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Direct Link To This Post Topic: Rick Wakeman, August 2004
    Posted: August 22 2004 at 21:40

Dear Members and Visitors:

 

It is with an overwhelming sense of humility, privilege and honor that I present my interview with keyboard legend Rick Wakeman.  As you know, Mr. Wakeman is currently on tour with Yes (supported by Dream Theater), and is thus living a particularly hectic life right now.  It is therefore a measure of and testament to his character that he took the time out to engage in this interview.

As promised, I included questions from those of you who got them to me in time.  And Mr. Wakeman answered virtually every single part of every one of those questions – not to mentio n the many questions I asked, some of which required rather extensive answers.  Thus, I was amazed by the patience, thoughtfulness and honesty of his responses.

Progarchives will continue to try to provide interviews with people whom our members and visitors might be interested in hearing from.  However, I can think of few figures in prog-rock who are more legendary than Mr. Wakeman.  Therefore, without further ado, here is the Progarchives interview with Yes and solo keyboardist, Rick Wakeman

RICK WAKEMAN discography @ PROG ARCHIVES

-------------------

P:  Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background, especially musically.  For example, when did you start playing?  Composing?  Who were your favorite groups as a young adult? Who were your earliest influences as a pianist/keyboardist?  As a songwriter?  What were your earliest professional musical experiences?

A:  I was born in 1949 - which seems like a long time ago…Actually, it is a long time ago, when I think about it.  The family was very musical.  My dad was a piano player and my mum was a singer.  Purely amateur, but really good.  Sunday’s were musical evenings, as we didn’t have a television in the early fifties.  My uncle Stan would come over and play the ukulele as well.  I used to creep down the stairs to listen after I’d been put to bed.  I desperately wanted to play the piano like my dad, and when I was 5 he sent me off to piano lessons with a wonderful teacher called Mrs. Symes.  I stayed with her throughout my musical piano tuition.  She was a very special lady.  I loved playing, and I loved the way she cared about music.  I owe her so much.  I cried at her funeral after she’d died.  She introduced so many people to music - there should be a statue built to her!!!

As noted, I started playing at age 5.  But as the years went on, I started listening to the music of the day and, encouraged by my dad, played all kinds of music, from traditional jazz to pop and rock, as well as doing my classical training.  I played in pubs, clubs, I played in little dance bands.  I played at weddings and funerals, and even in a strip club.  (I enjoyed that job quite a lot.  I probably played more wrong notes there than anywhere else…)  This was great training for me: when I started doing sessions, I had a pretty rounded musical education.

Re composing, it is something you have to practice, and I started writing stuff as young as 12.  It wasn’t very good, but I thought it was at the time.  All my early attempts at writing helped me to slowly develop a style and a way of writing that worked within the way I was developing as a player.  It also teaches you that not everything you write can be good, and also that sometimes something that you like yourself very much might not be liked by anyone else – and that something you write that you may not think much of may well be a piece that captures the imagination of others.

As for my favorite groups, I listened to loads of people.  I liked the traditional jazz of Kenny Ball, the skiffle rock of Lonnie Donegan, the rawness of the Stones, the musicality of the Beatles, the production of Vanilla Fudge, and the soul of Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett.

My influences were really all classical.  Pianists such as Ashkenazy.  There were a few organists around.  Jimmy Smith was amazing, of course, and Booker T.  Dave Baby Cortez also played some decent Hammond.  As regards “new” players, at the time I liked what Jon Lord was doing with Purple.  A great and original Hammond player.  The album “Shades of Deep Purple” was quite ahead of its time in many ways.  The version of the Beatles’ “Help” on that album was really good.  Keith (Emerson) was also very original as a player.  And then the list starts to get thin on the ground.  There were lots of good players around, but keyboards were starting to evolve, and some players wanted to evolve with them and others wanted to stay Hammond-based.  I was one of those who was eager to be involved with the keyboard revolution.

As a songwriter, I  was influenced by David Bowie – a great writer.  A class above everybody in so many ways.  Lennon and McCartney, of course.  Class stuff.  David Cousins was my favorite lyricist.

My earliest professional musical experiences were really as a session player, and every day was an adventure.  Three sessions a day, every day, and you never knew who you would be working with until you arrived at the studio.  In one day you could be playing on a film in the morning, working with John Williams in the afternoon, and Black Sabbath in the evening.  A wonderful apprenticeship for any musician.  Working with the cream of session players and the top producers and engineers as well.  Every day was just fantastic.

P:  What were you doing (professionally) just before joining Yes?

A:  I was working with Strawbs and still doing sessions.  Strawbs and I have always remained great friends and, indeed, I did an album with Dave Cousins last year called “Hummingbird” which is a beautiful album, sounding almost like early Strawbs!

P:  Tell us about first joining Yes: when, where, how.  Who would you say were the bands or artists that influenced Yes during your first tenure?

A:  I joined Yes in July 1971.  I had heard Yes live, as Strawbs had supported them at a gig in Hull.  I thought they were amazing – incredibly different.  When they asked me to join, I said “no” initially, as I had decided to go back to just doing sessions.  But after going along to one rehearsal, I was sold instantly.  I wanted to add orchestral sounds in the keyboard department, and that’s exactly what Yes wanted.  A match made in Heaven!

Regarding influences, we all had different ones, which is probably why it worked.  Mine were mainly classical.  Everybody loved the Beatles.  Bill Bruford was very jazz-oriented.  We loved American production, which was light years ahead of the British scene at the time.  People like Frank Zappa were amazing for us Brits.

P:  With regard to Yes’ songwriting, how much was done "in studio" - i.e., as a result of "noodling," "jamming," etc. - and how much was "already written" when you went into the studio?

A:  Yes were always prepared before we went into the studio.  The studio is not the place to write.  You need to be 75% ready when you go into the studio, and then the music can develop to the next stage.  The studio is the end of the assembly line.  David Bowie taught me this.  It’s a lesson I never forgot and will be eternally grateful for.

P:  Many of our members are musicians, and many play in bands. Can you describe some of the keyboards and equipment you use in Yes - both past and present – as well as in your capacity as a solo artist?

A:  I have a pretty large collection of keyboards and tend to take out what I need according to the show or tour I’m doing.  I avoid preset sounds wherever possible, and all the sounds I use I have edited.  I get asked a lot “what preset” was that particular sound, “as we can’t find it on our keyboard?”  And the answer is…It’s not on your keyboard.  That’s the only way, along with style, that you can create individuality.

P:  Can you talk a bit about your departure from the band to pursue your solo work?  What were the circumstances under which you departed?

A:  I didn’t leave to pursue solo stuff.  I left because of “Tales From Topographic Oceans.”  I didn’t enjoy it, and found it difficult to contribute.  If you are in a band, you need to give as well as take, and I couldn’t give much to that album.  I didn’t like the way it was put together and recorded, and still don’t.  Each piece was adapted to fit on a side of an album, and that’s not the way to produce music.  I think if the CD had been around back then there would not have been a problem, as perhaps one track would have ended up 10 minutes, another 16 minutes, another 12 minutes, and perhaps one at 23 minutes.

P:  Was there any “tension,” or did your bandmates wish you success?

A:  To the best of my recollection, there was no animosity – certainly not from my part, anyway.

P:  Did you have any particular “goal(s)” in mind vis-à-vis a solo career, or were you simply looking to express things you could not express in the format of Yes?

A:  That’s about right, actually.  When you write something that’s not in the right style to “offer” to Yes, then what are you expected to do?  Throw it away?  I don’t think so!  Also, sometimes you write a piece that you don’t want dissected by a band.  We all feel like that, which is why now we all do solo projects.

P:  You have perhaps the most illustrious solo career of any prog artist.  In particular, your first three albums are especially beloved by prog fans everywhere.  I have noted in my own reviews of those albums that “Six Wives” gave you room to “play around” with all the various keyboards and sounds; “Journey” gave you an opportunity to incorporate those sounds and ideas with an orchestra and chorus; and “Myths and Legends” was the culmination of this process, resulting in the first and best album that perfectly and seamlessly blends rock band, orchestra and chorus.  How accurate is this?  Would you talk a little about these three albums, including your choice of the three “themes” involved?

A:  You’ve hit the nail on the head.  “Journey” was actually meant to be the first album, but I couldn’t afford to make it!  “Arthur” was really as much autobiographical as it was about Arthur: I was, in fact, Arthur in that music.  I wrote it all in a hospital on manuscript paper while recovering from a heart attack.  I had been told that I would not be able to work again, and if I did, my heart would give out.  Thankfully, they were wrong!!  But that was why the album turned out the way it did.

Re “themes,” it’s hard to talk about them.  They just appear.  I don’t know from where they come, and I never question that fact or look to where they come from.  I answered this question I suppose in an album I did recently called “Out There.”  It is about man’s quest for the origin of music.  Well…it’s my quest, anyway!!

P:  Can you talk a little about your solo career from “Myths” to the present?  How do you make the choices you make re themes, atmospheres, textures, etc.?  Are there any particular people-things-ideas that provide influence in your writing?

A:  I have done quite a diverse amount of music, and some were not always of my choosing – although I always give it my best professional attention.  I always learned from recording stuff I didn’t perhaps choose to do, such as the “new age” period.  I also have made albums that I knew would not be “successful,” but I had a need to do them, an example being “The Wizard and the Forest of All Dreams,” which is just me on piano and a beautiful choir.

P:  Now I’d like to present you with some questions from some of our members.

From Useful Idiot: Do you have a favorite solo album?  Are you planning to work with other musicians in the future?  Who are your favorite prog artists?

A:  If I really had to pick one, it would have to be “Return to the Centre of the Earth.”  This album nearly killed me – literally!!  It was a dream to make, but was made really at a time when this kind of album would always hit media brick walls.  And indeed it did!  We preformed it live once in Canada - in French – and will be doing it again in Canada next year.  Many albums have a soft spot in my heart for many reasons, and it truly is very difficult to really pick just one.

Regarding my favorite artists, I love Muse.  I think they’re sensational.  I have followed them since their first album.  I also like Tool, Air, Mars Volta, and Incubus.  There are some great players and musicians about who are not frightened of being themselves and standing up for their music, and that gives me a great feeling of confidence for the future.

From Certif1ed: When writing, do you prefer a “structured” approach (i.e., deciding on a “framework” before “filling in the gaps”), or do you “jam out” stuff and then put together sections that sound good together?

A:  I try not to think about how I write, to be honest, as writing can happen at any time – sitting on a plane, sitting on the toilet (most of that turns out to be not so good, though…), just practicing the piano – and something develops.  Visiting a country and seeing something that sparks something off.  Basically, there are no rules.

From Joren: Is it true that you consider “Tales From Topographic Oceans” “pretentious?”  If so, why?  And why “Tales” and not other Yes albums, such as “Close to the Edge?”

A:  “Close to the Edge” was well-prepared before we went into the studio.  We all understood where the music was going.  “Tales” was not.  We were unprepared when we went into the studio, and a lot of “padding” took place.  I am aware that “Tales” is an album that people either love dearly or hate passionately.  I can fully understand this.  I, however, am in the second category!!

From Richardh: What is the status of the Wakeman/Emerson project?  Has it been shelved, or is it still in the works?

A:  Well, it’s still on the shelf waiting to perhaps happen.  Keith and I regularly talk about it.  But the offers we’ve had to record have been nowhere near what would be necessary to produce the standard of end result that we would both want.  I suppose if that offer appears, we would be off and running.

From Jim Garten: Over the years, you have gone from using “classic” keyboards (Mellotron, Hammond, Moogs, analog synths) to top-of-the-line digital keyboards.  Does the equipment you use at a particular time affect the way you compose?  Also, in the early days of Yes, were you using a straight Hammond/Leslie combo, or was there some “technical jiggery-pokery” going on?

A:  Re equipment and composing, absolutely.  You work with what you know exists.  That really does make a difference.  There is no doubt that “Six Wives” sounds different today when I play tracks live than when I first started playing them back in the early seventies.  Re the Hammond, I never used a Leslie on stage.  I had my Hammond C3 adapted by Bob Moog and a man who worked with him named Greg Hockman, who added a custom-built phasing unit.

From Fitzcarraldo: How deeply did you research the various wives of Henry VIII?  It does not always seem that the character of the music “fits” with the character of the person.

A:  It was never meant to.  I always said that this was my vision of the wives in an abstract way.  I read numerous books – loads in fact – and, as I always do when recording a historical project, immersed myself into the subject matter.  I spent many hours at Henry’s old homes, such as Hampton Court, and visiting the Tower of London.  I read no other books during that period.

From James Lee: There seems to be a resurgence of analog synth sounds, especially in the dance-oriented community, and a resulting production of “virtual analog” digital synthesizers that try to emulate “classic” sounds.  Can you comment on this?

A:  What goes around comes around.  I think it’s because analog has become “new” to a lot of people.  It was discarded too quickly as the digital revolution happened.  Things are settling down now, and the musical instrument palette is now very full of color again.

Finally, from Gaston, dude and myself: Can you talk a bit about your faith, especially if and how it has affected your musical approach, composition, playing, etc.?  Has your faith had an effect on your career, either positive or negative?  Have you specifically incorporated your faith into any of your music?  If so, where?

A:  Hmmm….  My faith is very private to me.  It plays an important part in my life, but I do not try and throw my beliefs at others.  I have tremendous respect for all faiths and beliefs, but have a deep concern that religion and faith are currently a long way apart from each other.  I do performances in churches, and have written “Christian” music as well.  It’s very personal and special to me.

P:  Can you talk a bit about your return to Yes?  What were the circumstances under which you re-joined?  Was there any “tension,” or was it more like a “homecoming?”  How has the writing changed (if at all) between your first tenure and your second?

A:  Coming back to Yes is like never having left.  Even when I have not been in the band, I have always felt part of it.  It’s a spiritual thing, I suppose.  I can’t put my finger on exactly what it is.  The “circumstances” were that we all decided at the same time that we should be playing together with this line-up, and so it was easy.  A couple of phone calls between us all, and that was that.  There was never an ounce of tension, and there were no drums beating or parades when I walked into rehearsals.  It was a bit like I’d never gone away!  We played “Heart of the Sunrise” all the way through, and then went and had lunch!!  As for the writing, we actually haven’t done much writing since I’ve come back.  Jon and I have worked on some songs and material.  But it’s early days still…

P:  What is in the future re your solo career?  Are you working on anything now, or is there something in the pipeline?

A:  I’m always writing or playing because that is my life.  My life revolves around music and always will.  I need to be a part of music and not an observer.  When I die, I’ll probably climb out of the coffin and play the organ at my own funeral!!  I’m always working on new ideas and new projects, and 2005 will be a very busy year in many ways.  I have no idea really what the future holds exactly for me.  But I can say that, at this present moment in time, there is a surge of contentment, love and happiness flowing through my veins that hasn’t been around for a long, long time…and long may it last.

P:  Finally, our site defines “prog rock” broadly as “a style that combines rock, classical, psychedelic and literary elements.”  We also believe other important elements are: a certain approach to composition (i.e., more “scored” than “linear”), with what we call “evolving musical themes” (i.e., more “classical” in nature); use of non-standard and “shifting” time signatures; extensive use of keyboards, especially to add “texture” and “atmosphere”; use of non-standard instruments (especially percussives, strings and woodwinds); and, perhaps as important as anything else, a “conscious” use of the studio (i.e., production) as an important element in creating the music.  Would you comment on this?

A:  You’ve pretty well summed it up.  I always say that it’s about breaking the rules.  But the secret of breaking rules in a way that works is understanding what the rules are in the first place.

P:  Thank you so much for taking the time to do this!  It is truly a privilege and an honor.  On behalf of Progarchives, our members and myself, may your “surge of contentment, love and happiness” continue, and bring you further happiness and peace!

A:  All the best to Progarchives.  Rick.



Edited by [email protected]
Ian Alterman
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 23 2004 at 00:53
Great job Maani!  That was very interesting to read, and I thought you asked great questions.
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 23 2004 at 01:30
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 23 2004 at 08:10

GREAT GREAT GREAT job MAANI !

Encore, encore ...

Prog On !
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 23 2004 at 09:04

 

Great job, Maani... I only wish I hadn't been so shy not to send a question I had thought of at the time (There's a big presence of guitar parts in the 'Out There' album. Of course they don't eclipse your keyboard parts, but the guitar stuff is pretty noticeable. Was it something you had planned while writing the material, or it just turned out that way during rehearsals and recordings? --- that was the question).

What a great interview, indeed!   Next time I'll be more productive, I promise.

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Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 23 2004 at 11:43
Cudos to Rick and a big thanks to maani. Well done.
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 23 2004 at 12:00

Hey - I'm the one who should be thanking all of you for your trust, kindness and patience - not least of all Max, who has been unbelievably supportive, helpful and patient with me.

You can all give yourselves a huge round of applause and back-patting.

Peace.

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Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 23 2004 at 14:20

WOW- great job maani, RW sounds like a pretty well-adjusted guy, and quite in touch with what's going on these days (a TMV fan, who would have guessed?). I thought the bit about Bob Moog's phase mod was very interesting- I wonder if he still uses it.

In retrospect I wonder if he's happier doing interviews like this one rather than the more general music-mag stuff- our crew certainly has a different perspective on his work and history than, for instance, NME.

No comment about Mariah Carey?

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Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 23 2004 at 15:11

Wonderful stuff Maani, congratulations on an excellent, well balanced interview.Clap

Dare I ask, who's next?! Wink

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Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 23 2004 at 16:22
Originally posted by Easy Livin Easy Livin wrote:

Dare I ask, who's next?! Wink

 

WE WANT MARIAH CAREY

Prog On !
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 23 2004 at 16:56

Max,

I was talking about interviews though!LOLWinkLOL

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Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 23 2004 at 18:07

Excellent work Maani! Now I feel sorry I didn't place my question to Mr. Wakeman...  

Keep up the good work!  Congrats!

 

break the circle

reset my head

wake the sleepwalker

and i'll wake the dead
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 23 2004 at 18:11

Mariah will be thrilled when she finds out there's been an over 100 pages long thread on her at the Archives!

 

 

break the circle

reset my head

wake the sleepwalker

and i'll wake the dead
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 23 2004 at 18:42

This was absolutely incredible! Thanks Maani, you did a great job! Most of all, thanks so much for coming to share with us, Rick! I'll see you when I'm up front on the 30th in London, my home town! I can't wait!!!

 YAY!!! RICK WAKEMAN!!! WOOT!!!



Edited by Gaston


It's the same guy. Great minds think alike.
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 23 2004 at 21:27

All:

I gotta wonder what all of you would do if I really did get an interview with Mariah Carey?   Can't imagine what she could say that would have the slightest thing to do with prog...

Peace.

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Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 24 2004 at 08:30

WOW HAVING A QUESTION OF MINE(AS WELL AS MAANI AND GASTON)ASKED OF RICK WAKEMAN!!

ITS QUITE EXCITING REALLY!!

WELL DONE MAANI!!!

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Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 24 2004 at 15:20

Maani,

I guess the interview would go:

PA - Well Mariah, tell what you know about prog rock

MC - Nothing

PA - Thanks very much, fancy a drink, then back to my place?Wink

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Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 24 2004 at 15:50

Clap Another fine job, Maani!Clap

It must have been quite the honour!Cool

This interesting and insightful interview will really help me with my upcoming "Tales F.T.O." review -- Wakeman really helped to put that most controversial of Yes albums into perspective!Ermm

Again, a job well done! Prog Archives (progressively) rocks!Thumbs Up

Let the monkey drive.



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Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 24 2004 at 15:56


Top marks Maani for a great interview & top marks too to Mr Wakeman for well thought out & detailed answers.....

Now - is Bob Moog still alive, and can he adapt my organ?

Jon Lord 1941 - 2012
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 24 2004 at 16:00
That would be something like micro-surgery there Jim.  
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