by Stewart Oksenhorn, 12 March 2012, Aspen Times
ASPEN — When The Band’s debut album, “Music From Big Pink,” was released in 1968, it was hailed by many as just what rock ‘n’ roll needed. After several years of music becoming increasingly extravagant and ornate, “Music From Big Pink” was a return to the fundamentals: 31⁄2-minute songs rooted in country, folk and the American experience. Eric Clapton said the album is what caused him to leave Cream, the trio that took blues music out into the stratosphere, and focus on something more earth-bound.
But not everyone agreed that rock needed that sort of downsizing. A group of London musicians who had been raised not only on early rock but also on classical music was interested in taking the longer, more complex forms from classical composition and mixing them into rock. When Yes, formed in 1968, came to prominence with 1971’s “The Yes Album,” the songs were grand in size, scope and sound; “Starship Trooper” was a three-part suite of twisting structure and complicated rhythms that ran nearly 10 minutes. Despite the general trend toward rootsier styles, “The Yes Album” hit No. 4 in the United Kingdom, and the band continued on with its grand approach; the title track from 1972’s “Close to the Edge” was a four-movement work that clocked in at longer than 18 minutes.
“We were definitely out there experimenting,” said bassist Chris Squire, who co-founded Yes. “The classical influence gave us an interest in longer pieces.”
Squire, who had grown up singing choral works in a church choir, says that he and his mates were interested in doing something that everyone else was not.
“In the late ’60s, when we were getting together, a lot of bands forming were more based on R&B. But we never had any dyed-in-the-wool blues guys,” he said.
Instead of American blues and R&B, Yes counted as its influences Stravinsky and Dvorak.
“We translated what we liked about classical into the rock form,” Squire said.
Progressive rock, the style associated with Yes, and fellow U.K. groups Emerson, Lake & Palmer and King Crimson, lost out in the end to the rootsier movement. Prog-rock had its moment in the ’70s but faded away fairly quickly. Squire says he has heard from numerous musicians that Yes was an influence, but that influence is not always apparent.
“I guess it’s an influence but not an obvious one,” the 65-year-old Squire said from his home near Phoenix, where he has lived for four years. “There are modern progressive rock bands — Radiohead, even Tool, which isn’t anything like Yes but carries that tag. It’s not just because of the vocal approach but, in some of the alternative time signatures, the musical tricks that have carried over.”
Yes itself survived, even when prog-rock lost its momentum. In 1983, the band adopted a more pop-rock sound and was rewarded with its biggest hit song, “Owner of a Lonely Heart.” The 1987 album “Big Generator” was commercially successful, and the band continued to tour in large venues. The band’s latest release, 2011’s “Fly From Here,” was its first studio album in a decade.
Yes’ current tour — featuring performances of three full albums, “The Yes Album,” “Close to the Edge” and “Going for the One” — comes to Belly Up Aspen at 9 p.m. Tuesday, the band’s local debut. The lineup features three members from the band’s ’70s heyday — Squire, guitarist Steve Howe and drummer Alan White — along with keyboardist Geoff Downes, who played in Yes for a short spell in the early ’80s, and it recently added vocalist Jon Davison, who had sung in a Yes tribute band, Roundabout.
“We’re quite experienced at it,” Squire said of the shift in membership. “Yes has that history of having new people coming in and leaving. Usually, anyone who wants to be in the band has to have a personal history of liking the band. So there’s a respect for Yes’ past.
“But a new member comes in with their own personality. That’s a part of Yes’ longevity because each year we have a new take on who and what Yes is. That’s probably why we’re a working entity 45 years down the line.”