Rockin’ With Kansas, Rollin’ In Savannah

After playing rock classics to thousands of fans across the country, Billy Greer lays his head in Savannah

On a bustling fall day in Savannah’s City Market, two popular local performers named Bucky and Barry invited a guest to join them on “Dust in the Wind”, the acoustic smash hit that was released by the band Kansas more than thirty years ago. Guest performers can sometimes be hit or miss, but the duo was fairly sure that the Savannah resident joining them on guitar and vocals would do a decent job. After all, it was Billy Greer, and he’s in Kansas.

“That song still resonates around the world,” Greer says from his home in the historic district. “And they still play it every day on the radio.”

Greer has been a member of Kansas for 25 of the band’s 36-year history, and though there was a time when audiences turned away from progressive rock, the current line-up is playing for large crowds around the world and enjoying every minute of it. Naturally, travel is a big part of Greer’s life. Though the rest of the band calls Atlanta home, Greer agreed with his wife, Kathy, when she said “I wish we had a house in Savannah.” Kathy has strong family connections with Savannah (her grandfather was Robert Littleton Thompson, owner of Starland Dairy and former Board member of Candler Hospital) and Billy has had no problem getting used to the town’s lifestyle.

“What draws me to this town is the vibrant music and art scene,” Greer says. He also likes the beautiful views that both Forsyth and Daffin Park give him on his ten-mile bicycle ride, an exercise routine that he tries to complete daily when he’s at home. Because of some knee and back problems, Greer stays in shape using lower-impact machines such as stationary bikes and elliptical trainers. Though if the weather permits, Greer most enjoys getting his exercise outdoors in the Savannah air.

“My preference is a mountain bike with bigger tires and a spring-loaded seat,” Greer says with a laugh.

He packed not only his bass guitar but also a bike when Kansas joined Styx and Foreigner on a tour last summer. Greer believes that a healthy lifestyle is just as important on the road as it is at home. Along with cycling, he makes use of hotel fitness rooms to counteract the typical rock and roll diet.

“There tends to be a lot of junk food on the road,” Greer says. He knows the road well, having played throughout the Southeast even before joining Kansas. Greer got his first bass when he and his brother asked their parents for instruments after seeing The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan show. Years later, Greer and a friend recorded a song, “Cold Hearted Woman,” that became a regional hit after being played on 96 ROCK in Atlanta. Even with that first break, Greer saw his band, QB1, dissolve after a few years.

Meanwhile, Kansas’ vocalist Steve Walsh, who can be heard singing on all of the band’s biggest hits, left the group to form a band called Streets. Walsh had seen Greer perform in the past and asked him to audition for his new band. Greer got the gig and played on two albums with Streets. At the same time, Kansas recorded two albums without Walsh but disbanded soon after. Later, some of the former members Kansas decided to re-form with Walsh back behind the microphone, but the original bass player was not on board for that reunion. Greer was given the job without an audition.

“They knew what I was capable of,” he says.

Twenty-five years later, Greer says the ages in the audience range from 5 to 65, and he notes how some of the younger ones discovered the band when the song “Carry On Wayward Son” was featured in the Rock Band and Guitar Hero games.

“The fans are amazing,” he says.

Greer is working on a solo project when not on the road. He also reunited with his first bandmate, his brother, for a concert in Tennessee. He looks forward to the winter in Savannah, where the weather is still mild enough for him to ride his bike around the parks or sit on the porch with his wife and enjoy the downtown scene.

“I barely knew three or four of my neighbors when I lived in the suburbs,” Greer says. “Here I’ve gotten to know so many more people. Savannah is just socially more vibrant.”

Photos courtesy of Robert W. Fritsch 
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