The 1984 Airborne Rock 'n Roll Division: KANSAS guitarist Rich Williams pt. 4
"It was an unbelievable experience for us — we were honored to get to do it."
As America's preeminent progressive rock band embarks on 50 performances, MeTV had the privilege to interview KANSAS' Billy Greer and Richard 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."
Richard Williams is a guitarist and a founding member of KANSAS. In the conclusion of our interview, Rich tells us about an amazing experience he had supporting the troops.
Something else I wanted to ask about that I found in my research — the 1984 First Airborne Rock ‘n Roll Division.
Phil Ehart was an Air Force brat. He lived all around the world when he was young. My dad was a surgeon in the army. Steve Walsh’s father… We were all very — I was born in 1950, and my dad came home in 1945. So, it really wasn’t that long before I was born. Between them going to the VFW Hall and the Moose Club with all their service buddies, we were all very connected and proud of our fathers for being part of that, the Greatest Generation. So, that just came natural.
So, in a way of giving back, we approached the USO about setting up a tour with us and guys from other bands to do a USO Tour. There were three of them, I did two and then my mother died, I didn’t get to do the third one.
One time, we left, we had our own plane, and we completely circled the globe. Playing all over the place — on aircraft carriers, on destroyers. Helicoptering in out in the middle of the Mediterranean. It was a different experience. It would make you very proud. You never get the opportunity to see how gigantic our military is. And it’s shocking how young they are. And you’re just so proud of them. It’s so moving, their dedication. It was an unbelievable experience for us — we were honored to get to do it.
Tom Johnson of The Doobie Brothers did it with us, once. Pat Simmons [also of The Doobie Brothers] did it, on another one. Guys from Cheap Trick were with us. Louisiana’s LeRoux. There were so many that were a part of this traveling band. So we would play hits from all the bands. Dave Jenkins from Pablo Cruise. We would all sit in with each other. Bun E. Carlos with Cheap Trick was my roommate on the first USO Tour. We’re staying on base, like in the officers’ quarters and stuff. They gave us GS-13 ranking, so we got to stay in all the nice places and go to all the PXs, where you buy all this stereo gear with no tariff. It was a very cool experience.
I just thought it was remarkable that you would take it upon yourselves to do that, so I wanted to take some time to tell you how much I admire that.
One of the last things I wanted to ask you here — KANSAS has been going for 50 years, and you’ve practiced your craft even longer than that. Spending this much time, professionally in rock music, I wanted to ask you, what is your relationship to coolness? Is coolness something that you would ever seek? Is it something you’ve purposefully eschewed? What is your relationship to coolness?
It seems a bit silly, to me, honestly. I got started in this simply because I wanted to play guitar with my friends and be in a band. We’re sitting in my guitar room — I was practicing, put down my guitar, which is right here, to take this call. When we hang up, I’ll go back to practicing. We play a lot of notes, and we play with some really good players. I don’t want to show up unprepared. People say “You still practice, really?” Well, of course! Patrick Mahomes, one of the best quarterbacks of all time, practices every day. He’ll probably be practicing in some sort when he retires. Tiger Woods has a coach, he practices all the time, he’s been playing since he could walk. It is a requirement to do. Sometimes you don’t want to, you do it anyway. That just comes with the territory.
I am fascinated by gear — amplifiers, guitars, it’s all fascinating. I was just talking to a friend of mine, in Indianapolis last night, who has been repairing amplifiers forever. We talk for hours, we just shop talk about gear. It bores a lot of people to death. But when you find someone with a common passion for this stuff, that’s really where your heart is. I turn on Facebook, and all the ads are all guitars and amplifiers. I mean the algorithm — that’s what I’m always searching for. It’s just the natural process for me. I enjoy it. It has consumed my entire life. I used to split it between that and fishing, but I don’t see very well anymore, so it’s just not the smartest thing for me to jump in a boat and take off across the lake.