Yes, they're back: Art-rock pioneers face new challenge
By ANITA GOSCH • June 6, 1991
In the 1970s, the British group Yes helped pioneer the art-rock movement with its fusion of rock and classical music, paving the way for the synth-pop explosion of the '80s.
These days, the members of Yes are still pioneers, but, according to keyboard player Rick Wakeman, they're paving the way at the other end of the musical scale.
"We're now pioneering what happens to rock musicians as they get older," says the 42-year-old Wakeman. "It's very interesting, the study of what happens to a rock & roll musician who comes to the end of his career."
Not that Wakeman or the other Yes musicians are at the end of their careers. In fact, they recently kicked off a new one: just six months ago, members of the old Yes lineups joined forces with the members of an '80s version of the group. In April they released an album, titled Union, and they're currently on the road in Europe.
The project is described by drummer Alan White as a "Yes orchestra." The combined group includes two keyboard players in Wakeman and Tony Kaye, two drummers in White and Bill Bruford, two guitarists in Steve Howe and Trevor Rabin, one bass player and one lead singer — founding members Chris Squire and Jon Anderson, respectively.
With the current trend of revivals of classic rock bands from the '70s — the Who, Deep Purple, Aerosmith and Bad Company, to name a few — a Yes reunion was almost to be expected.
But, says Wakeman, Yes isn't just jumping on the reincarnation bandwagon. Unlike several of the bands who regrouped for a single tour, he says, Yes is in it for the long run. He says the group has a five-year, five-album contract with Arista Records.
"We were given the opportunity to do a financial killing tour by saying this would be the Yes farewell tour," Wakeman says. "None of us wanted to do that. We all felt that we would be cheating somewhat because we all knew there was certainly more music that had to come out of it."
Drummer White says the chance to reunite was an offer none of the band members could refuse.
"The opportunity to do something so big - it wasn't monetary, it was a challenge," he says. "Money is always a consideration, but I think it wasn't on everybody's mind at the time. It was the challenge of doing the tour and playing with so many talented musicians."
To be sure, none of the Yes members was exactly pulling in big bucks when the opportunity to reunite came up.
The original Yes, who achieved critical acclaim with such huge orchestral works as Roundabout in 1972, broke up in about 1980. During that time, Anderson, Squire, Kaye, Bruford, Wakeman, Howe and White; had all been in and out of the band.
In 1983, Anderson, Squire, White, Kaye and newcomer Rabin joined forces in the Yes version that released the album 90125, which earned them the No. 1 hit Owner of a Lonely Heart. When the 1985 follow-up, Big Generator, wasn't as successful, Anderson broke off, and Bruford, Wakeman and Howe joined.
Four years later, Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman and Howe hit the road for a tour billed as "An Evening of Yes Music, Plus." Neither the tour nor the album did especially well, though.
Lawsuits were filed (but later dismissed), and the media had a heyday describing the war that raged between the band members, particularly over the use of the name — it was owned by Squire and the record company — and the performance of old Yes songs.
Though Wakeman admits that "it wasn't all honey and roses" throughout the band's career, he denies that the battle was between the musicians.
"What you had was a war that was basically being raged between managements," he says. "We all thought the whole problem was actually stupid. We loved the press, though. We never had so much press in our life."
In the meantime, Squire, White, Kaye and Rabin were in Los Angeles working on a new Yes album, while Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman and Howe were in Europe recording their second album. Anderson paid a friendly visit to the Yes members in California and ended up laying down some vocals for their album, and Squire ended up adding his vocals to some ABWH tracks.
That's when the record companies and managements of the two groups came up with the idea of combining the two groups. The musicians decided to go along with it.
"Originally, we weren't going to have anything to do with each other," says Wakeman. "It became logical for us to get together when we (ABWH) realized on tour that we were playing Yes music, and it was just confusing the issue."
Besides, he says, they figured the two separate albums probably would have sold just as many combined as the reunion album alone.
The end result of all of this is that Union contains tracks from each of the separate albums, as aided by members of the two former versions.
Wakeman, White and the rest of the Yes members feel certain that the new songs will enjoy just as much longevity as the tunes from 20 years ago.
"Yes always tried to make music that would last in time. In the early days, the music we made was a little before its time because we were adventurous," says White. "And we can reach new heights with new music because the band is never satisfied with enjoying what is now.