Rich Williams

Richard Allen “Rich” Williams was born in 1950, in Topeka, Kansas.
“My mother was a war bride. My father met her in England during WWII. My sister was born in England. After the war, they moved back to Topeka, where my father was the manager of Baker Truck Rental, later to become Ryder Truck Rental. We lived in a new 1950’s home in a middle-class neighborhood. Growing up in Topeka in the 50’s was as perfect a childhood as you could imagine. I was Beaver Cleaver. I spent every moment being a normal boy. There were enough kids on my block to play baseball, football, basketball, Cowboys and Indians, Cub Scouts, fishing, snow sledding —everything. People always assume that since we were from Kansas we were all farmers. None of us were. Years later, Kerry moved back to Kansas and bought a small farm.”
“My father mentioned that he played a little ukulele when he was young; so one Christmas, instead of getting him socks or a tie, my sister and I bought him one. He showed me a few chords on it; and since he had no real interest in playing it, it became mine. I didn’t take it to any level of expertise, but it did teach me some basic coordination. Then I saw The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show, as did everyone else in town. Everyone I knew was now playing an instrument. There were garage bands on every block. I begged and pleaded for a few years, and finally my dad took me to Midwestern Music, and rented my first guitar and amp. That was the summer between 10th and 11th grade. I took lessons that summer; and the next school year I was in my first band, The Pets. Phil Ehart was the drummer.”
“AM radio ruled the airwaves in those days, but the format was infinitely more varied. Soul music, British Envision, country, American rock ‘n’ roll, Frank Sinatra—whatever the hits of the time were, they were all played on the same station. The first record I bought was ’The Twist’ by Chubby Checker. My first album was Herman’s Hermits. It was in stereo. Wow!”

Rich moved to New Orleans for a while before returning to Topeka for college and its music scene. White Clover was a forerunner to Kansas.
“As I said, my first band was The Pets, along with Phil. We played the rock hits of the mid-60s. The bands to follow did the same, the set lists changing with the times. In 1969, I wound up back in a band with Phil and Dave Hope, who I had been working with in a few other bands. That band was called White Clover. We moved to New Orleans; and for six months, we played covers and originals, mostly in a club in the French Quarter. By then, whether I knew it at the time or not, I was all in. I was built for this job. Being in a band. Being on a team. I can never go back to civilian life. I’ve spent my entire life on the other side of the curtain. It’s in my blood, it is who I am. Some might find it sad. For me, it’s the greatest job on earth.”
“I went to college in Topeka at Washburn University. It’s what one did after high school, in preparing for what one’s life was traditionally supposed to become. I lived in my parents’ basement, didn’t work and, sadly, I didn’t study either. I did practice guitar quite a bit, and was fortunate they didn’t kick me out of the house. I bounced in and out of bands in between my ‘studies’ for cigarette and beer money. If I had been my son, I have no doubt I would have been disappointed in me. They were wonderful, and gave me more rope than I deserved. Fortunately, my parents lived long enough to see their wayward vagabond son’s dream become a reality.”
“The basic form of rock music is what we all cut our teeth on, and had enough of it in cover bands; but it was becoming difficult to be creative and original within the limitations. Then along came Yes, King Crimson, Gentle Giant, ELP and so many more that proved you could take it way outside the box musically while still being a rock group. Even as White Clover, we were struggling with the need to play covers, as that was what we had to do to survive; but we sucked as a copy band. We never tried to emulate. We always did it our own way. If we didn’t like a part, we rewrote it. We would add middle sections. We would play originals, but announce it was by someone else to keep the club owners off our back. In hindsight, what we were doing was learning how to be ourselves.”

Don Kirshner, Wally Gold and Jeff Glixman were all prominent in Kansas’ career.
“Prior to Kerry joining White Clover, we sent a reel to reel demo tape to Don Kirshner, who we heard was starting a record label. They liked ‘Can I Tell You’ and didn’t know there were more songs on the B-side of the tape. Wally Gold was sent from Kirshner’s office to Kansas to see the band perform. We wanted to make certain people showed up, so we advertised ‘Free Beer.’ The place was packed, and the rest is history.”
“Don Kirshner was a publisher, and he wanted hits. We were never a ‘hit machine,’”, but he believed in us. He was our benefactor. After the first album, we chose the studios; he paid the bills and pretty much left us alone. He would call from time to time, and we would play him a few songs over the phone. They-who? provided tour support. Of course, it all came out of our pockets at the end of the day, but it never would have happened without him.”
“Jeff Glixman was our front house sound mixer, and we didn’t trust anyone else. He knew what we were and how we sounded better than anyone else. Jeff and I had played in bands together before White Clover with Dave Hope. He was in a version of White Clover I was not in. Topeka is a fairly small town. We were all hopping in and out of different bands.”

Rich reflects on the decade he and the members of Kansas spent together:
“All for all. One for one. Like pirates sailing on the open sea. For a moment in time, it was perfect. But times change, as circumstances will change them. Women, motivations and especially money will change everything. I’m not saying for the better or for the worse, but change happens when outside influences climb on board the ship. I have learned to accept change. Change is the most natural and inevitable part of living, and I’ve found it’s much easier to flow with it than to swim against the tide. Change usually doesn’t come without some pain, but it seems to get better after some time goes by. Yes, it was a brotherhood.”
“We grew up during the end of a relatively more innocent time in the USA, and at the beginning of a time when there were far more serious questions than acceptable answers. Many of the younger generation were no longer accepting the status quo; and the arts, especially music, thrived in a time in which the rules and boundaries were discarded like yesterday’s trash. It was a new world musically, and we were pirates sailing on an open sea. I doubt we will ever see those times again; but as I have learned, never say never.”