January 31, 2017 – John Wetton (ASIA) was born on June 12, 1949 in Willington, Derbyshire, and grew up in the coastal city of Bournemouth, Dorset, England.
He first cut his musical teeth on church music at his family’s piano where he often played the bass parts to help his brother rehearse tunes for services….an experience that led to John’s love of the relationship between top line and bass melodies. It stayed a major feature of his music throughout his career. In his teens, John focused those melodies on the bass guitar and honed his skills by playing and singing with local bands. He also discovered a knack for songwriting with an early bandmate, Richard Palmer-James; a relationship that would continue to flourish through five decades.
John’s early work with a variety of bands (Splinter, Mogul Trash and Family) allowed him to show off his impressive bass talents, but did little to showcase his equally impressive singing and songwriting skills. Frustrated, John began to listen a bit closer to the sales pitch of an old friend, Robert Fripp, who set about to reform King Crimson in 1972. Wetton first came to rock fans’ attention when he joined a revamped King Crimson lineup, sticking with the group over a two-year span that included the records Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Starless and Bible Black and Red. This Crimson core of Wetton, Fripp, and Bill Bruford is often considered the “classic” line-up, releasing three studio albums, that truly stretched the band to its imaginative limits. But after a blistering show in New York’s Central Park in 1974, the band took what was supposed to be a hiatus, but sadly became permanent.
He then served stints with Roxy Music and Uriah Heep before co-founding U.K. with his engine room buddy Bill Bruford, as comments from fans and even the media proved to John that there could still be some life in the Wetton/Bruford rhythm section of King Crimson. A series of phone calls and meetings proved to be all the momentum needed in getting U.K. off the ground.
The line-up of Wetton, Bruford, Eddie Jobson, and guitar phenomenon Allan Holdsworth delivered a potent mix of jazzy fusion and progressive pop that brought great success, but also division in the band. After one album, Bruford and Holdsworth were out, and drummer Terry Bozzio in. This trio delivered one studio album and one live album before a demise similar to King Crimson….a hiatus that turned permanent.
At this point, John decided to turn his attentions to a solo career and entered the studio to record “Caught in the Crossfire,” an album that, in hindsight, shows a logical bridge from the music of U.K. to the eventual music of Asia. While most Wetton fans are now familiar with “Caught in the Crossfire,” not many people heard it in 1980. E.G. Records failed to give it the necessary promotion; a move EG blamed on John’s advancing age. He was 31 at the time…
Feeling it was time to clean house, John parted ways with his old management, publisher, and record company, and joined forces with Brian Lane, who had just ended a successful run with Yes. John had already started working with Atlantic Records’ A&R man John Kalodner, Kalodner was moving to the newly-formed Geffen Records, and wanted to assemble a group that would unleash a new sound across the musical landscape while preserving the finest elements of progressive rock. He found his dream line-up with Wetton, Geoff Downes, Steve Howe, and Emerson, Lake and Palmer drummer, Carl Palmer. Together they formed Asia — a so-called progressive rock supergroup, whose self-titled debut album topped the charts in the U.S. on its way to more than eight million in worldwide copy sales and the title of Billboard magazine’s No. 1 album of 1982.
This “fab four” of progressive pop would rule radio and record sales for a scant year and a half before losing Wetton in an unceremonious shake-up just weeks before MTV’s heavily-promoted Asia in Asia concert broadcast. (Wetton was fired from Asia at the insistence of Geffen Records, ostensibly because of less-than-expected sales of the Alpha (1983) album). Wetton was brought back to Asia in 1985, with Mandy Meyer replacing Steve Howe on lead guitar, to complete Astra (1985). The album showcased a few Wetton/Downes classics such as “Rock and Roll Dream” and “Go,” but the die had been cast, and the record company’s confidence translated into lack of promotion; loss of momentum equalled lost sales and a waning interest and Asia ultimately disbanded following 1985’s little-heard Astra LP.
By the end of the ‘80s however, interest in Asia reignited in Europe. John, who had been collaborating with ex-Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera, rejoined Carl Palmer, and eventually Geoff Downes, for a series of ASIA concerts that proved successful, but left John empty. To him, Asia was sounding tired and he was ready for a break. Further enticing him was a solo deal with Virgin Records. So, after wrapping up a South American tour in 1991, John temporarily bid adieu to Asia…at least that’s what he thought. (The word Hiatus was not used this time).
With renewed energy, John moved to California to focus on his solo career and began work on his “Voice Mail” album, the first album to really show off his talents for emotional, autobiographical material. Two songs from the album, “Hold Me Now” and “Battle Lines,” have become classics among Wetton fans. In fact, “Battle Lines” eventually replaced “Voice Mail” as the album’s title when British producer Bob Carruthers selected it as the theme for his film “Chasing the Deer.” To promote the album, John embarked on his first solo tour and later released a live CD called “Akustika.”
Returning to the studio in the mid 90s, John contributed tracks to tribute albums featuring the works of Jethro Tull, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, and Genesis. He furthered the link to Genesis by signing on with Steve Hackett for his “Genesis Revisited” project, which culminated in several highly successful live performances in Japan.
Continued autobiographical songwriting led to 1997’s “Arkangel” album, an emotionally gritty album that would add more staples (“Arkangel,” “Emma”) to John’s live solo performances. 2000’s “Sinister” album, also entitled “Welcome to Heaven,” finished the trilogy of solo offerings. He further promoted these albums with extensive tours of Europe, Japan, and South America.
Despite being left off the tour schedule, American fans had plenty to celebrate in 2002 with the first-ever John Wetton Fan Convention in suburban Allentown, PA. Hundreds filled a local venue to spend a weekend with John, his band, and Geoff Downes, who joined John for a gala Saturday night concert which marked the first time the two had shared a stage in more than ten years.
Fans delighted in a resurgence of the Wetton/Downes team when John returned to the studio to begin work on 2003’s “Rock of Faith.” Two new songs written by John and Geoff (“I’ve Come to Take You Home” and “I Lay Down”) created a buzz among fans hoping for an eventual reunion of the original Asia line-up. That buzz roared in 2005 with the release of “iCon,” an album of original music by Wetton and Downes that the duo followed with a number of live shows. Fans cheered the fact that Wetton sounded as good in person, if not better, than he did during the heyday of Asia.
With Wetton at the top of his game once again, imagine what it would sound like if Downes, Howe, and Palmer all joined in! It indeed happened in early 2006, as the four musicians responsible for Billboard’s Number One Album of 1982 sat down in a London hotel and began the groundwork for a worldwide reunion tour. After a media blitz across the US, the tour kicked off in Rochester, NY in August of 2006. Fans quickly snapped up tickets as more and more dates were added.
Several months into the reunion tour, Asia and its fans were stunned to learn that John Wetton needed emergency heart surgery. During his hospital stay in London, worried fans flooded the switchboard with calls about his progress. Thankfully, John made a remarkably quick recovery and, after a few short weeks of resting at home, Asia returned to the road.
“I accept the fact that I might not be here tomorrow, but having said that, having come through it you feel great,” Wetton said after his heart surgery. “It gave me a completely new outlook on life, that it could all end tonight while I’m asleep, so let’s make the most of today. Let’s make the most of now.”
During this same time, John and Geoff released the second of their iCon albums, “Rubicon.” The historical meaning of the title was not lost on the musicians or their fans, as the songs reflected John and Geoff’s personal and professional decisions to sever restrictive ties of the past and forge a positive new outlook. As Asia set out on a much-anticipated second year of touring, fans demanded more. They wanted to hear what would happen if Wetton, Downes, Howe and Palmer sat down in a studio and created a new album. Fans got their wish as the band retreated to the studios at Liscombe Park and got to work on “Phoenix.” The appropriately titled project was an incredibly balanced one, fully showcasing the writing and playing of each band member. John’s thoughtful reflections on his health crisis and his healthy resurgence colored many of the lyrics on the album.
Asia wrapped up months of touring in the spring of 2008 with a series of shows in Eastern Europe, leaving John and Geoff with time to craft their third iCon album. The Phoenix tour resulted in the Live CD/DVD “Spirit of the Night”. A track from that album, An Extraordinary Life, was also selected as the theme to America’s Got Talent.
The band’s success continued with the recording of the second album of their reunion, Omega. The subsequent World Tour resulted in the release of “Resonance” which captured a live performance in Switzerland.
Wetton returned to his solo career in 2011 to record Raised in Captivity, an album of new compositions with Billy Sherwood. A band was formed to tour the UK and Japan, playing music from the new album and a career spanning back catalogue. Wetton’s other ventures during this period included the reunion of UK with Eddie Jobson and guest appearances for Cleopatra Records.
In 2012, ASIA returned to the studio to record XXX, proving that a reunion can last longer than first time around. The album cover shows the ASIA dragon 30 years later and was supported by another World Tour, taking in America, Europe and Japan.
In 2013, Steve Howe announced he was leaving ASIA and Wetton was instrumental in selecting new guitarist, Sam Coulson, to join the band. The band planned to record a new studio album, Valkyrie, which was released as Gravitas in 2014.
In 2016 Wetton went public with his colon cancer diagnosis, which forced him to pull out of Asia’s scheduled tour dates with Journey so he could undergo chemotherapy, which sadly did not turn out to heal him.
John Wetton, the bassist and singer for Asia, as well as a former member of King Crimson and U.K., died on January 31, 2017 at the age of 67, after a battle with colon cancer.
“With the passing of my good friend and musical collaborator, John Wetton, the world loses yet another musical giant,” wrote Asia drummer Carl Palmer in a statement. “John was a gentle person who created some of the most lasting melodies and lyrics in modern popular music. As a musician, he was both brave and innovative, with a voice that took the music of Asia to the top of the charts around the world. His ability to triumph over alcohol abuse made him an inspiration to many who have also fought that battle. For those of us who knew him and worked with him, his valiant struggle against cancer was a further inspiration. I will miss his talent, his sense of humor and his infectious smile.
May you ride easy, my old friend.”
“He will be remembered as one of the world’s finest musical talents, and I for one of many was wholly blessed by his influence,” added Downes in a lengthy post. “It was a massive privilege for me to have worked with this genius so closely on our numerous projects together over the years. His bass playing was revolutionary. His voice was from the gods. His compositions — out of this world. His sense of melody and harmony — unreal. He was literally a ‘special one.'”
In the short term, Wetton is scheduled to be replaced for the Journey tour by Yes veteran Billy Sherwood; over the long term, Downes has signaled a determination to continue Asia in honor of his longtime partner. “It is the end of an era for all of us,” he wrote. “But we will soldier on — the music of John Wetton needs to be heard loud and clear from the rooftops.”
AN EXTRAORDINARY LIFE
AN INTERACTIVE CELEBRATION
OF THE LIFE & MUSIC OF JOHN WETTON
JUNE 17, 2017 AT THE BERGEN PERFORMING ARTS CENTER
ASIA and their fans will pay tribute in a special concert to the late singer / songwriter, John Wetton, who spearheaded the legendary British band. The event is called “An Extraordinary Life” and will be a fully interactive celebration whereby fans can contribute to the remembrances of the acclaimed musician. It will be held on Saturday, June 17th at the Bergen Performing Arts Center in Englewood, NJ.
John Wetton, who was the lead vocalist, bassist and co-writer with the iconic group, lost his brave fight against cancer on 31st January 2017, just as the band was about to embark on a four month tour as special guests of Journey, recreating the days when both bands were world best sellers.
“An Extraordinary Life”, a reference to one of the band’s most popular songs, will pay tribute to John. Special guest Billy Sherwood of YES is filling in as bassist and vocalist. Also appearing will be current ASIA members Carl Palmer, Geoff Downes, and Sam Coulson. The group will do a full set of ASIA music, as well as some of the best loved songs from the members’ previous super-groups, bands such as King Crimson; YES; The Buggles; and Emerson, Lake & Palmer.
In addition to the ASIA performance, the evening will be highlighted with rare video clips of John and the band, historical footage and fan remembrances of John and his music. ASIA fans will be encouraged to send in written or video accounts of their love of the music and the man behind much of it. Still photos of fans with John are also welcomed and will be projected onto the screen. Fans who send media to the band in advance will be balloted to share memories on the evening.