Band “Kansas” Part 1

Today on Around Kansas Deb Bisel sits down with Richard Williams,
David Ragsdale and Billy Greer from Kansas, the Band that is. This special
two part series starts with the impact the state of Kansas has on the band
and how Richard has taken his “Beaver Cleaver” upbringing and applied those
experiences to life on the road. See how with proper band dynamics and good
wholesome rock music this band has made it 40 years and will join the other
Laureates in the Kansas Hall of Fame.

Closed Captioning brought to you by the Kansas Soybean Commission.
The Soybean Checkoff, Progress Powered by Kansas Farmers.

(Deb) Welcome to Around Kansas. I’m your co-host Deb Bisel and we’re
sitting in the Exhibit Hall at the Great Overland Station, on the occasion
of the 2013 Induction of the new Laureate’s into the Kansas Hall of Fame
and with me are a few of those Laureate’s today, three members of the band
Kansas. We’ve got Rich Williams, David Ragsdale and Billy Greer and we’re
just so happy to have you all with us. (1st Male) Thank you so much for
having us here today. Appreciate it. (Deb) Well we’re just thrilled.
Obviously you can see the walls around you, this is only the third year of
the Kansas Hall of Fame, so you guys are in one of the early classes and,
Rich, let’s start with you because you were there from the get-go, about
what Kansas, the state, has meant to you as a member of Kansas the group.
(1st Male) This was a great place to grow up and come from and what enables
you guys to still be together. I didn’t realize our upbringing here, this
was a very normal I had a Beaver Clever childhood. My mother was a stay-at-
home mom. She was a war bride. My dad was at Baker Truck Rental here which
became Ryder Truck Rental. He was one of the founding people in that
company and they, you know, spent their whole life here. It was extremely
normal and that was really you know I’m as normal as one could be, I guess,
for being in a band. You know and this has just been a great place to come
from. It’s the values, the good ones that I’ve kept, anyway, but it came
from coming from this area. (Deb) Now you two, David, Billy, you’re with
the current manifestation of the band, but weren’t there in the beginning.
Were you fans? (2nd Male) Absolutely. I probably played some of the songs
that Kansas plays more than they have because I was playing five and six
nights a week in clubs all over the southeast and we’d do Carry on Wayward
Son twice a night, you know, Point of No Return or Down the Road or songs
like that, so, you know, we were big fans, but we never got to see the band
because we were always working when they were coming around in our area.
(Deb) Right, right, and what about you, David? (3rd Male) First time I
heard Kansas was in, I want to say, 75 and I want to say the song was Can I
Tell You? I was driving around in the car and, you know, this rocking tune
comes on and there’s this violin in it and I’m like, Oh, my goodness. My
mother wanted me to be a violinist and I wanted to be a guitar player and I
was listening to that going, Maybe this violin thing wasn’t such a bad idea
after all. I can remember that. I was a big fan. (Deb) Oh, that’s a
wonderful story because yeah, you don’t, until Kansas, think of violins in
rock music a lot. (1st Male) You know I was looking for a reason… I was a
big fan of John Luke Pawnee and Jerry Goodman. They were jazz, more jazz
fusion at the time when I was a kid, but I was looking for a reason to get
back into the violin and that played a big factor in kind of heading me
back over in that direction. I quit violin by the time I was that age.
(Deb) One of the things I want to visit with you guys about while we’re got
time and Rich and I have talked about this before. You know Rich was born
to be a guitar player. You know he couldn’t do anything else and you’re
fortunate to have been able to make a living doing what you love because
you’re exceptionally good at it and, you know, we all know a lot of really
talented people that aren’t fortunate enough to make a living, so talk
about the challenge of, you know, following your dream that I think that
you’ve all done, doing really well at that, and being able to support
yourself at the same time. (1st Male) Well for me, my journey, I started a
band with my brother. Our inspiration was The Beatles on their first
appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show and we put a band together not knowing
anything about our instruments. He played drums. I played bass and we just
kept at it and kept practicing and first we really sucked and we got better
and we got better and then we started making money doing shows and after I
went to college, he got drafted into the service. I kept playing music. I
was married by that time and I had to support my family somehow, so I was
still playing club shows and my mother insisted that I get a college
education, so she didn’t believe in the music thing, so I had to have
something to fall back on and it’s a lot of sacrifice because I had
children at that time too, so it too me away from my family a lot, but it’s
a lot of sacrifice, but it’s just something that I wanted so badly that I
kept persevering until it happened. (Deb) And what was that moment for you
where you felt like, Okay, I’m at that level now where I am a full-time,
successful musician. I’m there? (1st Male) I think when I got a call from
Phil E. Hart to come join Kansas and that was in 1985, so this is twenty-
eight years. I’m one of the new guys. I’m at twenty-eight years.
(Deb) Right, right. (1st Male) So, but it was that call and joining the
band and, you know, this is it, you know, but, you know, I don’t know. You
still keep searching that point in your life where I can finally relax.
This is the pinnacle well, and this kind of is, being inducted into the
Hall of Fame is quite an honor.

(Deb) David, what about you? What was your journey like? (3rd Male) Very
similar, except without the wives and. (Deb) He’s obviously much smarter,
isn’t he? Yeah. (3rd Male) Well I did have one, but I had the same thing,
the Ed Sullivan Show, Beetles, you know? (Deb) You know I can’t tell you
how many musicians I’ve talked to, that generation (3rd Male) It was an
amazing moment and it changed the lives of many, I’m sure. You just
immediately just, Wow, that’s the most cool thing I’ve ever seen, and that
moment, I knew what I wanted to be and the same sort of thing, you struggle
and you get better and then there comes a time when you start really
listening to the radio and you’re going, Well, you know, better doesn’t
really matter sometimes, but you feel like you need to get better, so you
work and you get better. It’s a struggle and that moment when you all of a
sudden realize that not only are you competing with what is better, you’re
competing sometimes with what’s not as good. That’s a frustrating moment
because rock can be a very perspective phenomenon, where there’s more to
rock than music and sometimes people who are better at the theatrical
aspect of rock, can transcend their limitations and, so, sometimes that’s
frustrating if you’re focused entirely on the musical. (Deb) That’s why I’m
a bluegrass fan. You can’t fake it, you know? (3rd Male) Right. (Deb) It’s
true. That’s it, you’ve got to do it. That being said, I think that’s a
great way to follow into this question, Rich, what you’re doing as a
musician when you’re performing on stage, anyway, is creating an
experience. It’s not just about perfection and I know that you’re all
incredible musicians and I know you strive to do the best you can do, but
perfection is not always the best performance. You know there’s an energy
that’s created when you’re making music with one another that is not
necessarily technically perfect but it generates something special. Yeah,
talk about what that’s like, Rich. (1st Male) Well some of my favorite
moments were accidents that, you know, it’s I meant to go here, whoops, I
went there instead, that kind of worked. I don’t know, I guess just because
I’ve always been kind of my guitar playing is more like a sawed-off shotgun
approach. It’s a scatter gun. I just kind of start blasting and north,
south, east or west and hopefully I hit something every once in a while.
I’ve never been one to fine-tune something and play it exactly this way
over time. I don’t know why. It’s nothing against that. It’s somewhere
between laziness and it just doesn’t feel right to me to do it that way. So
I’ve always like the excitement of here comes that part, Oh, what am I
gonna do? I’ll just do this, then, Whoops, I’ve got to go over here now
because I turned that corner. I can’t go any future. So, and that’s what
I’ve always liked about live and Kansas live a lot more than studio work is
it is an organic living moment that it’s like, Your turn, and off you go
and to me, that’s music is a living, breathing thing to me and that’s what
I like about it.

(Deb) You know one of the things that really struck me one time watching a
musician that I know who had his own band and, you know, you train those
guys and then they leave and go onto bigger and better things. He was
always training people and when we was playing with his peers, his
musicianship was so much better and when he’s, you know, training these
people, so it’s really important to play with good people, isn’t it, I
mean? (2nd Male) Yeah, you surround yourself with people that are good and
it’s gonna make you rise to a different level, but falling back on a live
performance, each one is different and it has its own personality, the
energy that you get from a crowd when you perform live, the more energy you
feel, the more it inspires you to play better and it just takes on a life
of its own. It’s just, you know, it’s crazy. It’s a spiritual feeding
frenzy. It really is. (Deb) It is, yeah. (2nd Male) There’s no… (1st
Male) It’ll give me goose bumps. (2nd Male) And not in a good way, but yeah,
each performance that we do is different. Each has a life of its own and
the more energy we build, the better we play and the more we give back to
the people. It’s always a frenzy. (Deb) If somebody told you that you could
never go on stage again, would you keep playing? Would you sit around the
house and play? Would you, you know, if somebody said you could never go on
stage? (3rd Male) And how much money is he talking about?
(2nd Male) I mean there will come a time that, you know, God forbid that,
you know, I lose a hand in a sawing accident or something, but this isn’t
like football where, you know, you’re twenty-seven and you’re done. Guitar
playing, I play a lot better now than I did thirty years ago. (Deb) Do you
really? (2nd Male) Oh, yeah. You know more. You know more about your
instrument and the equipment and your approach on things. (Deb) That’s
gonna give a lot of old guys hope, you know that, Rich? (2nd Male) It is,
you know, one of the few things in life that you can actually, you know,
get better at, you know, to a point and I would say we’re more at the top
of the hill than over the hill. (3rd Male) Yeah, just to interject there
too, last year, Les Paul played a gig for his ninetieth birthday, the great
pioneers of the electric guitar, so at ninety, that’s where I’d like to be,
still playing music. You know making a joyful noise. (2nd Male) And you
look at Paul McCartney who’s still enjoying a very high level of success at
seventy, how old, still receiving Accolade’s, you know? (1st Male) So yeah,
talking to musicians about retiring and not doing it again. We’re not
artistes and this isn’t a little combo, it’s not an act. We’re blue collar
musicians. This is what we do because it’s what we like to do. If the band
exploded tomorrow, we’d all wind up a piece in something else. That’s just
following our nature of what we do. (Deb) Right. (1st Male) That’s what we
like to do and, so, it really doesn’t end.

(Deb) I want to talk a little bit about the band dynamics because, you
know, bands, you know, like you said, they have a life of their own, just
like a performance, a band has a personality and just takes on a life of
its own. To remain a viable band for forty years is an incredible
accomplishment because, you know, we could cover the walls with bands who
did not do that and should not do that, you know, it was a good thing that
they didn’t and there seems to be so much that goes into that, you know,
it’s got to be number one, you’ve got quality people and quality song
writing. You’ve got all these things to start with, a foundation, but
the amount of respect that that takes for one another and all those other
things. What does that take? (3rd Male) Well it’s like a marriage to be
honest with you, in my perspective, because you spend more time and a lot
of times, with the band than you do with your own wife. You’re on the road
at least a few years ago, when we were riding a bus around the country
for six weeks at a time and you just have to get along some way or another,
I mean, you have moments where you argue and you moan and you bitch, but
you have to get over it and you do and when you walk on stage, you know,
you have to do the performance and at the end of the day, you’re still
friends no matter how much you yell at each other and what mud you might
sling at one another, but that’s my perspective. (2nd Male) Growing up,
going through the paces that it took to get here and playing with band
after band after band, it’s always that one sobering moment when you go, I
don’t like these guys. It happens time and time and time again. You’re like
going and I’m sure they don’t like me either and that’s one of the coolest
things here is what a really cool bunch of guys these are. Like Billy says,
there are moments in any relationship where you’re (Sound), but it’s real
easy resolving it here because it’s such a bunch of good guys. (1st Male)
You know what we were talking about earlier is growing up here, just seeing
things through. You hear a lot of people looking for the greener grass.
I’ve always been comfortable with the grass on this side of the fence and,
so, always wanted to see what’s next and we’ve gone through some changes
and people coming and going and coming back and all that, just kind of want
to see what’s gonna happen next.

Closed Captioning brought to you by the Kansas Soybean Commission.
The Soybean Checkoff, Progress Powered by Kansas Farmers.

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