YES – The Lost Years

Authored by: Dale Nickey
(originally published in “Notes From The Edge” 5/16/05)
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The ’90s found Yes slumped and bloodied against the ropes. Fashion had again rendered them surplus to cultural requirements. Their album “TALK” tanked. “Whisper” would have been a more appropriate title. Concerts, a dependable safety net in the leanest of times, were under attended. Trevor Rabin went from Messiah to Pariah in the span of 4 studio albums. The much-anticipated KEYS reunion with Rick Wakeman was derailed by illness. The brace of “KEYS TO ASCENSION” albums carried the faint echo of wagons being circled and barrels scraped. When Rick left due to illness, a rethink was obviously in order.

What’s a corporation to do when their ass is getting kicked in the market place of musical ideas and a senior partner is on extended leave of absence? Yes did what most corporations do, they streamlined and downsized scope of field operations (back to clubs and theaters, shorter tunes). They upgraded and diversified media presence (more and varied DVD releases, remasters, album remixes, less reliance on standard CD releases), and hire young sexy/hungry temp employees to fire the competitive juices of older, entrenched career employees, cut cost, and to broaden the demographic (enter Igor Khoroshev  and Billy Sherwood).

The following describes activities during this crucial period:

“OPEN YOUR EYES” released in 1997 started life as a Squire/Sherwood side project. Yes factory accessories, (ie…Steve Howe’s guitar and Jon Anderson’s voice…) were bolted on in an apparent attempt to make commercial amends for the under-cooked KEYS volumes. All this taken into account, it is an attractive set of prog-pop quickies with two viable single candidates, “No Way We Can Lose” and “Man In The Moon”. “No Way We Can Lose” was a standout track with real soul courtesy of Chris Squire’s surprising harp playing. This is the record UNION could have been. Had it been released subsequent to “CLOSE TO THE EDGE”….(OK, I’ll spare you). The only hard knock on the album was the artwork which was striking only in its mediocrity. Collective writing credits served to blur who was driving the machine at this point. However, the album credits show American Billy Sherwood was not only a fully anointed member but engineer as well. DNA testing would likely reveal EYES to be Billy Sherwood’s baby. Keyboardist Igor Khoroshev was the hired gun who out-tinkled Billy  Sherwood and Steve Porcaro and subsequently joined the band for the EYES tour.

“THE LADDER” was released in 1999. It stands as Yes’ finest album since “GOING FOR THE ONE” or “90125” (depending on your political affiliation). Igor’s mystical ability to nail the styles of Kaye, Wakeman, Moraz into a seamless whole earned him a placing as marquee band member and writing partner on “THE LADDER” . The album is loaded with bright energetic moments and sport two extended set pieces that sit well in the Yes canon.

“Homeworld” is a blinder that soars in a manner as only the best Yes music can. It simply must be added to future tours. The DVD “Yes At The House Of Blues” consolidated gains made by “THE LADDER”. The HOB tour was a rousing success; however, the up close and personal nature of these gigs revealed Steve Howe’s Zen working overtime to observe the protocols required by a “two-guitar” line-up. Indeed, Billy Sherwood was gone after the tour as the band returned to tried and true masterworks on their next tour. Howe was visibly re-energized and all keyboards parts regardless of authorship were pulled off to spooky perfection by Igor.

As the turn of the century dawned, exit Igor amid cloudy circumstance. Yes required a hired gun and an orchestra to replace him for the “MAGNIFICATION” album and tour. Ironically, magnification was required to track the album’s sales figures although it spawned material good enough to survive into the Classic Reunion Tour . The set piece,”In The Presence Of” showed Yes was still adept at long form composition. “MAGNIFICATION” and the companion DVD “Symphonic Yes” was enough of a departure from the previous releases to keep the faithful happy, spending, and wondering what Yes would pull out of their hat next. The orchestrations on “Symphonic…” also gave an extreme makeover to the sometimes exhausting “Gates Of Delirium”. These releases and the tour helped to slake Anderson’s “TIME AND A WORD”  Jones once and for all and marked time until Rick’s return. Era closed.

So Yes survived a prog-hostile time in world history. Good on them. Let this era be memorialized by the contributions of Igor Khoroshev and Billy Sherwood in a time of need. Billy was Trevor enough for the ’80s fan base and Igor sparkled. If the bleak world economy precludes you from buying the entire catalog from this period, view the DVD’s “Yes At The House of Blues” and/or “Symphonic Yes”. It’s the next best thing to being there. The void in ‘The Hall’ remains.

Peter Banks Original Yes Guitarist (Remembered)

Word has just come in that founding Yes guitarist Peter Banks died on March 7. He was 65. sns-rt-us-banksbre92c002-20130312-001 Peter Banks was an eclectic and acrobatic guitarist who holds the distinction of being a founding member of the Progressive Rock band Yes.  Banks appeared on the first two albums before he was replaced by virtuoso Rock guitarist Steve Howe. The band achieved world renown while Banks continued to work in various bands and as a solo artist until his death.  Peter Banks was haunted by the success of Yes after his departure. He was proud of his legacy, but at the same time harbored feelings of being cheated from the rewards of the band’s success. A success that was built largely on the template he helped design. The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame has been tardy and negligent in failing to induct Yes into The Hall. A timely induction would have given Peter Banks the recognition and closure he deserved as a founding member of (arguably) the greatest Progressive Rock band in history. In addition to the two albums he recorded with Yes, he also appeared on several Yes compilations and anthologies after his departure. His post-Yes band, Flash recorded three albums  during the early 70’s. He also recorded several fine solo albums that showcased his evolution and invention as a guitar player. He also authored a fascinating auto-biography titled “Beyond And Before”. I reviewed the book several years ago for the international Yes fanzine, “Notes From The Edge”. I am republishing this review as a tribute to a musician who greatly influenced my approach to guitar early on in my musical career. Reviewed by:   Dale Nickey lbanks 5 A long search for this book guaranteed this review would be Yesterday’s (sic) news. Peter Banks was a founding member of Yes. He was a hell of a guitar player. He certainly influenced Steve Howe’s approach as a guitar stylist. Banks didn’t miss the boat of rock super-stardom so much as he was pushed overboard from the vessel of his own construct. He was then handed an anchor on the way down. His “Bestian” misfortune insures this book’s edge and gives a unique angle that other Yestomes sorely lack. The first two chapters of his auto-bio “tell most” are standard rock auto-bio fare. Banks describes the youthful blush of radio magic; the cheap, difficult first guitar and the long march from undistinguished cover bands to psychedelic tomfoolery. Then, on to the fool’s gold of Yes’ first recording contract. Mr. Banks’ role as Greek chorus in the Yes saga ultimately gives the group’s mythology much needed ballast and counterpoint. As much as we love Jon Anderson and his Hippy, New Age philosophies, the palate craves the acidic PH balance of Banks’ memoirs. banks300 The early years of YES are described in vivid and grimy detail. The book reveals Yes (Mark I) to be a fairly typical concern of hard-drinking, loud, untidy, entry-level rock stars looking for that first break. However, their work ethic, ambition (and talent) was any thing but typical of the times and reveals the beating heart of a group that would not fold its cards. We are privy to Chris Squire’s plainly obnoxious penchant for tardiness, Jon Anderson’s dictatorial tendencies and the general messiness in the communal squalor of the first Yes crash pad.   Mr. Banks obvious love and devotion to Yes and its music beyond and before thankfully tempers his grievances. This reviewer is old enough to remember the rancor evident in early interviews with Banks regarding the break up. Now, with the passage of time, Mr. Banks observations ring of hard won credibility. Indeed, much of the dramatic arc of this book comes from Peter Banks covert obsession with the brilliance of his replacement Steve Howe and his performance on the “The Yes Album” (strongly argued to be the group’s best album). This part of the book has Banks playing Salieri to Howe’s Mozart and is, by far, the most engrossing part of the book. The evidence of record strongly suggests that Bank’s was a chief architect of the Yes template and moreover, did quite a bit of writing that should have been credited. Banks claims credit for coming up with the name of the group “Yes“. Banks was a Who fan and lobbied for a name with the same simplicity and impact.  He also claims credit for writing the signature riff for “Roundabout”. Clearly the first two Yes albums bare his stamp. Similar accusations of riff pilfering were lodged by Patric Moraz some years later and lend credibility to Mr. Banks claims. tumblr_lzwwffstdU1r68xguo1_500 The tragedy and conflict of the story stems from Banks unwillingness to bend with the winds of change and ride out the “artistic differences” gracefully. He candidly portrays himself as an obstinate handful who over-estimated his value to the group.  His behavior during the “Time and A Word” sessions insured his dismissal. Hindsight tells us he should have made his contributions to “Time and A Word” and kept his yap shut. Later he grudgingly agreed with the mix of the record anyway. However, life “Post Yes” started promisingly for Banks. An enjoyable lost weekend with Bloodwin Pig and the initial success and professionalism of Flash must have given Peter Banks a feeling of place in the rock firmament. After all, Pete Townsend was a fan of his playing. Robert Fripp was a flat mate and he got a thumbs up from guitar’s chairman of the board Jimi Hendrix. For a fleeting time in the summer of his life, he was one of “the cats”. banksflash The chapters devoted to Flash are a fascinating peek into the margins of the progressive rock world shortly before the nuclear winter of punk. A group just this side of great doomed to repeat history rather than create it. The later chapters are gloomy and essential to the tale though difficult to read. There is no happy ending and closure is still pending. “Beyond and Before” is a single evening of ravenous reading for the YESophile and a necessary hole plugger for the slightly less committed. The sad irony is that this book has already fallen off the radar screen and will ultimately be as undervalued as Banks’ contributions to Yes music in particular and Progressive rock in general. He deserved better. peter-banks

Top 10 Countdown “The Singing Bassist” – # 3 (Geddy Lee)

Geddy Lee (Rush)

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Sometimes talent needs a little time in the bottle.  Exhibit A is Geddy Lee. Early in his career,  Geddy Lee troubled the world with his shrieking, ‘trannie witch of the north’ shtick.  However as time wore on, his voice calmed down and his bass playing developed by leaps and bounds. Lee added keyboards to his studio and onstage to-do list as well. A typical Rush concert will find Lee playing ridiculously complicated bass parts against Neal Peart’s ridiculously complicated drum parts while playing keyboards and bass pedals against his own lead vocal.  Lee carries the workload of three musicians and has led Rush to become one of the elite Progressive Rock units in history. They will be inducted into the R&R Hall of fame this year. An honor long overdue…

For some musicians, Rush falls into the category of guilty pleasure. I routinely find myself on the defensive in my circle of musician friends who still remember the band’s  more excessive and prosaic moments early in their career. However, Rush has compiled a body of quality work that is truly impressive and self evident. For that reason, I have chosen one of their more restrained and nuanced pieces, “Dreamline”. It’s a deep cut from their fine album “Roll The Bones”.  Bass purists will be happy to see that Lee is a “finger” player.  Lee also uses harmonizers to add an orchestral aspect to the Rush ‘power trio’ format.  If  your  wondering what the washing machines are all about, it’s interesting to note that Lee eschews onstage amplification in favor of direct input into the house P.A. The washing machines are just props to add some humor to Rush’s stage presentation.

Rare Birds – Top Five Pioneers of “Rock Violin”….# 1

Eddie Jobson

(Jethro Tull, Roxy Music, Frank Zappa, YES, UK, King Crimson, Curved Air)

Click here for #’s   2 3 4 5

If  Mozart were reincarnated as a rock musician he would most likely come back as Eddie Jobson. Like Mozart, Jobson was precociously talented on both keyboards and violin from an early age. He was the featured soloist at the age of seventeen for B-list proggers Curved Air before Roxy Music snapped him up and made him a star member ( at age eighteen) of their studio and touring band for the next three albums. Due in part to Jobson, Roxy became one of the biggest bands in Europe.  His trademarks were a decidedly androgynous sex appeal and a custom made see-through Plexiglas violin.  Onstage, Jobson brought a glammy, confident swagger that enhanced the appeal of the electric violin as a Rock instrument.  After Roxy Music, Jobson said thanks (but no thanks) to an offer from Procol Harum  and joined the finishing school that was Frank Zappa’s road band in 1976.  After Zappa, he then established his own brand as both electric violinist and world class multi-keyboardist in the progressive all star unit UK.  After three albums, UK folded.  Jobson remained in the Prog elite-league as a member of Jethro Tull and was breifly a member of the 1983 platinum version of YES; going as far as to appear in the video for “Owner Of A Lonely Heart” before ultimately turning down the gig. King Crimson fans can also enjoy his work on the live album “USA”, where he surrepetitiously replaced much of the violin work of previous bowsman David Cross.

Jobson’s first legendary burst of genius was his epic electric violin solo on Roxy’s “Out Of The Blue”. After all that had gone on before, this 1975 electric violin solo finally demonstrated -once and for all- the boner inducing potential of the instrument in a Rock context. Eddie’s solo comes at the end of this video and is worth the wait.