KANSAS bassist Billy Greer on the best guitarist in the world: Part 4
"I played 'Carry On' more than anybody in KANSAS ever has."
Photo courtesy of David Carstens
As America's preeminent progressive rock band embarks on 50 performances, MeTV had the privilege to interview KANSAS' Billy Greer and Rich 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."
Billy Greer has been the bassist for KANSAS since 1985. Prior to the tour's stop at the Chicago Theater, Billy answered our questions about humor, fitting in, and audition nerves in part four of our interview.
Billy, I read in an interview that you said a pretty common misconception about KANSAS is that you’re a very serious band. Who is the funniest band member in KANSAS?
Richard. He and Bill are kinda like a comedy writing team. Like Stiller and Meara or something. They just feed off each other. They get into some wacky stuff sometimes. I’m usually left in a puddle of tears crying, from laughing so hard. When they start — even in front of people, sometimes — they pull some of the nastiest tricks of all time, stuff that they’ve done since high school. I won’t even get into, just things that make people cringe. They are a comedy team. They could be TV comedy writers, I think. Rich has definitely got the funniest and most-warped sense of humor.
When you linked up with them in the ‘80s, did it feel like you were hopping on a train that had already left the station years ago? Or did you kinda blend in like you did musically?
I was always a fan of KANSAS, from the first time I heard their music on the radio in the early ‘70s, when they first came out. I hooked into that. The copy band I was playing in, the club band, we covered a couple — or three KANSAS songs. So, I played “Carry On” more than anybody in KANSAS ever has, because I was playing it five, six sets a night, in every set, usually. Five or six nights a week. I’ve had so much respect for them.
I’d gotten into more progressive rock music like Genesis and Yes — became a huge Yes fan — and Gentle Giant. So, the cover bands I was playing in were doing covers from those bands. We were coloring outside the lines with those bands. I was just honored to be a part of it, I didn’t know how much longer it was going to go. Plus, I was able to — I joined at the same time as Steve Morse, and if you’re familiar with Steve Morse, you know that Steve is one of the best guitarists on the planet, and has been recognized so by Guitar Player Magazine. Five years in a row he was voted “Best All Around Guitar Player.” He was finally retired into the Hall of Fame.
So he joined at the same time, which was kind of intimidating for me, but as it turned out, he was such a nice guy, such a sweet guy. We became really good friends, and I just learned so much from playing with him and being in the band with him. So, I’m a better person and a better musician for it.
So, it wasn’t like there were a lot of inside jokes and you were the only one on the outside.
I read that it was the case for you — as it probably is with a lot of musicians — that when you auditioned for KANSAS, you were asked to improvise. I wanted to get kinda into the weeds with that. Is that a moment where you are conscious of, and laboring over, each decision, each note? Or is that something where you go into auto-pilot, and just sort of blackout in that moment?
I blacked out, but it wasn’t KANSAS though, it was Streets. Steve Walsh, asked me to-
Thank you, thank you.
Yeah, yeah! He had me down to the audition, and he just said “I’d like to hear you improvise something here.” To me, in my memory — I’m not sure what it sounded like, but in my memory — it sounded like an idiot
That couldn’t have been the case.
I’m sure it wasn’t the case. We didn’t even do the four songs he asked me to learn for the audition. After two songs, he said to me “Let’s go to lunch.” And they took me to lunch, and he asked me to join the band. I was such a compliment, vocally to Steve, because I had, at the time, pretty much as high a range as Steve did, and a similar timbre to my voice. So, I could cover for him and do the high stuff, where he didn’t have to cover all that stuff night after night. It allowed us to do more shows in a row without Steve losing his voice. It took the pressure off of him, even when we came back to KANSAS, the same thing was true. I’d be doing the high parts that he’d normally done on the albums, or in previous years when KANSAS had toured.
It sounds like you were, and continue to be the perfect fit. Do you feel that KANSAS, sonically, may have been pulled toward Tennessee, having somebody from outside of that Topeka bubble in the mix?
I don’t think so, I don’t think I had that big of an influence as far as the sound. I have always been a mockingbird. I can hear something and replicate it. So, that’s kinda like I was. If you had heard me — I was having a good laugh with Mike Slamer the other night. Mike was the guitar player from the band Streets, and Mike’s from Birmingham, England. He’s a Brit. He actually played with — they were kind of a quasi-progressive band called City Boy back in the ‘70s. They had a hit that did well here, and he got to come over. He had actually worked — his band was produced by Mutt Lange, which is a big feather in his cap.
Mike was instrumental — he learned a lot from Mutt. Mutt did three albums with his band City Boy, so Mike learned a lot, and he brought a lot of that to the studio when Streets was in the studio. He had a lot of influence in the way that album was produced, and the sounds that we got. And I’ve worked with Mike since then on a project called Seventh Key and recorded a couple of albums. And it’s amazing what Mike does in a home studio, in a garage, in LA, where he lives. But, what a talented guy, what a great guitar player he is.