From musical beginnings to Kansas

Onward and Upward

Jim moved to Virginia Beach to start playing with a group of musicians 
that he thought was promising. Marty and I put a band together called 
Passenger. I actually played with this band for about 7-8 years. 
The band was a revolving door for a lot of musicians over the years, 
but finally settled with the line up of: Benny Wilson/lead vocals and 
harmonica, Don Gorman/guitar, K.D. Forsha/keyboards, Terry 
Baker/drums, and yours truly/bass and lead vocals. I played with this 
band through college and beyond, playing concerts and in clubs all 
over the southeast. Marty had gone off to do sound for the 
Whitford-St. Holmes Band

And then one day I got “the call.” Jim was calling from Atlanta; 
the band from Virginia Beach, now called Avatar, had gotten a 
production deal and they wanted me to move to Atlanta to be the 
bass player. I quit my job as a social counselor at the Dept. of 
Human Services, gave my notice to the guys in Passenger, packed 
up the family and moved to “Hot-Lanta,” where I was being paid a 
whopping $200 a week to rehearse, write songs and go in search of 
that elusive record deal. 

We Went Through How Much Money?!!!

After about six months of writing, rehearsing, and playing with an 
extremely talented and progressive band, the inevitable happened – 
the money was gone! With no work to sustain us and no recording 
contract, the only choice I had was to move back to Tennessee and 
try to regain my gig with Passenger. Thankfully, the guys welcomed 
me with open arms, and I was back playing the club circuit. 

Funny how the years seem to creep by when you are playing 4-5 sets
a night, 5-6 days a week! On the upside, my chops were good and I 
was doing what I wanted to do. Besides, I really liked playing with 
these guys. They are all very talented and it was really a good band! 
We remain friends to this day and the band remains intact with the 
exception of myself.

When You Least Expect It

Sometime in ‘78, Marty resurfaced, fresh off a tour with the 
Whitford-St. Holmes Band with a couple of new songs that he had 
written and a pocket full of money. The next few weeks found Marty, 
Terry Baker, and myself in the studio recording what I later realized 
was my big break! – a song called “Cold Hearted Woman.” After 
the recording sessions, I went back to playing clubs, and Marty, with 
tapes in hand, went off to Atlanta to seek his fortune.

A few months later, Marty called and was coming through the phone 
he was so excited! A friend of his had entered “Cold Hearted 
Woman” in a contest sponsored by WKLS, 96 Rock in Atlanta, 
and it had been chosen to be the first song on side "A" of the 
Hot-Lanta Home Cookin Album. “We need a name for the band,” 
Marty said.  I told him I didn’t really care what he called the band and 
left it up to him. Marty came up with the name QB1. All of the ten 
bands that had gotten a song on the album were expected to do a 
showcase gig. Marty kept calling telling me how popular the song was 
becoming, getting lots of airplay and becoming a regional hit! Being 
350 miles away, it was hard to share his enthusiasm.

Our showcase gig date was set.  We would rehearse for a week and 
do the show. On a warm summer night in the summer of 1979, Terry 
Baker and I loaded up my 1964 Chevy Van and headed to Atlanta. 
It was 5 AM in the morning and we were about 50 miles outside 
Atlanta, cruising along listening to the radio, when all of a sudden, 
there it was! – “Cold Hearted Woman.”  It was ME singing on the 
radio! I can’t tell you how exciting it was to hear yourself on the radio 
for the first time! 

The week was a blur – rehearsing, writing and getting ready for the 
BIG SHOW at the Agora Ballroom. (Incidentally, this is the first 
venue that Kansas ever played in Atlanta.  At the time, it was called 
Alex Cooley’s Electric Ballroom.) When we weren’t rehearsing 
we were listening to 96 Rock. We must have heard “Cold Hearted 
Woman” 20 times that week! It was finally starting to sink in to me 
what Marty had been trying to convey over the phone. We had a
mini-hit on our hands!

The big day finally came. We showed up at the venue, did our sound 
check and hung out in the dressing room until show time. The venue 
kept filling up until it was completely packed! We were announced, 
we walked onstage and before we had played a note, the crowd went 
crazy! There’s no way I can put into words the feeling that you get 
when you walk onto a stage and get that kind of reception. It remains 
one of the most gratifying moments of my whole career. 

“This must be it,” I remember thinking. But after a year or more of 
agonizing refusals from every major label in the country, QB1 was on
the verge of breakup. I was on the verge of packing up the van, going 
back to Tennessee and rethinking my future, when Steve Walsh 
approached me after one of the many showcase gigs that we played 
at the Agora. It seems he had quit Kansas and was putting together 
his own band. He asked me if I would be interested in auditioning for 
the bass-playing gig. I thought about that for about a millisecond and 
told him that I was. A day and time were set.

(continued on next page)

© 2013 Billy
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