Interview with Billy Greer (Kansas/Seventh Key)

It’s been 9 years since their last album but with Seventh Key’s I Will Survive just released it’s been well worth the wait. Billy Greer, the current bassist with Kansas and lead singer with Seventh Key chatted to Mick Burgess.

Your latest album I Will Survive has just been released. Are you pleased with the reaction so far?

I’m really pleased with it. We’ve been getting good reviews and the comments across social media have been really positive. gave us 99 out of 100 which is great.

It’s incredibly been 9 years since your last studio album, The Raging Fire. Why such a gap?

In 2005 we did a live CD and DVD that took a while to prepare and mix and we let that run its course so technically it’s been just over seven years since we worked on a project together. We actually started work on this album in 2008 it just took us a long time to do it. We’ve both been busy with other things too. Mike Slamer has done a couple of mixing projects and I’ve been busy touring with Kansas. Kansas is my bread and butter so I have to work around my touring schedule with Kansas. I had to wait until I had a period of 7 or 8 days when I could jump on a plane and head over to Los Angeles to work with Mike. I live on the east coast at Savannah Georgia so there’s 2500 miles between us. It’s a good jump for us to get together. We recorded the lion’s share at his home studio. I also put a band together with Phil and Rich from Kansas called Native Window and that took a couple of months of my time so we’ve been on with other things outside of Seventh Key.

How do you see the development in the band since your last record?

I think there’s a more Progressive slant to a few of the tracks like “Lay It On The Line” and overall it is a heavier record but we are still within the Melodic Rock vein where our audience is.

All of the songs are written by you and Mike Slammer. How do you go about writing together?

Mike has a library of songs that he pitches to television producers, commercials and other artists. He has snippets of ideas that he writes for all different genres of music from Heavy Metal to Pop and Blues too. He has a whole library of ideas that he’s constantly updating. When we start on a project together I will go to his basket of songs and they are mostly instrumental ideas and pick out ones that I think are cool. I’ll then pitch some of my ideas in too. I brought in some of the ideas in “What’s Love Supposed To Be”, that idea I had for over 25 years and it seemed right to use it now. “Sea of Dreams” is a guitar thing that I came up with. Mike liked the basic genesis of that and he added his two cents worth and we moulded it into a song. Another way we write is to sit down face to face and start a drum loop and maybe add a synth pattern to it and build the song up like that. We did a few songs that way on the album. I think, in my humble opinion, that I have an ability for making up strong melodies over a chord progression so I’ll sing an improvised melody over a chord pattern and sometimes some words or a phrase will jump out while I’m doing that. Mike will make suggestions along the way and then we hone in on a melody. We’ll then have the music and the melody to give me something to work on when I start writing the lyrics. Sometimes I’ll have to change the melody slightly to fit the words and other times we’ll cut out words or syllables to fit the melody. That’s how we tend to work and hopefully by the end of it we’ll have a good song to show for it.

Did you work on any ideas that didn’t make the album?

We had a couple of other ideas that didn’t make the album. One was a techno-Rock thing that we tried to mould into a Seventh Key tune and I tried and tried but it never made the grade. There wasn’t a lot of extra material and most of the stuff we worked on made it onto the album.

You have a couple of guests on the album including Terry Brock from Strangeways. He appeared with you on In The Spirit of Things by Kansas in 1988. Was this the first time you met?

Terry has been on all the Seventh Key albums and was also on the Live DVD. I knew Terry way before he performed on In The Spirit of Things. We go back a long way when we were in local bands in Atlanta even before I was in Streets. Terry is such a fantastic singer, I just can’t say enough about his voice. He’s recorded an album with Giant and has just been singing with Le Roux and he’s also done another album with his old band Strangeways. There was actually one show on November 10th 2012 where Kansas had a big offer in Washington to play with Chicago. It was my step-son’s wedding that day and I’d already said that I was unavailable so Terry came along and sang my parts and Dave Hope, the original Kansas bassist, played bass at that show. It was only a short set and it turned out fine. It’s good to know that it took two people to replace me!!

You sing lead in Seventh Key. Do enjoy the challenge of being the lead singer in the band?

I certainly do and it’s one of the reasons that I started Seventh key. I was always the lead singer of bands I’d been in before Streets but since then I’ve always been in the shadow of Steve Walsh and I’ve been his backing singer ever since although he has let me shine on a couple of things. He casts a very long shadow with his talent and I didn’t really get the chance to showcase what I can do with my lead vocals and songwriting and that kind of frustrated me.

Your Kansas bandmate David Ragsdale also makes an appearance on a few songs including on “Sea of Dreams”. Did you always have David in mind specifically for that?

We had two or three songs that were leaning more towards the progressive vein than we had used in the past and Mike had used a sample violin in the studio and I asked David if he’d like to come in and play on some of the tracks and he was pleased to be part of the album and I think he did a great job. A lot of people have said that there’s a Kansas like feel to those songs and I guess they’re right. I’ve worked with those guys for so long I guess their influence has rubbed off on me.

The lovely simple violin line really makes “What’s Love Supposed To Be”. Did you ask David to come up with the melody or did you tell him what you wanted?

That’s really nice icing on the cake and we gave him the basic idea and David worked on it and came up with what you hear on the record.

You first worked with Mike way back in the early ’80’s in Streets. Was it always your plan to work with him again at some point?

I’ve known Mike for a long time from my time in Streets and he was the first name that I thought of when Serafino from Frontiers records first suggested that I do a project outside of Kansas. He was in City Boy and they toured the States with Styx. When I listened to their vocals I thought they were very similar to Styx. Their drummer, Roy Ward, had a voice that would go into the stratosphere. Their harmonies were fantastic and they were a pretty progressive band. Five of their albums were produced by Mutt Lange and engineered by Mike Shipley. Mike Slammer learned much of his stuff working with those guys. I’m surprised that Mike hasn’t gone onto work with bigger bands as he’s a talented guy. He has a fantastic sense of rhythm, lyric and melody and sonically his albums are so good. I have the utmost respect for his production and engineering techniques and I’m just so pleased to be working with him in Seventh Key.

The last studio album that you recorded with Kansas was Somewhere To Elsewhere in 2000. 13 years is a long time to pass since your last album. Do you think we’ll see another studio album from you in the future?

Honestly? No. I don’t think there’ll be another studio album from Kansas.

Are there any outtakes or demos that could be released to your fans one day?

I don’t know what Kerry has up his sleeve so he may have some stuff as he was constantly working on material but as far as I know the only outtakes that existed were used on the first Seventh Key record. There were four songs on there that Kansas had demoed for the Power album. Those demos got out to the public, I don’t know how, but Serafino from Frontiers had heard them and he pushed and pushed me to use those. Mike and I reworked the songs, we added guitar parts and I re-sang the parts that Steve had sung. Steve was fine with that and it was him that found the original master tapes in a box in his linen closet. They were sold old and had to be baked and transferred onto a digital format before we could use them.

Bearing in mind you co-wrote the whole of the Seventh Key album do you feel you were given enough opportunity to write within Kansas?

One of the main reasons I started Seventh Key and Native Window too was that the writing process in Kansas revolved around running ideas past Steve and the last studio album was all written by Kerry Livgren. It’s like a closed shop as far as ideas from anyone else is concerned. I didn’t really feel comfortable presenting anything to Kansas and that’s the way it became. Steve doesn’t do any writing anymore and he’s sold all his recording equipment. He used to work on stuff all the time but he’s just not interested now. It’s our 40th anniversary and we really should have had an album out but instead they filmed a documentary. We had a couple of guys come in and shadowed us on a tour and it was more about the original band than the present touring line-up of Kansas. I haven’t seen the final cut yet but it’s out sometime in 2014.

With Native Window you played a few live shows together and even opened up for Kansas on a couple of occasions. Was it strange being your own opening band?

We did do several shows opening for Kansas. It was strange for a lot of people who didn’t know who Native Window were. We did it tongue in cheek and thanked the band for having us on the tour. I think it may actually be the only way I could get Seventh Key out on tour is by opening for Kansas but I haven’t really thought about it. David Manion has been our keyboard player on the Seventh Key albums and he’s the lighting guy for Kansas. Eric, our drum tech in Kansas, played on the Seventh Key video and he’s a great drummer and I play bass for Kansas so that’s three of the band already there and we have transportation, rooms and board so who knows.

Talking of Kansas live dates. It’s been 8 years since you last played in the UK at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire and that was your first show in almost 3 decades. Why have you played so infrequently in the UK?

I guess we just haven’t been invited, I don’t really know. There’s been some talk of coming over to Europe to play some festivals and some shows. Stranger things have happened so I wouldn’t count it out.

What have you got planned for 2014?

We’ve already started filling in gigs with Kansas and have 40 shows booked already and there’ll be undoubtedly more to come. We should also have our 40th anniversary documentary coming out too so that should be exciting.

Seventh Key’s new album I Will Survive is out now on Frontiers Records.

For more on Seventh Key visit


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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