Rock music legend John Wetton sadly passed away in the early hours of Tuesday 31st January 2017, after a long and courageous battle against colon cancer.
The prog phenomenon provided his vocals and bass to King Crimson from 1972-74, appearing on three highly acclaimed albums, "Larks’ Tongues in Aspic", "Starless and Bible Black" and "Red". From there he moved on
to Uriah Heep, where he contributed bass, mellotron and vocals to 1975’s "Return to Fantasy" and 1976’s "High and Mighty". He also played with Roxy Music and Bryan Ferry on solo albums and tours. He created U.K. in 1978 with Eddie Jobson (Roxy
Music), Bill Bruford (King Crimson/Genesis) and Alan Holdsworth (Soft Machine, Gong). The ensemble was very successful, especially given the jazz-prog-rock music. However, the band only lasted two studio albums and one live album. In 1978, after the demise
of U.K., John joined Wishbone Ash on "Number The Brave" replacing Martin Turner, who had just left the band, contributing one song, That’s that, to the almost finished album.
song of his did not make it to the album, because it was rejected by the band. Here comes the feeling was later recorded by his new band, Asia, and would eventually sell millions. Asia included apart from John, Carl Palmer and initially Rick Wakeman and the
unknown South African Trevor Rabin, later of Yes fame. But the latter two had to skip out due to contracts with other record companies. Hence the recruitment of Steve Howe and Geoff Downes. This line-up is the embodiment of the phenomenon surpergroup, with
ex-members of Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Yes and King Crimson. Their debut album, the eponymous "Asia", sold millions of copies worldwide, containing several solid hit singles. Incidentally, with Asia, so called ‘arena rock’ was invented. John
stayed with Asia for only three albums, due to the fact that the last album "Astra" was a commercial flop. After that Wetton started a highly successful solo career with albums like "Caught in the Crossfire", "Battlelines", “Arkangel”, "Rock of
Faith" and "Raised in Captivity".
He always managed to get great musicians to accompany him on his solo work, like i.e. old friend Robert Fripp. He toured with Steve Hackett during
his Genesis Revisited Tour (I) and did a remarkable job on Firth of Fifth and the subsequent DVD which was eventually released. He would later join Steve’s band again on various Genesis Revisited tours. By that time, however, Asia reformed with the original
line-up: John, Carl, Geoff and Steve recorded their appropriately titled "Phoenix" album in 2008. However, the songs were no longer arena material by that time. Nothing wrong with that, mind you. In 2011 he was invited by Eddie Jobson to do a U.K. farewell
tour, which brought them more or less all over the world. Coincidentally, the U.K. special Xtra tour box was just released last year.
But now I'm gutted. My hero is not here anymore,
I saw him perform live a couple of times, and even had a drink with him when he was doing one of his many solo and acoustic shows in Holland (Alphen aan de Rijn to be exact). He stepped in for Johnny Guitar Watson, who just died, unannounced on the The Hague
Park Pop Festival the 30th of June 1996. I was lucky enough to be present and enjoyed the master with his band which included John Jowitt & Martin Orford from IQ. He was even playing on an event for TV and hifi stuff in Rotterdam, not his regular crowd,
apart from us, maybe 10 persons were listening. So there you go... a performer who wants to perform, regardless. I am so glad to have met him (briefly) and ever so happy to have known his music.
How peculiar, an artist who, at one time or another, has managed to be a member of some of my all-time favourite bands: from King Crimson via U.K., Asia, Roxy Music, Wishbone Ash to Steve Hackett. No coincidence, and I am sure it isn’t. An excellent
bass player with a wonderful and highly recognizable rock voice who also excelled at writing of sharp, compact rock songs. For the latter Asia was of course the perfect vehicle. The band was mainly formed as a counterpart to the lengthy music pieces for which
the previous bands of the Individual members were known for. Which immediately explains some of the key success factors of this band, at the beginning of the 80’s. The same goes for a large part of his solo pieces as well as the work he produced together
with fellow Asia buddy Geoff Downes in Icon.
Next to his driving but often melodic basslines, especially his unique voice made quite an impression. Especially during solo- and acoustic
performances his talent was surfacing. One of these performances, as support act for Canadian band Saga in Paradiso in 1996, is still very clear in my mind. With only his voice, accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, he managed to silence and captivate the
audience who had clearly come to see the main act. With amazing renditions of Starless, the Night Watch, Rendez Vous 6:02, Heat of the Moment, Battle Lines and other songs from his extensive catalogue, songs which don’t sound the same without his vocals.
That distinctive, melodic baritone voice from his heydays, capable of effortlessly reaching the higher regions, we will miss him.
Once again an icon slips away from us, the world
of music in general and the progressive rock in particular has taken quite some hits the past few years. Talking about bass players alone we lost the likes of Chris Squire and Greg Lake during roughly a year and a half. And unfortunately, we know it's not
the end; our heroes have, almost without exception, reached the dangerous age. Let's hope we won’t be shaken up by another loss for some time. After previously having encountered serious heart problems, a struggle with colon cancer has become the cause
of the death of the legendary singer/bassist at the age of 67. Recent photos of his caused for a startling response by the fans, he didn’t look a shadow of the man he used to be.
Wetton is survived by his wife Lisa, whom he recently married, 18-year-old son Dylan, brother Robert and mother Peggy. John will be sadly missed by everyone who loved him and enjoyed his musicianship.
I lay down, and then I close my eyes
Call your name, and whisper 'let it be'
I lay down, and when I close my eyes
Then I feel you lying next to me
I Lay Down (from
“Rock Of Faith”)
Text: Alex Driessen & Frans Verweij © 2017
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