Rock Revisited presents an exclusive interview with...
Wakeman of Yes
Wakeman is most famous for the years he spent with Yes in the early 1970's.
In fact, for the last 25 plus years every subsequent keyboardist the band has
employed has been held by fans to the Wakeman standard. "How well can he
do Wakeman?" " Can he pull off what Wakeman did?" "He's no Wakeman!"
Statements like this have been said thousands of times at Yes concerts
around the globe. Now it is 2002 and Rick Wakeman has announced that he is
back in Yes and will hit the road with the band and even is hopeful that they
will again record.
Wakeman, while best known for his work with Yes, is
an accomplished solo artist who has been very busy in the new millennium.
He has released a DVD called Rick Wakeman 2000 that features solo performances
and stories of each song told by Wakeman himself as well as releasing several
- Jeb Wright May 2002
Special thanks for this interview goes to Ben at
Check out Wakeman's DVD as well as the DVD/CD release of Journey To The Center
Of The Earth and other classic rock performances by dozens of artists.
Also thanks to Rick for agreeing to do the interview. Be sure to check
out his website included at the bottom of the page. .
Jeb: Am I correct in saying that Rick Wakeman is a
music school dropout?
Rick: No he isn't. Drop out implies failing exams etc and being asked to
leave. I passed all my exams but left mid term of the course as I felt that the
openings that had appeared for me within the music industry were too good to
miss. Sometimes you don't have to finish a course in order to finish your own
Jeb: How did you get hooked up with David Bowie to
record “Space Oddity?”
Rick: I had done a session for Toni Visconti with a band called Juniors Eyes
and had played the mellotron. Tony produced David Bowie and they wanted to use
the mellotron and I was the only guy that Toni knew who knew how to play it! So
I got the job and became great friends with David and have done quite a lot with
him over the years. I learned more from David Bowie than anybody else in the
studio as regards professionalism and how to work.
Jeb: The Strawbs were gaining popularity and it looked
like they were going to be the band that broke you big but instead you left them
to join Yes. What was it about Yes that got you to go?
Rick: Strawbs were going through a transition that I personally wasn't into
at the time. I always felt that Strawbs revolved around the writing of Dave
Cousins and that was what made Strawbs sound like they did. We did an album
called From the Witchwood which contained some great songs but only half
of which I would call Strawbs music. This upset me as I felt the band was
meandering as regards to material. As it turned out, it all worked out well as I
left to join Yes where I felt I could really add my weight in the keyboard
orchestral department and Strawbs went on to have their biggest selling singles
and albums, so everybody was happy. Dave and I are still close friends and in
fact have just recorded an album together called Hummingbird.
Jeb: What was your first impression of each of the
members of Yes?
Rick: Jon: great voice. Steve: great guitarist. Chris: great bass player.
Bill: great drummer. I honestly can't remember back that far! I had seen Yes
play so I knew what they were capable of.
Jeb: Did you do any of the composing for “Roundabout?”
Rick: Only the keyboard parts.
Jeb: The keyboard part in “Roundabout” is very famous.
How did you come up with it?
Rick: I think Steve was playing the chordal riff and I was looking for
something to play and tried a few things out. You know when something is right,
and luckily something came up that was right!
Jeb: Was Fragile a difficult album to record?
Rick: Not at all, it was a wonderful album to record. The record company left
us alone. The management left us alone. In fact everybody left us alone to
produce what we wanted. That was a wonderful time. It happened on Close to
the Edge as well. It doesn't happen too much these days.
Jeb: Was this the first time Yes and Roger Dean worked
Rick: Yes, it was the first time. Steve discovered Roger, I believe, and
introduced him and his work to us. We were all mightily impressed and Roger
became a really important part of the Yes family.
Jeb: Close To The Edge is one of the most
complete prog rock albums ever made. What are your favorite moments on this
record and why?
Rick: For me it's the church organ bits leading into the Hammond solo. As far
as a keyboard player is concerned it's manna from heaven to be able to do
something like this on record.
Jeb: How did you come up with the cover and any fond
memories of recording this one?
Rick: Great cover. True Roger Dean. No silly stories I'm afraid. Sadness at
the end of it all when Bill announced he was leaving to join King Crimson. It
always puzzled us as to why he didn't leave before the album was recorded. If he
knew he was leaving he could have given us a chance to bed somebody new in. It
did put a dampener on the final few days.
Jeb: I have heard that you did not like Tales. I
am one of the fans that probably took way to much LSD listening to this as a
young man. I loved it. My favorite track is “Ritual.” Now this one I must argue
with you. It is awesome!!
Rick: Your opinion and you are entitled to it.
Jeb: Speaking of that, as a Yes fan... Many of your
fans were into major chemical experimentations. Was Yes as well into expanding
Rick: I purely drank. I've been teetotal now for seventeen years though. You
would have to ask the question to the individuals concerned. This is not an area
I know much about and not one that I wish to, to be honest. I have lost so many
friends through drugs it's sickening. Personally I'd be happy to see the death
penalty worldwide for pushers.
Jeb: Let's jump to the album in Paris being recorded in
1979. It has been many years ago so I hope you can tell me what really happened
that brought and end to Yes with Wakeman and Anderson.
Rick: Alan broke his leg skating and we all went home and never reconvened.
It was not a happy time. The record company wasn’t happy and we, as a band,
weren't happy. Nobody seemed to want to play on anybody else's songs at the time
and in the end Jon had enough. He said he was leaving and so I joined him! All
water under the bridge now. The past only shapes the present. The present shapes
the future and that's what counts.
Jeb: Now lets jump to 1990 and it is ABWH recording in
France. Why didn't Chris participate and why didn't he let you use the name Yes?
Rick: We were doing the second ABWH album in France and the management of Yes
and our management got together to
discuss a merger, which seemed very logical. Sadly it destroyed the making of
the second ABWH album but we had a Wally of a producer thrust upon us anyway so
who knows how it would have turned out! We couldn't use the name Yes because we
weren't Yes. It's quite simple really. If people leave a band, then they leave
the name behind. It just so happened that four people who were quite important
to Yes all happened to have left and joined forces. Whilst to a lot of people
this was four fifths of a Yes, the fact is that we weren't and Chris was
perfectly correct in keeping the name for the Yes that was then in existence.
Jeb: Did the whole fighting thing feed your creativity
and make you work harder as a unit?
Rick: There was no fighting at all. The press enjoyed it and made up stories
as they do, and we just got on with sorting the problem out in as best a way
possible. Hence the Union tour, which for my money was the best tour Yes
ever did, and the Union album, which is a piece of brown smelly
Jeb: I am a big sucker for behind the scenes stories.
Please take your time and think this one over... Can you please share a few
moments from your experiences with Yes concerning the best time on stage with
Rick: Too numerous to mention. Certainly every show on the Union tour was a
Jeb: The worst time on stage with Yes.
Rick: Tales from Topographic Oceans tour. It's very hard to play music
that you are not into. You can play the notes, but there is so much more to
music than playing notes.
Jeb: The funniest thing on stage with Yes.
Rick: A giant fish appearing up from the middle of the stage during the
Union tour. Some strippers appearing courtesy of the crew on a last night
somewhere. I can't remember the tour or the venue, but I can remember the
strippers, although their faces are a bit of a blur.
Jeb: The saddest moment you had in Yes.
Rick: Every occasion I left. I always felt though that my leaving was always
in the best interest of the band. I cried on two of the occasions. The first
time and in 1979 in Paris.
Jeb: Any studio experiences that was unique?
Rick: Nothing that hasn't already been widely reported on numerous occasions.
Jeb: Any sexy, sordid or salty stories of the years in
Rick: Yes of course and do you really think I'm going to tell you what they
were? Dream on!
Jeb: Now that Yes and Wakeman are together again will
there be new music? Your gut feeling?
Rick: I hope so. I would really like to think that this can run and run, but
only time will tell I suppose.
Jeb: This is thrilling news for millions of fans. How
did it happen? I mean who called who and how did the conversation go?
Rick: There were no calls and it all happened over quite a period of time. I
sort of answered everything as regards to the re-joining at my website
www.rwcc.com, which will probably be
quicker for you to look at than for me go through it all again.
Jeb: I have
seen Yes with and without you and to be honest both were great concerts,
however, there is a special magic with a chap named Wakeman on stage. Why? What
happens and will it still be there?
Rick: I really don't know. For me it is the natural affinity I have for both
the music and the other guys. I can read them both as musicians and as
individuals and I suspect they have the same abilities. This particular line up
also has the uniqueness of having five highly individual musicians and five
individual personalities. Put this particular combination together and for some
inexplicable reason the sum of the individuals as a whole becomes immensely
greater than the value of each individual. A genuine case of 1+1+1+1+1+1=25!
Will it still be there? Of Course and I think that this time it could be even
stronger. Everything has met at the right time to make this happen and it is
happening for the right
reasons too: the music and the desire to make it together.
Jeb: I have been watching your DVD Rick Wakeman The
Legend Live In Concert 2000. First off, The Legend! Pretty impressive
title! Are you comfortable being called a legend?
Rick: It's better than "dinosaur!" Recently I was down in Argentine and a
journalist said to me, "I'm going to call you Rick if you don't mind." I said,
"Of course but why did you say that?" He replied, "By calling you Rick I am
implying that you are still heavily involved in the industry of music. If I call
you Mr. Wakeman that implies that you are in semi-retirement and are much older
than me. If I call you a legend then that probably means you are about to die."
I told him to call me Rick! The DVD is one type of show that I have done over
the years and came about because of all the television I do here (England)
outside of music. I do loads of chat shows, quiz shows, cameo spots in sit-coms
and even hosted a stand up comedy show. I hosted 80 of them. This gave me an
additional new audience that demanded stand up within my shows and many had no
idea I even played keyboards. Therefore, I devised this show to keep everybody
happy. To my amazement it was a hugely successful tour and played to packed
houses everywhere. It is very British though and I have not even attempted to
take it to other English speaking countries. I'm not sure what they would make
of it to be honest, as outside of the UK I am just perceived as a musician.
Jeb: That was a funny line about the suffering children
that were dragged to your concert by their parents. Do you feel more comfortable
in the spotlight now as opposed to 25-30 years ago?
Rick: As you get older, you don't necessarily get wiser but you do have more
experience to draw upon in order to make personal views and decisions. A lot of
what happens in the world genuinely hurts me inside and I would like to do more
than I already do but God only gave us 24 hours a day and so I have to be
frustrated in this area. Chernobyl seems to have been forgotten. How quickly we
forget about all events when a new one appears. Perhaps Billboard should have a
disaster chart changing week by week. They have so many charts already that
another one wouldn't go amiss!
Jeb: The Beatles tunes were a great thrill as well. How
many Beatles songs have you done like this? How do you marry up the Beatles song
to the classic composers style and will there ever be an album like this?
Rick: There is an album of instrumental Beatles tracks called Tribute.
This has not been released in America, sadly. It is available at the website
shop. Working on Beatles tunes was not difficult. A good melody can be arranged
in so many wonderful ways and McCartney is a master of his art.
Jeb: You have the ability to play with technical mastery
and convey deep emotions through your playing. Which is more important to you
Rick: Both have equal importance. I am so pleased I had a long and thorough
musical training. It means that almost nothing is impossible. A musician is like
a writer in as much as a writer can only write according to the knowledge of his
vocabulary. His imagination will also be limited by this knowledge. Musicians
are limited by their knowledge as well, so the greater a vocabulary of technique
and musical knowledge a musician can have,
then the more possibilities can become reality. Having said that, too much
knowledge can be a dangerous thing and a lack of it can make composers do some
weird and wonderful things. A good balance within a band is crucial if you
really want to create something a bit special and a bit different.
Jeb: How did you decide on the tracks to include on the
DVD? What songs almost made the cut?
Rick: I let the director of the film, Robert Garofolol decide. He did not know
my music particularly well so he put the DVD together very much as a neutral. He
is a close friend as well, which is a great help. There was quite a lot that
didn't make it and many of the stories were edited out or not used. In fact, it
was mostly stories that didn't make the
Jeb: Many of your solo albums have themes. How do you
approach writing in themes such as King Arthur or Black Night At The
Court Of Ferdinand? How is this different that playing on a rock album?
Rick: It's strange really. I don't make plans to do anything in particular.
It just seems to happen. In the last two years I have recorded classical albums,
albums with piano and choir, prog rock recordings, film scores, themed concepts
and collaborations with people such as Dave Cousins from the Strawbs. I just do
what seems to be happening in my mind at the time. Unfortunately, a lot of
things happening my mind at the same times so I always seem to be working on at
least three projects.
Jeb: So many albums. Seriously, what inspires you to keep
Rick: It goes in spats. Sometimes I write nothing for a year and then suddenly I
find myself writing furiously for a couple of months. There are no rules. It
just happens and I don't question why it is like this.
Jeb: How do the ideas stay fresh?
Rick: I have no idea. As I said earlier, I don't question why I suddenly get
inspiration and then inexplicably nothing happens for months on end.
Jeb: How do you avoid writing the same song twice?
Rick: To the best of my knowledge this has never happened, although I have
deliberately borrowed ideas from pieces order to create a certain musical part
in others. This seldom happens though.
Jeb: In 2001 you released Journey on DVD. Yet
another theme. When did the idea strike you to remake this epic tale in musical
Rick: It was something I had wanted to do for years. Technology meant that I
could really fuse all the musical ideas I live within a symphony orchestra and
choir. I knew that I could put Ozzy Osbourne in the orchestra and make it work
for example. Ozzy was brilliant! I had many friends on board such as Trevor
Rabin and Bonnie Tyler and I was really knocked out with the end result. The
album was given target figures to sell around the world and it reached these
figures everywhere except for America where it became more difficult to find in
the shops than finding a condom machine in the Vatican! I was really
disappointed about this but life goes on. Luckily it sold well elsewhere in the
world. We have already done the first live performance in Canada and more are
planned for next year.
Jeb: How did the orchestra get involved?
Rick: I have worked with the London Symphony Orchestra before. The time was in
1974 when I did the original Journey To The Center Of The Earth. I love
writing for orchestras and orchestrating in general. My heroes in this field are
Rimsky Korsakov and Prokoiev.
Jeb: As a very focused performer, producer and musician
how difficult were you to work with during this performance? How did you get all
the others to share your vision?
Rick: I don't think I was difficult but being the only one who knew what it
would sound like completed -- this was difficult for all concerned, to see the
pieces of the jigsaw coming together and then being put to one side for the
final piecing together. What also didn't help was the fact that I contracted
Pleurisy and Chronic Double Pneumonia during the latter stages of the recording.
It wasn't helped by the 22-hour days for three
months. I was given less than 48 hours to live.
Jeb: I have heard that you tend to create such a live
extravaganza that you eat up profits! Did this happen on Journey??
Rick: Yes, I have invested much of what I have earned in the live extravaganzas
and why not? I like to do things properly wherever possible and if people have
bought an album with an orchestra on it then wherever possible I try to give
them that orchestra in a live setting. I don't do that so much these days sadly
as most of what I earn and have earned is eaten up through my very poor record
of having been married and divorced three times
Jeb: At the same time you were doing Journey, you
left Yes? Why? I mean the band was hitting the big time --since you joined by
the way-- and you walk out? What happened? Who did you first tell in Yes that
you were out of there?
Rick: This is going back a few years now and is quite simple to answer. I didn't
like Topographic Oceans and still don't. People forget that you can be in
a band and be a fan as well. I am a great Yes fan. I was part of the
Topographic Oceans and had the CD format been around then perhaps I would
never have left, as there was certainly enough material for one CD. The problem
was that back then we had the constraints of the long-playing record. We had too
much for one album but nowhere near enough for two and so it was padded out. For
me, we lost the good stuff that we had amongst some poor quality music. My
opinion is that is true. That fuelled my decision. I didn't like this road that
Yes were going down in any band there must be an equal amount of give and take.
I could not give to this kind of music, as I have nothing to offer it. I was
really pleased when I heard Relayer, as I knew I had made the right
decision as there is nothing on there that I could have offered anything too. I
would not be adverse to playing stuff from Topographic Oceans as I know a
lot of people like the music but that is all a part of a musician's life.
Jeb: I heard that in 1975 you collapsed and had a minor
Rick: Three actual and the third was not very minor!
Jeb: While in the hospital you wrote the King Arthur
album. There has got to be a good story behind this...
Rick: It's a parallel musical autobiography. I was told I would not be able to
play live again and should retire. There is much of me in that album,
personally. The main theme is probably the best I have managed to produce.
Jeb: You have made a couple of guest appearances here. You
were on Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. How the heck did you end up working with
Sabbath? What songs are you on and what were they like in the studio at that
Rick: I can't remember the songs but I have been friends with the band since the
late sixties. Most guest appearances come about because of friendships. I think
the world of Ozzy and we are really good friends.
Jeb; What did you play with TREX?
Rick: I honestly can't remember. I did "Get It On."
Jeb: How did you get involved with Cat Stevens? Has he
lost his mind? Do you feel it is a shame he stopped making
Rick: Again, he was a friend. He is great to work with. I respect all people's
beliefs, providing they are used for the betterment of mankind. He was very sane
the last time I spoke to him! I was sad when he stopped making music as I
believe that if God gives you a gift, he wants you to use it in a good way and
bring happiness and enjoyment. He is making music again now, I believe.
Jeb: Last one? Did you really throw a tomato at the
original artwork of a Yes album?
Jeb: Why? You don't seem like the sort of guy that goes
around pelting works of art with vegetables. What's the story?
Rick: We had paid a fortune for the artwork, which when we were shown it, we all
agreed we had been ripped off. It was a pile of brown smelly stuff. I picked up
a tomato and threw it at it. The album was meant to be called Yestor but
was hastily changed to Tormoto. The tragedy about that album is that it
had probably the worst cover of any Yes album and contained some great music.
Sadly, the production of the album was poor, very poor. If there is one set of
tapes I would like to have in order to remix, it's this album. There are some
gems in there.
Let us know what you thought of