"Carry On," "Dust in the Wind," and Bob Ezrin: part 3 of our Billy Greer Interview

"If both those songs were put on a tape loop, each of them would last over five years solid, just constant play. That’s how many radio air plays they had around the world."

Photo courtesy of KANSAS

As America's preeminent progressive rock band embarks on its 50 performances, MeTV had the privilege to interview KANSAS' Billy Greer and Rich Williams, bassist and guitar player, respectively. The "Another Fork in the Road" Tour celebrates 50 incredible years of indelible music, highlighting crowd favorites like "Carry On, Wayward Son," and "Dust in the Wind."

Billy Greer has been the bassist for KANSAS since 1985. Prior to the tour's stop at the Chicago Theater, Billy answered our questions about his peers, recording techniques, and an underrated KANSAS album.



Billy, have you ever encountered a KANSAS song somewhere you didn’t expect to hear it? Either at the movie theater or maybe you’re watching a commercial and suddenly there you are?

I’ll tell you what, the strangest one for me and Richard [Williams, guitarist of KANSAS]… We were on a USO tour. Phil, our drummer was a military brat, so he lived all around the world. His father was stationed in Okinawa, and the Phillipines– so he travelled all during his youth and teenage years.

So, [Phil] thought “God, what a great way to give back.” So, he put together all of KANSAS, Tom Johnson, from the Doobie Brothers, and a couple other guys from Cheap Trick. And we all went on a USO tour, around the world. We’ve done this more than once.

We were playing in a NATO base in Liverpool, England. We’d just recorded a new album, so we were kinda anxious to get out there to start playing. And we were walking down the street–me and Richard were– and we walked by this record shop, and we hear this song, and it catches our ear. “Wow, that’s pretty cool.” Then we realized, “Wait a minute, that’s off our new album!”

We went into a club in Okinawa and heard this cover band do the most amazing version of “Dust in the Wind.” I don’t know if you’ve heard about Filipino bands and bands from Okinawa. They’re the most incredible cover bands. They do it exquisitely. An example: Arnel from Journey. He was discovered on YouTube. Playing in a cover band, did a Journey cover, and they saw him on YouTube. Now he’s got the job. It’s a great story, and he’s such a nice guy. We’ve toured with them since then, and I got a chance to sit down and talk with him, he’s a very cool guy.

You’ve toured with Journey– I know you’ve done a lot of shows with Styxx, Foreigner, and Cheap Trick. If Kansas teams up for a softball game, what’s another band you think you’d have their number? If you had to beat another band in softball, who would it be?

Probably .38 Special– that’s another one we’ve played with a lot. My first gig with this band [KANSAS] was with .38 Special, we were opening up for them actually, in San Juan, Puerto Rico. And since then we’ve done a hundred, or maybe fifty shows with them over the years. We’ve never done like an extended tour, but we’ve done like three or four shows a year with .38.

How does it make a show different if you’re sharing the bill with another band? Is it a different setlist if the crowd is just there to see KANSAS?

Well depending on whether we get to do the headlining set or the opening set. .38 Special is one of those [bands] that has really good, familiar hits that they can play, and the crowd recognizes them. So, they’re not an easy band to follow. Yet, we’ve got a few hits of our own, so… It’s a good pair.

If we’re opening, we only get maybe 60 minutes. So, we have to tailor our set to the time constraints. Otherwise, we do at least 90 when we headline. For this particular tour that we’re on now, we play over two hours, for the 50th Anniversary show. Really covering some territory. That’s what we do! We dig deeper, when we headline, into our album tracks that people enjoy, so that’s the difference.

I’m really looking forward to those deeper cuts. A song that I discovered when I was looking into more of KANSAS’ discography was “One Big Sky” from In the Spirit of Things. It’s like my new favorite song. I wanted to ask you about having [producer] Bob Ezrin in the studio for that album. What does a producer like that bring to the table in collaborating on the recording process that somebody else might not bring?

Well, he really held our feet to the fire in making sure the lyrics were up to snuff. And Steve being the main lyric writer at the time, he was the one that felt the most pressure. In the end, he really turned out and wrote some great lyrics.

Bob was really fun to work with. He brought some “magician-ship” that we weren’t aware of. For the first time, we went into the studio, and we’d never done this before– but he did this technique where he set up this PA system where we cut the drums in the studio, and used the natural compression of the room somehow. He mic’d everything through this PA system, and then put mics all over the room. It was really weird!

And, something we’d never done before, we punched in. If Phil would get off the click or mess up, he [Bob} would go back on the tape and find the place where he could actually punch in and you couldn’t tell. This is on two-inch tape. This is unheard of. It absolutely- it’s an everyday thing now, in the digital domain, with hard disc recording. Back then, you didn’t punch in with two-inch tape. But, we did with Bob.

Our engineer at the time, you may have heard of him, his name is Brendan O’Brien. He engineered that particular album, then he went back to LA with Bob, and then Brendan went on to produce Bruce Springsteen and Stone Temple Pilots. He worked with the Black Crows, he did so many great projects. His repertoire of albums that he’s produced is just amazing. So he’s gone on to be a very successful producer. He was the engineer at the time.

At the end of the day, Bob would map out what sections were good, and Brendan had to stay at night. It looked like Frankenstein– pieces of tape hanging all over the studio. He’d put notes on them and have to edit them back together to come up with a basic track. It was a strange process, but it really worked.

It was a joy working with Bob. What a great guy, and what a talented producer he was. He’d just come off producing “Learning to Fly” by Pink Floyd.

Incredible.

Yeah. I just don’t think that album [KANSAS’ In the Spirit of Things] got the push that it needed, and that bounces back to when Nirvana took off and the grunge scene became popular, and we were hung out to dry.

Whereas [KANSAS’ album] Leftoverture was the right sound at the right time with the right audience.

It was the right time for Leftoverture and Point of Know Return as well. That’s the one with “Dust in the Wind.” That album had two hits, “Point of Know Return” and “Dust in the Wind.” Two massive hits. “Dust,” and “Carry On” are such massive hits- let me tell you a quick story about this. We did our 40th Anniversary gig, a Fan Appreciation Concert, we called it. We did it over in Pittsburgh because that’s kinda where the band broke out. They went there and opened for Queen and the city just fell in love with the band and took them in as their own. Even today, the band is so popular in the whole state of Pennsylvania. Or actually, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. We could go tour Pennsylvania right now.

Kerry [Livgren, former KANSAS guitarist/songwriter] was there, he came out to sit in– him and Dave [Hope, former KANSAS bassist] as well. Kerry was presented two awards from the RIAA, which is the Recording Industry Association, the one that gives you the gold and platinum awards for sales. They presented Kerry with two awards, one for “Carry On,” and one for “Dust,” because he was the only writer on those songs. The award was… If both those songs were put on a tape loop, each of them would last over five years solid, just constant play. That’s how many radio air plays they had around the world.

God only knows, now, how many times those songs have been played. Especially with streaming coming around since that time.

That was ten years ago? It could be twice as much by now!

It probably is.

Stay tuned for the continuation of MeTV's interviews as KANSAS looks back on 50 years of the band.

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2 Comments

Karellen 10 months ago
One of my favorite shows was Supernatural, which often played Carry On, Wayward Son at the beginning of a season to a montage of scenes from previous seasons. I wonder how the band felt about their music being used this way.
lwpfahler Karellen 10 months ago
Read the interview MeTV did with the Kansas guitarist to find out. https://www.metv.com/stories/the-supernatural-ending-that-couldve-been-interview-with-kansas-rich-williams-pt-3
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