We thought that it would never happen. It’s taken 16 years and it finally did happen. Kansas have released their new album, The Prelude Implicit and Mick Burgess talked to guitarist and founder member Richard Williams about the new record and the future plans of Kansas.

Your new album, The Prelude Implicit has just been released. It’s been 16 years since your last album. How do you feel now that it’s finally out?

I’m very excited. At the time the Native Window album came out there was no chance of another Kansas record. For there to be another record everybody in Kansas would have to want to do it and that wasn’t the case which is why we did Native Window. When Steve retired, that made things change and that made it possible to record again.

Did Steve just not want to record or did he not want to write any more either?

Both. Steve was getting tired of it all. The road is tough and he’ d just had enough. He’d done a couple of solo albums that hadn’t done that well and he poured a lot of his heart and soul into those projects and it kind of broke him a bit. He was starting to struggle and his voice was starting to give up on him. He wasn’t enjoying the road, he wasn’t enjoying the live performance. He didn’t want to create anymore and he didn’t want to record anymore. So how can you make a new record under those circumstances? We just didn’t. When Steve decided to retire, we knew we could do anything that we wanted to. We could perform those songs that Steve wouldn’t sing anymore and now we could record again. We’re even talking about the next album already.

It must have been quite frustrating for you as a musician not to be creative?

It was very frustrating. There’s two parts to it. Firstly I learned guitar as I wanted to play guitar in a band, to be part of a team and travel and see the world. That’s fun but then you want to be creative and write and record your own stuff. That’s even better so to get both of things gives you the perfect balance. The greatest joy to me is being out on the road performing.

You, Phil, David and Billy released Native Window a few years back. Was this your way of keeping your creativity on the boil?

Native Window was born out of the frustration of not creating within Kansas anymore. The only rule we had is that it can’t be Kansas. If it starts to sound like Kansas then we had to take a different turn. We didn’t want it to be confused with a Kansas record but we wanted to have some fun with it and thought we’d be someone else for a moment. Steve didn’t want to record but we did so we decided to do something else.

Is that it now for Native Window or will you keep it in mind for music that’s not suitable for Kansas?

I’ll never say never again. There’s no plan but there are a few bits and pieces that may be suitable for Native Window in the future so you never know.

When did you first realise that a new album could be on the cards?

When Steve first announced he was going to quit we still had a European tour to finish. Steve agreed to finish that first. We came home and started rehearsals and two weeks later we were on the road. It was about a year into the touring that we got a chance to take a breather and we said to each other that we needed to make a record and that became a plan. Ronnie had been in the band for a year before we started putting aside the time for writing and recording.

Steve Walsh and Kerry Livgren did the bulk of the writing in Kansas. Did your experience writing together in Native Window give you that confidence to write without Steve or Kerry being involved?

It did. It also became more of a democratic process rather than a dictatorial process. In Kansas everybody contributed but there was a kind of hierarchy. If someone brought in a song it was dictatorial in the way that this is the way it’s going to be and there’d be a struggle in the process. With Native Window we left all that shit to one side. There were four guys and all ideas were good. We listened to each other’s ideas and we’d try them and if they didn’t work we’d try something else. It was a very organic group process. We brought that process into this Kansas record where there were no dictators. It was all done by the group. We worked together every day in the studio side by side.

Did you have any ideas to work on from the past or was everything written fresh for the record?

We had nothing other than a couple of ideas that we had from Native Window that we were able to fully develop for the record. There was an acoustic guitar piece that I was working on at the time that was never developed into a song and I was playing it in the studio, one of the guys said that we should incorporate it somewhere. We knew we wanted to make a record but didn’t know what it was to be. The door is always open for Kerry to submit a song or two but he had no interest. We set some time aside and went to Florida away from wives, girlfriends, children and friends specifically to be away together to write. By that point Zak Rizvi was involved as we wanted him to co-produce it with us and he was involved right from when we first started writing material. We didn’t know what we were capable of creating together so that first writing session was very important. It was very positive and we came out of it knowing we could do it. We knew that Zak was an incredible songwriter but we had no idea that he was so prolific. I said to Phil that we needed Zak to be in the band as he was contributing so much. At that point we knew that this wasn’t our last album but our first album of a lot more.

Was it quite a liberating feeling for you being more central to the song writing process?

It was very liberating and what you get is a band effort. The last album we did 16 years ago, Somewhere To Elsewhere, I liked the record but it wasn’t a band effort in any way. Steve was working on a solo project and he was never there. He sang his parts in Atlanta and flew them in. Dave Hope came up, played bass on a song and went home. Robbie came in and recorded the violin tracks and went home. Me, Phil and Kerry sat in the studio and assembled the album but the band didn’t sit down together and suss out all the parts or try different things. This new record was from beginning to end a band effort from the lyrics, to the songs, to the arrangements, we were all talking and all working together. All along the way we all gave input and made suggestions and listened to those suggestions and took any criticism in a constructive way.

Did that let you spread your wings from a musical and creative point of view?

I think it gave everybody a comfort zone to express themselves because they knew they’d be heard. The album comes across that way as the band is very united and we all have a passion for what we are doing. We love doing this and we can’t wait to play the new songs on stage and we can’t wait to record the next album. We’ve discovered a new freedom in the band that we haven’t had for what seems like forever.

Musically you have covered all of the Kansas bases, it Rocks hard, with melody, there’s some great Progressive moments and also some great hooks too. Were you eager to capture the very essence of Kansas with this rather than try something totally different?

You can’t believe how good it is to hear you say that because that was our goal from the artwork to the lyrics to the music and to the diversity in the music are all quintessentially aimed at being Kansas. That was the goal and we wouldn’t be satisfied if that wasn’t the target to hit. I feel that we have achieved that and everybody that I’ve talked to has said what you are saying.

The Voyage of Eight Eighteen is absolutely the best song is classic Kansas. What’s the story behind that song?

That’s my favourite song. The title of it was kind of a working title as it was 8 minutes 18 seconds long. It was such an undertaking to record and takes you to so many places that I feel like I’ve gone on a voyage and it became a working title as a joke but it really started to fit. I remember grabbing one of the rough mixes and when I went for a ride by myself around the mountains with that song blasting out and by the end of it I just felt like I’d been transported to another universe. It really does take you places. The verses are so beautiful with those wonderful chord changes and the words have meaning so that is my favourite on the album.

You’ve worked with Jeff Glixman and Bob Ezrin in the past. What did you learn from them in terms of production work?

Zak was Jeff’s engineer, that’s how we first got to know him. Jeff, me and Dave Hope played in a band together long before Kansas right out of High School and we travelled all over. We were all friends hanging out together and played in other bands too. When we started White Clover and eventually became Kansas we needed a sound man. Jeff was a keyboard player/singer but what he was really good at was sound. We asked him to join us and become our front of house sound guy. For the first record he wasn’t allowed to be the engineer so he went shotgun. By the second album he was behind the console and wanted the production credit. Working with Jeff, we were all involved. Jeff was mainly concerned with the studio side of the business and the technical aspect of recording while we were more involved in the musical part of it. Jeff was great at getting good performances out of people and worked really well with Steve on vocal tracks. Jeff had a really good ear for that and he was really capable at running the ship.

What about Bob Ezrin?

When we worked with Bob Ezrin, it was the first time we’d ever worked with a “Producer”. He was a legendary producer but intimidating and hard working. He was a friend too and a funny guy and very intense and passionate. We’d worked with Roy Thomas Baker at one point and he just said that the material was good but then Bob came in and just gutted the material. He changed the flavour of the album completely and re-wrote almost all of it. He had so much to do with what that album became. He’s worked with so many guitar players that I learned a lot of little tricks here and there. That was great.

Steve Walsh was your singer since the start of the band except for a few years in the early ’80’s. When did you first know that he was talking about retiring?

It’s been building up for several years. He just wasn’t enjoying it any more. We had a band meeting talking about what we would do in the next year and what changes we’d make but Steve just didn’t want to do anything. He just didn’t want to sing other songs. Everything we suggested ended up with a “No” from Steve. We were always getting offers to record but Steve just didn’t want to. I just didn’t know what to say to him, he just seemed so miserable. What we do is hard but I’m so fortunate as I love what we do. I love it all but Steve seemed to hate it all and I just couldn’t imagine how hard it must have been for him. I love Steve and think he’s one of the best singers of all time. He’ll always be a friend and I’ll always wish him well but he was running out of gas. It’s difficult for a singer. There’s a lot of wear on the voice on tour and Steve was struggling. Dave and Kerry didn’t want to do this anymore, they wanted to do something else so they left and Steve just didn’t want to tour or record any more. I have never wanted to do anything else, this is what I love to do so it was very different for me. Dave Hope has played with us recently when Billy Greer had a prior commitment and we also got Terry Brock in from Strangeways for a show too to help us out and we played a show and had a blast. I think sometimes he misses it and maybe wonders if he’s done the right thing. That will never, ever be me. I will fall over dead on stage with a guitar in my hand before I leave the band. I will never be at home wondering if I did that right thing.

You’ve been faced with replacing Steve before in the past when you brought John Elefante in. Did you ever consider going back to John and asking him to re-join or did you want someone new?

It was all very sudden when Steve left but there was no chance of us not continuing. Around that time me and David Ragsdale had just played on John Elefante’s solo album. We’d remade contact and we’d heard on the grapevine that John had said it’d be fun to be back in Kansas if Steve ever quit. Knowing that we decided to meet with John and talk with him. John still sings great, he’s such a great singer and a creative guy who’s written some wonderful stuff. It would have made so much sense so with that in mind we talked to John but we walked away from that meeting thinking it wasn’t right. John was hesitant and didn’t seem sure. John had quit before so we didn’t want to worry that he might quit again in six months. We wanted someone who really wanted to be in the band.

Ronnie Platt is quite some find and is the perfect choice for Kansas. Where did you first come across Ronnie?

I’d seen Ronnie singing with Shooting Star in Kansas City and he had the crowd in the palm of his hand, everyone was out of their seats and he was rocking their balls off. I thought who the hell was this guy, where did they find him? That was my first time seeing Ronnie Platt. We became friends and when we played Chicago, where he lives, he’d come down and we’d talk. When Steve left the band Ronnie sent me a message saying that he’d heard that Steve had left and said if we were thinking of carrying on he’d like to submit his name into the hat. I went onto YouTube to watch some more of his stuff and that was it. Me and Phil flew out to meet him. There was no musical audition, I knew what he could do, we had no doubt he could do it. We wanted to know what sort of guy he was. We’d done 90 shows last year and would be doing 100 the next and record an album and we’re away from home more than we are at home. We couldn’t have someone with lead singer syndrome, we couldn’t have someone that was a dick. We had to meet him. So our audition of Ronnie was not musical, it was personal. We sat down and talked for a day. Here’s a guy who’s waited 35 years for this moment. He has no baggage. He’s never drank or smoked and hasn’t done drugs. He doesn’t have any of that, he just has this dedication to be a great singer. He’s seen all of these great singers and has spent years honing his craft. He’s spent all this time driving a truck around Chicago during the week then spent weekends with his band. This opportunity to him was the greatest thing that ever happened to him. He’s a great guy and is really good with the crowd. He’s very warm, genuine and funny and the fans love him. We’ve struck gold with Ronnie Platt. The world is full of guitar players that are a lot better than I’ll ever be but that’s not what it’s all about. I bring a certain something to the table, I have a certain attitude and I’m a team player and I understand Kansas to the core. It’s not all about a talent show. This has to be fun. Any addition to the band, the crew or management has to be somebody we respect, like and get along with and Ronnie Platt is just that person.

For quite some time until David Ragsdale re-joined, you were the sole guitarist in the band now you have three. Will you have to rearrange some of your songs to accommodate 3 players?

When Kerry was in the band he played keyboards half the time and most of the time we both played we played in unison. In Wayward Son, that’s me and Kerry playing everything together. David was playing that with me before Zak so now there’s three of us playing it so the sound is even bigger. In Magnum Opus, there’s a lot of guitars in that and it was hard for me to cover all of that so I was having to bastardise the parts. Sometimes I’d play Kerry’s part, sometimes mine or sometimes a combination of the two so now going back to two or even three guitars and two keyboard players we can represent the music even better now.

Has the injection of new blood given you a new lease of life at this stage in your career?

We were treading water for a long time but I was happy doing that. I was on the road with Kansas, performing and seeing the world and I loved all that. There’s a million people who would have traded places with me and I was always very conscious of that and very grateful for that but we were still treading water. Changes are tough but we’ve learned that changes happen and you just have to deal with it. I’ve learned to embrace the change, to anticipate it and look forward to it because every change that I’ve gone through has led me to where I am today. I am on top of the world with where I am today. I’ve been through two horrible divorces but I’m with the most amazing woman now. I’ve had to go through all that shit to get to where I am today I’ve been through all of the changes that’ve happened with the band. I’ve gone through changes with friends who have turned out to be not friends and I’ve been screwed over by business managers and have had to go through all that and learn those lessons to get to this point and today Kansas is on fire, maybe in a way it’s never been. We’ve made a great record with a great bunch of guys and we have a bright future. My wife travels with me most of the time and we see the world and we’re grateful for it all so I couldn’t be happier or more inspired than I am at the moment.

You have only played in the UK a couple of times in the last 30 years or so. Will you be putting that right soon?

We will be coming to the UK and Europe next year. The record company wants us over there and the booking agent is working on it right now. We want to come over very much so that is the plan for us, to play across Europe next year. Where we play depends on the promoters. Is there demand for us to play 6 cities in the UK? I certainly hope so as I’d love to play a few shows across the country. My mother was from Taunton in Somerset and there’s a cemetery there filled with my relatives that I really want to go and visit. I haven’t been there since about 1980. My wife is infatuated with England so we want to spend some time together when we come over. My sister was born in England when my father met my mother. She was a war bride. The UK is very much in our future plans along with Europe too.

The Prelude Implicit is out now on Inside Out Music.


  • 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.

    View all posts

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

The reCAPTCHA verification period has expired. Please reload the page.