Over the past four decades, the British Progressive (Prog-rock) band Yes has not only had to endure forty-one years worth of constantly changing musical styles and trends -- plus trying to survive in a music industry that’s been decimated by internet downloading -- but the Art-house rockers have also had to suffer through a steady string of near-fatal personnel changes, ill-timed side projects and a two-year hiatus that forced the multi-platinum recording entity to reevaluate their future. Surprisingly, bassist/co-vocalist Chris Squire — the sole surviving original member of the band behind such rock anthems as “Roundabout” and “Owner Of A Lonely Heart” — confesses he’s grown accustomed to the revolving door-like changes that regularly occur within the group’s core line-up.
“It’s a pattern of behavior I’ve gotten used to over the years,” Squire says with a laugh, calling from a Ritz Carlton hotel in Dearborn, Michigan. “People always ask me how I’ve lasted so long in Yes and my answer is that it’s really more by default than design that it happened that way. I started the band with (lead singer) Jon Anderson back in 1968 and what has happened since then is that various members, from time to time, have been replaced, quit, been fired or gone off and left the band to do solo projects and then come back. To be honest, sometimes, it’s even hard for me to keep up with who is in the band.”
Although their current “In The Present Tour” (a co-headlining North American summer trek with ‘80s supergroup Asia) was to include all the members of Yes’ most legendary, "Classic Period" line-up — Squire, Anderson, guitarist Steve Howe, keyboardist Rick Wakeman and drummer Alan White (the musicians behind 1972’s Fragile
and Close To The Edge
, two of the band biggest albums) — health problems prevented Anderson and Wakeman from hitting the road with their Yes brethren for the rigorous multi-continent jaunt that began last year to celebrate the group’s 40th Anniversary.
“Jon’s illness caused him to miss touring with the group a few times already,” Squire says on the subject of Anderson's longtime respiratory problems . “I think he is over in Europe doing some small club shows, just him and an acoustic guitar, doing a scaled down version of the songs that he’s written over the years. It’s really low-key. And Rick Wakeman, well, he has also been in and been out of the band — he’ll go off to do solo work and the he’ll come back — but he’s always had a checkered past with his health, but he’s alright, he’s fine. So, for this tour, I guess you could say I was left holding the baby. Of course, I don’t mind.”
Stepping in behind the keyboards for Rick Wakeman (for the tour) was his son, Oliver Wakeman. “Oliver is a well-known, accomplished piano player, especially in the classical circles, so we knew he’d be perfect,” explains the British musician. “Oliver has another brother, Adam Wakeman, who plays keyboards on tour with Ozzy (Osbourne). Let me tell you, the Wakemans are one big keyboard playing family. I can’t wait for them to do an album together or come tour with us. That would be quite a show. Regardless, Oliver is doing a great job with the band.”
Although seasoned musician, singer, producer and former Buggles vocalist Trevor Horn filled in for Anderson during the recording of Yes’ 1980 Drama
album (and a subsequent tour), the band decided to go with a complete unknown, Canadian newcomer Benoit David, to handle the lead singer duties for the current tour. The frontman for a Yes tribute band called Close To The Edge, Benoit landed the gig replacing Anderson after Squire heard him singing on the internet.
“I was in London, and I told a friend of mine, ‘I don’t think that Jon is going to be coming out with us this time, because Jon has been having some health problems,” Squire recalls. “My friend said, ‘Well, if Jon’s not going out with you guys for this tour, come look at this guy on YouTube.’ I watched and listened to Benoit, and I was really impressed by the quality of his singing and his vocal delivery.
“We really didn’t need to audition him after that,” he continues. “I just voted and told everyone else that I thought he was the man for the job. At first, Benoit didn’t really know if he was being 'punk’d' or if we were really offering him a job. But then we got together with him in L.A, talked for a little bit and did a couple of songs together, and that's when we knew it would work out fine. Yes has a certain sound – vocally and instrumentally — and Benoit just fits right in and we’re real happy with it.”
For a moment, earlier this spring, it looked as if Squire would have to sit out the rest of the tour after he was rushed to a hospital emergency center. “I had a leg procedure that I had to have done, but I’m doing good now. I didn’t have to spend much time recuperating, either. So, I was lucky. It was just one of those things that comes with getting older. Maybe you can get too old to rock ‘n’ roll,” he says jokingly.
In fact, for this tour, Squire says he feels like an enthusiastic twenty-year-old up on the concert stage. “I love playing live for people, it’s still as exciting for me as it was when we started,” he admits. To keep the stage show fresh for both themselves and the fans, Squire says the group has rearranged many of their signature songs and have added several seldom-heard compositions to the nightly playlist. “When we set out to do the tour with Benoit and Oliver, we wanted to try to shuffle some different things in,” he says. “We wanted to do some songs from the Drama
album, so we are doing ‘Tempus Fugit’ and ‘Machine Messiah.’ We even went all the way back to Yes’ second album, Time and A World
for ‘Astral Traveller,’ which we haven’t played live since 1971. We’ve also changed the arrangements on a lot of the songs. We went back and looked at songs like ‘Heart Of The Sunrise’ — songs that we have been playing over the years — and changed the arrangements around a bit, to make them sound new.”
As the group prepares to celebrate their 41st year together, Squire is still amazed that Yes has managed to stay together for four decades. “I never had any kind of idea when we started that we would last even half as long as we have,” he admits. “I mean, The Beatles’ career was only about six years long, from ’63 to ’69. When we started, all we thought was, ‘We can start a band for six years, make some money and that would be great.’”
After the final curtain comes down on the last show of the “In The Present Tour” in Europe, later this fall, the current members of Yes plan on heading into the studio to record a new album. Squire says they aren’t making any firm plans past that point. “I think this is a great line-up, so we are really looking at making some new music,” Squire reveals. “I’m definitely keen on doing a new album, then we’ll see where it goes from there. Honestly, I hope we can keep doing this for several more years — at least as long as our bodies hold up.”
As for Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman returning to the fold, Squire pauses, chuckles, then utters, “The two things I’ve learned about being a member of Yes are (1), never say never, and (2), anything is possible.”
For North American + European tour dates visit www.yesworld.com