Classic rock icon Kansas will take the stage at Nutty Jerry’s in Winnie on Friday, April 22 with doors opening at 7 p.m. Advance tickets are $33 and can be purchased online at nuttyjerrys.com, charge by phone at (877) 643-7508 or at the facility.
Three of the original members still remain with the group including Phil Ehart (drums), Steve Walsh (vocals, keyboard) and Rich Williams (lead guitar) and other members include Billy Greer (bass), who joined Kansas in 1986, and David Ragsdale (violin).
Self-described as a group of high school buddies, they were signed by the late Don Kirshner in 1973 and have enjoyed a career that spans nearly 40 years with a collection of 27 albums, which includes 14 studio albums, seven compilations and six live records.
The band caught fire in the 1970s with hits such as “Carry on Wayward Son,” “Point of Know Return,” “People of the South Wind” and “Dust in the Wind.”
Kansas continued to make powerful records in the 80s like “Fight Fire with Fire,” “Play the Game Tonight,” “All I Wanted,” “Chasing Shadows,” “Everybody’s My Friend,” “Power” and “Stand Beside Me.”
The band continues to play select dates and just last year, they went on the Collegiate Symphony Tour, which was a two-month long, nationwide tour in which Kansas performed with the symphony of each college to raise money for music departments. They also recorded the live CD/DVD There’s Know Place Like Home.
Guitarist Rich Williams spoke with The Examiner and about how the group came together, funny nicknames and the future of Kansas.
When did you first pick up a guitar?
It was the first summer between my sophomore and junior year in high school. Learning to play came fairly easy. I took lessons down at a music store.
When I first heard the album ‘Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton,’ it had such a huge voice to me and it really rained lighting to me.
How’d the group come together?
We all went to high school together. Dave (Hope, original bassist) actually moved into my neighborhood. We all hung out at the same music stores and back then, they were a big thing and were thriving. There were garage bands on every block in Topeka and everyone I knew played in a band. For some people, it was a passing interest. I remember when I saw the Beatles on the ‘Ed Sullivan Show,’ I knew this is what I wanted to do.
Being from the state, was it natural to name the band Kansas?
Most of the guys had been in a band called Kansas and Kerry was still in that band when we got our record deal. When we signed, we were White Clover and we didn’t want to be White Clover.
You eventually went from sharing guitar duties to having lead. Any added pressure to becoming lead guitarist?
Kerry (Livgren, original member) played guitar and keyboard so it wasn’t that big of a switch. It really depended on the song, but it wasn’t a big deal to have lead.
Of all the accomplishments, what are you most proud of?
Probably the symphony work. If one thing my mother could have seen, I wish it would have been that. We come a long way from practicing in the basement to playing with a symphony.
How did you earn the nickname Slime ‘The Mole’ Jelly?
Where did you hear that? Only a few of my friends know that (laughter). We made up fictitious blues names so I don’t know where you would have heard that because it was just among a hand full of friends. I can tell you this if your name was Slime Jelly, then you need a nickname like the Mole. It was really just a spoof on early blues names.
Will fans ever hear any new Kansas material?
Artistically, I would love to do it and we talk about it from time to time. Steve and Kerry were the big writers for us and they have no interest in writing any new material. A large reason for that is, who cares? You would have to take a year off and pour your heart into a record that radio isn’t going to play. Take for instance the Rolling Stones. They go to Brazil and sell out soccer stadiums, but if they were to put out a new record, it wouldn’t sell like they are used to selling It’s just the nature of the beast.
After all these years, you still having fun?
This is easy. I know what real work is and this isn’t it. Last weekend I left on Friday and came home on Sunday afternoon. We are going to Europe later this year with Foreigner and Journey, so I’m really looking forward to that and then traveling to Japan in August. We don’t overwork ourselves by doing 20 shows in a row.