A day after the 2014 inductees to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame were
announced last month, Rick Wakeman sounded every bit the country gentleman he is
– except when talking about the hall of fame. Yes, the British progressive rock
band that he was an integral member of during their most creative and successful
period in the early 1970s, had been on the ballot for the first time but had
failed to make the final cut. Wakeman wasn’t surprised by the news.
think the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame has totally ignored certain genres of
music, progressive rock being one of them,” said the 64-year-old keyboard
virtuoso from his home in Norfolk in eastern England.
“That sort of says
to me that the artists that get in are the ones that the people who decide like,
rather than more objective criteria. If it was going to be fair, bands like Yes
and Deep Purple [also nominated but snubbed] would already be in.”
been to the hall of fame in Cleveland many times, and I go around there and sort
of scratch my head sometimes trying to understand how some of the artists got in
there. It doesn’t surprise me that Yes didn’t get in, and I very much doubt that
Yes will get in there in the future.”
And even if they do, Wakeman
adamantly stated he would have no interest in attending the induction ceremony –
not because of any conflict with his former band mates but as a general
statement about the selection process.
“I have great reservations about
how artists get into the hall of fame. Yes should have gotten on their first
year of eligibility [1989 – 20 years after the release of their eponymous debut
album]. So I wouldn’t go to an induction ceremony in the future on
Along with bands like King Crimson, Emerson, Lake and Palmer,
Pink Floyd and Genesis, Yes was at the forefront of prog-rock in the late 1960s
and early ‘70s – the criteria was longer, multi-passage songs, symphonic and
classical influences, expansive instrumentals and fantasy-like lyrics that
expanded the boundaries of rock & roll in a new direction. Fans considered
it mind-blowing and detractors labeled it pompous and
Wakeman – both in his work with Yes on FM rock late-night
staples like “Roundabout”, “Your Move” and “Close to the Edge,” and as a solo
artist, twirling around in a cape surrounded by a battery of keyboards creating
epic albums like The Six Wives of Henry VIII and Journey to the Center of the
Earth – could cover both sides of the spectrum, sometimes within the same
“It was a wonderful time, because it was a creative time,” said
Wakeman. “People sometimes ask me why there were so many great albums in the
late ‘60s and early ‘70s and the answer is that we were left alone to
“The record companies and the managers didn’t tell us what or how
to record or demand a three-minute single. Instead, they just said – ‘deliver
the album, we’re excited to hear it and when we hear it, we’ll work out how to
get people to listen to it.’ And the DJs at the rock radio stations at the time
could play whatever they wanted and weren’t stuck in a playlist. So we were left
alone to make the music we wanted to make. That’s why there were so many iconic
bands and albums from that era.”
Wakeman was well poised to join the mix,
growing up with an equal dose of classical and pop influences.
raised learning classical piano and attended the Royal College of Music where he
studied the piano, clarinet and orchestration.
“It was music I loved
dearly. But at the same time, I was brought up in the ‘50s and ‘60s, a time of
musical revolution,” said Wakeman. “And I listened to it all, from skiffle to
rock & roll. And in the late ‘60s, I discovered bands like the Velvet
Underground and the Vanilla Fudge in America, and I loved all that soul music
from Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett and Sam & Dave.”
The fateful event
that provided the final push into the rock world for Wakeman occurred in 1968
when a friend invited him to a recording studio to back a soul singer named
Jimmy Thomas, who had been a vocalist in the Ike and Tina Turner
“It was my first session and it took place at Olympic Studios in
London,” he recalled. “I sat at the organ and basically played the only way I
knew how to play, which was in a classical vein. After we finished, the
producers – Denny Cordell and Tony Visconti – called me into the control
“‘We want to talk about your playing,’ they said. And I started to
say, ‘I’m really sorry, I don’t play like Booker T and I probably shouldn’t have
been asked to do this session. And they answered just the opposite – ‘you keep
playing exactly the way you’re playing now.
You’ll probably find in a few
years’ time that everyone is copying you.’” Cordell and Visconti invited Wakeman
back to the studio the next day, and soon he was being offered session work with
everyone from Marc Bolan and T Rex to Black Sabbath.
changed my life,” he said. “I went to speak to my clarinet professor at the
Royal College and told him ‘I don’t know what to do – I have all these doors
opening to go play pop music.’ And he said simply, ‘go. You’ve finished the
studying, now go enjoy music.’ So it was his advice that set me out on the
course and provided me with the experience that I’ve been lucky enough to
Wakeman went on to perform on such lasting records as David
Bowie’s “Space Oddity” and “Changes” and Cat Stevens’ baroque hit “Morning Has
He joined the folk rock band The Strawbs in 1969 and stayed with
them through 1971 and three albums. During that time, another life changing
event occurred – Wakeman discovered the mini-Moog synthesizer.
changed everything for keyboard players – it certainly changed my world,” said
“Until Bob Moog built the synthesizer, keyboard players were
limited onstage to organ and electric pianos.
You couldn’t get much
volume out of them compared to guitars. So when you had a solo, the band had to
reduce its volume to a whisper while you did the best you could, and the
guitarist would stand over on the side with a smirk.”
“Then the mini-Moog
came along, with a sound that could cut through concrete. And suddenly we could
be louder than the lead guitarists – and they hated us for it,” he added with a
Wakeman brought his mini-moog to Yes in 1971, replacing Tony
Kaye in the original lineup, and his playing created another ‘lead’ instrument
on “Fragile,” “Close to the Edge” and the live Yes songs, which established the
band as the prog-rockers’ prototype.
During that run, he launched his
solo career with Henry VIII in 1973 and Journey the following year. By the time
he left Yes in 1974, he was the most famous rock keyboardist on the planet and
1975’s Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table took his
classical-rock mutation to its outer limits.
Over 30 years later, and a
host of albums, Yes reunions including the Fragile lineup from 2002 and 2004,
and side careers as a TV personality and author, Wakeman has toned down the
And his upcoming show on January 20 at the Reading
Club in Tel Aviv will feature him at the acoustic piano performing tunes from
Yes and his solo endeavors and telling stories about them.
this a few times and it’s really great fun,” he said. “Everything I’ve ever
written has been on the piano – that was advice from Bowie who said, ‘if it
works on the piano, it will work on anything.’ So it’s wonderful to take the
pieces back to the way they were at the time of their birth.
I tell some ridiculously stupid stories of how some of the pieces came about,
and other bits and pieces of what’s happened to me over the years.
writer in England wrote, ‘It doesn’t seem that anything normal ever happened to
Rick – it’s always something really bizarre and funny.’ So, I’ll tell some of
those stories too. It’s like having everybody in your front room sitting around
The intimate setting and scaled-down music will surely have
fans saying ‘yes,’ even if the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame says no.