JUNE 1, 1984
By Robin Tolleson
Chances are we'd all have survived this far into 1984 even if Yes hadn't
made its dramatic rise from the ashes of rock's touring heaps. There'd have
been another million-seller, another worthy band to pull itself from the La
Brea Tar Pits and finally get its reward for all the years of writing,
recording, touring, writing, recording ... But we also would have missed
out on some of the year's freshest, most un-dinosaur-like music.
For the 90125 album's stunning blend of pop, synthetics, fusion and
classical music, we have to thank the band who helped pioneer the art-rock
movement in the late '60s. Yes' story begins in 1968, when singer Jon
Anderson heard that Sly Stone had failed to appear at a London showcase
club date. Anderson got his band the gig, their first well-attended,
well-publicized date. The original Yes, Anderson, bassist Chris Squire,
organist Tony Kaye, drummer Bill Bruford and guitarist Peter Banks, got
rave reviews in Europe, and released three now-classic Yes LPs: Yes, Time
And A Word, and The Yes Album.
Guitarist Steve Howe replaced Peter Banks and, when Tony Kaye left to start
Badger, the charismatic Rick Wakeman took over on keyboards. With this new
lineup, Yes released Fragile and Close To The Edge (1971-72), successfully
reaching American audiences and becoming a superstar act.
Yet the band's followup efforts began to draw harsh criticisms, as songs
became longer and longer and personnel changes threatened the group's sense
of continuity. Drummer Bill Bruford left to join King Crimson prior to the
recording of Tales of Topographic Oceans, a four-song double LP which was
attacked for its lengthiness, Anderson's quasi-mystical lyrics and the
band's expanded instrumental flights which some considered self-indulgent.
"I left at the point where the group was starting to record 20-minute
tunes," Bruford said in 1981. "I knew they were going to start making
double albums and triple albums, you know. And I thought, Hang on, hang on.
This is all getting a bit too. . .' It was right at that time where
musicians were being encouraged to go further and further into the cosmos.
They went too far I think."
Vocalist Anderson has a different outlook on the group's early material.
"Close To The Edge, Topographic Oceans, nobody else did that. I'm very
proud of it," he says. "I can be proud of it now, you see, because things
are going so well."
Keyboardist Wakeman left the band before the Relayer album (1974), replaced
by Patrick Moraz. Alan White, a veteran session drummer (Plastic Ono Band,
Joe Cocker, George Harrison, Ginger Baker's Airforce) took over Bruford's
drum chores. Wakeman returned to record Going For The One and Tormato
(1977-78), albums that featured shorter, more to-the-point material and
provided hope for Yes diehards.
But the Tormato album proved uneventful, and Wakeman and vocalist Anderson
decided to move on. "It wasn't a good vehicle anymore," says the singer.
"The engine was running out of energy all the time."
To the surprise of many, the group reformed with ex-Buggles vocalist Trevor
Horn (who would later produce 90125) and keyboardist Geoff Downes. The
Drama album, complete with the Yes-trademark Roger Dean album cover, was a
critical flop that was signaled as the final curtain for the Yes machine.
So what's a band with a foot-and-a-half in the grave doing with a hit album
three years later? Well, there's persistence, a respected name, a hungry
public, musically elastic group members, and a new guitarist whose
composing, arranging, performing and producing talents were enough to get
the Yes machine revved up again.
Yes should consider itself fortunate to have landed Trevor Rabin, who had
turned down the offer to join Asia on the basis of it being "dinosaur
music." "Granted, Asia had come out with an album and been very successful
with it," says Rabin, "but I wanted to do something that was a little bit
new and different, at the risk of possibly not being commercial. This band
was into the same thing, and that's what drew me to them."
Rabin, originally from South Africa, was among rock's best kept secrets,
with three solo albums on Chrysalis and several production credits. But the
LA-based guitarist was becoming known inside the industry, and already had
another album's worth of strong material ready to record (much of which
made up the basis of 90125). When Yes bassist Chris Squire called him about
putting a band together, Rabin flew to London and rehearsed with Squier and
drummer Alan White, who were Yes' rhythm section since 1973. Soon they
called in original keyboardist Tony Kaye, who hadn't played with the group
for over a decade.
'' The band was going to be called 'Cinema,' '' says Rabin. "I was going to
sing and Chris was going to do a lot of backing vocals. We went into the
studio under that banner, and three-quarters of the way through the album
we thought it would be a great idea to get Jon to come in and sing on one
or two songs."
''Chris rang me and said, 'I'd like you to listen to this music with a view
of maybe performing on it,'" recalls Anderson. "I enjoyed it very much, and
I told him if I sang on it it would sound like Yes.
"He said, 'Of course.'
"The rhythm section was very strong,'' the vocalist continues," and Tony
Kaye and Trevor Rabin got their heads together and played some very good
electronic keyboards. I actually got turned off to guitar playing a few
years ago, but Trevor's guitar playing has a very singing kind of style,
and I really got off on that. I said, 'Hey, yeah, it's a good band'."
"He sang on a couple of tracks," says Rabin, "and we thought, 'God, it fits
so well. Let's get him to sing on a lot of the others.' Then it became
apparent that the band should be called 'Yes.' Although I had written a lot
of the material, it still seemed to have the Yes stamp on it, because the
rest of the band is Yes and Jon's voice is very distinctive.''
''Initially a lot of the basic ideas and songs came from Trevor," says
keyboardist Kaye, whose frosty white hair and black leather give him one of
rock's more dashing and distinguished looks. "Chris also had some material,
and we wrote some together. We went into rehearsal and kind of mish-mashed
them around. We knew we wanted it to sound new, sound fresh. Wanted it to
sound more English than the versions of Yes that had come out through the
"There were very exciting things going on in England musically,'' Kaye
continues. "The TV is full of young music. There's a fresh vibe over there,
so l guess we were caught up a bit in that and wanted to keep it fresh."
Yes certainly risked losing that freshness, having spent nearly a year
working in six different studios. But their material escaped with a biting
edge along with the studio magic. "You've got to get a balance," says Kaye.
"We try to play everything live. Recording these days has become very
technical, and even if you're recording a heavy metal band you can be very
technical about it, as in the case of Def Leppard where it was very
synthesized. We didn't want to do that, although a couple of tracks ended
up being meticulously recorded from the ground up."
"It's a very fine line, because you can be polishing the vase while the
building's falling down," says Rabin. "You've got to be careful that you
don't do things for the wrong reasons, because you could be there for ten
"I think Chris and Trevor especially love the studio," says Jon Anderson.
"I personally don't like it. I used to, but at this moment in time I cannot
really hang around a studio. Playing live is just ten times more
phenomenal. That's why I wanted to get on the road, because I felt I had a
certain energy that was not being used. I just wanted to get up there on
stage. It's an incredible time and it's a great vehicle, the reforming of
Anderson walks around the empty Cow Palace with his hands stuffed into the
pockets of his knee-length overcoat. He's got a scarf wrapped around his
neck, and every so often he lets fly with a clear high single note,
"Honey and lemon," he says. "My life revolves around honey and lemon, and
making sure I don't get cold."
Anderson has always been seen as the mystical voice behind Yes, the
Iyricist and visionary. The angelic boy soprano. He's actually a
self-trained singer who got to where he is by "just slogging, singing
everywhere and every song that I could get into. That's training. That
really trains your voice. I'm just about happy with it now. I think I have
a strong quality in my voice."
Anderson describes his early years with Yes: "In the first three or four
years of the band's existence I was just in there playing with these
marvelous musicians, thinking, 'Well, they actually listen to what I've got
to say, which is great. I can motivate them. But one day I've got to learn
music.' And I did."
The vocalist made his first solo album, Olias of Sunhillow in 1976.
"Actually what I did was fill this room full of equipment and a 24-track,
and learn in six months how to write, record and play music. That album is
just me on my own. It was a great schooling. Since then I've gotten to know
a lot more about the approach to structuring music. I've learned to write
music, not that I do much of it, but I know what it is. It was always a
baffling thing for me, being a farmboy."
Anderson began working with composer Vangelis (who wrote the score to the
film Chariots of Fire) after leaving Yes in 1978. He released a second solo
album in 1980 called Song Of Seven. Itching to get back on the road, he
hooked up with multi-instrumentalist David Sancious in 1981, and recorded
an album called Animation with help from musicians like Clem Clempson and
Simon Phillips. "I thought maybe l should get out on the road, 'cause Yes
wasn't out there anymore," Anderson says. "I thought, 'Well, I'll fly the
Yes flag a bit. I'll go out and do a little Vangelis bit, a little
Animation bit, a little Yes. Let people know that I'm not letting go.'
That's what that tour was all about." Anderson was working on another
project with Vangelis when Squire called him about joining the current Yes.
Anderson has children aged 14, 12 and 4 now, and they are a good gauge of
who Yes is speaking to. "When my kids like it, everything is cool," he
says. "But they're very critical. They don't pretend. And I think that's
what Yes gets out there. We don't have kids coming to pretend. You know,
'Ok, we'll like Devo for about ten minutes, and then we'll like Alice
Cooper for about five minutes,' this kind of scene . I don' t believe in
that. I'd rather have a crowd kind of like a flower garden, nurture them,
come and see them every year."
"Yes has always had a fairly intellectual, mostly male hippie audience in
the past, and that has changed drastically," says Tony Kaye. "The hit
single gave us a new young audience, a much bigger audience than Yes had before.
"I think maybe people want to listen to something with a little more
substance," he continues. "We're trying to do something different, and
whether you're punk inclined or whether you're an old Yes hippie it doesn't
really matter, you're going to dig it."
Half of the Yes 1984 tour show was the new album, and half old Yes classics
like "Yours Is No Disgrace," "I've Seen All Good People," "And You And I,"
"Roundabout," and "Starship Trooper." "We picked the good old songs, and we
try to do them as today as possible. The new stuff is more snappy and maybe
pop-y and shorter."
Shorter for Yes means they're finally getting them down to five or six minutes.
"Well, not exactly three minutes," Kaye says. "We even extend 'Owner Of A
Lonely Heart' on stage, in the Yes tradition."
Kaye's experience playing longer compositions dates back to being taught
piano by his grandmother, a concert pianist. He played festivals and showed
aspirations of following in her footsteps, training to go to the Royal
School of Music in London. "When the time came I decided not to go," Kaye
says. "I was plaving jazz and a bit of rock and roll. I was playing
traditional jazz clarinet. I started playing with rock and roll bands, and
I was into Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley by that time. I realized that
I wanted to be a rock and roll keyboard player by the time I was 17 and 18."
When Kaye was with the original Yes band in the late '60s, he relied mainly
on one keyboard, the organ. Today with Yes he works with one of the most
sophisticated keyboard setups touring. "I use basically two systems," he
says. "A lot of the Fairlight stuff that was done on the album is being
played on a Yamaha DX-7. We have what we call the Oberheim system, and the
Yamaha system. They are MIDI interfaced with a lot of other keyboards that
are backstage. You only see two keyboards onstage, but they're driving a
lot of different synthesizers. And a mixture of analog and digital
synthesizers mixed together so that we've got quite a different sound,
really. And I'm using Emulator, Kawai grand piano, and a Korg hammond, a
Korg organ. The synthesizers are programmed so we've got multi-layered
multi-tracked sounds. So it's given us a lot of scope, and we can put all
kinds of different sounds in so that you don't get that really kind of
boring synthesizer sound that doesn't really please me too much."
If you listen closely to "Owner of a Lonely Heart,'' you may realize that
what sounds like horn punches are actually vocalist Jon Anderson. "We put
the voice through a kind of electronic gadget which makes it sound like a
trumpet," says the singer. "The voice is a very capable instrument. It can
do a lot of things. These days you can get the kind of effect that makes it
sound like a double bass. You sing into it, and all of a sudden you don't
know if it's you or the double bass. "
Trevor Rabin plays a normal Fender Stratocaster with a DiMarzio pickup. "I
also have a pedalboard built by Pete Cornish of London, who's excellent,"
Rabin says. "He has buffer amplifiers between each stage. It's mostly MXR
equipment in there. Then I have a rack backstage with various effects, an
MXR reverb unit, delay unit and pitch transposer. That's basically it, and
then that goes through a Marshall 50. That's what is miked up and that's
what I monitor from. On Chris' side of the stage, his guitar monitor, we
have a Marshall 100 which is slaved to where it's a double lead. One goes
into my 50, one goes into his 100, and that goes to Chris' side of the
stage. So he has a much cleaner sound.
"Chris' pedalboard was made by another guy in London. And it's all
programmable, so you can put fuzz, echo and flange on one pedal, go to the
next pedal and something else is programmed on that. He goes through a
Marshall 100, and I think we're still using Crowns to slave it through. The
main thing is, the PA system we have crosses over at 30 cycles on the bass
bins, so you've got all this power coming from the bass bins."
Squire, now 35, is the only Yes member to appear on all fifteen of the
group's albums, and his trebley, crackling bass sound has long been one of
the group's trademark sounds. He is still using a Rickenbacker bass most of
the time. He has recently begun playing a couple of numbers with a green
custom-made bass that is as outrageous with its body design as the
tattered, feathery full-length coat Squire wears during the show.
The 90125 tour is Rabin's first of America. The guitarist, whose boyish
good looks bring to mind Paul McCartney, admits to only the slightest bit
of nervousness in stepping into the Yes spotlight. "I was curious as to
what the reception would be, but my sentiments have been from the beginning
on that if there's a couple of guys who really wanted to see Yes as it was,
I wasn't going to let that affect me. I get up there and enjoy myself. If
people like it, great, if they don't, I've done my best. So far, so good.
"One thing I never wanted to do was just get on stage and play Steve Howe
licks," Rabin continues. "I have a Gibson 175 at home, but I certainly
wasn't going to go on the road with the Steve Howe guitar. I was going to
change the guitar arrangements and put my style into it. Otherwise there
would be no point. I'm not interested in filling someone's shoes. And the
great thing was that the rest of the band was really into it and said, 'You
can change what you like.'
"I've kept some of the Steve Howe licks, I've just put a different sound to
them. If the song is written and there's a melody that is essential to the
song, why change it for the sake of change? I've changed a lot, but a lot
is still there. I try to put a different sound to it. I also play it all on
one guitar as opposed to tons of different guitars all night. Steve used to
play a 12-string on certain songs. I get that feeling from effects and try
to modernize it without having to go to a 12-string. I'm trying to get that
effect with a bit extra on it.''
Yes is benefiting not only from Rabin's guitar, keyboard and vocal talents,
but his ability as a producer. Listen to the dynamic effects he achieved
with drums on "Owner of a Lonely Heart" and "Leave It," where they would
one second sound enormous and the next be completcly out of earshot. "There
would be a part where the drums had a big fill, then the guitar started a
part," Rabin says. "And in between the drum and the guitar we would cut out
the tape there, actually cut it out. There was nothing happening there, it
was just blank tape. But there was overhang and ambience and that, so we
put a piece of leader tape in. Not only was there no music in it, there was
no hiss or anything, because there was no tape. So you get that kind of
disappearing of sound. Production-wise, I'm really into the shifts of dimension."
"The fills on 'Owner' are played on a Fairlight, but they're kind of my
drums on a Fairlight," explains Alan White. "And then we use the drums off
a record too and actually put them on a Fairlight, so the sound got really
digital. That's what made them sound like they're coming out of a
megaphone. And then we recorded the rest of the kit in a very small studio
with the snare drum tuned up to high C, which is a very different kind of
sound. And it worked for the track.
"'Leave It' itself was a song we did backwards. We put the drums on last.
We did all the vocals first. We were forced into doing that because we were
in a studio that didn't have a very good drum sound and stuck with two
weeks of time. We put 27 vocals down, then played the drums to it, then
once the drums were down they put the guitars on. It's the modern way of
recording," White laughs. (Yes released an acapella version of "Leave It"
on the flip side of the single version that will attest to those 27 vocal tracks.)
White endorses Ludwig drums and Zildjian cymbals. He has also added a few
Simmons drums to his arsenal. "I'm into playing the acoustic drums,
basically. I use the Simmons drums just as an added dynamic to the drums,
and I don't like playing them totally by themselves.
"I have a digital delay line that I use on my snare onstage,'' the drummer
continues. "I have an Echotron, where I give my toms some echo during
certain parts of the show. I do licks and I have an echo so it bounces
around and makes some interesting kinds of breaks. I have a whole
electronic patch bay under there that does quite a few things if I want it
to. It's like the drummer is as electronic as some of the guitarists
nowadays. We all have our own racks with effects in them."
White sounds pleased talking about computers and patch bays, and he's got
every right to be. After weathering the storm with Yes, going through some
lean years, he's once again riding a winner.
"We're all really glad that it's been successful," he says. "It's the first
number one the band's ever had, and basically there's just a good feeling
in the band right now. We're going to make quite a few more albums, keeping
on in this vein."
"When we started this thing we didn't know it was going to be big like
this," says Anderson. "We didn't think about things like that. It's just
energy. You've got to get your energy out, play your licks. Get onstage,
enjoy it, make some noise.
"The basic thing about Yes is to keep on being in Yes. We're lucky because
we're playing for 10,000 people tonight. So there's going to be 10,000
people that are as high as me."
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