Kansas Guitarist Explains Why Studio Work is ’Clinical and Boring,’ Talks Biggest Challenges of Live Performances

While recently appearing in an interview with “Radio Artifact,” Kansas guitarist Richard Williams discussed his long career with the legendary band and reflected on their live shows. In particular, he pointed out how, for him, playing live is always more interesting compared to otherwise “clinical and boring” studio work.

When the interviewer reminded Richard that Kansas’ live records sound as good as their studio recordings from back in the day, only with some minor changes, the guitarist replied (transcribed by Killer Guitar Rigs):

“We may add a few twists and turns to some of the arrangements and all that, but personally, I’ve always preferred the live approach. Working in the studio is fun sometimes, but mostly, it’s very clinical and boring. It’s kind of an assembly line process of getting this stuff recorded. While a live album, it’s 1, 2, 3, go.”

KANSAS 50th Anniversary show opening. Indianapolis July 8, 2023

Nonetheless, there’s still some “fear” involved as Rich added, despite him being a bigger fan of live performances:

“There’s a lot more adrenaline involved. There’s — for lack of a better word — there’s fear. [Laughs] It’s like, ‘Don’t blow it, don’t blow it, don’t blow it.’ That brings a certain tension to it all, but I think it’s critical. That makes it a bit more exciting than an album cut.”

“Playing live has always been our joy, and it’s been our bread and butter. That’s where I think we are at our best, it’s just getting up there playing. I watch the videos of us and go ‘They make it look kind of easy.’ But if you knew what was going on in between my ears, it’s not easy at all.”

Kansas - Icarus - Borne On Wings Of Steel - Lyric Theater - Baltimore - 6/3/2023

Going more into these challenges, he added:

“I’m trying to keep up, look around, and the lights are changing, and work with my foot pedals, and this, and that. And the stuff is hard to play, and there’s so many computations you’re dealing with every second, you’re getting ready for the next. You know, I gotta be ready to step over here on the acoustics, and mute this.”

“So it is a constant, it’s a two hour panic. [Laughs] But when I watch it, it looks effortless. It is an odd sensation. And I know that everybody else is going through the same things live, as you know, ‘Okay, here comes a place where I screwed up last night’ just on and on and on.

“But everybody else looks very calm when we’re playing, which calms me a bit inside. We’re standing in front of a few thousand or several thousand people. It’s a thrill, and kind of a fear that I’ve never gotten over.”

Kansas - Carry On Wayward Son - 04/01/2023 - The Venue at Thunder Valley - Lincoln, Ca. - 4K Video

Nonetheless, Rich still gets the good old butterflies before every show:

“But still, to this day, I get butterflies in my stomach before every show, as pretty much everybody else does too, we would just call it the ‘pre-games.’ I would start to hyperventilate, sometimes.”

When the interviewer then asked about whether they’ll call it a day if this feeling doesn’t persist and when “it’s no fun no more,” Williams replied:

“That’s a good question, because it’s not enjoyable. [Laughs] Why is it that there’s anxious moments before? It depends on the show, sometimes — like hometown gigs are always tough, because you have a lot of people you grew up with, a lot of your peers.”

Kansas The Pinnacle Riverside Theater, Milwaukee, WI July 22, 2023

“And so you want to make them proud, you don’t want to give them ammo to give you much crap about either, because they’ll bust your chops. And so even the day before, ‘Oh yeah, we’re going back to Topeka, playing tomorrow.’ And as soon as the lights go out, and you jump on stage, it all goes away. It’s not something that actually happens on stage as much as it does before.”

“And sometimes it will be days before. Sometimes the morning goes, sometimes an hour before. There’s always the same upset stomach nervousness of impending doom. And I’ll tell myself, ‘Rich, how many thousands of times have you done this? And has anything bad ever happened? What’s the worst thing?'”

It gets particularly tough with some of the more challenging songs that they play. However, as he added, they always have some sort of a backup plan. Rich continued:

“There’s been a few times — like in the middle of, let’s say, ‘Song for America’, which is in a really odd time signature — where the wheels just fell off the wagon. And I remember the first time we did it, it broke down completely. And we had an escape route out, where it was someone [would play a predefined part] and we just came out of it and moved on.”

Kansas - Belexes & Point Of Know Return - Lyric Theater - Baltimore - 6/3/2023

“Of course, I will revisit that on my deathbed, I’m sure. [Laughs] But our light man came up after the show, and says, ‘Why didn’t you tell me that you guys were changing that?’ He thought it was intentional, because of the way we recovered. So even when we screwed up, we’ve always managed to land on our feet.”

“But I think it’s a pretty common fear among musicians, when the wheels fall off the wagon again, and you just come to a grinding halt. And that’s the fear in your stomach every night for a thousand shows, yet nothing ever happens. It’s hard to explain, but it is real.”

With such a major and proficient band like Kansas, it’s all about nuances. So it’s always a question of how much the audience notices and how efficient they are at covering things up. When reminded of that, Rich said that he’s his biggest critic:

“And sometimes you aim for one note, and you hit another, but it’s within the structure. And when you listen back, it’s ‘Where was that mistake? I didn’t hear it.'”

Kansas-Hold On- Featuring Kerry Livgren and Dave Hope- The Midland Theater, Kansas City 7/27/23 LIVE

“Nobody’s more critical of me than me. It’s going on constantly as you’re playing. It’s like, ‘Where are you going? What are you trying to do here? What’s going on? What’s wrong? It didn’t quite sound right.'”

“You’re constantly tweaking and twisting and turning to make you and the instrument one unit that is expressing what you’re trying to do. And it’s a give and take, always. Every stage sounds different, the rig sounds a little bit different, the mix in your ears is a bit different.”

“So all these computations that are going on. I’m making this sound like it’s miserable, and actually, it’s very fun… [Laughs] To struggle through it at times. And then once you just have to coast it, just like, ‘Man, everything sounds great’. Just sit back in the pocket and relax, look around, and smile at everybody because everything is just really clicking. And that’s actually most of the time.”

Kansas - Live in Atlanta 2002 - Full Concert HD

Up next, Richard was also asked about his practice routine and how much at this point in his career he keeps up with it. He replied:

“My picking hand — I have a bit of arthritis, from holding a pick for 55 years. If I keep practicing, it keeps it limber, it’ll tighten up, then it’s not bad. But you know, if you’re at 90%, you can feel that lack of that 10%. I know all the songs, of course.”

“They’re a completely different thing. And that’s again, 20 years. If I’m not prepared — let’s say, I’ve been practicing, we’ve been off for three weeks. So I’m practicing every day, if I don’t, the doubt starts to creep in your head. ‘Okay, is there something you’ve missed? Something you haven’t gone over?'”

Kansas Live, Monolith Tour, Full Concert (RARE!), Springfield Civic Center, MA; Sept. 2, 1979

“All of that starts, so instead of just relaxing, you start going, ‘Oh man, the show is about to start, there’s certain songs I just skipped, or didn’t work on, or I didn’t get to practice in the last couple of days, and I only warmed up.'”

“We rehearse before for about an hour, hour and a half before every show, but still, we don’t go over everything. If you skip something, that doubts creep into your head. So I like to always show up confident and prepared because I don’t like that doubt creeping into my head.”

Photo: Gage Skidmore (Rich Williams (36113095311))


  • David Slavkovic

    David always planned for music to be nothing more than a hobby. However, after a short career as an agricultural engineer he ended up news editor at KillerGuitarRigs, senior editor at, as well as a freelance contributor to online magazines such as GuitaristNextdoor.