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John Kenneth Wetton
12 June 1949
Willington, Derbyshire, England
|Died||31 January 2017 (aged 67)|
|Occupation||Singer-songwriter, musician, producer|
|Genres||Progressive rock, hard rock, pop rock, jazz fusion, classic rock, AOR|
|Instruments||Vocals, bass guitar, guitar, keyboards|
|Labels||E.G., Atlantic Records, Geffen, Universal Records, Island, Eagle, Avalon, EMI, King Records, Frontiers|
|Associated acts||Mogul Thrash, Family, King Crimson, Roxy Music, Uriah Heep, U.K., Wishbone Ash, Asia, Renaissance, Qango, Brian Eno|
John Kenneth Wetton (12 June 1949 – 31 January 2017) was an English singer, bassist, guitarist, and songwriter. He was born in Willington, Derbyshire, and grew up in Bournemouth, Dorset. Between 1972- 1982, he rose to fame fronting the bands King Crimson, U.K. and Asia. Notable work as a bass guitarist and backing vocalist included brief stints with Family, Roxy Music, Uriah Heep and Wishbone Ash.
Following his time with Uriah Heep, Wetton formed U.K., and later — after a brief stint in Wishbone Ash — he was the frontman and principal songwriter of the supergroup Asia, which proved to be his biggest commercial success. Their eponymous debut album sold ten million copies worldwide, and was Billboard magazine's No. 1 album of 1982. He later formed the duo Icon with his Asia band mate (and primary songwriting partner) Geoff Downes, and from the 1990s had a successful solo career, releasing several studio and live albums.
Wetton's early career was as an in-demand bassist, and throughout his life he played bass with many members of the 1970s progressive rock scene, including Yes (Steve Howe, Bill Bruford, Alan White, Billy Sherwood, Peter Banks), Roxy Music (Bryan Ferry, Phil Manzanera) and Genesis (Steve Hackett).
Wetton was born near Derby but grew up in Bournemouth, where he attended Bournemouth School. His older brother was a classical organist and choirmaster, and while practising organ would have John play the bass parts on a piano, since their home organ did not have a pedalboard. Wetton recalled that during these practices, "I got to like bass lines, because Bach bass lines are incredibly interesting. So I thought, this is good, I like bass lines, that's me." Though an enthusiast of classical music since childhood, he opted to go into rock and roll instead in order to avoid being compared to his brother. He played bass and sang in a number of early bands with Richard Palmer-James, including The Corvettes, The Palmer-James Group, Tetrad, and Ginger Man. A key early band was the jazzy Mogul Thrash; after live work with Renaissance, he joined Family and also did various recording sessions.
Wetton's big break came when his fellow Dorset native Robert Fripp invited him to join King Crimson in late 1972. This incarnation of the band also included violinist David Cross, former Yes drummer Bill Bruford, and percussionist Jamie Muir. His time in the band would allow Wetton to come into his own as a lead singer and writer. Wetton's old friend Richard Palmer-James also worked with the band as their primary lyricist. Wetton remained with the band until Fripp unexpectedly disbanded it in 1974. King Crimson maintained their interest in improvisation throughout this period, but moved away from the classical, jazz and English folk leanings of their earlier work. The 1972-1974 period featured a more aggressive fusion/avant-rock sound, led by Wetton's thunderous, melodic bass lines- whose "roaring and crunching" sound (enhanced with effects pedals and a rotating Leslie speaker cabinet traditionally used with a Hammond Organ)- often verged on heavy metal. Fripp once compared playing onstage with Wetton and drummer Bill Bruford to working with "a flying brick wall".
After the dissolution of King Crimson, Wetton continued to work on various projects, including a tour with Roxy Music and two albums with Uriah Heep. While still with King Crimson, Wetton had been asked by Roxy Music to "sit in" on their auditions for a replacement bass player and give his recommendations; dissatisfied with all the applicants, he offered to do the 1975 tour with the group himself so as to give them time to find a good bassist. In 1977, after failed attempts to reunite King Crimson and to create a new band with Rick Wakeman, Wetton formed U.K. with his King Crimson rhythm section partner Bill Bruford. Wetton recruited Roxy Music keyboardist/violinist Eddie Jobson, while Bruford brought in innovative guitarist Allan Holdsworth from his solo group. U.K. adopted a more composition-driven approach than King Crimson, per Wetton's preference.
After the break-up of U.K., Wetton released his first solo album, Caught in the Crossfire (1980). Later that year he had a brief stint in Wishbone Ash, appearing on their album Number the Brave (1981). In late 1981 he had a meeting with Geffen Records' boss John Kalodner who took him to task for playing bass in Bryan Ferry's backing band, feeling he should be fronting a group himself. At Kalodner's insistence, Wetton started writing with former Yes guitarist Steve Howe, with a view to forming their own band. Joined by keyboardist Geoff Downes, and drummer Carl Palmer (of Emerson, Lake & Palmer), this band would become Asia, and they produced one of the largest selling albums of the 1980s. Their self-titled debut album "Asia" sold over 10 million copies worldwide, making the band a household name across the globe. John worked with Asia until 1983. In that year, Wetton was fired from Asia (at the insistence of Geffen Records) for then unknown reasons, but at least in part due to lower-than-expected sales of the Alpha (1983) album. He returned to Asia in 1985 (with Mandy Meyer replacing Steve Howe on guitar) to complete Astra (1985).
In the late 1980s, a collaboration between Wetton and Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera was released as Wetton/Manzanera (1986). Around this time, Wetton began working with Geoff Downes and Carl Palmer to restart Asia. Some of the material they recorded was featured on 1990's Then & Now CD, including a radio hit in "Days Like These."
The 1990s saw Wetton mostly focusing on his solo career. In 1999, an aborted attempt to reform Asia resulted in Wetton and Carl Palmer forming a short-lived progressive group dubbed Qango with John Young and Dave Kilminster. Qango performed several shows in the UK, and recorded a live album, Live in the Hood, before disbanding.
In the early 2000s, Wetton reunited with Geoff Downes for Icon. In 2006, a reunion of the original Asia line-up (Wetton, Downes, Howe, Palmer) finally occurred. A studio album titled Phoenix (2008), the original band's first since 1983's Alpha, was released in April 2008 and peaked at No. 73 on the Billboard 200 albums chart in the United States. The original line-up released two more studio albums, Omega (2010) and XXX (2012) before Howe departed in January 2013 to focus on Yes. With new guitarist Sam Coulson, Asia released Gravitas in March of 2014.
In 2013, he guested on the album Grandine il vento with Renaissance, with whom he had played live 42 years before. That same year, he toured with American Idol finalist Leslie Hunt's Chicago-based band District 97 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the King Crimson album Larks' Tongues In Aspic.
Wetton died in his sleep from complications of colorectal cancer at the Macmillan Unit at Christchurch Hospital in Christchurch, Dorset, on 31 January 2017. He was survived by his wife Lisa, son Dylan, brother Robert and mother Margaret (Peggy).
Geoff Downes stated:
It is with great sadness and a heavy heart, that I have to report we have lost my dearest friend, brother, bandmate and long term musical collaborator [...] 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 [...] Life will not be the same without him. And words are not really enough to describe the loss I feel right now.
Billy Sherwood, who was Wetton's producer, co-songwriter and co-performer on his solo album Raised in Captivity, replaced him in Asia. On June 17, 2017, Asia performed a special concert in Wetton's memory, titled An Extraordinary Life (full title: An Extraordinary Life - An Interactive Celebration of the Life & Music of John Wetton), in reference to the eponymous song from the Asia album Phoenix; Fan submitted performances were shown on a large video screen above the stage. This included a rendition of the Alpha track "Never in a Million Years", which was performed by the New Jersey-based tribute band The Aurora Project. Some King Crimson songs were also performed at the event.
Asteroid 72802 Wetton, discovered by Marc Buie at Kitt Peak National Observatory in 2001, was named in his memory. The official naming citation was published by the Minor Planet Center on 18 May 2019 (M.P.C. 114955).
Artists who have cited Wetton as an influence, or have expressed their admiration for him, include Billy Sheehan, Juan Alderete of The Mars Volta and Racer X, Michael Sweet of Stryper, Ron Anderson, and Joseph D. Rowland of Pallbearer. Following Wetton's death, Eric Clapton published a short instrumental tribute entitled, "For John W."
- Mogul Thrash (1971)
- Gordon Haskell (1971)
- Family (1971–1972)
- Larry Norman (1972)
- King Crimson (1972–1974)
- Roxy Music (1974–1975)
- Uriah Heep (1975–1976)
- U.K. (1977–1980, 2011–2015)
- Jack-Knife (1979)
- Wishbone Ash (1980)
- John Wetton (1980–2017)
- Asia (1981–1983, 1984–1986, 1989–1991, 2006–2017)
- Qango (1999–2000)
- Icon (Wetton/Downes) (2002, 2005–2009)
Session work and collaborations
Note: Jack-Knife was a project in which John Wetton and W.J. Hutcheson, who were his bandmates in Tetrad, visited Richard Palmer-James at his home in Munich. They recorded, as Jack-Knife, an album with the German drummer Curt Cress in 10 days, titled I Wish You Would, performing songs from the early days.
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- Stump, Paul – Unknown Pleasures: A Cultural biography of Roxy Music, Thunder's Mouth Press, New York, 1998, pps. 72, 154
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- Bosso, Joe (21 November 2015). "Billy Sheehan: 10 Live Albums That Changed My Life". TeamRock.com. Archived from the original on 6 April 2016. Retrieved 7 March 2017.
[...] John Wetton is the singer here, and man, what a voice he has. And his bass tone! I love John Entwistle’s tone – I got a lot from him, and from Jack Bruce, too – but John Wetton is what I was going for. I remember playing a couple of gigs with Marshalls, and I thought, ‘Yeah, this is John Wetton’s tone.’
- Murphy, Bill (2008). "JUAN ALDERETE | Slouching Towards Bedlam". Bass Player.
[...] On the funk-flavored screamer "Ilyena," he dials in a distortion-kissed tone that lies somewhere between the Jesus Lizard's David Sims and Brit Legend John Wetton (he acknowledges both as influences) [...]
- "Michael Sweet's Facebook". 19 May 2017. Archived from the original on 15 July 2017. Retrieved 15 July 2017.
- Anderson, Ron (31 January 2017). "Remembering John Wetton King Crimson's Greatest Bass Player" (video). YouTube. Brooklyn, New York. Retrieved 14 November 2017.
- Lawrence, Dan (14 August 2014). "Interview: Joseph D. Rowland (Pallbearer)". Invisible Oranges. Archived from the original on 8 March 2017. Retrieved 7 March 2017.
[...] John Wetton from King Crimson and Asia is another person that I really look up to as a player. [...]
- Lifton, Dave. "Eric Clapton Releases Song for John Wetton". Ultimate Classic Rock. Retrieved 6 February 2019.
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