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Richard Williams said he doesn't often sit back and reflect on the four decades he's played guitar for Kansas.

The routine of flying to different cities, completing sound check and hitting the stage has become second nature.

"We're tour guides in airports," he said with a laugh during a recent phone interview from his Atlanta home. "It is really a comfort zone for us."

The band, which formed in its namesake state in the early '70s, is part of an upcoming documentary. The interviews, Williams said, afforded members time to look back.

"We discovered a lot of old 8-millimeter film," he said. "We're going to speak with some of our peers ... to tell the story of the original (band members)."

He added that the film will focus on the band's origins through its first four albums. As the band prepares to mark its 40-year milestone, it also seemed natural to hit the road again. The group will perform Thursday night at York's Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center.

Williams traces his musical influences back to AM radio. The Beatles, Johnny Cash, Motown and classical would all play on one station.

"We got a pretty well-rounded musical background," Williams added.

He and other group members were also captivated by the 10-piece horn ensembles and soul bands that toured the Midwest.

"Soulful rock 'n' roll - there was nothing delicate about it," he said. "That aggressive playing (style) was our roots."

Members were also influenced by progressive sounds coming from England and the rest of Europe at the time. They cut their teeth playing bars and proms. What united the group, Williams said, was the desire to write original songs with various lyrics, time signatures and chords.

Kansas landed its first major gig opening for Mott the Hoople. They learned to pace their shows and tried to avoid dead air, Williams said. Then, they supported Queen on its first U.S. tour.

"The camaraderie was a lot of fun," he said of life on the road with other groups. He added that the experience transformed the band.

Hit records and years of fame and touring followed. Musicians left the lineup and others joined.

"Popular music has always been a small cluster of bands on pop radio," he said. "We've competed in that market for a little while. We moved out of that arena a long time ago. When you come to grips with the fact that most of the music has nothing to do with (pop). It's a living, breathing, thriving thing - flying under the radar."

Kansas in its current form - Phil Ehart, Billy Greer, Dave Ragsdale, Steve Walsh and Williams - now selects its own shows. Williams said promoters help make the schedule, which depends on routing and show costs. The group averages about 80 shows a year.

On Aug. 17, it will play a 40th anniversary concert in Pittsburgh. Williams said Kansas has a long history in this state as well a loyal fan base. During one of its early tours, the headliner backed out of a Pittsburgh show and Kansas ended up as the headliner.

"We felt like The Beatles there," Williams said. "It was kind of our first night of being a headline act. It was a big turning point for us. Then we started to break out of the pack."

Williams said his favorite thing remains the live shows.

"That's when you get the true sound of the band," he said. "It's an organic thing. We're kicking something around as far as the studio goes. It's hard to convince yourself ... to take a year off to write (and) not do what you love."

Change, Williams added, might be the one constant through the years. A few decades ago, it meant switching from vinyl to eight tracks and cassettes. These days, it means going digital. Williams had computer-based software early on and continues to keep up to date.

"You have to embrace the new technology, or you just get left in the dust," he said.

- ERIN McCRACKEN,
FlipSide staff

If you go

Hear Kansas play its hits 7:30 Thursday night at the Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center, 50 N. George St., York. Arc & Stones will open the show. Tickets cost $43, $47 and $52. For details and tickets, call 717-846-1111 or visit mystrandcapitol.org.

Online

Kansas: www.kansasband.com

Facebook: facebook.com/KansasBand

Twitter: @kansasband

Read more celebrity interviews: www.yorkblog.com/flipside/celebrity-interviews

Discography: 40 years of Kansas

"Kansas" (1974)

"Song for America" (1974)

"Masque" (1975)

"Leftoverture" (1976)

"Point of Know Return" (1977)

"Two for the Show" (1978)

"Monolith" (1979)

"Audio-Visions" (1980)

"Vinyl Confession" (1982)

"Drastic Measures" (1983)

"Power" (1986)

"In the Spirit of Things" (1988)

"Freaks of Nature" (1995)

"Always Never the Same" (1998)

"Somewhere to Elsewhere" (2000)

The band also released several compilations and live albums.

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