When the opening a cappella chorus of “Carry on Wayward Son” hits, Kansas guitarist Richard Williams is in his element.
“I am the only guy on the planet that gets to start that moment. It’s one of my favorites of the night,” Williams says. “No one else gets to do that, it’s me.”
Williams is not one of those musicians who become ambivalent toward fame, or who resents songs that make a band successful. “Once in a while I read about people who are like, ‘Ahh! I get so tired of playing this song.’ I’m very grateful that I’m not so jaded as to not enjoy those moments,” says Williams. “[The band] gets together in rehearsals and goes through ‘Wayward Son’ and get goosebumps. But when the crowd becomes engaged in that, it becomes a whole different experience.”
Long Islanders will be able to hear Williams’ palpable enthusiasm over Columbus Day weekend, when Kansas takes the stage at the Patchogue Theatre for the Performing Arts on Saturday, October 10.
“We’re going to be playing stuff that we haven’t played in quite awhile,” Williams says of the show. “Ronnie Platt is our lead singer now, and we’ve added some material that we haven’t played in a long time.”
Williams has been with the band since its inception four decades ago. He’ll be joined onstage by original drummer Phil Ehart, bassist/vocalist Billy Greer, keyboardist David Manion, vocalist/keyboardist Platt and violinist/guitarist David Ragsdale.
“He’s a tremendous singer, a tremendous guy,” Williams says of Platt, who replaced lead vocalist Steve Walsh after Walsh retired in the summer of 2014. “[Platt] had some big shoes to fill. Steve was one of the best rock singers of all time, and will always be missed by me, by the band, by fans…It was quite an uphill climb for Platt with the fan base. But he won them over very quickly.”
The band, which hails from Topeka, Kansas, released their debut album in 1974. They were influenced by a variety of musical genres; an ode to the prevailing way music was heard those days. “We listened to the AM radio,” says Williams. “None of these stations were pigeon holed to play a certain genre. And so our influences was really everything,” he adds.
Kansas has since produced eight gold albums, three sextuple-platinum albums (Leftoverture, Point of Know Return, Best of Kansas), one platinum live album (Two for the Show), and a million-selling gold single, “Dust in the Wind.” This winter, the band members will head back to the studio to record their first album since 2000.
“The studio is a chance to really experiment and to create,” says Williams, who notes that the new album is very much in the development stage, to be pieced together later this year and then recorded in January and February. “We’ve missed doing that. As musicians, we all have a creative itch that needs to be scratched. And that part is exciting.”
But Williams clearly prefers being on the road. “Getting to go out week after week and applying our craft in the real world is really the joy of being a musician, for me,” he says. “The travel, the camaraderie. The friendship. The performing. The crowds. All of that is the joy in what we do. But albums are a necessary thing. They’re the vehicle to get us in there.”
The band performs about 95 shows a year. Williams understands the toll that the travel can take on some musicians, but for Williams, being a road warrior is part of the whole experience. “I’ll never think ‘gosh, why did I quit,’” he says. “When I’m done, it’s probably because I fell over dead on stage.”
Kansas plays the Patchogue Theatre for the Performing Arts, 71 East Main Street, Patchogue, on Saturday, October 10 at 8 p.m. For more info, visit patchoguetheatre.org or call 631-207-1313.