John Wetton, the everyday solidary man and favorite session & lead bass player and also a very distinctive lead singer for a who’s who resume of progressive rock bands died in his sleep on January 31st of colon cancer. I have to admit folks, that this one really tugs at my heartstrings.
Wetton was one of my favorite all around versatile bass players, harking back to high school when I first discovered his amazing ferocious power playing when teamed up with boy genius violinist/keyboardist Eddie Jobson and the meticulous powerhouse drumming of Terry Bozzio touring as the tantamount trio known as U.K. as they stole the thunder of Jethro Tull in support of their fall of 1979 Stormwatch album. I remember barely getting to my seat at the Madison Square Garden when I was a risk taking sophomore taking trips to New York City by myself to attend concerts until the following year of my 1980 junior year when I started asking girls out to accompany me. But back then I was ‘solo in the game’ and if I remember correctly: I think I went back to the same venue shortly for Foreigner by myself when “Head Games” was released.
But I distinctly remember being mesmerized by UK up on that stage as an usher was leading me to my seat. The grandiose performance of mostly songs from the Danger Money album released earlier that year such as “Caesar Palace Blues” “Nothing to Lose” “Time to Kill” and the ever instrumental defying gravitational digit dexterity of “Carrying No Cross” of Jobson switching back and forth between the savage attack of a swinging bow plexiglass violin and a large keyboard assemble lead by its’ classic Yamaha CS-80 synthesizer as blinding flashing neon sign of the letters U an K slowly tipped forward as to engulf the trio, there was Wetton in the center standing as cool as a cucumber ending the show and thanking us all for their patronage. Then Jethro Tull followed with their rocking stranded ship at sea stage craft of their newly crafted Stormwatch, although as great as Ian and company were – Jobson, Wetton, and Bozzio managed to make more of an impression on me. Anderson did give an equally brave performance as he was singing on stage for “Too Old To Rock’n’ Roll, and Too Young to Die,” a careless female fan threw a rose onstage to Anderson which struck his eye, causing it to bleed. My seat in the arena that night hobbled between of what I could see onstage and also what I could see backstage, and during a good portion of the set, I could see Anderson running back and forth between instrumental breaks to grab fresh towels to dab at his eye.
I’m going all over the place with this reminiscent, just as Wetton’s career did I suppose. As I grew older in high school and expanded my prog rock vocabulary to bands such as King Crimson, Roxy Music, or Uriah Heep, I’ve learned that they too all shared the Wetton stamp of approval. However, as time marched on through my overall music appreciation, I look back at Wetton’s contribution to the 1972-74 period of King Crimson’s output as his most innovative and improvisational. Those three albums would be Lark’s Tongue in Aspic, Starless & Bible Black, Red, and the somewhat live USA accompaniment that former Roxy Music band member (and later on U.K) Eddie Jobson helped with violin overdubs. It was with King Crimson that Wetton got to spread his creative chops and proved that he was a songwriting tour de force with songs such as “Easy Money“, “One More Red Nightmare” , and “The Great Deceiver” eventually leading up to the pinnacle of epic finales, “Starless“. Those three studio albums were a phenomenal must listen to back in my high school and I will regard them as the final straw of dividing myself from the status quo of a normal high school teen-ager. Founder Robert Fripp, along with Wetton’s tremendous front man contributions was aghast with tonal experimentation and served as the progenitor to the birth of grunge and alternative rock of the latter 21st century masses led by Radiohead, Pearl Jam, Tool, or even Nirvana. There aren’t many bands to this day that perform along the Sunset Boulevard at either the Roxy and Whisky crowd that don’t cite the album Red as one of its’ main instigating influences.
After the break-up of UK, and before Wetton formed that was perhaps the most powerful supergroup in progressive rock pop history known as Asia, Wetton briefly served a stint as a collaborator of the twin neck guitar blues rock band Wishbone Ash in a special guest star capacity. On the 1981 album, Numbering the Brave, Wetton contributed one song called “That’s That .”
I suppose wandering aimlessly into the clutches of A & R record label matchmaking of Geffen Records who were back in the early nineteen eighties a label still finding their voice with the likes of signing Neil Young, Peter Gabriel, Joni Mitchell and the tragic death of John Lennon (or rather stealing each individual artist away from their former labels) gave them enough star power, but not really much of an identity or a thumbprint. John Kalodner seeing as how progressive rock bands such as UK, Yes, Emerson, Lake, & Palmer were dropping like flies in the advent of punk rock, managed to set Wetton up with ex-Yes and ex-Buggles keyboardist Geoff Downes to see what would stick And with the recruitment of former Yes guitarist Steve Howe and the ELP drummer Carl Palmer; voila! Asia was born and so was the anthem of my senior year “Heat of the Moment” took center stage blazing up the single charts.
Getting to see that initial world tour in support of the debut album was no easy task. Tickets sold out like gangbusters and I had no choice but to scalp my first ticket off the streets of New York at The Palladium along 14th street. It was a 100 bucks I paid, but after I was attempting to get to my seat with my official tour shirt, I got hassled by an usher claiming I had a counterfeit ticket and I had to bride the fucker who was shaking me down for an extra fifty bucks to keep me from kicked out. That tour was especially memorable because they had debuted new material, “The Smile Has Left Your Eyes” and “Midnight Sun” for the second album that wouldn’t see the light until next year.
I was originally supposed to take Linda Freeman (now Yarosh), my high school gal pal to the 1983 second tour in support of Asia: Alpha in Forest Hills, NY as the condition of having me taking her to see David Bowie, but of course, she neighed on her word but I wound up taking her older sister, Lisa instead. The stage was bigger and amazing. Keyboardist Geoff Downes had the entire upper tier of the stage to myself to house all 24 of his keyboard synthesizers that had him practically doing marathons to be in cue to reach certain keyboards to be within arms’ length. I don’t think I ever seen John Wetton on such as massive stage as I did on that tour. Sadly, the Alpha tour hemorrhaged a ton of money before it could end and some west coast dates had to cancelled due to poor ticket sales.
And Asia was done. I didn’t get to see John Wetton perform again until a 1995 solo tour that brought him to Los Angeles as part of a progressive rock festival held out here. He also had another outstanding keyboard player working for him by the name of Martin Orford formerly of IQ and Jadis who worked heavily on producing a few of John’s solo albums such as Sinister and Welcome to Heaven for the Giant Pea Electric label that Martin ran for his two bands. I believe that was the only time I ever got the time to say a few words to the man (such as ‘hey, how’s it going. Looking forward to the show tonight.’) as I sat a couple of tables down from him at the fabled eatery, The Pantry hours before he was slated to take the stage.
It was also during this period that Wetton made periodic journeys to Los Angeles to work on demos with various area songwriters and musicians such as my late friend Harry Perzigian and guitarist Brian Young who later went on to play in a Van Halen cover band Atomic Punks where he was then quickly snatched up by the real David Lee Roth to be the lead guitarist for his band.
To my utter amazement, I came across three songs co-written by John Wetton and Curt Cuomo along with Harry entitled “I Can’t Tell You”, “Back in Your Loving Arms” and “Power, Sex, & Money” in a box of demo tapes that the Perzigian family told me to take to burn as a compilation to give to attendees of any LA memorial service. Big freakin’ deal. They were only 7 of us that bothered to even show up, but I used the first two songs on that collection. The latter song was re-tweaked by John Wetton and Geoff Downes to be included on their Icon 3 album released in 2009. Harry nor I were aware that John brought that song back out of the mothballs. I gave up looking for it in the record store bins a long while ago, even though I own the first two records in the Icon series. I’m sure if Harry was aware of its’ existence, I’d think he’d be a very different man today. I wish I had the know how on how to download audio files, otherwise I’d share them all with you.
Finally Asia kicked John Wetton’s replacement, John Payne to the curb to regroup with its’ original members, Wetton, Steve Howe, Carl Palmer and Grand keyboardist extraordinaire Poobah Geoff Downes. Deep down, in my personal regard, I think Wetton realized that during his absence Payne sort of matured the band into other unfamiliar covered areas such as world music, jazz rock, ambient, and calypso on the Arena and Aura albums, so some of the music that Wetton c0-written on albums Phoenix and Omega had to reflect a more serious tone. I talk more about this subject in the special commemorative review I wrote of the band’s Las Vegas appearance in support of the Phoenix tour.
So my final words on John Wetton:
He certainly had a love affair with the word ‘solidary’. The word has crept up in individual songs for three of his bands, King Crimson, U.K., and Asia. And I’m pretty sure, WHILE we weren’t looking, it’s more than likely, it’s reared its’ ugly head in a few of his solo songs.
I have not heard his first solo “Caught in the Crossfire” since I moved away from New Jersey. It’s probably still buried in my mom’s shed at her house in Parsippany, NJ.
The last place I saw John Wetton alive on Asia’s Gravitas tour 2014 (along with Keith Emerson, who was there to cheer Carl Palmer on.) The Saban Theater, Beverly Hills, CA
Wetton’s death was shocking, but not totally unexpected. He had many bouts and issues with the bottle same as my friend did, (but not as loopy as Harry did). In fact, I remember a story I heard about a time when he was totally too soused to attention a fan convention held in his honor somewhere out in Pennsylvania, where they kept finding him passed out the front doors of the hotel lobby or sleeping it off on a park bench. But his battle with colon cancer was long and courageous. He stuck it out thick and thin. not giving into the pain and suffering as Keith Emerson did as he copped out. He kept performing even as his body was distressed. I remarked at one time how frail he looked when he made an appearance on the dvd video portion of Arjen Anthony Lucassen’s last Ayreon project, The Theory of Everything that he had a guest starring role on. The passing of John Wetton is a different sort of feeling; Wetton, while not really a household name had a voice that was remarkable identifiable with the mass audience that know him through Asia. So basically, he was a musician that surely had crossover appeal.
The review below has previously appeared on a European website dedicated to progressive rock news and reviews called http://www.dprp.net (you can also find another review of mine of a Asia concert with John Payne on that website as well).
3rd May 2008
The House of Blues, Mandalay Bay
Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
The Four Original Members Of Asia In Lost Wages
My first ever concert review in Las Vegas, NV @ the House of Blues Mandalay Bay
Having seen Asia probably a good handful of times ever since David Geffen assembled the band in 1982 – including both tours featuring the early founding members and later on, with other members of good standing such as John Payne, I thought I might not had nothing more to add since I’ve already reviewed the band for this website a few years ago (at a Border’s book signing no less) – but this new tour in support (or not so much support, depending on how you look at it) of the first studio recording in more than twenty-five years with the line-up of all four original members: John Wetton, Steve Howe, Carl Palmer, and long stalwart gatekeeper Geoff Downes called “Phoenix” merits a mention.
The Asia concert I saw over at the Mandalay Bay House of Blues Casino in support of the new Phoenix disc was the first concert that I saw in which I can safely say served as a crossroads in a difficult defining moment that I’m going through in my present life – both happy and sad. On the happy side, I wasn’t the one who bought the concert ticket, instead I was treated to this show by the printer of my new comic book series, who’s very proud of the professional quality that I put into the new product (for the record, it’s called the Deposit Man: Playgod). Sad – that the whole new publishing venture has left me practically penniless (or euro-less for those reading across the Atlantic) and my day job’s timing couldn’t have been more impeccable in cutting off my overtime at the time I was paying off the balance – which leaves me pretty much in the red. Sad, also because of my father who lives in the Las Vegas area is also going through a similar situation with his job.
The show for the evening also held a double entendre as far as euphoria was concerned. It was a gathering of my old friends of who I grew up with in a sleepy New Jersey town called Parsippany and they used the Asia concert as an impromptu bachelor party for one of the oldest of my high school friends who just happens to live in the Las Vegas area. He was getting married that weekend and couldn’t get me an invite to the nuptials (I didn’t know he was living in Vegas until his brother e-mailed me a few days before heading out) so once he heard that I was in town, he made sure to declare the Asia show the unofficial bachelor Asia Gig. So in addition, of seeing the Four Original Members of Asia performing some Alpha material – some of which hadn’t been heard or performed live in some twenty-five years was also on par with some people I hadn’t seen in that same duration of time away from my high school days such as their uncles and cousins. I was simply wrapped up in the nostalgic moment, being around so many memories that I couldn’t really bear to nitpick the performance itself… but….
However, I was mildly disappointed in the fact that when you’re announcing that you’re touring in support of a new album – PLAY SOME OF THE NEW ALBUM!!
I thought this was going to be a monumental milestone in the band’s history – as management has sort written off the last 15 years or so John Payne collaborations as something that might have occurred in a parallel dimension as to it never happened as it pertained to a parallel world. I’m sure, it’s nothing personal on Geoff Downes end, as I have personally hung out with both gentlemen in the past, and I could attest of never catching a whiff of animosity between the two. So, if the band with all the original members is psyched about releasing their first recorded album together after a quarter century has passed, you’d think once they herald in a bunch of the new songs, the boys would be anxious to test them out live. BUT what happened? Only two got to pass the smell test, the bookend tracks: the opener, Never Again (which sounded marvelous) and the end song: An Extraordinary Life.
With that being said, I will now draw your attention to the show itself. Now, please keep in mind that this was the first ever concert that I’ve seen in Las Vegas rather than being pulled away from rather my old Los Angeles Sunset Blvd stomping grounds of the Whiskey or The Roxy. I was in town to finish up business with the new book – and the convenience of having them stop over in town coincidentally was too good of an opportunity to pass up (I was also in town to take my dad to see the Iron Man movie – as an early father’s day present). I’ve heard rumors from people who attend shows regularly in the LA area that there is a restriction on performers in the LV area. You’re required to finish your show by 11:00PM so they can set up some stupid DJ and have disco dancing go tirelessly on until 4 or 5 in the morning. I don’t know who came with this stupid rule or why the entire town has to cap all live music by some unholy witching hour – just chalk it up that it’s freakin’ Las Vegas and there’s usually no such thing as a rational argument.
With no opening act, the four original members of Asia took the stage at 8:30PM and immediately led off with a virtually rare performance of a ‘Alpha’ B-side called “Daylight’ (if I remember correctly, I think it was on the flip side of the “Don’t Cry” single ) which was a real treat. Most of the show was strictly a routine of the last reunion tour with a few slight variations. Plenty of the song list repertoire once again focused on mostly the first Asia album and some from the second, Alpha. There was only one song, Voice of America, represented from the Astra album, which was on the third one, and the first to feature the dissension within the ranks with the abrupt departure of Steve Howe and being replaced by Krokus guitar player, Mandy Meyers – so there was really no hope of hearing choice meaty selections such as Go or Rock and Roll Dream being performed that night. Which was fine by me, having already heard John Payne do fantastic renditions of them on the tours he’s done with the band in the past. Most of the show stoppers of the evening were of course, the bits and pieces pulled from each individual’s past and present bands – one or two selections from either Yes, ELP, King Crimson, or the Buggles were the ones that drew the most applause from the audience.
However, personally, having already been there, done that…..
I can’t stress enough when witnessing these bits performed for the umpteenth time: without trying to sound like the harbinger of a telegraphed Moody Blues set list: but I can’t figure out why they have John Wetton try to sing Roundabout. The song just isn’t written for him and when one of my friends caught me shaking my head in dismay, he pulls me to the side and says: “dude, you got to remember, he’s trying to cover both parts that (Jon) Anderson and (Chris) Squire used to sing”. And does every Steve Howe solo bit have to include the Clap? Or Mood for the Day? I know it gets a little more dramatic with age – but how about Mr Howe for once would mix it a few other Yes guitar melodies such as Giants Under the Sun, or perhaps, even that small little track he did for the Union album called Masquerade in which he got nominated for a Grammy for best rock instrumental? It’s just with Steve Howe, it’s redundant and very, very quite mechanical he’s got such a wide catalogue to his name and he’s always reduced to performing the same two numbers over and over. Geoff Downes did an impressive solo spot utilizing some of his solo work and mixed it all (I think you can hear a demo of it on his myspace page) in with the orchestral Fairlight sampling coda that closes out the next to last track on the first album called Cutting it Fine.
As I mentioned before, John Wetton performed the only track from the Astra album, Voice of America, just on vocal and guitar. the floodgate of progressive rock’s beginning was showcased by the alluring haunting performance of King Crimson’s “In the Court of the Crimson King” which to this date baffles me because that song was written by Greg Lake when he was in the band and when John Wetton replaced Lake, Wetton never performed the song when he was with Crimson. Personally, I thought better if Wetton had done some of the songs he did with U.K., such as In the Dead of Night, or Rendezvous 6:02. U.K. was the band that was discarded before Wetton joined forces with Asia. The highlights of the prog masters’ tribute series was when Geoff donned dark sunglasses and sparkling silver coat for a rousing rendition of Video Killed the Radio Star and the virtuoso pulse pounding of all four original members of Asia for ELP’s version of Fanfare for the Common Man simply brought the house down and brought them to a standing ovation – however – me and my lot were having a lot of stoned induced giggles when the video monitors all around started showing off each individual member ‘s close up on their playing techniques framed against some kind of psychedelic visual effects( while trying to keep score of the stoical freezeframes of each rock star pose).
Another oddity during the show worth mentioning is when Geoff Downes and Carl Palmer were finished performing their drum and organ solos respectfully during the middle of “The Heat Goes On” Wetton returned to the stage to resume the final chorus – but there was no sign of Howe to help put away the number. Steve was mysteriously missing from the stage. You could see the bafflement on both Wetton’s and Downes faces which slightly threw their playing off – but as soon as the monumental historic Ab minor chord opening of Heat of the Moment sounded the gladiatorial clarion call, Howe was up front and center with his Stratocaster as if nothing had happened. Someone told me that he was too busy backstage trying to get his slide guitar tuned up for the encore “Don’t Cry” . I hear he’s very picky when it comes to people tuning his instruments.
My personal favorite moments from the show was the opener Daylight, like I mentioned before and another was an acoustic version of another rare b side from the first album “Ride Easy” . That flip side of the “Heat of the Moment” single was such a monumental memory for me growing up because I remember, my high school sweetheart Linda Freeman would come over my house sometimes just to put that song onto my stereo system. I was joking to my buddies – that maybe they would pull another rarity out such as “Lying to Yourself” which was the flip side of The Smile Has Left Your Eyes single. They all echoed fat chance of ever hearing that one performed live.
Sorry I had to rant one with a few discrepancies here and there – but I was really hoping to hear a good portion of the new stuff performed. I really enjoy the new tracks from Phoenix such as Alibis – which has this brilliant coda ending that sounds very similar to Paul Mauriat’s Love is Blue – and the lengthy multi-parter, Parallel Worlds. Although, John Wetton takes credit for most of the writing on this album he’s takes on a more serious approach on some of the songs – instead of the usual bubble gum overblown verse /chorus fluff that’s a mandatory pre-requisite in the sound of most 1980’s AOR recordings ( forgiving some of the trespasses on tracks such as Heroine and I Will Remember You ), you can’t help wonder if Wetton is taking a page out of John Payne’s spiritual thirstiness that’s so heir apparent in his lyric work with in new songs such as An Extraordinary Life and Nothing’s Forever. Anyway, I really don’t want to turn this into a record review, at least I should be knocking on the DPRP asking for a contest winner handout.
The total gig time with encores was approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes. Plenty of time left over to get all jiggy with it on the dance floor until the wee hours of the morning.
Had some real snazzy merchandise goodies this year, but the guy working the souvenir booth wasn’t very enthusiastic about selling Asia T-shirts and hats (broadband wrist bands that record the show? That’s what they were touting for $60 a piece to take home a copy of the night’s performance and download it to your computer. I tell ya, These techno whizz kids these days!!) as evident when someone wanted to buy a wall clock of the band. He told the customer that the clock was guaranteed to work at least twice a day. I just settled for a simple $25.00 t-shirt to take home and all the memories of that gig is imprinted on that t-shirt forever more ….or at least until the true colors start to fade away in the wash.
Only Time Will Tell
Geoff Downes keyboard solo featuring the coda to Cutting It Fine
Steve Howe solo – The Clap & Mood for the Day
John Wetton solo – Voice of America & the Smile Has Left Your Eyes
Open Your Eyes
Fanfare For The Common Man
An Extraordinary Life
In the Court Of The Crimson King
Video Killed The Radio Star
The Heat Goes On – Pausing for a Carl Palmer Percussion Moment
Heat of the MomentEncores: