'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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  • Anthony

    LOL! I wonder how Steve Howe would react if the others decided they’d like to play more songs from the Rabin-era. How long did he try to avoid playing “Owner of a lonely heart”, and now he’s blaming Jon & Rick. Hypocrite! No Jon, no Yes!

    • Ron S.

      Every time I’ve read comments made by Howe (and we’re talking about going back to the mid ’80s) he always comes across as an asshole. When I read that he has said some other stupid thing, I think “isn’t he dead yet?!??”). I’d rather Gary Moore were still alive, not this dickweed. Howe’s greatest attribute is his self-importance.

      The question is “Howe” has he avoided being assassinated?

  • michael

    Steve might be slightly correct in indicating that Jon and Rick are more reluctant to play stuff they did not cooperate on. However did Steve himself not boycott most of the Rabin-songs for play on stage ? It remains a fact that Jon aswell as Rick stand out in making solo-records aswell as contributing with other artists and no record of Steve , Alan or Chris will ever come close to Jon or Rick. Steve might forget that Rick and especially Jon was a major factor in delivering ideas to the group and it remains to be seen if Jon Davison can do the same. It’s not because Fly from here is a rather good album that the following one will be as good or better. I sincerely hope that Steve or Chris will not get in any situation where health will be an issue, because then they will realise that this comes first , even before Yes.

  • As a long-long-time Yes-music aficiando since Fragile, CTTC and TFTO days…seeing them on-tour in America and Japan…as well as actually meeting and hanging with Jon, Chris, Alan and Patrick over the years…I’m dismayed at Steve’s seemingly aloof and callous remarks. It appears that Yes…in its throes of a geriatric autumn of its lifespan as a band…has finally become less of the truly aesthetic collaboration we knew them as in their heyday of the ’70s…to that merely of a business venture to fund existing bandmember retirements. How Steve and Chris allegedly just jettisoned Jon out of the band several years ago due to his respiratory illnesses speaks volumes. Yes…times are tough for all of us. Even Yes, I guess. (It’s sad.)

  • Steve Becker

    So if Trevor Horn wishes to come back and take over the vocals, as he did for Drama, would Steve kick the current karaoke singer to the curb? I for one, however, am glad that Steve refused to play the dreck from the Trevor Rabin catalog – there isn’t a worse period in their history than when he was contributing. Talk is one album I actually threw in the trash due to his overwhelmingly dragging the band down to his level. As for the band as currently constituted, I call this version “NO” because it certainly isn’t Yes.

  • Yes Tor

    I would like to take Steve at his word and see Yes finally include in their set-list “Release, Release”, written almost single-handedly by Alan White. This song is found on the Tormato album. IMHO this song is one of the most over-looked gems never to have been played live since the original tour. This song is hard-edged, catchy, and well crafted. It provides a great balance of instrumentation from all the members. The omission of this song from their play list for all these years is a prime example of what Steve is talking about here.

    At some point Yes had stopped being a progressive band. What utter disappointment it was upon their final tour of the Classic Lineup in the mid 2000 decade involving Jon, Rick, Steve, Chris, and Alan that there was no NEW material written, recorded, no new cd produced. When I spoke with Rick about this following one of the shows on that tour his reply really stunned me. He said that the money nowadays is in touring and not in the sales of a new album. (In Rick’s defense I believe he was more or less parroting what their management had likely stated to them, for indeed the music industry as a whole now is more about money than music, as has been seen in countless examples with other artists.) I just left it there in our conversation. But in my mind I thought what a pity to have not written and released new material during that time period where they were all together again. On the verge of the next tour, when Jon got sick, Rick had already officially left the band again. I thought to myself, “How is this tour going to go, yet again playing all old music, no new material, and no Rick?” Is this what Yes had become? An “oldies” act? More about money than music?

    As a long-time fan I have appreciated new material from Yes no matter who is in the band, for whomever was in the band at that time, they represented Yes, and they were moving forward expanding the catalog and putting new creativity forward through composition. As much as I would be thrilled to see the Classic Yes Lineup once again, I would much favor seeing an alternative Yes Lineup that is truly Progressive and writing new material, rather than seeing the Classic Lineup playing the live oldies circuit with no new material. If that means that new material will consist of Jon Davidson writing and performing with Steve, Chris, Geoff, and Alan, then so be it. If that means that new material will come from a collaboration of Jon, Rick, and Trevor, then so be it. For this Yes fan, the Yes I love is that band that is going out there defying the expectations of its own fans, critics, and even its own members (TFTO was highly controversial in that respect, yet stands as one of the jewels in their catalog). There are so many examples where they have defied their own conventions, yet created new material: Relayer, Drama, 90125, Union, Talk, The Ladder, the list goes on and on). Long live all the members of Yes! May we be lucky enough to see 2 new releases from their members in 2013! Long live Progressive music!

    p.s. Please don’t hate! This is one fan’s opinion.

    • collyman

      Very nicely put. As a lifelong fan I agree completely, and I also think that there are gems of songs on every album. It’s not as easy to write great music the older you get…… I try to listen to everything they have written and I really appreciate the great works they have given us.

  • Dr. Howard

    I have fond memories of Yes of yore.. I have been immensely inspired by these blokes.. I can no longer bear to see them live or really listen to anything beyond Drama..
    I’m not into the ‘oldies’ circuit BS and let’s face it; we’re all getting a little older and a little slower… Progressive music exists in small subterranean pockets, but mostly in vinyl from 1969-1979ish… Music Lovers – keep your ears cleaned and open! 🙂

    • Nick DeRiso

      You should seek out Steven Wilson. He exists in a world that’s very much above terra firma.

  • Larry Schachter

    Two points bear mentioning. 1) It appears from the photo that Steve finally got his teeth fixed, and 2) the one song from the “magic” Yes Album/Fragile/CTTE era that has never been played live (to my recollection) is A Venture….

  • Zardoc54

    Just not the same YES that I new and loved all of my life.

  • Yes Fan

    I have always felt that the members of Yes should be willing to play the music from any era/album that bears the name of Yes…and the same goes for any band that has line-up changes. So, I do agree with Steve in this regard. But I doubt that Steve is willing to play more than just Owner. In the same way that I found Jon’s reluctance to play Drama material…I always was dissapointed in Steve’s reluctane to play music from the Rabin era. Will we see the band ever play Changes….Leave it or Shoot High/Aim Low? I doubt it…

  • Alan Kelly

    There’s so much that can be said about this situation with Yes. All of this is my opinion: 1) I agree Steve is being a hypocrite when it comes to the music. I don’t believe he’d be so quick to play Rabin-era music. 2) Those currently in Yes want to tour & tour hard. The years are passing by and they have to make sure their retirement is secure. Jon is not able to keep such an arduous pace now. 3) I saw Yes in 2011 and was disgusted. ****ed! They hurried stage & played the same music they’ve played a decent set-list but the music was bland and the stage presence was boring with no added nuances to the show whatsoever. Jon wouldn’t have allowed that to happen. I opted out of 2012’s concert with no remorse. 4) Without Jon, Tales, Relayer, GFTO, etc wouldn’t exist. Is Yes Yes without Jon? No!


    Olias Plays while I write this…. Time was when Jon was the driving force,,, Mr. Howe You speak of “The Band as a whole”…. Please allow me to quote Howard Stern who told Jon ” Those guys have made enough money on Your talent!” I have to believe it was no difficult task following Jon’s inspiration for 40 years…. I hope You listen to Your own conscience not Chris’…. Thank You Pure Jon….. Pure Zen…… Pure Yes….

  • David W

    I have read Steve’s comments about Jon and Rick. I have heard Yes play Awaken WITH Jon. I have read his comments about Peter Gabriel and comparing Yes and Genesis. After Peter left Genesis became by all intents and purposes a POP band. And as far as I am concerned they lost ail creativity when they did that. Fly From Here sounds like the 80’s concept album of Trevor Horn’s solo work. There is no YES in that composition whatsoever. I love all era’s of YES with the exception of this decade’s one album. I think they have removed the Artistic and creative elements out of the band and are looking to make it to their 50th years and make as much money as they can so they can retire from playing anything. Jon sounds as good as he ever has and I think Chris and Steve forgot why they all joined together in the first place.