Ritchie Adams - Red Hot Rock
Saturday, February 18, 2023 11:11 AM
BILLY SHERWOOD – IN TRIBUTE TO MY FRIEND
Ritchie Adams | August 18, 2015 | #72 |
Billy Sherwood has spent a lot of time with Chris Squire. Not only have the two recorded and performed together as members of Yes, but Billy has also worked in the studio behind the glass on several Yes albums on which he did not play. Additionally, the two master musicians have moonlighted, collaborating on Conspiracy and various other projects.
Billy grew very close to Chris over the years and it was with great sadness, but the highest honor, when Chris personally asked Billy to fill in for him at the time he discovered he was ill, giving him his blessing to carry on with Yes as his temporary replacement. Filling in for Chris quickly turned into permanently taking his place when Chris passed away from leukemia a few short weeks later.
While working through the grief of losing a very close friend and, at the same time, preparing for the complicated task of learning all of Chris’ bass and vocal parts for a rapidly approaching Yes tour, Billy was kind enough to speak to Red Hot Rock about losing his friend and to discuss the future of his favorite rock band, the collective that he has unexpectedly found himself a member of once again.
RED HOT ROCK MAGAZINE: Hi, Billy. How are you doing?
BILLY SHERWOOD: Hi, man. Hangin’ in there. Hangin’ in there.
RHRM: It is unfortunate that I need to be conducting this interview with you under these circumstances. I am having a very difficult time processing Chris’ passing. I can’t imagine what it’s like for you.
BS: Yeah. It’s just been a real emotional roller coaster the last six weeks with all this. We had a memorial last night at Trevor Rabin’s house, shared stories about Chris, had some drinks. It was a nice time, but it’s still hard to picture, you know, hard to imagine.
RHRM: I met Trevor many years ago and I have had so many interactions with Chris and the various members of Yes over the years. The band has been such an important part of my life since I first got into music and a big part of my shared life with my wife since we met. We were both moved to tears when we heard of Chris’ passing and it is still difficult for us to admit to ourselves. I have had the pleasure of interviewing Chris many times over the years and of Red Hot Rock placing Yes on its cover while we were publishing the magazine overseas. Now that we have launched the magazine back home in the States, we were looking forward to a big Yes cover story in this issue before Chris had announced his illness. This issue will serve now as a tribute to Chris and his incredible talent. I thought that it would be important to speak to a member of the band about Chris’ legacy. You are the perfect person with whom to speak, having worked so much with Chris, both as a part of Yes and outside of the band. I appreciate you taking the time. I understand that it is not easy to speak about this so soon after Chris’ passing.
BS: Yeah, well, you know, I loved the guy like a brother. I’m honored to be doing what he asked me to do here. So, speaking about him is always a pleasure at this point. The shock of it is still kind of recent, but at least I can speak about it without losing it, ha ha, from time to time, ‘cause it’s very difficult. But yeah man, I’m happy to talk about him.
RHRM: You have worked so much with Chris over the years. Would it be alright if I asked you to explain how you first met Chris, how you became involved with Yes and to fill in the blanks for people reading this that may not know that much about your work. You have worked with way too many bands and too many projects to go through in detail here.
BS: Yeah. Ha ha.
RHRM: We will leave that for another time. But can I ask you to just run through the work that you have done with Yes over the years. It is a tangled web.
BS: Sure. Well, I had a band in 1987 called World Trade. And it was a very progressive rock sort of thing. And the guy who signed us to Polydor at the time was Derek Shulman, who was the lead singer of Gentle Giant, it just so happens. He loved the band. He signed the band to Polydor. Our record came out and it was doing well. And he left and became the president Of ATCO. So, when he left Polydor, he was at ATCO now with basically Chris Squire, Tony Kaye, Alan (White) and Trevor (Rabin). They didn’t have a singer. So, Derek said to them, “Well, I just have this guy in this band, World Trade, who would be perfect. You should meet him. And possibly, maybe, he’ll sing for the band.” ‘Cause at the time, Jon (Anderson) was doing ABWH (Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe). You remember that project?
RHRM: Yeah. Yeah.
BS: So, he was doing ABWH. I got a phone call from Chris Squire and, you know, was just amazed. It’s like, wow, this guy’s my hero, you know, I’ve been studying this guy forever and he’s on the phone. He said, “Hey, man. I heard the World Trade demos and I really dug ‘em and I want to meet you. You feel like going out and having some food?” So, we went out to eat and, you know, we just hit it off immediately and became fast friends. From there, our relationship just kind of maintained. I mean, I never wanted to be the lead singer of Yes. It’s just not something I wanted to do. And, you know, at the time, I was the only one who seemed to be thinking that. Everybody else was saying that this was the perfect fit, but I didn’t think so. And, obviously, it didn’t work out that way, anyway, which was fine by me. Jon came back and they did Union. But in that period, I had written a song with Chris, the first song we wrote together, a song called “The More We Live”, which was on the Union album. And it’s a pretty cool tune. Then I thought, we both thought, well, man, if this is where we’re starting, we should continue this musical relationship here and see where it goes. So from there, I ended up kind of behind the scenes, if you will, and I ended up touring with the band in 1994. Trevor Rabin called me and said, “Do you want to come out? We just made this album called Talk. There’s a ton of parts and we would like you to come play a lot of this stuff with us, you know, play some guitar parts, play some keys.” And I actually did a double bass thing with Chris on the beginning of “Endless Dream”, for all the Yes fans who know the catalog. We did this double bass thing at the front end of “Endless Dream”, which was really cool. And, but, you know, I was a sideman at that point, just kind of going out and touring with the band. And when that tour was over, that version of Yes, if you will, they used to call it Yes West, broke up and they returned to the classic lineup, which is with Steve Howe and Rick Wakeman. So they are now in San Francisco, working on this record called Keys To Ascension. And one thing leads to another and I got the call to mix the album. So, the guys came to my studio and I mixed the album. We were all hanging out and having a great time. And then the next thing I know, I get a call from Chris saying, “Listen, the band enjoyed your work and your company and we want you to produce this next Keys To Ascension record we’re gonna make.” Which was Keys 2 with “Mind Drive” and a couple of other things on there. So I did that and, you know, worked with the classic lineup intimately. Shortly after the record was finished and I was mixing it…you know, the recording was finished and I’m mixing the record at my studio. Jon Anderson was on the phone and I looked over at him and he hangs up the phone and says, ‘Well, that’s that.” And I said, “What do you mean?” And he said, “Well, Rick Wakeman just quit.” Ha ha ha. So Jon said, “I’m going to Hawaii.” And Steve went back to Devon and Alan went to Seattle. And there were Chris and I, sitting in the studio. Ha ha ha. And I said, “Man, it’s really heartbreaking for me to watch my favorite band breaking up before my very eyes. I don’t know if I can take this. What are we gonna do here? We gotta do something.” So, Chris and I started writing material in the style of Yes, thinking, well, let’s just screw around and see what we come up with. And we started writing material for what became the Open Your Eyes record. Sent files to Jon Anderson. But at the time it was tape, I suppose. Sent tape to Jon Anderson, who sang a bunch of vocals in Hawaii in his studio and sent them back to me. And Alan came and played on it. And before we knew it, we had the shape of this sort of Yes-sounding thing developing. And by the time the record was done, you know, and Steve put his stuff on there, it was kind of obvious to everybody. And they said, “At this point, you’re in the band. So let’s go out on the road.” And we went out and toured it. And that’s when I officially joined the band and played guitar, actually, uhm, doing the stuff that I’d composed myself and also then covering the Rabin parts. ‘Cause at the time, Steve was really not so keen on doing any of the Trevor Rabin stuff. It’s great music. It had to be played, anyway. You can’t go out and not play “Owner Of A Lonely Heart”. It’s just not gonna work. So, you know, I covered the Rabin parts. And then we made The Ladder. After that, we went to Vancouver and made The Ladder record, which Yes fans kind of seem to dig. And that’s where we are in 2000 when I left the band and decided to kind of go back into production and full throttle the sort of production studio thing that I was developing. A bit of time went by obviously and then I just recently got a phone call from Chris saying, “Listen, we’re kind of in a pinch and we need some sort of production, if you will, to get these backgrounds together on this new record we’re making called Heaven & Earth. Would you be into coming to the studio and working with the band again and kind of recording the background vocals with us, arranging and whatnot?” And so I said…
To read the rest of this feature, please order a copy of Red Hot Rock #72 at our online shop.
Photo credits: Michi Sherwood
Ritchie Adams - Red Hot Rock
Saturday, February 18, 2023 11:04 AM
CHRIS SQUIRE – FAREWELL TO A LEGEND
Ritchie Adams | August 19, 2015 | #72 |
Red Hot Rock has had the honor and pleasure of speaking to Chris Squire over the years at many points in his career. He has always been extremely generous with his time and enthusiastic about discussing all things Yes. From those many conversations, we have decided to treat you with the most recent discussion we had with Chris, around the release of their newest studio effort, Heaven & Earth, as well as an interview going back fourteen years, an interesting period in the band’s history. Jon Anderson was still the lead singer of the group and, for the first time, Yes had recorded an album, Magnification, without a full-time keyboardist in their ranks. But first, we take you to July 8, 2014…
RED HOT ROCK MAGAZINE: Hello. Is this Mr. Squire?
CHRIS SQUIRE: Speaking. Yeahhhh.
RHRM: Hi, Chris. It is very nice hearing your voice again. It’s been a few years now. Being such a longtime Yes fan, it is so rewarding to be receiving two back-to-back albums of such high quality at this stage in the game. There are not that many of your contemporaries who can make that claim. Fly From Here and Heaven & Earth are two different animals completely, but both are quite rewarding for music lovers.
CS: Thank you very much. I appreciate that.
RHRM: Even more incredible is how ambitious the band still is. In addition to an album of all new music, some of which you will be playing on this tour, you will also be performing two classic and complex Yes albums from the 1970s, front to back. You performed Close To The Edge on the last tour, together with The Yes Album and Going For The One. You are keeping Close To The Edge in the set and adding Fragile. It feels from the outside as if the current lineup of the band has really gelled, that you are all getting along very well musically.
CS: Yeah. You could say that. It’s always difficult going into a new tour ‘cause of different configurations and different time constraints we have on this tour. We have a shorter set, as we have an opening act on this tour with us. And then, ha ha, of course we realized that promising people to play Close To The Edge again and Fragile takes up an hour and a half of the two hours we’re allotted. So, you know, we’re still working through that situation and trying to find out the best way to play the show.
RHRM: Yes should not have an opening band. You should just get on and play for five hours. I know that would probably kill you, but…ha ha ha.
CS: Well, tell that to the union boss in New York. Ha ha.
RHRM: Is there one band that is opening for you on the entire tour or are there different bands at different stops?
CS: Yeah. Yeah. Maybe not on every show, but we have an English, a young prog rock band called Syd Arthur with us and they’ll be opening the show.
RHRM: I noticed that Yes’ current vocalist, Jon Davison, contributed to the songwriting of all but one of the new album’s compositions. To what extent was he involved? Did he work both on lyrics and music?
CS: Yes. Jon wrote, probably, I am going to say, the lion’s share of the lyrics. I did some. That was the plan, actually, so that, because Jon obviously is new in the lineup and he had quite a backlog of ideas that he put together over the years he’s been writing. And we all decided it would be best if I worked with Jon on a couple of tracks and Steve (Howe) did and Alan (White) did and Geoff (Downes) did. So, you know, to get the new guy’s fresh input into the writing. And that was what we went for and, you know, we’re happy the way it turned out.
RHRM: Very nice results with different flavors throughout the album. I guess that has a lot to do with Jon
writing, as you mentioned, with different members of the band on different tracks.
RHRM: Jon Davison’s lyrics and vocal delivery have the same ethereal quality and warmth that Jon Anderson always exuded, without being a blatant copy. You seem to have recaptured that.
CS: Ah, yes. Well, you know, I guess I can just say it’s definitely in the Yes tradition, the writing and the music and the delivery and the lyrics, as well. So, it’s pretty much traditional Yes fodder. So, yeah. So it’s worked very well.
RHRM: Chris, I have always loved your very distinctive harmony vocals. They are all over the place on the new album. And you step out even more prominently on “In A World Of Our Own.” I know that you have, of course, sang lead vocals on stuff outside of Yes, but it’s nice to hear that you are not hiding your vocals on this album.
CS: That’s good. I have to thank Billy Sherwood for that. He turned them up during the final mixes and balances. So, you know, I guess, Billy thought I deserved a good showing. So, I have to thank him for that.
RHRM: “The Game” is a great track that you and Jon co-wrote with a third writer. Who is the “Johnson” credited on that track?
To read the rest of this feature, please order a copy of Red Hot Rock #72 at our online shop.
Photo credits: Jerry & Lois Photo
Oregano Rathbone - Record Collector - 2015-05-20
Friday, April 22, 2022 5:12 PM
Progeny: Seven Shows From Seventy-Two | Yes
Record Collector #441
May 20, 2015
We can’t have been alone in fearing that exposure to seven complete Yes live performances on the trot might prove to be altogether too rich a consommé, even for prog epicures with the unconstrained appetite of a Mr Creosote. For one thing, the same setlist is wheeled out here seven times in succession. For another thing, most of the songs performed on these October/November 1972 concerts were already captured in a contemporaneous live context on 1973’s Yessongs. Furthermore, there’s the not-insignificant truism that Yes’ live reputation wasn’t built upon spontaneous seat-of-the-loon-pants improvisation so much as scrupulously well-rehearsed, just-like-the-record discipline, so it would surely be folly to expect a world of winging-it whims from one night to the next.
And yet, somehow, against considerable odds, the full seven-course sprawl proves to be weirdly addictive. You’d be right to anticipate the road-hardened, hive-mind tightness cavalierly displayed on each of these gigs, but the tireless, boyish enthusiasm is something else again. Clearly, you’re hearing a band (and audience) having the time of its life: and the closer you listen, the more you notice the heartening liberties that guitarist Steve Howe and drummer Alan White take within the framework of the songs, when immersed in the moment. Also, to hear them pull music of this quaintly baffling but superhuman intricacy out of the hat on a nightly basis, reinforces a sense of wonder that something as anomalous and wilfully unsexy as prog could ever have flourished to the degree that it did.
If we’re itemising, Progeny collates seven complete shows from the band’s late-1972 appearances at Maple Leaf Gardens, Ottawa Civic Centre, Duke University, Greensboro Coliseum, University Of Georgia, Knoxville Civic Coliseum and Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. No one round here would blame you for longer than a millisecond if you settled instead for the Highlights From Seventy-Two 2CD/3LP condensation, which constructs a single set via a cherry-picking process. (And while you’re in the Yes-related browserie, you may also wish to consider Steve Howe’s new Anthology 2CD compilation, with a tracklisting signed off by Howe himself.)
Thing is, “highlights” are largely subjective. To these senescent ears, the Duke University version of Siberian Khatru is particularly incendiary, but it’s the Nassau Coliseum reading that makes the highlights cut. We’re in accord about the celebratory Maple Leaf Gardens rendition of Roundabout, at least: Alan White goes at it like Viv Nicholson whaling on a piñata full of pound coins.
Intermittent technical hitches draw you right into the picture: the nightmare of keeping a touring Mellotron consistently in tune (notably apparent throughout on And You And I), or the spectral, high B that recurs during the Ottawa Civic Centre set, as though Yes had gatecrashed a wine glass recital. And when Steve Howe falls prey to an uncharacteristic moment of forgetfulness during the Greensboro Coliseum version of Close To The Edge, it’s practically newsworthy. However, Heart Of The Sunrise is never less than transcendent, Rick Wakeman’s solo showcases are awash with prestidigitation, and Jon Anderson always pitches with pant-pinching precision despite a declared bout of road flu. The generally bass-light mixes do Chris Squire’s rattling Rickenbacker a mild injustice, but the overall, cumulative effect should still have Yes hardliners concurring with the crowd sentiment: whatever the 1972 equivalent is of ohmygawdthisisliterallysoawesome.
John Walters - Newsweek
Thursday, August 4, 2022 3:09 PM
Getting to Yes: An Ode to Guitar Wizard Steve Howe
BY JOHN WALTERS ON 08/26/15
The doors of the lift opened onto the lobby of the Hampton Inn in Des Moines on a recent August morning. A woman stood opposite the elevator entryway, sizing up the august and exotic creature opposite her: an ascetic-looking man with angular features; Scrooge McDuck spectacles; and a lithe, boyish frame that might have seemed in contrast to his snow-white mane with tendrils flowing nearly down to his waist.
In short, a wizard. In Iowa.
"Can I get your autograph?" the woman asked Steve Howe, whose band happened to be lodging there in the midst of a grueling 27 gigs-in-37 nights North American tour. Howe, 68, was about to politely demur when the woman pressed further: "Are you somebody famous?"
The wizard smiled. Is Steve Howe famous? No… and Yes.
No: In its 46 years of existence Howe's band, Yes, has never made the cover of Rolling Stone. Yes has not been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and faces no imminent need to prepare an acceptance speech. This summer, as 70-something rock stars such as the Rolling Stones (and 60-something rock stars such as Donald Trump) flit across the country on private jets, Howe, the band's legendary lead guitarist, is literally traveling under the radar, driving with an old buddy from gig to gig in a rented Mercedes (and staying at a Hampton Inn).
"We're fairly anonymous," says Howe, who has written some of the most recognizable and iconic guitar riffs in rock history. "I'm little bothered by that."
A short list of guitar wizards whose names are as familiar as their signature riffs: Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Pete Townshend, Keith Richards, Eddie Van Halen, The Edge, Slash and Jack White. Steve Howe is not in that pantheon. His artistry has always been so much more renowned than his name.
To say that the London-born Howe is almost famous is to note that his opening instrumental from Yes's classic 1971 tune, "I've Seen All Good People," appears in a key scene of Cameron Crowe's 2000 film, Almost Famous. He can be as subtle as the 40-second finger-picking in E minor that opens Yes's signature 1975 tune, "Roundabout," or as bodacious as the power chords that open "Heat of the Moment" by Asia (you may remember it from The 40 Year-Old Virgin), the early-'80s supergroup he was in.
As a guitarist, Howe has always had an appetite not for destruction but for eclecticism, playing everything from blues to classical to jazz to rock—occasionally all in one Yes song. He lacks a signature style unless you define excellence as a style.
"Steve won our annual readers' poll for 'best overall guitarist' five years in a row," says Mike Molenda, the managing editor of Guitar Player magazine. "That, for guitarists, is like winning the Oscar five years in a row. Steve was the first guitarist we put into our Hall of Fame."
"You'll never see Steve playing the guitar slung low in that sexy way," says Molenda. "He keeps the strap tight and holds the guitar up closer to his chest. It doesn't look cool, but it's more ergonomical."
Nobody does a Steve Howe air guitar improv, primarily because Howe does not comport himself like a preening "golden god" of rock. Never has. He has been married to the same woman, Janet, since 1968 (they have four children). He owns one car (Janet has one too). He has strictly adhered to a vegetarian diet since the early-'70s and cannot recall having taken any unprescribed pharmaceuticals for at least three-plus decades—and not because the use of psychotropic drugs has dimmed his memory. "I like a nice French wine now and then, but I don't like getting wasted," says Howe. "It doesn't get you anywhere but closer to death."
He meditates daily, a habit he picked up from a group of U.K. contemporaries who ascended to a slightly higher degree of international fame than he has. "The Beatles said you could get high without drugs," says Howe, "and I thought, Well, I have to try that."
Of course, John, Paul, George and Ringo got high with drugs, too, but that's another tale.
Howe is as much of a guitar geek as he is a guitar god, as someone who has put out 17 solo guitar albums—plus a few more live ones—is prone to be. His beloved 1964 ES-175 Gibson never leaves his home in Devon, England. When Howe used to travel with it, he'd purchase a ticket so it would have its own seat. He is his own Guitar Center, having owned as many as 155 guitars at once. Why? "I want to have all the colors of the palette," he says.
Howe's obsession with guitars began early. "When I was 10, I started this, 'Mom, Dad, I'd like a guitar' whine. They made me wait until I was 12. My dad took me to a shop in King's Cross, and we picked out an F-hole guitar for Christmas, 1959."
A few years later, he and some school mates played their first gig at The Swan, a pub in Tottenham. "We were underage. I was painfully shy. I stood on the side of the stage, played my songs, never looked up, and when it was over I thought, Well, that's enough of that."
But it wasn't. Howe is still somewhat shy, but if you ask him a question about guitars or guitarists he becomes almost comically garrulous. "When I was 16, I sat in the third row to see [legendary jazz guitarist] Wes Montgomery, and I'll never forget the smile on his face after he finished the set."
From Montgomery, Howe launches into an extended soliloquy on great players, a guitar solo of sorts, that references everyone from Chet Atkins to Les Paul to Steve Morse to Martin Taylor to "this new guy, a world-class guitarist from Italy, Flavio Sala—S-A-L-A."
After at least two minutes of uninterrupted exposition on the history of criminally underexposed guitar legends (excepting Paul), Howe stops to laugh at his own expense. "I'm big on guitars," he says. "You shouldn't have asked me about them, because I'm prattling on."
Not unlike a Yes song. If any band ever exposed itself to parody—and there is more than a whiff of Howe and Yes in guitarist Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest) and Spinal Tap, respectively, in the 1984 film, This Is Spinal Tap—with its earnestness and prog-rock leanings, it was Yes. The band's 1974 release, pretentiously titled, Tales From Topographic Oceans, contained just four songs, three of which clocked in at 20-plus minutes and one of which was titled, "Ritual (Nous Sommes du Soleil)."
"This has always been a pretty damn weird band," says Howe, "The idea of complexity was inherent in us."
As far as chord progressions or melodies went, Yes never wrote a book report when a doctoral thesis would do. Former keyboardist Rick Wakeman once recounted a show that involved a 10-minute percussion solo in which his role was so minor that he had a roadie bring him Indian take-out during the show. Howe recalls Yes opening for The Kinks and one of the Davies brothers becoming so irritated with Yes's expansive artistry that he pulled the plug on the amps.
"We had a fight backstage," says Howe.
Yes changed its lineup almost as often then as the New York Knicks do now. The band has had 20 different members, not including studio musicians, since its 1969 inception (bassist Chris Squire, the lone member to play on every studio album, died of cancer in June). Howe, for instance, left for 14 years. Only one man from their current five-member roster, drummer Alan White, even played on the band's biggest-selling album, 1983's 90125.
"Yes is kind of like a French farce at times," says Howe good-naturedly. "There's a door slamming shut behind one guy as another door opens and another chap walks in. But if you join Yes, you've got to show respect for everything that Yes has ever played. Basically, if you say no to playing a song, that could get you the bullet."
Being the flag-bearers for "prog rock" has long been a mixed blessing for the band. At its peak, Yes drew more than 100,000 for a show at John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia on June 12, 1976. And yet, as Howe notes, "Rolling Stone did an entire book on rock music in the '70s and only gave us three lines."
If rock music appreciation included bonus points for degree of difficulty, Yes might be more revered. "Some bands just jam for 7 minutes between vocals because they have nothing better to do," says Molenda, of Guitar Player. "What Yes was doing was writing mini-symphonies. This was sophisticated. This wasn't, 'Baby, baby, baby.' Granted, we'd sit around in long-sleeved sweaters, sipping tea and saying, "I think what Yes was trying to say here is… "
Howe is more blunt. "We've only ever attracted the people who have the intelligence to appreciate our music," he says. "We don't have as many lemmings following us, but we do have most every albatross."
In its current incarnation, Yes has replaced lead singer Jon Anderson, 70, with 44 year-old Jon Davison, who looks as if he was just abducted from the cast of Godspell. Davison is able to hit all the high notes Anderson hit 30 years ago. At one point in the show, Howe sits on a stool on-stage, all alone, and plays an extended instrumental piece. We've all been exposed to masturbatory guitar solos—and used them as an excuse to hit the restroom—but Howe's virtuosity is dazzling. Watching his fingers dance along the frets is like following Gene Kelly's footsteps in Singin' in the Rain.
"Steve Howe is a dedicated, obsessed musician," says Molenda. "And he keeps himself in top shape because he cherishes every moment. It's like Cary Grant staying thin into his 70s just in case a movie role came up. Why is he still practicing three hours a day alone in the dark? Because that's who he is."
The combination of Davison's spry vocals and Howe's genius on the guitar makes Yes an outlier, yet again, this summer: a band from yester-millennium that sounds exactly like its vintage self.
"None of us are millionaires," says Howe. "Nobody joins this band to get wealthy. I'm still that shy London kid. I just want to stand on stage and play. I'm not a rock star; I'm a guitar player."
Ryan Reed - Ultimate Classic Rock
Friday, September 16, 2022 3:28 PM
Alan White on Chris Squire, Yes' New Tour and Cruise to the Edge: Exclusive Interview
August 7, 2015
Alan White's 2015 itinerary is jam-packed. Yes are gearing up for a major tour with Toto and Cruise to the Edge, their annual floating festival, will set sail in November. But for White, the stage will feel somewhat empty from now on: Bassist Chris Squire, the other half of Yes' dynamic rhythm section, passed away in June following a bout with leukemia.
For Yes – and the music community, in general – the impact of Squire's death is immeasurable. But Alan White and company were adamant about carrying the band forward, recruiting former member Billy Sherwood to step into Squire's massive boots. "Absolutely we're moving ahead," the drummer said last month. "I'm gonna do it for him."
White spoke to Ultimate Classic Rock before the start of the new tour, which begins today (Aug. 7), about Yes' resolve, their plans to honor the late Chris Squire in their upcoming sets, and – on a lighter note – the hilarious Yes-Spinal Tap connection, among other topics.
I wanted to express condolences on the passing of Chris Squire — incredibly sad news.
Absolutely. It's a huge loss for every band member, and for me in particular, because I've worked with him for 43 years all the time. We never stopped working together.
The band announced an all-star tribute to Chris for the cruise, featuring Mike Portnoy. Have you figured out any kind of tribute for your own set?
We're working on it. We've got five days of rehearsal before we actually hit the road, and then we'll finalize our plans with that. On the cruise, we'll be adding about four or five numbers to the set. We haven't totally decided on it yet. We have to run through these songs to see what's working. The rehearsals will tell a lot.
Obviously with Chris' passing, I'm assuming the band has been scrambling to get Billy Sherwood in the mix. Luckily, you've worked with him before.
We haven't played together yet. We're meeting on Sunday. The band hasn't started rehearsals yet.
Have you spoken much to Billy? He's in a strange place, trying to fill in for one of the greatest bass players of all-time. I wonder what his mindset is like.
We had a memorial for Chris down in L.A., and Billy was there. I talked to Billy after that about some things. We have a lot of stuff to sort out before we hit the road. We have to get it just right, because there were certain things with Chris and myself that only he and I knew about — little things in the music. We have to go through that kind of stuff, the little "Chris-isms" in the music that I have to work out with Billy. We just have to look at it. Billy is a very adequate player and has a great voice. He kind of knows all of Chris' parts; he was his mentor as he was growing up playing. He knows all of Chris' harmonies, too.
I'm sure, to some extent, it will be a comfort to have a familiar face on-stage during this strange and difficult time.
Yeah, to some degree it's going to be a comfort, but it's still not going to be easy.
Do you have a particular favorite Chris bassline or Chris-written Yes song?
One of the most identifiable is the "Roundabout" bassline because, really, that bassline is the song, you know? Everybody identified with that, and numerous others throughout different songs. There are too many to count, very iconic basslines for his particular style. "Tempus Fugit" is another iconic bassline, and that's one of those songs we'll be playing.
Chris often joked that Yes could conceivably continue on with completely new members, that the name could just encompass the spirit and go on for new generations. Now that idea seems even more possible.
[Laughs] I never heard that one, but the music is kind of timeless, really. A lot of the earlier albums are still very popular. It is iconic music in that way. It's a little bit like classical music, which gets reinvented all the time. The problem we do run into is there aren't many Yes tribute bands because it's not easy music to play. It's very challenging for a lot of musicians. There are a couple who stand out: There's a band in England called Fragile that are pretty good players. There are a few here and there, but some guys try to play it and you know they're getting everything wrong – especially when you know the right way to do it. It's a strange thing to watch. I live in Seattle, and there used to be one called Parallels, which is named after a song Chris wrote. They were pretty good. Actually, the singer from my local band, Robyn, is from that band. She's got a great voice.
Yes will be touring with Toto starting this month. What's your plan for the sets? Are you planning to do any more full-album tours in the future?
With sets from the last few years, we've been doing albums in their entirety. We did two albums last time. This one's going to be – I wouldn't say all hits, but it's all favorites of people who like Yes. Toto are going to be playing all the hits, so Yes is going to be playing a bunch of our kind of hits and maybe a couple numbers that weren't. There are always a couple numbers in a Yes set where you say, "Wow, I didn't know they were gonna play this one." We're touring Europe, I believe, next spring – even though plans haven't been finalized. I think we plan on doing a two-album set on that tour.
What’s the craziest, most Spinal Tap thing that’s ever happened to you?
Oh, my God. It's funny you should say that because one of the scenes in Spinal Tap — the people who made the movie based the idea on me getting stuck in a drum kit in one of the Yes tours of the '70s. We were playing Tales From Topographic Oceans on-stage, and we used to have this butterfly kind of thing. It was a very majestic part of the show. And it used to open up and close, but one night, it closed the wrong way and I wasn't in the next bit on-stage. I usually had to get off the drum kit and not be on my drums, but I couldn't get off. I had to lie on the ground so nobody could see me, and I was locked in the drum kit, basically. I couldn't get out. It was very weird. So the [Spinal Tap] producer read about that, and he did the scene where the bass player gets stuck inside the mummy case.
There are a few memorable things. We were doing this show in the round in Chicago. We used to have a guy underneath the stage who would feed the cord that controlled the lights, the PA and everything. He fell asleep. And the stage came around and sliced through all the cables at once. And the sound and lights and everything went completely, and there was only one person left playing, which was the acoustic drum kit on-stage. Eventually, Steve Howe and all the guys ran off the stage and left me playing, so all the crowd started yelling, "Drum solo!" I did a few things for about five minutes, but nothing was happening, so I got quieter and quieter then tapped the snare drum at the end. Then I got up and walked off, and they applauded like hell.
Can you remember the first five albums you bought or were given, and what impact did they have on you?
Definitely one of them was Rubber Soul by the Beatles. The first love of my life was when I got the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds album. That changed my whole career. And then I had an album by Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa that my father used to play for me all the time. It was a very famous album they did together with the solos. I started getting into jazz at an early age, too. And pretty shortly after that, Weather Report and Chick Corea and that stuff kept creeping into my albums. So at an early teenage age, I was developing some kind of jazz style to my rock drumming. That was my purpose to keep that up — rolling everything into one style.