Kansas Still Carry On 50 Years Later

An interview with longtime bassist Billy Greer

Kansas 50th Anniversary Tour poster (Image: Kansas)

The band Kansas has had a tangled history, one that involves superstar success, break-ups and reboots.

Their hits became the fodder of FM radio with songs such as “Dust in the Wind,” “Point of Know Return” and “Carry On Wayward Son” garnering mainstream appeal that transcended both pop radio and the booming prog rock revival of the ‘70s and early ‘80s. Their success continued to linger long after, resulting in a steady series of top -selling albums — many of which achieved gold, platinum and multi-platinum status — and definition of what it meant to reflect prog rock from an American point of view. Like Styx, their closest rivals in that regard, they continue to soldier on, helped by the ongoing presence of songs that have become staples on progressive rock radio.

Over the years, the band has undergone any number of shifts in personal. These days however, their line-up remains relatively intact with original drummer Phil Ehart and guitarist Rich Williams each representing the band’s peak of popularity, bassist Billy Greer, who joined the group in 1985, and more recent recruits, violinist and rhythm guitarist David Ragsdale, lead singer Ronnie Platt and keyboardist/vocalist Tom Brislin.

“As you may, or may not know, Steve Walsh left the band in the early ‘80s and put his own band together, called Streets,” Greer replied when asked how he came to join the outfit. “I auditioned, and became the bass player in that band. Kansas continued on with John Elefante as their lead singer. After two albums, Kerry and Dave decided to leave the band and formed their Christian rock band, A.D., and Kansas kind of broke up for a while. At the same time, Street had recorded two albums and had done a couple of national tours, and then we broke up.” 

At that point, Ehart and Williams began discussing the possibility of regrouping with Kansas.

“Phil and Rich wanted to get the band back together, and had been in communication with Steve about having him come back as the singer and keyboardist,” Greer recalls. “Then, out of the blue one day, I got a call from Phil, who asked me if I would like to join Kansas as the new bass player! Of course I was completely floored and quickly said yes!  He told me that Steve Morse is a great pilot and has his own plane. So, in July of 1985, he flew up to my small regional airport about three miles from my house and picked me up to take me back to Atlanta to start writing material for the new album. That was my road to Kansas!”

Kansas 2023 (Image: Facebook)

Fortunately, it didn’t take long for Greer to indoctrinate himself.

“I was very familiar with the band and I was a big fan,” he says. “I was very used to playing with Steve, and was very comfortable playing and singing with him. As far and Rich and Phil, they made me feel very much at ease playing with them. That said, Steve Morse was a different animal. Here I was playing in the band with this guitar virtuoso that has been named best all-around guitar player in Guitar Player magazine five years in a row. That was a little intimidating until I saw him having to sing backing vocals, I witnessed a little insecurity in him because he had never done that before.

“That kind of leveled the playing field, and the more we played together, the more comfortable I became. I ended up spending time with Steve at his farm just south of Atlanta. I would go there for dinner, and at one point he took me up in his small plane and kinda taught the basics of how to fly.”

Not surprisingly, Greer has a very personal perspective about what’s allowed Kansas to not only survive, but also to thrive. “The music of Kansas has been the soundtrack to a lot of peoples’ lives growing up,” he muses. “I get stories all the time about different songs, and what they mean to different people and how it helped him through hard times. That’s pretty empowering stuff. That’s what we live for every day — to get in front of a crowd and play our music and have that interaction with the audience. That’s what keeps me going, even at the age I am now. Traveling is the work part of this job. We get paid to travel, but we play for free.”

That said, one has to wonder if he ever tires of performing certain songs night after night. However Greer easily dismisses that notion. “I thoroughly enjoy playing all the songs that people enjoy listening to,” he maintains. ‘Carry On’ is just one of the songs that gets everybody on their feet and joining the singing. And that is what makes my day.” 

Not surprisingly then, the band spends much of its time on the road. “We’re kind of constantly touring,” Greer suggests. “We usually take a couple of months off in the winter because of weather, but it’s become an almost constant process. We did take a year and a half off during covid, which, by the way, was right in the middle of our Point of No Return 40th anniversary tour. But we finally got to go back to work in May of 2021.”

50 Years of Kansas poster (Image: Kansas)

Given the fact that Greer has been with the band for the better part of 40 years, he’s able to list any number of personal career highlights.

“There’s actually been several,” he muses.” One of the most fulfilling things that we’ve done as a band is to go around the world on the U.S.O tour, playing for people on military bases all around the world, being out to sea on an aircraft carrier and playing on different ships in the fleet. Also, getting shot off an aircraft carrier in a small jet was a pretty big high in my life as well.”

As of now, the band have a heavy schedule in front of them, including a tour that begins on March 22 and continues until June. Starting on June 2, Kansas will embark on a 50 city 50th anniversary tour they’re calling Another Fork in the Road. In addition, the band is currently involved in writing songs for a forthcoming album.

“Hey look, we’re on a roll here. Greer reckons. “Why stop now?”



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Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman is a writer and columnist based in beautiful Maryville Tennessee. Over the past 20 years, his work has appeared in dozens of leading music publications. He is also the author of Americana Music: Voice, Visionaries, and Pioneers of an Honest Sound, which will be published by Texas A&M University Press early next year.

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