We’re rapidly approaching the end of our little jaunt through memory lane exploring my personal origins and how mysterious events in my life always seem to coincide around the releases of Yes studio albums all in the dubious honor of Yes’ 45th anniversary and Jon Anderson’s 70th birthday celebration. In this chapter we examine the year of 1999 when our minstrels of the modern age suddenly expanded to six members for the release of The Ladder on November 5th of that year.
A change of scenery and an attempt to enlist a new mentor’s help in producing their next record lead the band to shack up somewhere remotely in the outskirts of Vancouver, B.C. The band hadn’t had an outside producer for a considerable length of time until a legendary producer of such million dollar selling acts such as Bon Jovi, Aerosmith, and Kiss was recruited to challenge the band to sit down and make ‘the best YES album you can and the rest will follow’. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Bruce Fairbairn.
So the band tried their best and in my estimation, they’ve practically succeeded. And for their effort I consider this effort my third all time favorite Yes album behind Relayer and Drama. The first nearly ten minute track of ‘Homeworld’ originally written as music for a science fiction video game from Sierra Studios is Yes at its’ most daring and exploitative, as they attempted to augment their popular progressive stable with the sounds of rare exotic instruments and fantastic keyboard instrumentation provided by new Russian born recruit Igor Khoroshev who nearly rivals Rick Wakeman in a flash glide of five digit dexterity. A hint of Brazilian culture permeates a trilogy of songs strung together on Lightning Strikes, (a song edited down for radio), Can I? ,(Maestro Jon A reprises Fragile‘s We Have Heaven as if performed by Aborigines ) and Face To Face. There was a much better written serenade written for Jon’s new wife Jane on If Only You Knew and Chris Squire’s reggae pumping bass is captivated once more on “The Messenger ” which is an ode to all things great and small – as it pertains to the world of Bob Marley. Another great 10 minute epic, New Language features good honest Jon Anderson spacey lyrics accompanied by fantastic Squire/Sherwood backing vocals before it ends with a cherished Steve Howe strumming celebration of all life in Nine Voices that could easily listened beside Your Move/I’ve Seen All Good People on the Yes Album. The album even debuted a new cover and a new band logo designed by Roger Dean.
You know, it’s often said that when Lightning Strikes, you can follow the sun to a Wikipedia truth that is a simple place:
The follow-up to 1997’s tepidly received Open Your Eyes, The Ladder was seen as a conscious return to the classic Yes sound, while maintaining a contemporary edge. It is the only Yes album with keyboardist Igor Khoroshev as a full-time member, the last with guitarist Billy Sherwood (also the only one in which he did not play keyboards), and the only album of the band as a sextet.
Following guitarist/keyboardist Billy Sherwood‘s guidance of the last project, Yes decided to bring in an outside producer, Bruce Fairbairn, to give the music the benefit of objective ears. By the time the band had decamped to Vancouver, Canada to record The Ladder, Igor Khoroshev had become the group’s official keyboardist, with Sherwood relegated to guitar duties along with Steve Howe.
Although the sessions went off successfully, with all concerned very pleased with the end results, the project ended with Fairbairn’s sudden death in May 1999. Fairbairn died, according to Chris Squire, just before the completion of final vocals and mixing on The Ladder. Yes subsequently dedicated the album to their late producer upon its September release.
Concurrently with the release of the album, Yes licensed the use of “Homeworld (The Ladder)” with the Sierra Studios PC game “Homeworld“, of which a digital preview was included with The Ladder. The re-issue included in the 2006 box set Essentially Yes also includes this preview. The track “Homeworld (The Ladder)” was played during the game’s credits
Hyped as a “return to form”, The Ladder generally pleased most of its listeners and longtime Yes fans, performing slightly better than Open Your Eyes by reaching No. 36 in the UK and No. 99 in the US.
SONGS / TRACK LISTING
|1.||“Homeworld (The Ladder)”||9:32|
|2.||“It Will Be a Good Day (The River)”||4:54|
|5.||“Face to Face”||5:02|
|6.||“If Only You Knew”||5:43|
|7.||“To Be Alive (Hep Yadda)”||5:07|
|11.||“Nine Voices (Longwalker)”||3:21|
Japanese Bonus tracks featured live tracks of “I’ve Seen All Good People” and “And You and I” recorded live from Universal Amphitheater in 1997.
Homeworld (The Ladder)” references the working title for Talk, “History of the Future”.
The track “Lightning Strikes” borrows the opening flute solo from The Kinks‘ song “Phenomenal Cat” from the album The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society. The song also references “The Revealing Science of God (Dance of the Dawn)” from Tales from Topographic Oceans and “Endless Dream” from Talk.
“Can I?” quotes Anderson’s 1971 composition “We Have Heaven” from Fragile.
“Face to Face” references “Lift Me Up” from Union.
“The Messenger” is a tribute to Bob Marley.
“Nine Voices (Longwalker)” references “Your Move” from The Yes Album.
The Ladder (Eagle EAGCD088) reached No. 36 in the UK. It also reached No. 99 in the US during a chart stay of two weeks.
Bruce Fairbairn really pushed the band to limits that they never thought possible and their effort really shine through on the final mix, but fate came and intervened near the completion of the album to take Bruce’s life away due to cancer at the age of 49. The Canadian Music Industry posthumously awarded Bruce a Juno Award for lifetime achievement in the year 2000.
Anderson and Co soldiered on and stood firm behind their new album’s material that they were confident enough to play nearly every track of it live on tour. Most of the venues played this time around were mostly House of Blues club franchises with stops in major metropolises like Kansas City, New Orleans, three nights in Los Angeles, and Las Vegas – which was captured live on CD and VHS as ‘The House of Yes’.
Shortly after the release of that video in 2000, Billy Sherwood resigned from the band – but still maintains a healthy working relationship with Chris Squire as evident by the release of 2003’s Conspiracy – The Unknown, which is Chris’s finest solo work since the release of his Fish Out of Water nearly thirty years ago. Billy Sherwood also worked with Geoff Downes in writing for Asia albums.
I was really impressed with Igor’s work on the Ladder album and he was an equal sight to behold on stage as well. I thought it was really nifty to see him beat the fucking shit out of a cowbell with one hand while he would perform Wakeman’s arpeggiated organ swirls with the other on the rousing encore of Roundabout. Igor did four world tours with the bands two behind Open Your Eyes, this album, and the Masterworks tour in 2002 before perhaps resigning in disgrace due to Igor getting in a little bit of hot water after a show in Richmond, Virginia when he engaged in a game of grabass with an undercover woman police officer who was assigned as a body guard at the venue where they performed.
Favorite lyric: Send, ascending to the secrets/All is pure and clear to resolve/Nothing can change us now/Send, ascending to the future/Nothing can ever change us now/We follow the sun/We follow the sun/We follow the sun – Homeworld – ( Anderson/Squire/Howe/White/Sherwood/Khoroshev )
When we last left my cliffhanger memoirs, I was making great strides in practically smacking a Cary Coatney Clubhouse together. I had gotten good word of mouth for the monumental job I undertook in supervising the small press department of the San Diego Comic Con International. He expected to repeat the performance for next year – but the committee voted not to have me back due to circumstances surrounding the budget. As I noted in my last chapter, I was really living the high life on the Convention’s dime. I arranged to have sixteen Domino pizzas charged to my room that the Convention was footing the bill for and had a party for the exhibitors in my department without their approval. I took Amtrak train rides down to meetings and gave the vouchers to the treasurer to sign off on. I charged phone calls I made from my house in Sherman Oaks to the Convention office I did a lot of crazy shit to make it look like that this is was a salary position rather than a volunteer effort (they did have an application of mine on file and I did fill out w2 forms to make it look like it was a salaried position). This of course was due to the fallout when I had written publicity on behalf of the convention for a special Comic Buyer’s Guide issue dedicated to covering summer conventions it was slipped in the “interview” I gave to the paper that approval was given about printing a free 24 page supplement that would’ve spotlighted some of the small press creators in my area. Somehow, this slipped beneath the convention organizers’ radar, both Fae Desmond and James Pascoe and they went all rogue on my ass and nixed it before it could become a reality.
The president of the Comic Con International committee board, John Rogers was not happy about me getting carte blanche everywhere I went and therefore suggested someone with less experience in the handling of independent creators and had it put to a vote. I thought that it was a rash foolhardy decision after all, I got good write ups for my cultural focused efforts in the Comics Buyer’s Guide and Comics Journal and I wasn’t going to give in without a fight – but then something unforeseen happened to made the situation worsen that put me in a very unflattering light.
Some nasty witch called the convention office and stated that I was threatening her life and was going to go press charges against me. Why the fuck would someone go out of their way and say something stupid and nasty to a bunch of complete strangers about something pertaining to my personal life?
That witch turned out to be none other than Carol ‘Horror Show Hamiltion (who is now some big fancy lawyer in Glendale) – ex-wife of my high school friend, Joe Zullo. Unbelievable, the control freak just couldn’t exit our lives completely – even though I hadn’t seen her ‘horror show’ face in years.
In the late nineties, for some unfathomable reason, her jewish bi-sexual bestie Lara Allen, called me out of the blue and made me a public service announcement that she didn’t really want to be a lesbian anymore. I admit I had a certain fondness for Lara- she wasn’t that particularly great looking, but she had a sarcastic dark humorous streak in her that I could relate to although staring at her big tits were a little offsetting. But nonetheless we had gone on a short series of dates to some expensive eateries including one at the much lamented Marvel Mania restaurant at Universal City Studios which I wound up writing a review of for the Comics Buyers’ Guide.
However the topic of conversations with Lara always wound up on the subject of Joe I kept repeating to her that I had not seen Joe for a good long number of years and to please stop bringing up the subject, I’m not his fucking publicist. Since I didn’t have a car, she would drive me everywhere, but always on the way home from a date there she was, Carol ‘Horror Show” Hamilton calling from afar asking for the gory details – on speakerphone, while I was in the passenger seat – and the subject always seemed to be, ‘has Coatney ever got in touch with Joe? What’s Joe been up to? When was the last time that Coatney got to hang out with Joe, etc, etc.”
How much more fucking longer is this constant irritation going to go on for?
One night, I just snapped and left messages on their answering machines telling fuck themselves and then left a very disparaging message on Horror Show Hamilton’s message machine at work telling her to get over herself and to stop pumping me for information about Joe. In not so many polite words paraphrasing something along the lines of ‘maybe you need a fist of fire high colonic – courtesy of Satan’ or something of equal thoughtful theological insulting value.
So in retaliation, Horror Show Hamilton placed a phone call to the comic con’s office proclaiming that I called in a death threat to her office, which begs the question, ‘how the fuck did Horror Show Hamilton get the phone number for the comic con office in the first place? Turns out that Lara had my San Diego business card. Then in turn, comic con calls my place of business (most likely Obi Dan Kenobi’s insurance office) and my place of business gets in touch with me, and everything trickles down to this: I have to go down to San Diego to resolve this matter to the supervisors and to Beth Holley who I had to assure that this was nothing but the work of a prankster. But my plea didn’t make things better, it fell on deaf ears and the committee took a vote to have another volunteer by the name of Ned Cato to take over the Small Press position effective immediately. I got mad and stormed out of the meeting – just another victim of a corrupt ruthless bureaucracy.
All was not lost, my career as a writer ballooned so much that I was finally granted a professional badge for having my first byline in the pages of Comics Buyer’s Guide for reviewing the Marvel Mania date that Lara and I shared together – including not leaving a big enough tip for Jarvis Butler and how I yelled at my date for not using the correct crayon color scheme on Electro’ costume. Editor John Jackson Miller thought it was one of the funniest things that he had read all year and had Krause Publications cut me a check for $ 50.00
By the end of 1999, I had my very first comic book story published. Too bad, my debut came off the press looking like a fresh-baked turd that not even fourteen professional pencilers and inkers couldn’t polish successfully to flush out of sight before it clogged up the bowl.
Tomorrow: Magnification and the debut of the Deposit Man.