Some of you remember listening to them when your hair was down to your butt and all the coolest bands were named after places in the U.S. Some of you only know them from your parents’ record collections. It’s no secret that they’ve been around a while — 40 years to be exact.
Kansas, a classic rock band that gained national recognition in the ‘70s and ‘80s, is celebrating their 40th anniversary this year with a nation-wide tour, including a show in Wenatchee. Kansas and four other bands, will play Friday at the Town Toyota Center’s Summer Ale Fest. This is a band with eight gold albums, three sextuple-platinum albums, one platinum live album and a million-selling gold single. So what brought them here?
“We were invited,” said Richard Williams, long-time guitarist for the band. “We manage ourselves, we have for the last 27 years. We pick and choose what we do.”
Williams and drummer Phil Ehart have been with the band all 40 years; the two even played in a band together in high school. Now, with songs like “Dust in the Wind” and “Carry On Wayward Son” to their names and their music in video games, movies, and on television, their following is as loyal as ever.
“The reason we get to do this is because we have a great fan base who still wants to see us play… we have three generations of families coming to shows,” Williams said. “Staying out in the public eye, performing, is probably the best thing we do in keeping the name out there. We’re good live, we’re powerful, that’s what matters.”
In our interview with Williams, he shared his insight on today’s music industry and his experience in a big-name band during the time when being “The Man” wasn’t a good thing.
And because we couldn’t help ourselves, we had to ask: do you ever get sick of playing the same songs? You know which ones we’re talking about.
“Not performing them, no. We don’t perform them in rehearsal. Those songs are bigger than we are,” he said, recounting the many times the people he’d run into had known the names of the tracks even if they didn’t know the band. “To play those with any given crowd at any given time, there’s a connection. To play the first note, everyone in the building has a story, how do you ever get tired of that?”
But after 40 years it would seem that anything would get boring, even if that “anything” was being a professional rock star. So we asked Williams if he still loves what he does, and if, after all this time, the band’s career is finally coming to a close.
“Oh yeah, maybe more now. When it first started out I had no experience to compare it to. Now I can look back 40 years and I can enjoy it for the moment” he said. His job, although it’s hard to believe he would ever call it that, hasn’t lost it’s charm.
“It’s not like I work at the bank and I can’t wait to retire so I can go play golf. This never was a job, this was a hobby that turned into a career that now turned into an entire life,” he said. “Retire and do what? Nobody has any plans of slowing down.”
“When I was a buck in high school and there was a new Beatles album coming out you would have heard word of mouth,” said Williams, who attributes his interest in music to the Beatles, along with Genesis, King Crimson and Jethro Tull. “You were holding an album cover in your hands, it would tell you a story about what you’re listening to… [Now,] you never see the artist, you don’t see the cover, you never hear the other 9 songs on the album.”
This instant gratification in the music industry is what Williams views as sad, and one of the biggest changes during his time in the field.
“Everything is a flavor or the second now,” he said. “The delayed gratification of getting something is a great lesson to learn, it makes you appreciate things.”
But some things never change, like the travel, the touring, and the power of paying in front of a crowd.
“The tour is perpetual, it sort of doesn’t end. In the old days we’d put out an album, go to rehearsals, and then go out and tour that album, now we just tour all the time. It’s what we do year in, year out.” Williams said the band averages 70 shows a year, but they’re looking at around 80 next year. ‘You set up somewhere, and the people that want to hear you come. The lights go down, and that becomes the universe at that point.”
Surely the same is true of this Friday. Speaking of which, we had to ask just one last question: this is an Ale Fest, you know, so which Kansas song goes best with a beer?
After a little contemplation Williams replied: “We’re not really a sing-along and let’s get drunk and go naked with band.” Then, chuckling: ‘Dust in the Wind.’ If people want to cry into their beer, Dust would be a good one for it.”