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Talking YES, the Rock Hall and more with Rick Wakeman

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Rick Wakeman wearing his familiar cape, standing amongst his iconic keyboards during the 2017 tour “YES featuring Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin and Rick Wakeman.” Rick Wakeman wearing his familiar cape, standing amongst his iconic keyboards during the 2017 tour “YES featuring Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin and Rick Wakeman.” (photo courtesy of LWMultimedia/Lee Wilkinson)

When Chris Squire, king of progressive-rock bassists, passed away after a lengthy battle with cancer in 2015, rock and roll lost one of its most innovative and gifted musicians. For Squire’s former band-mates in YES, it was not only a painful personal loss, but also a glaring reminder of their own mortality, according to the band’s iconic keyboardist, Rick Wakeman.

“When Chris died, we all called each other up,” Wakeman said during a phone interview from a YES tour stop in Minnesota. “Jon (Anderson – original YES lead vocalist) and I had been talking about putting together a band that plays YES music. We realized that if we didn’t do it now, it would never happen.”

Wakeman and Anderson had spent most of the previous dozen years working together on duo tours and a 2010 joint album called “The Living Tree.” 

“We knew that the next stage was to have a band playing YES music because we wanted to play it,” Wakeman continued. “And we also knew that we wanted (guitarist) Trevor Rabin in the band.”

The South African-born Rabin had been a member of YES from 1983 (the year of the band’s huge commercial hit LP “90215”) through 1995.

Though Wakeman had left YES along with Jon Anderson in January 1980 (“We weren’t keen on the direction where the music was going,” Wakeman said), he was well aware of Rabin’s musical prowess.

“I knew of Trevor because he had a band in South Africa called ‘Rabbit,’” said Wakeman. “They were a fantastic band.”

Wakeman and Rabin’s joint musical adventures were christened during YES’s all-encompassing “Union” album and tour in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.

“There were about 600 of us on the stage,” Wakeman joked of the album and tour, comprised of nearly every major player who had been in the band at one time or another.

Wakeman and Rabin subsequently recorded and performed together on several projects, including 1999’s “Return to the Centre of the Earth,” a sequel to Wakeman’s enormously successful 1974 solo album “Journey to the Centre of the Earth.”

With Rabin quickly agreeing to a YES tour with Anderson and Wakeman, an announcement was made in early 2016 for a tour called “YES featuring Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin and Rick Wakeman.”

Joining the trio are Lee Pomeroy on bass and Lou Molino on drums.

“They are just phenomenal players,” Wakeman said. “They’re integral to this band.” 

A smash from the beginning, the tour kept getting extended beyond the band’s original agreed-upon stop date.

“We originally agreed to a cutoff date of June 2017,” Wakeman said of the trek, the success of which continues to delight the band, who are intent on keeping the music fresh for themselves as well as the audience.

“We kept pushing that date back and added a final 30 dates, changed a few songs around and put in some bits from other eras,” he added. 

The tour will hit Boston’s Orpheum Theatre on Oct. 4 and is expected to wrap up in Miami, Florida on Oct. 14 with a show at the ornate Knight Concert Hall.

“The phenomenal reaction we’ve been getting on this tour just lifts us to another plane,” Wakeman said, speaking of the energy conveyed by the band’s audience. “We walk off the stage complimenting each other on special moments from the show but we give the credit to the audience for taking us there.”

(One subject Wakeman and I did not discuss was the other version of YES which had been crisscrossing the country at the same time as YES featuring ARW. That version of the band featured guitarist Steve Howe, drummer Alan White, and keyboardist Geoff Downes (ex-Asia, ex-Buggles, and a player on YES’s 1980 “Drama” album and tour). That band’s “Yestival” tour dates were cancelled last week following the sudden death of Howe’s son Virgil.)

Notoriously consistent at snubbing bands who fall under the “progressive rock” banner, The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame finally inducted YES earlier this year - 23 years after the group became eligible. It was a bittersweet moment for Rick Wakeman.

“I’m very proud to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but also sad for some bands who had musicians who were very important, but who sadly passed away before they could be inducted,” he said. “The fact that Chris Squire died before YES were inducted is a terrible tragedy to me. The same could be said for Deep Purple and my very close friend Jon Lord (Lord died in 2012 and was inducted posthumously with Deep Purple in 2016).”

If Wakeman were approached to join the Rock Hall’s team of consultants, he knows what he would tell the powers that be.

“I’d really like to see them to take a closer look at how long they wait for a band to get in,” he said.

Wakeman would also like to see the Rock Hall broaden its awareness of how influential progressive rock has been on other forms of music.

“I’ve always felt that ‘Prog’ has had a massive influence on all kinds of music. It’s given young musicians the freedom to play whatever is in their heart and in their head. Listen to the radio today and you’ll hardly hear two tracks in a row that sound exactly the same, and that’s all down to ‘Prog.’” 

As YES featuring ARW approaches the end of their extended tour, Wakeman said he is enjoying every moment of his time onstage.

“I can’t really put it into words but the reaction of this audience gives you a tingling feeling. The band feeds off that energy and it always takes us to another level. We spend most of the set with smiles on our faces and come off smiling at the end. It’s phenomenal.” 

Last modified on Thursday, 21 September 2017 12:17

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