'We look at the entire career': Steve Howe says Yes' repertoire has expanded without Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman

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Former members Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman don’t fit into the current configuration of Yes, guitarist Steve Howe says, because they wouldn’t commit to playing the group’s entire repertoire.

Yes, Howe says in a new interview with Jeb Wright of Classic Rock Revisited, is focused now on delving into songs from throughout its lengthy history — “from 1968 to 2012.”

That plays out in a set list that has included songs from periods in which current members were not in the band — notably “Owner of a Lonely Heart,” the band’s lone charttopping hit, which didn’t feature Howe — as well as deep cuts from lesser-known albums, like “Awaken” from 1977’s Going for the One.

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: In a talk with our Nick DeRiso, bassist Chris Squire discusses the immediate impact that new lead singer Jon Davison has made since joining Yes.]

Howe joined Yes in in time for The Yes Album, taking over for original guitarist Peter Banks after the group had issued both its self-titled debut in 1969 and Time and a Word in ’70 — though Howe actually appeared on that album cover, anyway. Anderson, meanwhile, was a member of the band from its inception through 1980, returned in 1983 and then left again in 2008. Wakeman joined in 1971, and ended up having five separate stints in Yes, yet another illustration of the revolving nature of this legendary progressive rock band’s lineups.

Anderson and Wakeman have toured and recorded together over the past couple of years. Yes, meanwhile, continues today with only bassist Chris Squire from its original configuration. The group’s keyboardist and vocalist are Geoff Downes, who appeared on 1980’s Drama, and Jon Davison of the American prog-rock group Glass Hammer. Alan White, the former Plastic Ono Band member who took over for Bill Bruford in 1972, remains in the drum chair.

Each of them has the same marching orders, Howe tells Wright: “You’ve got to be able to provide the full story. … Everybody in this group needs to accept that we look at the entire career of this group. We don’t just look at little pockets when certain people were in the group — we don’t do that anymore. We look at the group as a whole.”

He makes it clear that, in his view, Anderson and Wakeman didn’t want to do that: “It is not about Jon and Rick now. It is about who can do these tours and who can perform the repertoire from 1968 to 2012. If you can do that then you have an opportunity to be in Yes. I’m not going to say Rick and Jon can’t do that. I will say that I don’t think that is what they want to do. But that is what Yes demands. We want artists who can come in and perform with an open heart right across the board. I guess that is the key to it.”

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Here’s a look back at our recent thoughts on Yes. Click through the headlines for more …

ONE TRACK MIND: YES CO-FOUNDER CHRIS SQUIRE ON “FLY FROM HERE,” “LIFE WITHIN A DAY,” “TEMPUS FUGIT,” OTHERS: Find out what sparked Yes to return to the long-form compositional style of its glory years on 2011’s Fly From Here, and how a failed early 1980s project with Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page ultimately led to the inclusion a Squire-sung track on 2001’s Magnification. Squire also talks about the difficulties of returning to music in concert from the underrated Drama album, and how he came to work with Genesis alum Steve Hackett as part of the newly christened Squackett project.

JON ANDERSON AND RICK WAKEMAN: THE LIVING TREE IN CONCERT: PART ONE (2011): Anyone expecting the cosmic prog-rock journeys of this duo’s work as members of Yes must have been a little disappointed — and not just with the spare instrumentation. More striking than the lean, guitar-free musical structures was how intimate, even grounded this concert performance was. If anything, though, this album speaks to both the individual trials and the shared will to overcome for both singer Jon Anderson and keyboardist Rick Wakeman. Each has had to grapple against some terrifying health problems, even as Yes continued on without them.

YES – FLY FROM HERE (2011): This album is, in many ways, better than it has any right to be. The band even attempts something it hadn’t in decades — a multi-part thematic suite, and to great effect. As always, bassist Chris Squire and drummer Alan White are compact and versatile, expertly facilitating complicated journeys like “Fly From Here Part III: Madman at the Screens,” which switches back and forth from a crunchy stomp to soaring ambiance. And the new singer acquits himself well.

SOMETHING ELSE! FEATURED ARTIST: YES: We dig back into deep cuts and favorites from Fragile, Relayer, Drama, and 90125 — including “South Side of the Sky,” highlighted by “Chris Squire’s gurgling bassline. Listen closely: Bill Bruford is also mesmerizing behind the drums. It seems simple but it gathers steam as the song wears on, packing in more twists and turns than seems necessary and yet seems perfectly sensible. Rick Wakeman compliments all of this with organ and, in the breakdown, a beautifully elegant piano line. On top of it all, Jon Anderson’s airy vocals narrate a polar expedition gone tragically wrong.”

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