Original Yes guitarist Peter Banks (1947-2013): An Appreciation

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Peter Banks, original guitarist for progressive rock legends Yes, has passed away, confirms former band member Billy Sherwood. Banks, 65, played on the first two albums by Yes, suggested the name and even created the band’s first logo. He was the initial Yes member to be fired, starting a long string of ugly departures, and he is now the first to pass.

“As a Yes fan, this is sad news indeed,” Sherwood said, via Facebook. “It was an honor to work with Peter on many productions. He will be missed.”

Banks was part of both Yes’ 1969 eponymous debut and the 1970 follow up Time and a Word, having first played with stalwart bassist Chris Squire when they were in the Syn — a precursor to Yes, it turns out, in more ways than one.

“When I joined Syn I inherited the Rickenbacker which belonged to the previous guitar player, John Painter,” Banks once said. “I remember feeling bad about that and it was a bit strange. I actually went to see some Syn gigs with John Painter playing that Rickenbacker guitar and then they got rid of him and I came in. Other bands would do the same thing, particularly Yes, they’ve kind of used people and then when they’d found somebody better they would just say: ‘OK, we’re getting rid of you.'”

Banks would split with Yes just before its breakthrough release, 1971’s The Yes Album, replaced by Steve Howe. Banks later formed Flash (which briefly featured former Yes bandmate Tony Kaye), issuing three albums under that moniker through 1973.

By then, Banks had moved on to a jazz-rock outfit called Zox and the Radar Boys, which featured Phil Collins of Genesis. Banks’ debut as a leader, called Two Sides of Peter Banks, included Collins, John Wetton (Asia, King Crimson) and Steve Hackett (Genesis, GTR). Banks would eventually issue five solo albums, with the latest being 1999’s Can I Play You Something — which focused on pre-Yes recordings from 1964 through 1968, including music from the Syn and even an early version of the Yes track “Beyond and Before.”

More recently, Banks collaborated on recordings by Billy James’ ANT-BEE, published his autobiography Beyond and Before via Golden Treasures with an assist from James, and appeared on a series of Cleopatra Records releases including the Sherwood-produced The Prog Collective and Songs of the Century: An All-Star Tribute to Supertramp, as well as Who Are You: An All-Star Tribute To The Who.

In a way, those cover songs hearkened back to Yes’ earliest days with Banks, when they were scraping by at local bars like London’s Marquee Club — long before the term “progressive rock” had come into vogue.

“Some journalist popped in with that name,” Banks once said. “Although we certainly grabbed on to that title: ‘O.K., we’re “progressive,” O.K., that’s what we are.’ I always liked the idea about Yes because it was about breaking boundaries and we thought that we could do anything we wanted — particularly covering other people’s material. We would take something that may not seem like such a good idea but make it sound really cool and really hip. And no bands do that now; I don’t understand why.”

The guitarist’s appearance on the forthcoming Prog Collective 2 project, also produced by 1990s-era Yes member Sherwood, will apparently be the guitarist’s final studio session. Banks was at work on a long-awaited live recording called Flash: In Public for Cleopatra at the time of his passing.

Besides Banks, Yes has had some 17 other regular contributors over the years.

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