Close to the Edge 50th Anniversary North American Tour
October 7, 2022 - November 19, 2022
Tom Richards - Houston Press
Saturday, October 22, 2022 2:19 PM
Prog Rock Legends Yes Go Close to the Edge and Celebrate a 50th Anniversary
OCTOBER 20, 2022
Legendary prog rock band Yes will play the 1972 album Close to the Edge on Thursday at the Arena Theatre. Lead singer Jon Davison (pictured) says that the group is "hitting a great musical stride."
Legendary prog rock band Yes will play the 1972 album Close to the Edge on Thursday at the Arena Theatre. Lead singer Jon Davison (pictured) says that the group is "hitting a great musical stride." Photo by Clausgroi. Creative Commons.
The notion of a band anchoring a tour around the performance of an entire classic album has taken hold in recent years. The Eagles (Hotel California) have been most successful with this strategy, but many others have jumped on the bandwagon: Patti Smith (Horses), the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson (Pet Sounds), Aerosmith (Toys in the Attic), Bruce Springsteen (Born to Run), and the Rolling Stones (Sticky Fingers) to name just a few.
Yes has been at this complete album thing for a while, performing The Yes Album, Fragile, Tales from Topographic Oceans (most of it anyway), Relayer, Going for the One, and Drama over the past decade or so. And then there’s Close to the Edge, a 1972 release that the cognoscenti view as the band’s best. Yes has played the album on previous concert tours, but this time the band is going all out to celebrate the 50th anniversary of this prog rock classic. The show comes to Houston on Thursday, October 20, at the Arena Theatre.
Speaking from the road, lead singer Jon Davison says he is excited to be delving into Close to the Edge every night. “The tour is going really well,” he reports. “We’re hitting a great musical stride, and everyone’s creating magic on the stage, you might say. I think this always happens within a tour. It’s just familiarity, getting to play with each other onstage, when theory actually becomes experience.”
Davison joined Yes in 2012, replacing Benoit David, who had replaced founding member Jon Anderson a few years before. Since Davison is a bit younger than most of his bandmates, how and when did he first become aware of Close to the Edge? “I was born in 1971,” Davison says, “so by the time I came of age and was discovering music, I was about 16 and in high school. A lot of fans talk about when they were young and hearing it, maybe, from an older brother. Their older brother would be in their bedroom with their mates, and the younger brother would want to hang out with the older brother and his friends. So there was more of a cultural family upbringing with music like Yes.”
When performing music that most members of the audience have heard hundreds if not thousands of times, does the band shoot for a note-for-note recreation of the record, or do the musicians concentrate more on channeling the original vibe? “It's really both. I think initially, in theory, we really want to recapture the album as much as possible, to have a faithful recreation,” Davison says. “But as soon as you start playing the music, you realize that there is a difference between how something is created in the studio, perhaps in sections, on different days, and even in different studios over a course of time, versus note-for-note, beginning to end, trying to play it. There are things that come into play regarding tempo changes and what works live. Sometimes things groove a bit more at a slower tempos, and there is more of an ‘in the moment cohesion’ that is established. It just comes naturally.”
Davison points out that a deep familiarity with the material influences the performance when Close to the Edge is recreated onstage. “Remember that Yes has played these songs for 50 years. There are things that develop over time that really work, so we try to incorporate that as well,” Davison says.
Since the band’s inception in 1968, 19 (at last count) musicians have played in Yes. Naturally, the group’s sound has morphed, sometimes substantially, depending upon the comings and goings of various personnel. One of the most notable shifts occurred in the early ‘80s, when guitarist Trevor Rabin replaced longtime member Steve Howe, bringing with him “Owner of a Lonely Heart,” which, according to the composer, was written during a lengthy visit to the bathroom. Ultimately, the song became the band’s biggest hit and only No. 1 record. Having said that, the change in style didn’t sit well with longtime Yes fans, largely due to its gimmick-laden production.
But those days are long past, as Howe is back in the band and, these days, its undisputed leader. Fans and band members alike are happy, as the group has returned to its classic ‘70s sound. Davison says, “We have real harmony in the band, and I believe we’re the longest standing Yes lineup. I think Steve feels he’s in a very solid place. He can have his version of Yes, the Yes he’s always wanted. We’re accomplishing things in Yes, with Steve as our leader, that he’s wanted to accomplish for years. He’s so happy now that he has his version of the band.”
In September, Davison participated in a tribute concert honoring the late Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins. Their connection? The two musicians grew up together, and Hawkins recommended Davison for the job in Yes. It was a day of conflicting emotions at the Los Angeles event. “That was a hometown gig for me,” Davison says, “right near where Taylor and I had grown up. It was heart wrenching, and there were a lot of tears, but a lot of tears of healing as well. Although touching, it was very difficult.”
According to Davison, Hawkins was possessed of a unique spirit. “Whoever he was taking to, that person would feel, as I always did, that he was the only person in the room. He just gave you 100 percent,” Davison recalls. “Taylor always kept a childlike enthusiasm for music. So when he met [late Yes bassist] Chris Squire, he was so abundantly expressive and appreciative that it really helped smooth a pathway for me into the band.”
Not long after Hawkins’ passing, Yes lost its drummer, Alan White, who had played in the band since 1972. Though Davison had not known White as long as Hawkins, the Yes drummer’s death was a tough blow due to the relationship that they had developed while playing music together. “I was on the road and onstage with Alan for so many years,” Davison says, “and we always enjoyed a camaraderie. It was on an intimate level that is beyond words and communication in the verbal sense.”
The music of Yes often conjures up a bucolic sort of atmosphere, so maybe it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Davison sought out that sort of existence. But who knew that he did it in New Braunfels? “I lived there from 2016 through 2019,” Davison says. “I have some really close friends there who are basically family. We lived on the river, and it was one of the highlights of my life, so far.” While in New Braunfels, did he float the river, two-step at Gruene Hall, and chow down on barbecue? “Yeah, I did all that,” Davison says. “I lived as the locals live.”
Yes will perform the album Close to the Edge, along with a selection of classic cuts, at the Arena Theatre, 7326 Southwest Freeway, on Thursday at 8 p.m. Tickets are $39-$129. For more information, call 713-772-5900 or visit arenahouston.com.
Contributor TOM RICHARDS is a broadcaster, writer, and musician. He has an unseemly fondness for the Rolling Stones and bands of their ilk.
Leslie Michele Derrough - Glide
Monday, November 14, 2022 3:28 PM
NOVEMBER 7, 2022
YES Drummer Jay Schellen Shares Tales Of Rock To Prog, & Carrying On The Drum Seat (INTERVIEW)
By Leslie Michele Derrough
Drummer Alan White is one of the legends that we’ve lost this year. With Yes since 1972, he was the pulse of a band known for its musical intricacies and illuminating melodies. In 2016, though, a new face started showing up behind the drums as White dealt with health issues. Jay Schellen had made a name for himself in bands such as Hurricane and Unruly Child but he also had a common thread early on to Yes via Peter Banks and Tony Kaye, both original members of the band. As a young man hitting the LA music scene, Schellen played sessions and the clubs and that’s where he met up with the musicians that had been like idols to him as a kid loving the music that seemed to skirt on Jazz, fusion, rock, and psychedelia. Schellen would eventually play in bands with other Yes members Chris Squire, Geoff Downes, and Billy Sherwood. To fall into Yes was like a dream finally come true.
For a lot of fans who don’t normally cross genres for their musical entertainment, Schellen is either a prog drummer or a rock & roll drummer. Although Hurricane fell right into the middle of the hair metal explosion, their sound was more rock than metal. Featuring future Foreigner vocalist Kelly Hansen, guitarist Robert Sarzo and bass player Tony Cavazo, Hurricane hit the MTV charts with their hits “Over The Edge” and “I’m On To You.” But talent, catchy songs and fabled producers couldn’t really save the band from their own record company and the members drifted into different projects. For Schellen, this decision would eventually lead him to Yes.
Born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the piano player became enthralled with the drums in the record shop he took lessons in and his fate was sealed. For Schellen, Yes has been like coming home. It’s where his heart beats the most truthful and having White as both a mentor and a bandmate was magical.
Currently out on the road for a few more weeks before the holiday break, Yes is celebrating the 50th anniversary of their iconic album, Close To The Edge, playing it in it’s entirety. In my interview with Squire in 2013, he recalled that, “Close To The Edge is an album that has the first time we attempted to do a long twenty-minute piece of music. It took up one side of the vinyl albums we had back in those days. So that was a new thing for a rock artist to attempt to do.”
For singer Jon Anderson, he told me in 2020 that the title track had it’s own uniqueness for not only him but the band as well: “When we first performed ‘Close To The Edge’ it seemed like it took an hour to play it, even though it’s seventeen or eighteen minutes. It felt like a long time, because the audience was so quiet, you know. That made us become more intent on making it sound really, really good. In those days the audiences were very quiet, they would listen and then clap at the end and cheer at the end of each song. They would listen intently to what we were playing so it made me want to make sure that the music was really better, and sometimes better than the record, if possible.”
In 2023, Yes plans to celebrate 1974’s Relayer, their album following Rick Wakeman’s departure. And Schellen is ready to go, as he continues to not only commemorate the band’s extraordinary accomplishments but Alan White’s legacy as well. I spoke with Schellen recently about Yes, Hurricane, what he has learned from Alan White, his infamous Beatles birthday cake and the excitement of being a Prog rock drummer.
In 2014, I covered a Raiding The Rock Vault show in Las Vegas and you were playing the drums with them. How long were you with them?
I was the original cast member and I stayed with them all the way through about 2018 or 2019. But Alan called me in 2016 and said he was recovering from some back surgery and could I do the tour in 2016. It was the Drama Topographic Oceans tour and I said yes that I would. I had three days notice on that (laughs). So I arranged for my sub at the time, Blas Elias, to do that and I hopped on a plane and found myself in Pennsylvania, in the middle of the cornfields out there, and began rehearsing with the guys. Fortunately, I’ve been a Yes fan since I was thirteen years old and I’ve been working with individual Yes members since 1981.
You definitely have a long history with some of these guys
Yeah, I really, really do. It’s interesting because I was on tour when I was nineteen, or twenty, just touring around the southwest, Midwest, and some western areas with a company called AMC, they were a booking agency out of Denver, with my band. Some buddies of mine that I knew from Albuquerque invited me out to record a record that the guitarist was working on. So I said yeah, absolutely, let’s go! So off I went and it was managed by Tony Kaye and that was like my first introduction to really being in California. Within seven or eight hours, I was out on a tennis court playing tennis with Tony Kaye (laughs). I was going, “Wow, California is pretty cool, it’s great!” (laughs)
Then right after that I met Peter Banks and started playing in his band at a little club called The Central on Sunset Strip, which is now the Viper Room, and it was run by English roadies and it was packed every night. I was this twenty-year-old kid and everybody from The Roxy and The Rainbow and The Whisky, and whoever was playing in town, would always come over; mostly a lot of English folks, you know. So I was jamming with John Mayall, with the guys in Elton John’s band. Every night there was a table full of all of those characters, and Dudley Moore was there all the time. Then King Crimson was in town playing at The Roxy so Bill Bruford came over and Chris Squire was there that night and Alan and Peter and Tony were in the group of folks. That was like amazing. It was like a first time kind of playing together and goofing off together and all that kind of stuff and they called me “Young Squire.” (laughs) “Squire, Squire, Young Squire!” (laughs)
I was kind of the house drummer at The Central there for a while and Peter Banks would play there two times a week and Tony was in the band Badfinger with Joey Molland and Tommy Evans and they asked me to join them. So I was playing in Badfinger and Peter Banks’ band and then 90125 kind of came up, the record for Yes, so Tony went over to the UK to work on it and then I joined up with Danny Johnson and we went out to the south and toured with ZZ Top on their Eliminator tour, which was something else.
But yeah, so besides that, I’ve ended up over the years playing with Jon Anderson, Rick Wakeman, just all the different guys.
You just can’t get away from those British guys, can you?
No! (laughs) That was the funny thing. Tommy Evans taught me how to drink properly in a pub, you know. Jack and Coke in one hand and a Guinness in the other (laughs). It was crazy! It was just so much fun.
You mentioned that you have been a Prog Rock fan, a Yes fan, since you were in your early teens. Some people still consider you a rock & roll drummer but you’ve had this in your veins for a very long time.
Oh yeah. I grew up with The Rascals and Herman’s Hermits and The Monkees and then The Beatles took over. I loved Three Dog Night, I loved Elton John, I loved all this music. And growing up in the southwest, I was also heavily influenced by rancherita music. My grandmother lived on the Isleta Indian Reservation and an interesting thing was, I was always playing in New Mexico with older musicians and one of those musicians that I really became fast friends with was Randy Castillo. Of course, he played with Ozzy later but he had a band back then called The Offenders and that’s how I ended up coming to Los Angeles. But I was really heavily influenced by fusion and Jazz as well. That kind of was my thing for quite a while. I kind of shifted over into listening to Return To Forever, Mahavishnu Orchestra; I got into drummers like Alphonse Mouzon; then my dad had all kinds of old Jazz records so I’d be listening to Jack DeJohnette and Louie Bellson, Dave Tough and going to Jazz concerts all the time with my dad. And also flamenco was a big influence as well. Since I was a little kid, we’d go to flamenco shows in Albuquerque. So the drumming on the cajon, the box the percussionist would sit on, and the rhythm in flamenco was just astounding to me. Actually, my dad wanted me to be a flamenco dancer! (laughs) He said, “You’ve got the drumming, you’ve got all the different things and you should do it.” I thought about it for a while cause it is such an amazing thing.
So Randy and I, we would get together every Christmas and fly home together and then we’d go to the State Fairs or we would go to the Isleta Pueblo and play the council drum with the tribe and just get this feel of where we were. We grew up there and we always talked about how we had to keep doing that because there was something about tapping into this rhythm that is purely a pulse of nature. I know I’m getting a little ethereal here but it was a real thing for Randy and I and if you go back and listen to Randy playing with Ozzy, you’ll feel this thing. There is an organic pulse and that’s what we focused on and it seems to have given us a unique kind of sound, possibly cause the two of us navigated into the professional world very easily and with a lot of interest. I was in town for three hours, in LA, and never stopped working, ever. It was something else, it was crazy, recording records and playing with these different people and sessions and going like mad. And you know there are a lot of musicians in LA (laughs). It was just one of those things but I did find myself always surrounded by the Brits! (laughs)
So in my influences, I was really into all kinds of music and a Jazz kind of perspective and Progressive in my early years. Then John Bonham came out and the power there behind the drumming! But it was also intricate. I could understand all the smaller notes, which make a difference to me. There are a lot of smaller notes that aren’t accented in the drumming which moves the beat forward in a really beautiful way. So that changed things a little bit. But I was a fan of Yes at that time and that was Bill Bruford. The technical side of his playing and those little notes, and also the production of the band and the band itself, what they were doing was what really grabbed me. But when the first Yessongs came out and Alan had taken over at that time, that was something else. That blew my mind because all of a sudden, I like him didn’t have much time to learn a lot of music before a tour and he played it so straight-forward but with such power and his style, that just grabbed me big time. From that point on, that was my main focus, when I was twelve, thirteen. I just felt this whole thing and I was really rooted in that Yes music.
You hit upon something I was going to ask you about. You called them smaller notes within the music and I call them secret spots within the music that people don’t realize are there. How did Alan help you hone in on those secret spots when you came into the band?
Well, I knew the music and that was a funny thing because when he called me up, he said, “Well, Jay, you know it’s going to be Drama and Topographic Oceans. Are you familiar?” And I said, “Yeah, Topographic, I got that” – and I don’t know if you’re really familiar with Topographic Oceans but it’s a very, very unique kind of record. And I had been playing to that since I was thirteen so that was really in me. So I had to really work on figuring out the Drama side, which is more straight ahead but it’s very mathematical and technical. But as long as you have all of that, and from my Jazz background, odd signatures and time changes and things like that, that was no issue.
But let’s get to the point you were making about secrets, right. Cause there ARE certain things going on that even with all the background that I had in the whole thing, I would kind of say, okay, it sounds to me that you’re just throwing out softballs and you’re hitting these beats in the middle of nowhere kind of thing and that’s how they create that spacious kind of thing. So that means they obviously have a mathematical plan to it somehow. So like the beginning of “Ritual,” there is certain hits that just don’t really make sense but they are there and yet they have to be analyzed, you have to figure it out.
I played with Chris Squire for quite a while in Conspiracy and he said the same thing one day: “You count everything in eight, everything is in eighth notes. And then we just make it up as we go along.” I went, Okay, let’s see. So then instead of counting things in rock & roll, where everything is basically four/four, more or less, so you’re counting quarter notes – one, two, three, four. But if you’re counting in like eighth notes as the main beats it’s one, two, three, four, two, two, three, four, three, two, three, four, four, two, three, four; or one and two and three and four but you count every eighth note and then you know, and when you start figuring it out, you understand they are counting in very odd sequences of eighth notes. I know I’m getting really technical (laughs) but it IS one of the secrets.
So you count the eighth notes and it’d be like one, two, three, four, five, six, hit; one, two, three, four, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, hit; one, two, three, four, five, six, hit; one, two, three, hit; one, two – see what I mean. So basically, that was one of the secrets that I went, okay, now I get all of that! I really have to think, right (laughs). And Alan’s going, “Yeah, we really just used to play around with all that stuff and a bit of counting. If you look at my earlier videos, in Relayer and that kind of stuff, I’m counting through the whole show.” (laughs) And I’m going, oh my God (laughs)
Then there were just little things like that that I would figure out. But what it really came down to is, I understood everything and Alan knew I did and he always said, “You sound just like me. It’s like me playing.”
That’s a huge compliment
Oh, no doubt about it. I’ve known him so long and we’ve always had a fond friendship. I would sub for him in this other band Circa and then I ended up doing the second record for Circa. I’d be going to Yes rehearsals all the time with Tony Kaye and going out on tour and just meeting up with the guys and hanging out with them. On the Union tour, Bill was there as well but I knew Bill because my band that I was on tour with when I was nineteen opened up for Gentle Giant and Bill Bruford’s band Bruford was on that bill too. So it’s just this crazy thing.
Like it was meant to be
Yeah, I’ve been all over the place and this does seem so natural. A lot of people would ask me that, “How did this come to be?” or “How did you ever learn all this music in five days?” And I’d go, it almost feels natural, like it’s a journey that I finally got to the right airport (laughs). Very natural.
You guys have been out on tour celebrating Close To The Edge. Are you doing the whole album live? It’s a very long album.
(laughs) There’s only three songs! But when we do an album series, we play the whole record, so yes, the second half after the intermission is Close To The Edge in it’s entirety. Then we play a few hits and then the encore.
I talked to Chris Squire one time and he told me that Close To The Edge was the album where they first attempted to do a twenty-minute piece of music. What do you love about Close To The Edge?
First, when I was younger, the whole concept of the thing was just mind-blowing. The birds start off, it starts off with this cacophony of just sounds – it sounds like a bird flock going mad – and then it breaks down into the verses and the choruses of the song. But it’s basically polyrhythmic throughout the songs so it’s rotating in six/eighths, and there is also a four, four, four pulse that is underneath everything. Bill’s approach was very kind of random and a little kind of broken rhythm, right. Brilliantly played and executed and it’s one of his unique kind of talents and sounds. But when Alan plays it, he provides more of a rock steady kind of feel in there. I love the fact that I got three drummers living in me, really, when it comes to playing this music. Alan foremost, myself and Bill. That’s the beauty of it, just being able to create a sound that I hear clearly and play it like that with my own kind of gumbo of all of us. It gives the fans the points of interest, the points of memory, the points of their fond memories of the song. I try to include all of the stuff that would make the hair on their arms stand up, you know what I mean. Then at the same time, just bring what I do into it as well.
Where do you see your biggest imprint in Yes as you?
Well, it’s all the years of playing with everybody. It’s the history of everything. It’s being on the family tree of everything. So I’ve been this Young Squire (laughs) just orbiting and entering and orbiting in all of this family for so long that when it comes to what I do, I have my own thing and it’s been simmering in the Yes world since I was twelve, thirteen. So it’s a natural thing but it’s powerful like Alan, super-detailed as in Bill but yet powerful and then I have my own influences that I can now express within. I’m very spontaneous like Steve, like Billy, like Geoff; we are spontaneous within the music as well. It doesn’t get played the same way every night, which I find that’s my favorite part of it all. That’s the kind of Jazzy side of it, where you hear just a different phrase within all the things I was talking about, never detracting from the music and the direction it’s going and what the fans are kind of somewhat expecting to hear, but they love hearing this new interaction and they know the music so well that they know what’s going on and they can say, “I heard so many different things tonight.” So that’s what I love about it in general. But Close To The Edge gives you opportunities in there to just be very dynamic down to very quiet and then you explode in areas and the dynamics are amazing.
Is this where you’d like to stay for the rest of your career, in this sort of Progressive/fusion rock genre?
Yeah, I’m perfectly happy. For me, like you said, this has a feeling of manifest destiny, really, and the circle completes and the love and the friendship and the culmination of a lifetime that seems to have had some kind of direction. So yeah, absolutely. It’s hard to describe but the Yes family and the people within it is such a special group of people and they are all family that there would be no other place I’d rather be. This is really my home.
Hurricane had great songs, talented musicians, you had Bob Ezrin as a producer yet it didn’t last. What happened?
You know, you’re right: super talented – obviously a lot of us have gone on to do other things – and great music, we got along, everything was good. Basically, in a nutshell, the record company’s support, it was Enigma Records in the beginning and it was really good. It was the same time Motley Crue came out, the same time Poison came out and we were doing EPs so an EP would come out and garner interest so the label would pick it up, like with Stryper or different kinds of bands who would just move up to the other label.
So we had done our Slave To The Thrill record and were on the road and we’re doing things and we’re getting ready to go out with Extreme on their Pornograffitti record, which was huge. Capitol was going to pick up and do all of this stuff and Enigma basically went under during that tour. They just went under. I don’t know what happened but we pretty much knew there was a problem when the record stores had sold out of all of our records and there wasn’t any new records coming in. So basically, it was really a super stumble with our record label. Then Capitol was going to pick it up but their offer, I won’t go into the details of it, but it wasn’t really attractive to us so we decided to take a little break and during that time I started working with Unruly Child. Kelly and I did get back together and put out a record called Liquifury and then shortly after that he joined Foreigner and I joined Asia. So that’s what happened. But there wasn’t any issues within the group or anything. It was really we had changed management and the label just didn’t support it.
You covered Alice Cooper’s “I’m Eighteen” on Over The Edge and I assume that was Bob’s suggestion. Why did he want you to do that song?
The great thing about Bob is that his ears are wide open so he’s listening to the capabilities of what this band can do and he thought we’re the perfect band to do a very unique take on “I’m Eighteen.” We had taken a song that he had brought in called “I’m On To You” and it didn’t sound anything like what we ended up with. The next day at rehearsal, he came in and he said, “So what do you think of that song?” And I said, “Well, we kind of changed it a little bit.” He goes, “Great, let me hear it.” The intro, which was something I came up with, started and he just started smiling and by the time the song was over, he said, “My God, that’s exactly what I was hoping for.”
From that point on, he was very interested in really getting into our creativity of what we could do so he threw “I’m Eighteen” at us and that’s the way we came up with it. It’s very different. I’ll tell you another song to listen to that’s surprising but it shows Kelly’s influence, Robert’s really, really great guitar playing and my Yes influence, cause we always wrote together and we wrote all these sections, is “Give Me An Inch.” It’s definitely a deep track but if you listen to that, that really is in the pocket of what Hurricane could do. It’s odd but it’s great. The chorus hits like a ton of bricks and it’s got a solo section that sounds like it could have been on 90125. It’s really an interesting track. Go back and listen to that one and you’ll go, okay, Hurricane was not your average eighties band! (laughs)
Who was the first real rock star you ever met?
I can give you two answers. I was sixteen and I was playing with Al Wilson, a soul singer [“Show & Tell”], and the bass player had to be my legal guardian and we went out with the Ohio Players. That was my first taste of like boom, these are some star folks. I knew all the Pure Prairie League guys so to me they were rock stars back in the day.
But the first like crazy, crazy real rock star, when I was touring around nineteen, we’re in a place called Mr Lucky’s in Denver and my band was called Ritual – there’s another Yes connection (laughs) – and my buddy Randy Castillo’s band was The Offenders and we both opened up for The Police. So my first super rock star would have been Sting.
It was a two-level, kind of down and dirty club in Denver and there’s a downstairs and an upstairs so we would just pass each other on the stairwell really. It wasn’t like a big deal. It was, “Hey man, how’s it going? Yeah, you sounded great.” Randy and I, when we heard The Police play, we kind of looked at each other and said, “Oh man, there’s some really tight good songs going on there. What’s the deal? This is cool.” (laughs) As far as really getting to know rock stars, it would have been Tony Kaye when I moved to LA.
But it’s funny cause that rock star moment IS a moment and I recognize that in fans’ eyes a lot and your question brought it totally to light the one time I was practically like just paralyzed and jaw dropped and that was meeting Sting. But I didn’t even know it back then! See, that’s the weird thing cause they were just the new group that was coming in and doing that almost first tour of theirs of the US, as well as us playing in the same club as them. But you knew something was really happening.
The only other jaw-dropping moment I guess I could add is I was at Tony Kaye’s Playboy Jazz Festival party and it was just as 90125 was being worked on. They had taken a break and they were going back to work and Alan was there and everybody was there, Trevor Rabin and the whole business, and lots of different other people all over the place. I walked in and said, “Hey Tony, how’s it going?” And he says, “Go in the kitchen and grab yourself a beer.” So I go to the kitchen and the whole entire doorway was filled with Chris Squire (laughs). I literally just walked up and I looked up at him and was kind of paralyzed there for a second. It was like, “Hey Chris,” and he goes, “Oh yeah, you’re Tony’s friend.” (laughs) I go, “Yeah, I’m just looking for a beer” and he goes, “Here’s a beer.” So maybe that would have been a little speechless moment there.
What about Ozzy?
Oh yeah, I hung out with Ozzy quite a bit cause I was dating Lita Ford for quite a while so Ozzy was around during that period of time and we would just kind of get together for drinks or something.
What was the first song you obsessed over as a kid?
The first record I really obsessed over was Rubber Soul by The Beatles.
That’s an interesting choice
I know, it’s unusual but there was something about that record melodically that I could not get out of my head and I was just deep into that.
What were you honing in on as this little kid?
Well, my first instrument was piano and the way I got into drums really, it must have been natural cause I was banging on coffee cans and tuning them with dirt so they had different pitches and stuff. But piano was my first instrument so I was taking classical piano lessons and all that. But to get to my piano instructor’s part of the building, I had to walk through a drum store. It was called Nick Luchetti Drum Shop in Albuquerque and he was both Randy and my drum instructor. So I’d have to walk through this store and all the shiny stuff and the sparkly finishes and all the different stuff going on and I was going, oh my God! And Nick would say, “Jay, you’ve got to get to your piano lesson and then come back.” And I would come back and hang out in there and we’d talk and he’d show me different things and then my mom would show up to pick me up. Then after about a month or two of that, Nick kind of went aside to my mom and said, “You know, this kid has got some drumming stuff going on here.” So I got a snare drum that way and that’s how that started.
So really I listened to the song first, always, and the melody. That’s what gets me first. Then, of course, how the bass, drums, keys, the guitar, how it all does what it does in support of making the whole piece of music magic. But still to me at the foundation of it all is the melody and the rhythm purpose. Why the rhythm is doing what it’s doing and it’s in support of the melody. Yes gets away from that a little bit. Sometimes it’s very much so instrumentally-driven first in it’s sections but once you get to those sections, again talking about Close To The Edge, instrumentally-driven like crazy, right, but you get to these sections of melody and then it has a whole new landscape to work with. So flowing in and out of these sections, I guess, to go back and comment more on the Close To The Edge question, that’s what it is. It’s getting the landscape dynamically supporting the vocal and then diving back into instrumental, like “Heart Of The Sunrise” and things like that. It’s just instrumentally on fire. Then it’s just almost a very light Jazzy feel.
You mentioned The Beatles. I want to know about your Beatles birthday cake.
(laughs) Where did you hear about that? Wow! Yeah, that goes back to my obsession with Rubber Soul. Five years old. And my babysitter played all of Hard Day’s Night, The Beatles second record, “Roll Over Beethoven” was a song that I was like, wow! What is going on here! But somehow Rubber Soul grabbed me big time. So I had to have a Beatles cake for my fifth birthday.
You just told your mom you wanted a Beatles head cake?
Yeah (laughs). She knew already cause I’d run around the house saying, “Listen to this! Listen to this!” And she’d be going, “What, what, what? What am I listening for?” And I’m just going, “Listen to the way it goes from here to there. Listen to that, listen to this!” “Norwegian Wood” and things like that. So it came down to what kind of cake do you want and I said I wanted a Beatles birthday cake. That was all there was to it (laughs).
Was Ringo an influence in any way?
Ringo had an awesome style, to this day. I was influenced by Ringo too and it was in just the swing that he would swing. Even at that age, I was noticing drummers body language and I was like, alright, that goes with the beat. I mean, the way he looks is exactly what he sounds like. A different drummer will have a different thing. Years later when I was sixteen, seventeen and I was working at Luchetti’s, all kinds of drummers would come in for clinics and I would set up their clinics and they would give me lessons as a thank you or why not kind of thing. So I was getting lessons from Billy Cobham, I got a lesson from Louie Bellson, I got a lesson from Lenny White, I got a lesson from Buddy Rich.
And I got a lesson from Alan Dawson and he turned me onto something that changed everything for me. I was watching him play, and he’s a phenomenal Jazz drummer and he taught at Berklee School Of Music, and his left foot was doing this motion while he played all this stuff and it never stopped. And I thought, that’s incredible, I haven’t seen that before. So I talked to him about it and he says, “Come on, I’m going to show you this whole thing.” So he sat me down and he showed it to me. Every drummer needs something that represents the quarter note pulse. Tony Williams, who I am a big fan of as well, said, “I don’t play the meter, I play the pulse.” So the pulse is what exists in our bodies. Meter is what exists in the division of time, like a metronome. But the pulse is what exists in our bodies in relation to the meter. So if a drummer can find a way to lock his body pulse into something steady automatic, he can perform all his syncopations without interruption and then you have a physical part of your body that is your body clock, and that’s what this technique did and it changed everything for me.
I ended up writing a book about it in 1993, I think. It’s funny, cause I was in Kinko’s actually printing up some stuff and Terri Lyne Carrington, a wonderful Jazz drummer, was in there and she saw what I was doing and she came over and she said, “What is that?” So I showed it to her and she had this look on her face, like concerned, and she said, “Where did you get this?” And I said, “I learned this when I was about sixteen or seventeen from Alan Dawson.” And then her face lit up and she said, “I learned this from Alan Dawson too at Berklee.” She read my introduction to the concept of the book, and I mention Alan Dawson, and she said, “This is unbelievable. He’s never written this down and he taught all of us this technique.” Steve Smith from Journey uses it. So I wrote this book and it’s been out since then and it’s sold out. I’ve got to get another printing going. I’ll probably do a revised edition.
You spoke about the Brits before so what do you think about Aynsley Dunbar?
I love Aynsley Dunbar. Oh my God, all the way back to Zappa.
Aynsley had that Jazz thing going on too
He did but the drums were always wide open and kind of bouncing so it would have that Jazz thing and boy he had really great precision in his technique but it still felt rock as well. Then of course there was Journey. I’ve always loved him.
I was into Bobby Caldwell as well when it came to Captain Beyond and Armageddon. That band, oh my God, if you can dig up that record, they only did one and it was really, really good.
So what is the rest of your year looking like? You’ve got some more dates going into November and then you’re taking a break for the holidays and then what do you do?
2023 is going to be the Relayer album series tour that we had planned for 2020. We had done “The Gates Of Delirium” in 2019 but that record in it’s entirety hasn’t been played since 1973 or something. A long, long time. So it might be the fiftieth anniversary of Relayer. So that’s going to be coming up and the plan for that is in the UK. It probably won’t start until March or so and it will be the UK, then all of Europe, then all of the U.S. and maybe Japan. So it’s going to be a big roundabout, so to speak, for that.
I talked to Billy Sherwood when you did Arc Of Life [they have a new album out on November 18] and we were talking about Yes and I asked him when he came into the band, what was the most complicated song for him to learn and “The Gates Of Delirium” was that song for him.
Oh it is, no doubt. Every Yes song is about a ten-layer deep process. So you get through five layers of knowledge of the song and your parts and you feel great. I can perform this, right. Then you slowly start going, oh wait a minute, hold on, there’s about two more layers; wait a minute, hold on, there’s really about four more layers. And you’re doing this in the middle of a tour. You’ve already been playing it but you start realizing, wait, there’s a whole other layer here. And it doesn’t really come down to a note or something that is being placed but really HOW it’s being placed. It’s hard to explain. It’s like you start to figure out the syncopation that isn’t being played but how thinking of that syncopation or understanding the syncopation better, it just falls into place better. The layers, they go and they go and they go and then pretty soon you understand how.
So with “The Gates Of Delirium,” and now “Sound Chaser” and even “To Be Over,” they’ve all got ten layers. So you’ve got to go deep into it. I think I’m probably a good six/seven layers in (laughs). So when we start rehearsing it again, I’m going to be striving to get into those last three layers and that’s what I would ask Alan about sometimes and he would just look at me and go, “Oh Jay, you sound just like me. It’ll all be alright.” (laughs) That’s the thing I miss the most so much about Alan. I mean, I just miss him so much, it’s really just the greatest loss, a serious shift in my world. But he’d sit behind me with JW, our tech, and we’d goof off a lot while I play. I’d be playing and I’d look over at him and he’d just tilt his hat down and I’d go, what’s all that about? So I’d toss him a stick. Then he’d have the stick, put his hat up and smiling. Then I’d look over and he’d hold up the stick and I’d just like drop my other stick and he’d throw me the stick and we’d goof off and everything. So when it came to those little details and things like that, he might say something like, “Listen to the recorded version. Chris and I developed this one little thing that goes right here that was a lot of fun to play.” Then I’d listen to it and I’d do it one night and he would just like take off his hat and hold it up and say, “There it is!” (laughs).
And that’s the other thing. They were constantly morphing the songs to keep it interesting for themselves. The band was always a bit spontaneous and also ever evolving. So when I have a new song, I listen to probably at least ten versions; even going back to ABWH and listening to how Bill approached Close To The Edge even much later. He was a super spontaneous drummer and he practically never played anything the same again twice. So I would listen to all the different ways he was interpreting and then listen to all of Alan’s interpretations and then I just naturally put all that together and the next one coming out is my interpretation.
That sounds like a great friendship you had with Alan
It sure was, no doubt about it. It was close. I was fortunate enough to talk to him about a week before but you’re never prepared for it, really, so there is always things you wish you would have said, so to speak. But he knew, those things left unsaid were known. But for those that knew him, his manner and his, I call them life lessons, will always be around too. He was really a unique individual.
So what is your life lesson to everybody?
Well, I think as far as pretty much in general, it’s kind of live with your heart open, your ears open, your eyes open and take life a little slower so that you can recognize special moments that happen.
Portraits by Mike Ainscoe & Erik Nielsen