''Wayward Son,'' and ''Dust in the Wind'': Rich Williams interview pt. 2

The guitarist speaks on KANSAS' most famous tunes

Photo courtesy of Mark Schierholz 

As America's preeminent progressive rock band embarks on its 50 landmark 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 second part of our interview, Rich talks about some of the band's biggest songs.

As inspired as you were by the British Invasion, what was it like to get to record with the London Symphony Orchestra in Abbey Road Studios? Besides the practical advantages of the facilities, was there something in the walls– a palpable energy to the place?

Whether it’s there or not, simply by being there, we sure felt one. It was just— so much has happened here, and we’re in here. That was the first time we’d actually heard the [compositional] chart, that our conductor Larry Baird– who’d also done Electric Light Orchestra, and stuff– he’d written the charts, but we had never had the chance to hear them until we go to Abbey Road, and he’s working with the orchestra. We’re standing in the middle of it, listening to our music being played by them.

“Surreal” would be the best description of it. “I can’t believe I’m here, I can’t believe I’m hearing this.” It was a unique experience that was far too short. We were in, we were out. It was like “Wow, that was a blur.” I’d love to have an opportunity to go back one day.

You’ve said that “Carry On, Wayward Son” was the right place at the right time. What about 1976 made that the perfect time for a recording like that?

Well, at that time, the radio was playing that type of music. They were also open to stuff by Emerson, Lake & Palmer, and Yes. That was stuff that was actually on the Top 40. The late ‘60s/early ‘70s were an incredibly creative time in rock music. Suddenly, a lot of the boxes that things were put in– this chord structure, this lyric style– a lot of those barriers were being torn down. There were so many unique bands that were experimenting with other options.

Out comes “Wayward Son,” we’d done three albums with Don Kirshner. He was pleased with our growth, but he had poured a lot of money into us with tour support, etc., paying for three previous albums. There was a bit of pressure on “Leftoverture” to get a single out there that could help pay off the past debt.

“Wayward Son” was the last song that was brought into the rehearsals. It was literally the last day of the rehearsal period. Kerry Livgren says “I have one more song for us to learn.” And we kinda moaned and groaned– we’d been working on stuff for several months and really didn’t want to learn anything else. We just wanted to pack up our gear and send it off to the studio.

We were recording then in Bogalusa, Louisiana at Studio in The Country. [We said] “Well, yeah, sure let’s give it a shot,” and Kerry was showing us bits and pieces, we were working it up. We could hear a lot of promise to it, so let’s throw this one on the pile. We got to the studio– the recording process is… People always say “Gosh, I wish I could be there to watch it.” It’s not fun. It’s a very boring, clinical assembly-line process, especially in those days. You’re getting the drums set up, you need to find the right spot in the room, where it sounds best. You’re setting up different microphones and then “Whack, whack, whack,” on the snare for hours. Once you get that set, you’re really going for basic tracks. Basically-charted drum tracks, and maybe rhythm guitar tracks in there too. So as we’re going through this project, we get to a point where we really need to get to learning that new song. We basically put it together in rehearsals in the studio. After a certain point, you start rolling the tape. “Okay, take three,” whatever.

The version on the album is the first time we played it correctly, basically. Jeff Glixman, who produced it, who was an ex-bandmate and hometown friend, said “You know, I think we got one!”

At some point, we thought “This is a really powerful chorus, let’s put it acapella at the beginning.” Just little organic things in the process happened. “What about this, instead of that?” The first time we heard the song was when we finished recording it and had a rough mix. I remember clearly, listening to the album, we had it pretty much mixed– it wasn’t mastered– we had it all in the right song order. We just sat down and listened to it in the studio. That was really the first time– because you’re working on this song a little, and then “Ok, we’re doing background vocals,” so you’re doing it spotty, in all these places. But to sit down for the first time and actually hear the record… It was unanimous. This was a game-changer, and “Wayward Son” was going to be the point of the arrow on getting us to the next level. And it really did break the door down for us.

That arrow’s still flying today!

Yeah. That and “Dust in the Wind,” which was very similar. It was the last song brought in on “Point of Know Return,” our next album. Kerry just came in one day and goes “I’ve got this… other thing. But it’s an acoustic song, and we don’t do things like that. But I just thought I would get together with you guys, and have you give it a listen.” So Kerry turns on his reel-to-reel, and it’s just him–rudimentary–playing the acoustic guitar part. And he was holding the lyric sheet and showing Steve [Walsh, KANSAS singer] the lyric sheet while humming the melody. Then he stopped the tape and Dave Hope [KANSAS bassist] goes “Where did that song come from?” Kerry was like “You guys like it?”

We knew it. “That’s our next single.” In that rough form, we knew we’d just heard a great song, a great lyric, and a great melody. Kerry couldn’t believe it, really.

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

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bertneikirk 9 months ago
Dave Hope was the bassist, not drummer.
Bapa1 9 months ago
My favorite Kansas song is "Song for America'.
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