February 1973 Volume 1 Number 7 Steve Howe talking to Ken Achard
KEN ACHARD: You're interested in jazz, you're interested in classical music, you're interested in every facet of guitar playing. Your classical playing, is it something you've drifted into, or is it something you 've always been involved in?
STEVE HOWE: Well, after about four years of playing I became aware that guitar was playing in every field of music. I wanted to be able to go through them and to spend time, as I encountered each kind of guitar music. Originally there was more intelligent music to listen to, but that's gone circle upon circle; every time I come back to rock and roll-and I mean that-and then I might grow my fingernails and I'm off again, you know, it just depends on what I'm called upon to do. If somebody came and wanted me to work with a musical group in a direction I haven't played in yet, which might be more improvisation, then I would be glad to encounter that. I've done a little bit, a taste of it here and there, yet I haven't really played for a while in that vein, you know. It's something I'd like to do.
KA: You say that you move from vein to vein; if something crops up you move into it. Do you think your position in Yes is transient inasmuch as you'll go on to something else, or are you there as a semi-permanent thing?
SH: I'm there, yes. Semi-permanent? Permanently-and I think Yes moves in the same way as I do, you know; we guide each other a lot, and there's a lot of giving and taking musically. John had a fad where he would play a lot of symphonic music, and I would be playing a lot of concertos-that was one comparison where we would link music up, we would realise that everybody was broadening their wings a lot and listening. So yes, I think we'll become more versatile in the way it pulls out of different veins of music from the past, putting them together, trying to conjure up something new. Possibly we'll step into that a lot in the future, musically, because we have done a few things that we wanted to do. So we are opening up, looking for new things.
KA: In the position you're in at the moment, everybody in the band is what I would call a virtuoso on their respective instruments, which is nice. Do you think technique is going to suffer when people plug their guitars into synthesisers?
SH: Through experience I've learned that the synthesiser as a sound, adapting it with an instrument, can put you on some funny tracks. You start using it, as a sound, but very few people have been able to play Moog just as an instrument. It's rather like the sitar guitar and the relations I've had with that. I thought I was going to play sitar guitar all the way through 'Close to the Edge', our new album. That was the instrument I wanted to project, you see, but when it actually came down to it I couldn't play as spontaneously with improvisation as I could on a full scale stereo guitar where I could really move around. But it wasn't as if that guitar was difficult to play; it was the sound, the things it did to me. I had to use it in moderation. So we've come a little way, ourselves, with the synthesised instruments. As far as I'm concerned the guitar was the first instrument that people said 'Let's play into this, put it into this, do this'-you know. It was an adaptable instrument. The keyboards, of course, made on wind instruments, the guitar and keyboards are the forerunners of the change.
KA: I'm just wondering if a guitarist of not very great technical ability is going to plug into the synthesiser and play half a dozen notes and let the machine do the rest. Can you visualise this happening?
SH: Yeah, it's bound to happen. It's reasonably healthy as long as the people listening to it don't take it too seriously. It's only when I let myself be deluded that, seriously, I find people misusing instruments. It can be a bit too much.
KA: I was listening to 'Close to the Edge' the other night. There's so much arrangement there. Do you go into the studio and do it there, or is the spade work done beforehand?
SH: Most of it's done beforehand. We usually get in and work out exactly how we're going to go about doing the idea that we have mediocrally performed in the rehearsal studio. So most of the arrangements are done. We might expand things a little, you know, just open an idea up a bit more, because there's a great deal we learn about our music when we're actually playing it, you know. We tighten it all up and tidy it up a lot.
KA: Do you not feel stifled by the rigid arrangement of the band ?
SH: Not really, no. I play a lot on my own, and I get a lot of recording, you know. I record a lot at home on a Revox, and when I'm away I've always got a cassette going, recording while I'm playing. It's something I really like doing. I go through a lot of changes in the music, you know, I play a lot of different things. I could improvise more. People have said, is there enough improvisation, but we've opened that up quite a lot now. In the first song we do, I have a section at the end where it's pretty free. I can play for 15 minutes, it's a quite interesting sequence, and then on the last song I have a kind of a stop where things are completely open. I might start off a solo. I let a lot of things out. All the songs have bits I can change. I might put a bit in, or I might not put it in.
KA: You have some really interesting things going with Chris. He must be a nice bass player to play with.
SH: He's very good, an excellent bass player. A fifth of the group's talent is without a doubt in Chris. I should think the hardest thing is to get-well, we've wangled around with balances on the stage to try and get so we can hear everybody. Obviously once you've heard everybody you're playing well together. And that's not always as easy as it sounds, especially when you've got several keyboards over there and you want to hear each one of them at a set volume at the right time. It's hard enough for Rick sometimes, you know, but it doesn't really cause a problem, it's just different heights of perfection really.
KA: That album was profoundly involved with nature. Does that reflect in you?
SH: Yeah. That's come to us all ready. John, about personal experiences. I think he found that he could write much more; he was writing much more wordly things because his life was not necessarily settled, it had a direction he was going in, as we all were. We stopped eating meat, most of us, and we went vegetarian and started liking organic things and not eating any chemicals or anything. I think it's coming out in our music.
KA: With your Spanish guitar playing and the electric and acoustic too, are you pretty well rounded off as far as musical fulfillment goes?
SH: Yeah! Now I'm starting on steel guitar, and I've been playing for about nine months now. I only play Hawaiian at the moment, but the pedal steel idea interests me greatly.
SH: Because it opens up new doors. Like I tried to play flute and I tried to play other woodwind, and I can't play them, so the frustration I feel there sets me off on to other kinds of stringed instruments. I find the steel guitar very satisfying, and fun to play. It's got new angles on a guitar. What I've been doing recently is playing electric guitar at home, which I've never really done before. I always get back from a tour and put all my electrics away, and my picks away, and I'd be off on my Martin or my bass guitar. But more recently I've been home and I've plugged in, you know, and I've been off, really testing the sound of my guitars, recording them, and kind of categorising them. Now I'm getting to know what I can get out of guitar so that I'll be able to use the right kind of guitar for the particular piece I'm playing. Of course, lots of guitars sound the same. A couple of my Gibsons sound alike. My 175 sounds quite like my Les Paul in tone, but with my Switchmaster it's again something else. There's other things I want to do. I have a lot to learn on classical guitar. I'm not a classical guitarist of any sort, you know; I'm more taken with the style than the instrument, and play what comes out of me on it. Whether I'm going to move into wanting to learn classical pieces is something else. I don't know how strong my conviction is yet. I might want to take lessons to learn lute pieces, because they're very hard to work out off records. I've had really unsuccessful attempts. Some pieces I'd love to play, the old masters in guitar works. They hold new things for every guitarist. I wonder about the balance of power of music like that, you know. This strict classical music. My main fear is that in learning music, I would force a power in me to lie down.
KA: You mean the improvisatory side?
SH: I want that to flourish as much as everything else. So I'm looking for somebody to convince me to read music in a very adaptable kind of way. Because people who play classical music can't improvise. If they changed, if they threw away their music and tried to work on rock and roll, they might be able to play it but lose the fluency of reading. I can't relate to notes on pages. My fingers don't go together at the moment. It might take me a while to learn. But at the same time, something else rewards me with the fact that out of frustration I write music which is more identifiable with me than anybody else. It keeps me happy, really.
KA: When you write music, how do you get it down?
SH: Improvisation. Quite often on to a tape. Developing some things I've had around. I might come up with the germ of a theme and then spend a few weeks sitting around trying to enlarge upon it, taking it into another piece of music, taking it further on. Finding how you can repeat it in a new mode or in a new way.
KA: But how do you communicate this if it is not written?
SH: I remember it. 'Close to the Edge' was all done totally from memory. We'd sit around and we'd have song ideas. John and I got together and we'd have lots of ideas about the way a song would go. We wanted to improvise. I was going to play anything, that was the beginning of the song. We needed a base, a stable thing, and then I came up with a tune. And immediately we started to get ideas together. It could have turned out very differently had we spent longer on it. Basically we were happy because we liked the overall sound, and we just ploughed on. And then before we knew it we had twenty minutes of music. Bang, we started playing and it lasted twenty minutes, and we found we'd ended the song! We won't necessarily do twenty-minute pieces all the time, but no doubt another one will come up. So that's an example of putting ideas together, because there's ideas from everybody.
KA: Looking back on your career so far, do you think you were lucky? Have you had any special breaks along the way, or was it just hard work and talent?
SH: I've thrown a few breaks away. I've let them slip by, which I think one has to do before you realise what would help you to project yourself and be successful. There's no formula or anything, but in my experience I could learn a certain amount and I had to waste a certain amount of time to build up the strength of examination to find the right people to play with. It takes a lot of understanding for five people to get together and do some really extraordinary music. It needs a lot of human understanding from each of us, to compromise and break the ego barriers and do all these things. While I see some good playing, I can very often say Ah, they've got to break all those barriers, they've got to go through the change, possibly they've got to have a few hard years, you know. Not many people know a great deal about my history, but I had a couple of years when I didn't have any money and didn't have anywhere to live, and all these kind of problems.
KA: What were you doing on the guitar at that time?
SH: I was playing with friends. We were trying to get a group together, but it wasn't coming.
KA: Lots of practice?
SH: We were practising quite a lot, but not enough. I was playing a lot on my own. At that time I'd been writing music for a couple of years. I didn't really care what happened to me. I think this isn't really a very good attitude. I felt slightly fatalistic about it, that things would work out in the end if I just kept on writing my songs. And this is all I did. Through the confusion of getting a group together, that was all slightly secondary to me. Actually, what came out of writing music was the most important thing.
KA: When you say writing, you mean onto a tape?
SH: Well, yeah. Often it's been on a tape. Often I've played something and thought, how am I going to remember that tomorrow? If I could record it on the tiny little cassette I've got, I'd think, ah, I've got it! And I could carry on playing something else.
KA: It almost takes the place of writing down music. Do you do tablature?
KA: What did you want to be when you were at school? I mean, did you want to be a guitar player?
SH: Yes, I did. When I left primary school I began to get an am- bition to play. When I was twelve I got a guitar. I wasn't really interested in performing anywhere. Everybody around me was very ambitious with guitars and wanted to get out and play, and I was sitting at home practising a lot. Then I did play somewhere and I didn't like it. I didn't like this performing because everything was so 'shambolic'-it was, in those days. I was going to wait awhile, but then I met some friends and we started to play together. When I was 14 or 15, at school, I was earning money at the weekends, playing in pubs-which I shouldn't have been, of course, I was too young. When I left school I wanted to continue. I did part-time jobs for a little while, and then when I was, I think, about 18, I turned fully professional and stayed that way. I've always had the feeling, ever since I started, that I wouldn't judge myself till I'd played for 25 years. I mean, I wasn't ever going to say I'm not good enough after 12 years or whatever. I've been playing for 12 or 13 years, and I can't judge that yet. Only when I've been playing for 20 or 25 years can I really say I should be good, you know, I should be able to play spontaneous music, arranged music, whatever I feel I'm called upon to do, or whatever is available. I don't know whether it's part of my dilemma to change direc- tions so often, but it keeps me awake. Like how I felt years ago when I was playing blues in a group called Syndicats and I made a couple of records for EMI. I felt a bit hemmed in then, I wanted to move on to jazz. For a long time my major influence was in fact jazz. I thought, when I was about 15 or 16, my ideal would be to be a danceband guitarist in the very early days. Because they seemed to be having a ball, you know, chucking away these chords and progressions. That kicked me off, wanting to learn chords and progressions and how to improvise. ______________________________________
Next month Steve talks about his fabulous collection of guitars. He s also got a lot to say about the many great guitarists, past and present, who have influenced him. It's an highly relevant to the contemporary scene, so don 't miss the March issue of Guitar!
Ken Achard - Guitar
Saturday, August 12, 2023 1:01 PM
Guitar the magazine for all guitarists
March 1973 Volume 1 Number 8 Steve Howe talking to Ken Achard part 2 KEN ACHARD: Steve, the guitar collector - you've got some really tasty guitars. Tell us about them!
STEVE HOWE: Yeah, I could tell you about them. Really, in the Iast nine years I've started collecting. The first couple of years I was stuck with a child guitar that I was learning on and then I started getting really fascinated with Gibsons; really started collecting somehow - that was once I got my 175, that was the first Gibson of all and I only had that a couple of weeks and somebody said, 'Well, here's a pre-war Gibson and it's only fifty pounds' so I had another HP and I had to have it, you know, and this was the start of something that was going to be bigger than me because since then I've bought, I think in all I've got about eleven Gibsons now. The Switchmaster is my favourite - it's just been repaired I've got a new pick-up on it and now it sounds beautiful. I've also got a pre-war Gibson which I think is a model called the FDH.
KA: That's a Francis, Day & Hunter.
SH: And also I've got an LO/50 in perfect condition, absolutely in perfect condition, with the old Gibson lettering which I got from you which is lovely. It's got grovers on it and it's been all cleaned up, you know. It's lovely. And 2 Gibson steel guitars. One's a student one from the mid-60s and the other one is, I don't know - way back. It's got a neck like you've never seen before and it's got a Charlie Christian pick-up on it and it's got the old writing and a very unusual shape on top of the head which is very beautiful. And I've got two Epiphones! I've got an Epiphone AI Caiola and an old Epiphone Acoustic guitar at home. I'm not sure what it is. I've got the miniature 175 which I think they called a 125 3/4 guitar. And the Les Paul, the Les Paul Junior, that's the old one I told you about that a friend sold me in America. It was something he wanted to pass on to somebody that liked it. My prize guitar is the 175: the one I always have with me. If anybody took that away from me I'd have to get an L/5 or something to replace it. It's like an L/5 for me and it has all the qualities of a guitar like that. The antique guitars I'm very fond of and they date from the 17th and 18th centuries. They're two very unusual guitars. The first one's a ten-string guitar five courses, and the other one is just an unusual guitar: it's like a lyre guitar. I got those from a shop in Poland Street and it's quite a new shop -- antique guitars and antique woodwind and a few keyboards and a lot of oddities and a lot of books. I've just bought a lute from him that's a really good buy. I bought the original prototype. It's a really super lute. On a Spanish guitar you've got the beautiful range, especially the high, but on the lute you're more near the bottom with the earthiness of things and especially with the resonant bass strings for your chords, you've got wonderful depth.
KA: Are you going to play it in any of your music?
SH: Well, hopefully, in the future we will do. We quite often pick up different drums and different instruments: I buy a lot of different guitars. On every album I've done I've always introduced new in- struments that I've got. It becomes a joke in 'Advision' you know - all these guitars at home and which one am I going to play - which one sounds best here. And that's always what I want to be able to do. The first person that did this thing was in fact Barney Kessel. 'You've got to have eight guitars if you want to be a professional guitarist.' He said this on one of his albums but he felt you needed eight guitars: acoustic and electric and that figures to me and I usually take six or seven down with me when we start doing an album. Of course it works the same on stage. We reckon being beside the stage combination of different instruments to complement the basic runs and the songs. But, getting back to my guitars, um, along with the two antique and the lute, I've got the Ramirez which I bought from Guitar Village - really I'm not a hundred per cent happy with it, I do want a classical guitar. Mine is a flamenco guitar you know and I tend to feel that, although I played it on stage once with the Philomusic London, which was a classical concert: I played a new piece of music called 'When Wenceslas Looked Out' and we're going to perform that again next year with, believe it or not, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, we hope. In the early stages they said to me they could be interested and we could perform it at the Queen Elizabeth Hall or something. So that's something I want to do next year. We may possibly record it. It just depends how you're going to project a show like that, you know - are you going to mike the orchestra, are you going to project it in a slightly different way from a normal rock concert. That's what I'd like to do. I'd like to be able to mike things up, record it as well, but um, the first consideration being that you have to give the audience the best out of the concert. You're not going to hear the small guitar there so well above the orchestra unless you mike it and if you just mike the guitar you have this terrible problem of having a guitar always inside of the hall, you know, the orchestra in the middle, when it should be vice versa, of course.
KA: You mention the strings on your Ramirez.
KA: Do you experiment with strings, makes and gauges, or not?
SH: I have been, yeah, much more recently. I had a lull, really. I like Gibson strings. I like the power of them and every time I tried something else I had to rip them off straight away because they didn't have any power. Compared to Gibsons, very few strings are actually particularly loud, you know, so l like Ernie Ball strings now. I used them on the twin-neck and I use them on the bottom of the twin-neck on a reasonably light gauge but on acoustic guitars I've always liked Martin light gauge on Martins and then I tried the Darco and I used them on a couple of acoustics I've got. On nylon, I like the La Bella classical with the black. They seem really pretty good strings. I try the other makes: every time I've got back to La Bella, they really seem to ring a lot. Other guitars, let me think.
KA: On the subject of strings, what kind of pick do you use? You like to have your own pick with you all the time don't you.
SH: Yeah. I haven't got a pick on me right now. These aren't picks anybody can buy but I'm thinking of investigating them because I think they're a great pick and possibly they may come out on sale somewhere. I just don't know really what to do about it. Many years ago there was a guy called Tony Richardson. He used to work gigs somewhere originally and he said, 'Oh you try this pick' and I tried it and I loved it and it was a very big solid pick. They're a funny kind of celluloid. There was a chap called Filando or something at Selmer's who was making these years ago and Tony gave me one years ago and I used it for about a year and it never wore out and I eventually got the guy to make me some more. He made me about a dozen at one time of which I've still got three left and I still play with them and he's just going to make me some more, so although I've got some more picks at home, I play thumb picks, finger picks. When I'm in the studio I've always got some different plectrum and I usually say 'Hey, how does this sound' glung glung glung and then I pick up mine and I say 'How does this sound' and they all say, 'That one, that's the one'.
KA: Because you're happy with it.
SH: Well, basically because I'm happy with it and also because it's a very positive pick. You can't fiddle around with it because if you've got a heavy thick pick, when you lay it on the strings, you know, you've really got to lay it right because it can rattle and you know, whatever. I find loose picks, really, oh, I can't really pick with them. I can't get across. I hit a string hard when I go, you know, and possibly I like the response of a really solid pick.
KA: Who were your heroes in the early days?
SH: Ah, many of them were coming up, the ones that I admired. Modern-day heroes kind of pass me by in an odd way, you know. I felt that the older heroes were the ones I could hold on to most successfully and learn from.
KA: Hank Marvin?
SH: Well, Hank Marvin - yeah, I passed over - I passed over that a little although I learnt all his pieces and I thought he was great you know, the time he was going round playing things. But as I was saying earlier, I kept having this Corn, you know, from people older than me who were really honestly trying to help me, who were saying 'Listen to this. See what this does to me. See if you like Barney Kessel', and at a very early age I was listening to Barney Kessel and wondering 'Ah, how can I ever play like that'. It's marvelous and of course I still do the same thing really. I still love Django Reinhardt and the special records I have of his that really do get me off and I have to hear them every now and again to renew my response to them, you know.
KA: Do you think he influences you?
SH: Yeah, very much so. One of his recordings of Nuages which was on electric guitar just floors me every time, you know, and it moves me enough every time to help me to go in different directions to find what I am going to eventually end up playing.
KA: So you'd advise other young aspiring guitarists to listen to the same guys, would you. I mean, to be traditional in their approach.
SH: I don't know. Yeah, I think they couldn't do any harm by hearing these guitarists and hear how they were playing, especially Charlie Christian who started most of the rock guitarists off but everyone who followed in their direction is as relevant really like the next stage of Kenny Burrell and Wes Montgomery - you know, marvelous - and they've learnt a lot from the past but they're also leaning to the future and others of course, John McLaughlin and all these guitarists who are around today. I still get up in the morning and put a Chet Atkins 1954 tape on that they did in jamming with some friends and I'm off, you know. I'm in to a guitar day, you know. I have days when I'm going at the guitar all day long and I might walk in the lounge and possibly hear the Villa-Lobos Preludes by Julian Bream. The personality really comes across in that. A few years back I only listened to, say, mainly rock groups - except the Beatles and the Beach Boys - and I cut myself off from what was happening. I mean I knew it was out there - I used to hear it at friends' houses. I still feel a bit hemmed in with Jimi Hendrix records around because I heard them so much at one time, you know. He didn't seem to alter my style as much as I thought he could have done. I didn't want Eric Clapton to - I didn't want to get on that style, you know. I felt that in a way lots of guitarists had got to a certain style and stopped and I couldn't see me going there.
KA: But do you ever feel that you want to return to the kind of 'grass roots' of it all.
SH: Well I feel I do every day. I feel I'm never that much away from rock and roll - I never turn my back on any music. Through the years I've sorted out what's really important from a particular era.
Yes: The Band That Stays Healthy Plays Healthy by Cameron Crowe Rolling Stone, 7 June 1973
Alec Scott used to roadie for Marmalade. “Those guys had girls throwing themselves at their feet. After shows, there’d be stark-naked young ladies running through the hotel corridors. And orgies? Like you wouldn’t believe. Part of my job was to keep everything under control. . . .”
A year later, today, Alec is the road manager for Yes. His job, he says, consists largely of locating a heath-food restaurant in every city the four-fifths vegetarian group plays. “Basically, Yes aren’t a raving band,” says Scott, a little sadly. “After gigs, they’ll usually either head back to the hotel rooms and write- or have some health food.”
On the eve of their sixth straight gold album, Yes began their 1973 tour in Tokyo, March 8th, and worked across Japan and Australia. From there they would hit the United States to continue through Easter. Bookings had provided for a six-day layover. And because they had worked the three weeks in Japan and Australia without families, Yes would be joined by wives and kids for the week off before the first US show, in San Diego. Rick Wakeman, for one, is unhappy. “I don’t like holidays,” he says, gritting his teeth, mocking fury. “I like to continue working once I’ve started. When we finished Australia, the band was playing really well. But because all the families have come over, the musical contact has been lost. It’s a great shame . . .” Wakeman left his wife Rose and their son Oliver home in England.
It is Saturday, Disneyland Day for Yes. This morning, the band, the families, the roadies will be shuttled by limousines to Anaheim and the spot everyone has demanded they see while in California.
The Beverly Hilton lobby, where the party of 15 will gather, is glutted with Secret Service men, L.A. police and curious hotel guests. Tonight the Hilton plays host to a ceremonial tribute to film producer John Ford, and the guest of honor is Richard Nixon.
Brian Lane, the manager of Yes, grimaces at the scene, grumbles something to the effect that had he only known, Yes would have stayed somewhere else. Two nights ago, Lane had returned to his suite to find it completely barren. His luggage and clothes were gone; so was all the furniture, the TV, the lamps and the beds. Only after a frantic call down to the desk, was he told that his room had been chosen as a stakeout for the FBI.
Lane pouts, “I’ll tell you something. This band will never stay in the same hotel as President Nixon again.”
The elevator doors part and out strides Wakeman. “Hey,” he shouts at the newest member of Yes, drummer Alan White. “Listen to this one.” John Wayne strolls past, unnoticed. “You see, this bloke has just come from seeing a porno movie when he realizes that his hat is gone. He trots back to the fellow at the door and says, “Could you let me back in for a moment. Me hat’s in there.” And the guy at the door just looks at him and says, “I believe your hat, Sir, is hanging in you lap!’” The two go into hysteric convulsions.
The limousine ride to Disneyland is a rather unscenic one filled with puffing factories and brash billboards. The only passenger, save for one, in the third of three cars is Eddie Offord, Yes’ producer.
Offord travels with Yes to coordinate sound equipment and act as consultant on the road. He is the sixth member of the band. He is also building and financing a Yes studio, where the group’s next LP and their inevitable solo albums will be recorded. An instantly likable fellow with frizzed hair and a good-sized beak, he gave up the chance to produce an Emerson, Lake and Palmer live album to join Yes on this tour.
“I had my first contact with the band,” he recalls, “when Tony Colton asked me to work with him in producing their second album, _Time and a Word_ . . . I’ve produced them ever since.”
“I never thought they would make it, though, that’s for sure. I thought they were just too far out of line of music that was being bought. It was a great shock to me when their albums got in the charts.”
Asked to evaluate the personalities, and roles of each Yes member, Offord grins the acknowledgment of a somewhat loaded question. He begins with founder and singer Jon Anderson.
“Jon is the spontaneous member of the band. He writes or co-writes all the songs and lyrics and has a lot of nice ideas for arrangements, although he hasn’t got any talent for playing an instrument. He’s very spiritual.”
“Chris Squire [bass] . . . now there’s the technical side of the band. He’s very much into working everything out. He and Jon are like yin and yang. They balance each other out, “Fishy’ [He's a Pisces] is a little over-technical and pre-arranged and Jon is a little over-spontaneous.”
“Steve Howe is great. He’s a great guy and a great guitarist. Really mellow.”
“Alan white lived with me for a year before he joined the band. Alan’s a great jammer. A lot of funk he’s got. He’s really gonna help bring Yes down to ground, I think. They kind of got a little carried away with _Close to the Edge_. In fact, they almost went over the edge. Alan White is definitely going to bring Yes back to their roots.”
Offord pauses a moment. “Now Rick . . . is a very different case altogether. He’s the only one who refuses to eat health foods. He’s also a boozer and the rest are druggies. Rick is the only one that’s somewhat of a raver. It took him quite a long time to become accepted into the band. . . .”
The three cars pull up to a crowded Disneyland and deposit their passengers at the entrance. Jon Anderson is the first one to inquire at the information booth. “Could you tell me if there’s any place here that has fresh vegetables?”
Wakeman is next. “Where’s the bar?” he asks.
“I’m well aware that I’m somewhat different from the others,” Rick later admits over a plate of roast beef and a mug of beer. “I find health food pretty tasteless. I’ve tried quite a few things out, and . . . I find it very boring. It’s not particularly exciting sitting there with a knife and fork over a lettuce leaf.”
Yes was formed in 1968 by Anderson and Squire, who found the other original members through classified ads. Wakeman joined in the fall of 1971 after the forced departure of an uninspired Tony Kaye. Wakeman now admits that fitting in with the rest of the band wasn’t as easy as he swore it was to the English pop press less than a year back.
“It took me a year and a half. Not until last October, November. You see, when I was with the Strawbs, I did all the lead figures. I’d also jump on me organ and smash it up and God knows what other normal, stupid trips you get into during the adolescent period of your musical training.”
“Anyway, when I joined Yes, suddenly I was in a band where nobody even talked about having a blow or taking a solo. Everything was just arranged. I found it very difficult to accept. Jon and I were at each other’s throats every five minutes.”
“Jon and I come from totally different musical backgrounds, you see. I had a thorough musical upbringing which began when I was an infant. Jon hasn’t had a day of musical training in his life, but he has this incredibly artistic brain. He’s got a lot of the artistic moods and ideas that I know there’s a lot of 20th century composers who’ve been thoroughly schooled would give their right arms for. It’s amazing.”
“We used to argue like shit, then we finally sat down and really started talking. It was right after _Close to the Edge_ and Bill [drummer Bill Bruford] had left the group. I was really worried because I thought, “God, if it’s taken me over a year to try and get into the band, what’s gonna happen with the new guy?’ So we sat down and talked, and Jon and I realized we were going after the same thing, but we were just going about attaining it in different ways. We had the define-all slag-off where Jon said all the things that he thought was wrong with me and I said all the things I thought was wrong with him. We listened to each other and learned to work together.”
Running his thumb slowly across the smooth surface of a Groucho Marx button, Jon Anderson, the spiritual one, is seated silently in his dimly lit hotel room, deeply involved in the dramatic classical music booming from his cassette machine.
“Yessongs signifies an end-of-an-era for us,” he murmurs after a few moments of near-meditation. “For the past few years we’ve been on a continuous cycle of hard work where we tour, record a new album, tour to promote it, then record another album . . .it can go on and on if you let it. Yes has outgrown that now. After this tour we’re going back to England for five months to rehearse and record the next album, which hopefully will be a double-album concept. By the next time we tour, our shows will consist only of us. We’ve talked about playing a three-to-four hour set, which will probably only give us time to perform the new album and “Close to the Edge.” The future is very exciting for me.”
“I think Yes is gonna get a little funkier, too. The band has reached the stage where the only addition we need to create a better band is to have a little more funk. It’s like playing our records, then putting on The Band. What I see in The Band, I don’t see in Yes. The overall . . . funk of it all.”
“It’s very strange if you start thinking about all the names,” Anderson continues in a stream-of-consciousness fashion. “They are so true of what the particular group is doing. The Band. The Mahvishnu Orchestra. . . .”
John McLaughlin and the Mahavishnu Orchestra is a subject springing up constantly in conversations with the band. “It’s the spirit in which they do what they do that is so important,” guitarist Steve Howe explains. “They make just spiritual and beautiful music. They have something Yes is looking for a little more of. Brilliant improvisation.”
Howe, who is now planning a solo album of synthesized orchestration, also likes to relate an incident which occurred on Yes’ second tour of America. Yes was to perform two consecutive nights on Manhattan Island with the Kinks, and the first evening their set lasted several minutes longer than scheduled. Ray Davies was furious. “He pulled our plug out first,” Howe says, laughing. “Then he kicked and punched Rick when we got offstage. It was crazy.”
The next night Mahavishnu had been added as a third act on the bill. “When we got there early the next day to do the sound check, it was a real tranquil situation to walk in and find McLaughlin and his guys warming up. Once again we all realized that performing onstage was a friendly idea, a good idea, whereas the night before we had thought, “This is a really bum trip.’”
By the afternoon of the band’s opening night at the San Diego Sports Arena, the worst case of show-fright jitters belongs to promoter Lenny Stogell. “We’ve done everything we can do,” Stogell assures himself from a loge seat, staring out across the cavernous empty arena. It is the first presentation by Stogell’s and partner Bill Owens’ new production company, Colony Concerts, and for two weeks the local print and radio media has been permeated with ads. Still, advance sales had been slow.
With the sound check completed, Alan, Jon and various roadies begin a spirited game of soccer on the floor. Still onstage, Rick is checking out his nine layers of keyboards, Moogs and Mellotrons. Trying out a series of sound effects, he calmly and matter-of-factly rocks the arena with the deafening sound of falling bombs, explosions, sirens, orchestras and a 160-piece choir shouting “hallelujah.”
Backstage, Steve and Chris go through the ritual of tuning up their myriad of guitars. “They . . . wouldn’t . . . let me into . . . the Rickenbacker . . .factory,” Squire gripes between bass thumps. “Haven’t . . . let anybody . . . in there for a . . . long time. Not even Pete Townshend. . . .” He lovingly replaces his tuned instrument in its case. “C’mon,” he motions to his wife Nicki, “let’s go to the hotel.”
At the Sheraton Inn Coffee Shop, the Squires cross-examine the waitress, happy-day tag-named Louise, on the quality of the cheesecake.
“Why don’t you just try it,” pleads Louise, “and if you don’t like it, I won’t charge you for it.” A deal. Louise shuffles off.
It is only after a long pause that Chris agrees to expand on his statement made to Melody Maker that King Crimson mastermind Robert Fripp had “stolen” drummer Bill Bruford from Yes.
“I think Fripp stole Bill’s imagination, one can say that much. Or at least he entreated Bill enough to leave us.”
“He took Bill on a fantasy,” adds Nicki.
“It was friendly persuasion . . .he played upon Bill’s dreams, I think,” says Chris. “Bill always wanted to be involved in a kind of jazzy thing, but I think Bob Fripp launched him into it prematurely. Bill is a young drummer and he could have waited a few more years before really getting involved in any heavy music. You see, that’s the problem with Bill. He really wanted to get places fast. He rushed into it, I feel, with his eyes a little bit closed. Maybe now he’s finding out the consequences.”
“Your cheesecake,” Louise cuts in. Food inspection begins. The talk ends.
In a two-room suite upstairs, Steve, Jon, Eddie, Alan and Rick crowd around the television set patiently waiting out the final moments of Sonny and Cher in anticipation of Elvis: Aloha from Hawaii.
On the phone in an adjacent room, Alec Scott is talking to Lane, who is backstage at the sports Arena with bad news: The PA system is shot, and the show will begin two hours late, at 10 PM.
So it is not until midnight when Stravinsky’s “Firebird,” Yes’ recorded show-opener, swoops from the ailing sound system and a patient sell-out crowd raise some 8500 lighted matches into the air to greet Yes, who tear into “Siberian Khatru.”
The show moves into overtime for the rent-a-cops, and every minute is costing Lenny Stogell several hundreds of dollars. Stogell shrugs it off like a graduate from the Mike Lang Woodstock School of Promotion. “Sure, we’re gonna lose money, but the show ended up doing great and these kids were terrific, waiting for two hours without rioting or causing any kind of trouble. They deserve the best show possible. It’s worth every cent just to see them happy. . . .”
The Yes show takes itself very seriously. Totally devoid of stage patter or theatrics, it is, as Lane put it, “down to the music itself. It isn’t part of the act to piss on the audience and get a big howl. They’re very straight-faced about the whole thing.”
And yet, visually Yes remain quite stunning. With Michael Tate’s intense lighting brightly illuminating each member, yet throbbing in multi-colors with Alan White’s every beat, the image is anything but serene.
This set draws largely from Fragile, The Yes Album and mainly from Close to the Edge, the entire album of which is performed onstage. It is Wakeman, however, who steals the show with a tour de force five-minute solo. His floor-length sequined cape sending slivers of reflection across the sea of faces as he twirls from instrument to instrument stationed around him in semicircle, Wakeman recklessly slams out short excerpts from his Six Wives of Henry the Eighth solo LP interspersed with the repertoire of jarring sound effects. As the dry-ice smoke rises from the floorboards, Steve Howe sounds out the opening licks to “Roundabout,” which is met with a double wave of applause. One for the solo, the other for Yes’ big AM hit of last year. The last song of the set, when the final notes die away it is1:30 Friday morning, a weekday, and a fact which fails to keep the crowd from demanding two lengthy encores of “Starship Trooper” and “Yours Is No Disgrace.”
Taking 20 minutes to summon the strength to rise from the dressing room benches, Yes, generally pleased with their performance for the morning, file slowly out the door and head for the limousines that will deliver them back to the Beverly Hilton.
“Rick?” a glazed longhair nervously approaches Wakeman. “Hello,” Rick replies to the stranger. “Rick, I have something I have to talk with you about. It’s very important. Could we talk?” “Well, I’ll tell you . . . we’re uh . . . just leaving right now. I’m very sorry. Is . . . is something wrong?” “Rick, you must believe me. I’m Jesus Christ. I like your records and I enjoyed your show tonight, but I’m afraid I have to save you. . . .”
“I’m very sorry,” Wakeman apologizes, “but I really have to go. It’s been, uh, nice meeting you though.”
“That’s quite all right, my friend,” Jesus understands. “Someday we’ll meet again along the path. . . .”
Wakeman climbs into the car and slams the door. “Who was that?” asks Alan. Wakeman smiles faintly. “Fellow says he’s Jesus Christ.”
“Oh yeah,” White yawns.
“Yeah. Doesn’t look anything like his pictures, does he?”
Courtesy of Rolling Stone #136 – Cameron Crowe – June 7, 1973
By rigorous special invitation, Disco Expres at Morgan Studios
“If the people of Spain have acknowledged the music of Yes, it is that it has reached a very high level of maturity”
They are like the same old friends. We have come almost to the confines of cosmopolitan London to take a break from recording the new album and have a few minutes with Wakeman. It was what we wanted the doors to open to us of this temple-grade music where many meters of tape are recorded daily with the recordings of the best groups and soloists in the world. Morgan Studios has been the place of patient waiting. A pleasant wait because we have had beer with Jack Bruce, we have laughed at the occurrences of the members of Black Sabbath and our soul has fallen to our feet when we have seen the figure, automaton, old and defeated of the legendary Lou Reed. The bar of these recording studios is like a small Mecca where you can see another side of the fantastic world of pop music. Half an hour, an hour? I would not know how to track the time that has passed until we have had to go to the street, again, to go to the other recording pavilion where Rick Wakeman awaits us. Everything is mixed up and Wakeman, who is chatting with a couple of friends, greets us and asks us to wait a moment. The studio is a warehouse, not very big, separated only by an interior room where the recording table is located. The restlessness of listening to characteristic and very familiar music makes us get closer. Inside are the remaining four. As soon as Jon Anderson appears, he remembers our previous meeting last year at the Crystal Palace and greets me as "his Spanish friend.” He invites us to sit down and the first thing I do is ask about his brother.
-He’s here in London now after he came from Spain. It has been a bad year for him, his wife has died and he is going through some really bitter moments.
Looking at my partner Javier Carreaco, he notices that he is not the one who accompanied me last year. I thank him with my eyes for the detail of remembering our previous meeting, especially, coming from a man as serious and not very talkative as this leader of the Yes group.
Are the performances already over?
-Yes. Now we are working hard on the new album. What we are doing now is not definitive. They are models where we capture the scraps that will later form our next LP.
image The conversation with Wakeman always takes place in an atmosphere of simple cordiality, far removed from what his almost “mythical image” suggests.
How long until it will be ready?
-I think that by the end of the year it will coincide with our new European tour and it will go on sale. In total, six months of intense study work was between recordings, mixes etc., etc.
The conversation takes place with time intervals. Anderson is quietly speaking, we are also at the end of his dinner at the foot of the recording table, and with the relaxation that he feels we sense that it has been preceded by a long recording session.
Jon, as I told you last year just after “Close to the Edge” came out, the album has been a bomb among the youth of Spain. Their sound has opened the doors to the Spanish record market for you.
-It makes me happy what you tell me, I did not expect that it could have so much acceptance.
What will the new album be like?
-The idea of the album is pretty good but I can’t tell you anything until it’s finished. Practically now, as I told you before, we are making the notes. It will be a good album but you have to wait to see the results.
The room we are in is small and everyone has dinner. Steve Howe and Alan White are accompanied by what we assume are their wives. Wakeman continues to chat with his friends. There is a long silence that we take advantage of with the desire not to disturb much in the hours of rest. We say goodbye to return to the large room where we admire the display of instruments with which the group carries out its recordings. When we are almost about to go with Wakeman to the bar to fulfill the objective that has brought us here, Jon comes up to us to ask us to stay and listen to some of what they just recorded. We are very excited and Wakeman has to go alone. Now we ask for the apologies and he is accommodating. He waits for us having dinner in the studio bar.
We are in the room with the remaining four members of Yes, two recording technicians, and the aforementioned two women, apart from the one who writes, Javier Carrasco and my dear friend Manolo Barroso. We sit on the floor and listen for eighteen minutes of something that is still unfinished but that surrounds us all. The scoop is total and I am sorry that I cannot make my daily listening to such an exciting moment for those of us here participate. As they listen, they turn back, talk to each other, and make observations of possible inclusions or innovations.
At the end when we don’t get up, Jon asks us if we liked it. We nodded, very pleased, and I took the opportunity to ask something that I almost forgot.
Will you come to play in Spain?
-Well last year, I saw it more difficult, but now with what you tell me about having reached the top of the most popular LP’s in your country, I think it is a good time for us to make a visit, however, you already know that it does not depend on me. The new tour starts in December and I hope there is a Spanish promoter willing to hire us.
We are going. Our friendship has been reaffirmed a little more. The way for the group to come to Spain has been open. The dialogue and a great work, “Close to the Edge” have made it possible.
Almost emulating a title from a Traffic album, we too “go back to the canteen”. When we show up, Wakeman is serving a huge steak with potatoes and mushrooms. He invites us to sit down and have a few mugs of beer, forming a gathering that would last for an hour. His hair, long blonde hair, is like a hallmark of his personality. He looks like a naive big boy. While we speak, paying attention to the television that presides over the canteen, only when the announcements come out with tones of grace. He laughs naturally, as if an instinctive impulse from an almost childish posture. He is polite to extremes. Talking to him, we all feel very comfortable. At first glance it is the conclusion that can be drawn from the best keyboard player that has emerged in the pop musical in recent years.
Rick Wakeman began his steps as a musician at the age of sixteen wanting to become a concert pianist, for this he enrolled at the Royal Conservatory of Music for a year and a half where he was studying and working for this purpose. There he studied piano and clarinet and started on various other keyboard instruments.
-I used to "sneak” into the conservatory museum when the watchman wasn’t hanging around there. Eventually I abandoned the idea of becoming a concert pianist because I realized how poorly paid they are and how difficult it is to reach an important position.
Wakeman taught music for a while, but after a series of classes he also abandoned this idea. It is around this time that he began his forays into pop music recording, as a session musician, for the likes of Cat Stevens, T. Rex and David Bowie. He was also a regular participant in jam sessions that were organized in London pubs. It was precisely in one of these sessions that David Cousins, leader of the Strawbs, discovered him.
-After participating in some sessions with the Strawbs, they asked me to join the group. I was with them for fifteen months recording some LP’s and taking my alternative in concert performances. I left the group because we had reached a point where none of us were comfortable with each other. I am sure that we all came out winning with the separation because we were beginning to engage with the ideas of the dense, something like if I used half of my ideas and the other half filled it with the ideas of the others.
Rick Wakeman would be unemployed for a short time. He keeps working in the recording studios thinking about the possibility of creating his own band.
-Yes came looking for me to accompany them on a tour of America. Everyone liked my musical style and on my return I became a permanent member of the group. From here is when the most important musical period of my life begins. My first recording work with Yes was “Fragile” and I began to realize the exciting adventure that Yes music represents.
He has finished dinner and now the dialogue is much more fluid. He asks as us much as we ask him. He would like to know things about music in Spain and we talked to him about Teddy Bautista’s musical ideas around the four seasons of Vivaldi. He is excited about the idea and we have to keep giving him data, for example, about the value of instruments.
-It is really difficult for many instrumentalists to emerge if the devices are worth so much. This is a great advantage of the youth here. The last concerts we gave this year were in Australia and they have the same problem there.
Alan White walks by who approaches the counter, orders a beer and leaves. We asked about him.
-With Alan everything is perfect. He fits the sound of the group wonderfully. Its constant evolution has not left us self-absorbed. He has made us forget about Bill, Alan has largely replaced him.
We listened to what you guys recorded and it sounds good.
-I like it very much. It’s one of those long songs that Jon has composed. My work is very great because I do not stop playing throughout the song. I am very satisfied with what we have recorded of the new album.
As soon as we do not dismiss the dialogue always ends in Yes. Actually the whole of our interview, in principle, revolved around the current situation of Wakeman in our country, after the release of his LP, on the six wives of Henry VIII. From now on we focus our conversation on the solo Rick Wakeman.
-The idea of making this LP was born from the great love that I have always felt for history. I could see that each of Henry VIII’s women had a musical vocation, given that they liked to play an instrument.
The reception for the album in Spain has been great, highlighting the part dedicated to our queen Catherine of Aragon where you get some musical harmonies very identified with some of our musical expressions.
-It took me two months to get used to the subject. I listened to Albéniz a lot and I would be really happy if you liked the piece in Spain.
We tell him that we liked it and he is enthusiastic about the idea that we put forward to come to our country even if it is to do television playing the piece.
-I am delighted whenever it is a short trip since I have commitments with the group. I would like to know your country and promote the music of this my first solo work.
Will you record as a soloist again?
-I don’t know what to say to this. The experience has been really encouraging given that here in England the LP made its way onto the sales lists, but for me doing this means being in a special state with a preconceived idea, maybe if a suggestive idea arises, re-record solo using all of the music instruments that I try to master a little more every day.
In the conversation it is inevitable to return to the theme Yes again, while we also talk about the Mahavishnu Orchestra.
-If the people of Spain have acknowledged the music of Mahavishnu and Yes, it is that they have really reached a very high level of musical maturity.
He is passionate about cars, he tells us, and he likes to play pranks on people. His smile is still naive and childish. Time has passed quickly and someone approaches to indicate that they called him from the studio. He treats us like old friends. We accompany him to the entrance hall, and we take some photos despite the prohibition that exists here to shoot photos, the mischief amuses him and at the farewell he invites us to return so that we can listen to the complete recording. It’s late and the center of London is far away. We will try to return not only to hear the scoop, but because I sense that this friendship, born from two encounters, may be the basis for a future visit to Spain and not precisely for sightseeing.