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John Wetton, discusses a brief history of prog-rock

What's an alumni? Is that what silver foil is made of? No, you buffoon - this is where you post about ex-members of the band.

John Wetton, discusses a brief history of prog-rock

Postby jtmack on Sun Jun 10, 2007 11:57 pm

The boys are back in town
Asia (John Wetton, Steve Howe, Carl Palmer, and Geoff Downes) will be kicking off their summer 2007 reunion tour with an opening gig at the Van Wezel in Sarasota this Wednesday. Of course you remember Asia: Heat of the Moment, the ever-hummable metal rocker from 1982 is immediately recognizable to anyone who owned a radio or watched MTV in the 80s.

Howe is normally the guitarist for Yes (who are still together in an on-and-off again sort of way). Palmer is THE Palmer in Emerson, Lake & Palmer, the mad drummer who was the first prog-rocker to use a drum cage, both as an instrument collection and as a musical weapon of mass destruction. Downes would be one half of The Buggles and would play a brief stint in Yes during one of their more curious and inventive phases, this during the creation of the Drama album.

But it's John Wetton (Wetton's official site) that interests me the most. He is one of my guitar gods and I have been an unabashed fan for over 30 years. So when an unexpected opportunity to interview him came my way courtesy of a friend of mine from my radio days (thank you, Anne Leighton), I jumped at the chance.

My first memory of Wetton's music was when I picked up a copy of Lark's Tongue's in Aspic by King Crimson shortly after it was released in 1973. To a teenage ear, the album was mind-numbing -- adventurous, exotic, extremely dense with packed notes and strange rhythms, and wildly different than anything else anyone had ever thought of recording.

original music video for Heat of the Moment by Asia (1982)

Easy Money, from Lark's Tongues in Aspic -- Wetton on lead vocal in a rough rare live clip of King Crimson; Central Park, NYC, in June of 1973

I immediately despised it.

But I only owned two or three dozen albums at the time, so I ended up coming back to it again and again. And at some point in time, the light went on and I understood what it was that these guys were doing. I was hooked and became a King Crimson fan for life.

Holding things together vocally on the album was a raspy, dangerous sounding lead singer/bass player named John Wetton. Although King Crimson was Robert Fripp and anyone Fripp had around him at the time, Wetton became the front man and voice of Crimson until their untimely demise just a few years later. While Robert Fripp would bring the name King Crimson out of the mothballs nearly a decade later with an entirely new band that continues to morph and record to this day, it was the three studio albums with Wetton that would forever define the band.

Wetton would go on to different, if not greater, fame in Bryan Ferry's Roxy Music, Uriah Heep, and the short-lived jazz/rock/synth band, U.K. Finally, in the early 1980s, Wetton hit his stride in the British super-group, Asia, and the rest is well-known prog-rock history.

Lesser known, though, is some of the session work that paid the bills at the beginning of his career, like his appearance on Peter Banks' now-legendary album, Two Sides of Peter Banks, and the George Martin-produced Christian-rock album by Larry Norman, Only Visiting This Planet. That last-mentioned album would single-handedly launch an entire gospel music industry in America based on an electric guitar instead of a southern gospel quartet. The album would remain largely ignored in Britain where it was recorded.

Then a few years ago, Wetton released a beautiful and yet painful autobiographical album, Rock of Faith. The entire album is angst-ladened, a tale of a man at a spiritual breaking point who somehow finds the faith that he never knew about and the strength to pick himself back up from emotional wreckage. Listening to Rock of Faith for the first time immediately made me remember that Wetton had sessioned with Larry Norman all those years ago on an album that centered around the same strength from nearly the same emotional and spiritual wreckage.

So, when given the chance to interview Wetton about his upcoming reunion tour with his bandmates in Asia, I had to ask about these two albums, especially as I had never read any interviews over the years where Wetton talked about the Larry Norman sessions.

Bear in mind: in 1990, CCM magazine (the main industry periodical for gospel music) had named Only Visiting This Planet as the number 1 album of their 100 best Christian albums of all time. For Wetton, the album was paid session work and he knew very little about Norman. It would be years before he understood the historical significance of being included in those sessions.

Most of the serious questions about Wetton and his history in prog rock have been answered over the years in numerous interviews and music articles, and we touch on those during the interview, but I really didn't want to spend a lot of time treading the same tedious ground that has been tread and retread before. You can find out most of the stuff just by Googling his name.

I've never read anywhere the one minor bit of esoterica that I have been somewhat curious about: how the hell did he end up in George Martin's studio during the recording of one of the greatest gospel records ever made? What caused that bizarre and major career swerve? It's a minor mystery as mysteries go, but one I've been mildly curious about for years.

The answer turned out to be remarkably simple and, now that I know the answer, should have been obvious.

That said, I am looking forward to hearing the song Starless sung live by the same voice that sang it originally on King Crimson's Red album some years ago. Sometimes life is a circle.

As I write this, tickets are still available for Wednesday's show. If you're a fan of rock music or an amateur musicologist, this is a show not to miss.

Here's the link
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Postby jtmack on Mon Jun 11, 2007 12:20 am

Oh, I almost forgot here's a link for the audio interview with John Wetton!
TCA eat your heart out man! :twisted:
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Postby MarkSullivan on Mon Jun 11, 2007 3:57 pm

Hmm, I was hoping for a transcription...if you listen to this, please post your impressions to help me decide if it's worth the time. Interesting coincidence that the story comes from Venice, Florida. My folks retired there, so I visit regularly. Nice place, but I don't think of it as a prog-rock center (or a Christian rock center, either).
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