Now in its 45th year, the pioneering progessive-rock band from England is revisiting some of its classic albums on stage for its current tour.
By George Varga, 2 March 2013, U~T San Diego.
Like Elvis Presley in his heyday, the pioneering English progressive-rock band Yes is seemingly everywhere — or soon will be.
The group’s 25-city North American spring tour began March 1 in Nevada, stops Friday at Pechanga Resort & Casino in Temecula and concludes April 12 in Detroit. From March 25 to March 30, the 45-year-old band will be hosting and headlining the maiden voyage of “Cruise to the Edge,” a Caribbean sea trek named after the band’s classic 1972 album, ”Close to the Edge.”
In May, the group will do a concert tour of Brazil. Then comes Yes guitarist Steve Howe’s “Cross Styles Summer Camp,” a four-day music workshop in New York. More tour dates are expected later this year.
Where you won’t see Yes, however, is at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Los Angeles on April 18.
Because, despite being one of the most influential prog-rock bands ever — with album sales of 30 million-plus and such hit songs as 1972’s “Roundabout” and 1983’s “ Owner of a Lonely Heart“— Yes has never even made the ballot for the Rock Hall.
Then again, in the 27 years since the first induction was held, only two prog-rock bands — Pink Floyd in 1996 and Genesis in 2010 — have been inducted. (Rush is being inducted this year, but only after voting was opened up for the first time to the public, not just the 500 music industry professionals — this writer included — who have voted in previous years).
“Life is very much about one’s expectations, so if you expect to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, you’re going to be disappointed,” Howe said, speaking from his home in England. The guitarist then cited the early 1970s, when Yes concurrently achieved major artistic and commercial success.
“I remember getting our fourth gold album and being voted top guitarist in Guitar Player magazine, and there was a lot of satisfaction in that,” Howe recalled. “I don’t want to say I’m ambivalent about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but there’s nothing I can do about it.”
Not a ‘flavor-of-the-month’ band
In truth, it’s not as if Yes has been singled out for exclusion.
Other highly influential prog-rock bands — most notably King Crimson, Jethro Tull, and Emerson, Lake & Palmer — have also been ignored by the Rock Hall. Its co-founder and vice chairman, Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner (who was himself inducted in 2004), has apparently never been a fan of prog-rock in general or Yes specifically.
“It’s certainly true that Rolling Stone never gave us much appreciation,” Howe said. “I think prog-rock is underestimated because we aren’t the flavor-of-the-month. I think a band like us would like more acknowledgement for (our) musical adventure, but were not going to go ask for it.”
For Yes and its fans, the musical adventure began in 1968. That’s when bassist Chris Squire and singer Jon Anderson teamed up with drummer Bill Bruford, keyboardist Tony Kaye and guitarist Clive Bailey, who within a week or two gave way to fellow six-string player Peter Banks.
Their goal was to fuse rock, classical music, folk, jazz and more. Their music put an equal emphasis on daring instrumental parts and intricate vocal harmonies that, together, gave the quintet a unique sound.
The band struck gold with its third and fourth releases, 1971’s “The Yes Album” and 1972’s “Close to the Edge.” Their success catapulted Yes into headlining tours of arenas on both sides of the Atlantic.
For its current tour, the group is performing “The Yes Album” and 1972’s “Close to the Edge” in their entirety, along with all of the songs from its 1977 album, “Going For The One.” Selections from “The Yes Album” (such as “Yours Is No Disgrace” and “I’ve Seen All Good People: Your Move”) and “Close to the Edge” (such as “And You And I”) have been mainstays in the band’s concert repertoire for more than 40 years.
“Prior to ‘The Yes Album,’ we hadn’t really established ourselves and had to make a long leap into popularity,” said Howe, who replaced Banks in early 1970 and did not appear on either of the band’s first two albums.
“With (1971’s) ‘Fragile,’ we were at our peak. We thought both those albums would do really good, because they’re really ambitious and you tend to improve as you move forward. When I joined Yes, I was looking for a band that could do something. I didn’t want to be in a band that was (just) going to sit in a house and write song. Yes had (confirmed concert) dates and energy. It was right on target.”
Revolving musical lineup
In addition to Howe and Squire, the current lineup of Yes also includes former Plastic Ono Band drummer Alan White (who replaced Bruford in 1972), ex-Buggles keyboardist Geoff Downes (who briefly joined Yes in 1980 and rejoined a few years ago) and American singer Jon Davison (who joined last year and in 2006 was the lead vocalist in the San Diego Yes tribute band Roundabout),
A revolving cast of musicians has been de rigueur for Yes, almost since the band’s inception.
By 1972, Squire and Anderson were the only remaining original members left. In 1980, Yes imploded, after which Howe and Downes co-founded the band Asia and Squire and White briefly worked with ex-Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page on a project, XYZ, that never reached fruition.
Yes reunited in 1982, with Kaye back on keyboards and Howe replaced by South African guitarist Trevor Rabin. The resulting album, 1983’s “90125” yielded three major hits, “Owner of a Lonely Heart,” “Leave It” and “It Can Happen.” The videos for those songs got heavy video airplay on MTV, which helped introduce Yes to a new generation of fans.
Yes has had nearly 20 members over the years, including three lead singers and multiple keyboardists, among them Oliver Wakeman, the son of former yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman.
But the band has only had two drummers, Bruford (who left in 1972 to join King Crimson) and White (who has been on board since he was hired to replace Bruford 41 years ago.) The two teamed up for the 1991 “Union” tour, which featured former and present Yes members.
Howe, who rejoined Yes in 1991, spoke enthusiastically when asked to recall what it was like working with Bruford.
I loved Bill’s playing! He was the first musician i heard in Yes where I thought: ‘Hang on! I really want to play with this guy.’ Bill was a marvelous contributor to the band, the guitarist said. “He was a drummer with a certain energy, where we could play fast but it wasn’t pushing. And he really swung.”
What about White, Bruford’s replacement?
Alan is an amazing drummer, Howe said. “He’s a workaholic. He’s not as confrontational as Bill was.”
The most recent album of new music by Yes, “Fly From Here,” came out in 2011. Howe recently announced that he had left Asia, a post-Yes band that he and Downes co-founded in the early 1980s. By his count, he has made a dozen solo albums, although his web site suggests he has at least seven more to his credit.
“Music is not about the expression for me, it’s about control,” How noted. “By being able to take essential control with your music, you can potentially reach something. You can become there music and play it with that extra conviction and confidence. If there’s nothing scary about what you’re doing, you shouldn’t do it.”
“Music is not about the expression for me, it’s about control,” he said. “By being able to take essential control with your music, you can potentially reach something. You can become the music and play it with that extra conviction and confidence. If there’s nothing scary about what you’re doing, you shouldn’t do it.”
For this tour, Howe has decided to “do it” with fewer guitars than he usually takes on the road for extended concert treks. Exactly how many fewer, though, is still unclear.
I have around 95 and half of them are good guitars that I occasionally use much more than others, he said. “Then I have quite a few antique guitars from the 18th Century. And then I’ve got stuff that’s just sort of hanging in there that may be really collectible.
I thought I could do with 10 guitars for this tour. But if I compromise, then I wont be happy, so that’s how I judge it: If I cant do a part of a song without a certain guitar, I’ll have to take it (on the tour). I’ve got guitars that ‘pretend’ to be other guitars, but I don’t use them to play the main parts on stage. It was really complicated in the old days. Now, I just need a guitar, a pedal board and an amp. So I seek simplicity more than anything.
Asked to evaluate Yes’ legacy, Howe sounded stumped at first, answering: “I don’t know.”
A moment later, he added: “A great ’70s band that carried on for decades and did a little bit to change the world, with beautiful music and great (album cover) art work… Music has given me and my family a life, and a reputation I’m proud of. Yes has given all of us in the band a way to find a means and ways of going on.”