as much as we made it for anything else. We didn’t know what it was going to be going into it. We had never done it this way before. We wanted to be quintessentially Kansas from the artwork to the lyrics to the music to the variety within the music – very well-thought-out to be as Kansas as we possibly can.”
Williams’ main concern has always been about what’s best for Kansas as a whole.
“I’m a team player. There’s no Richard Williams solo album. I’ve never had a desire to do a solo album,” he said. “In my opinion, Kansas has always been the sum of its parts, not so much the talent of any one person. I’ve always just been very comfortable in the role of a team player.”
His attitude applies to working with other guitarists in Kansas, whether it’s been Livgren, Steve Morse, or Rizvi.
“In our early days, we were doing an interview and they asked Kerry, ‘Who’s your biggest influence?’ He said, ‘Probably Rich, because we play together all the time.’ We were working on equipment together and guitars and guitar tones and different things. You’re not in competition, but constantly working together. That’s all very positive,” said Williams.
For more than 30 years, Williams’ main electric has been a PRS Custom from ’84 or ’85. Early in Kansas, he played a Gibson L-6S that’s still part of his collection of about 30 guitars. He also plays a Martin D-28 based on the one he used on “Dust in the Wind.”
The uncertainty nipping at Kansas’ heels in recent years has been replaced with forward-thinking confidence; pending is a tour during which they’ll perform 1977’s Point of Know Return in its entirety, and they’re set to record a new studio album.
“The quality of the shows and the performance level of the band is at an all-time high,” said Williams. “The energy level, the crowd enjoyment – everything – is greater than it has been since the early days. It feels much like it did on the second, third, and fourth albums,” said Williams. “It’s that type of focused energy. It’s been a tremendous experience. None of us are looking back, remembering when. Our best days are in front of us.” – Bret Adams
This article originally appeared in VG‘s June 2018 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.