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John Wetton

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John Wetton
Background information
Birth nameJohn Kenneth Wetton
Born(1949-06-12)12 June 1949
Willington, Derbyshire, England
OriginBournemouth, Dorset, England
Died31 January 2017(2017-01-31) (aged 67)
Bournemouth, Dorset, England
  • Musician
  • singer
  • songwriter
  • producer
  • Bass
  • vocals
  • guitar
  • keyboards
Years active1965–2017
Formerly of
WebsiteOfficial website

John Kenneth Wetton (12 June 1949 – 31 January 2017) was an English musician, singer, and songwriter.[1] Although he was left handed, he was known as a dexterous right handed bass player and had a booming baritone voice.[2] He joined the band Family in 1971 for a short time before joining King Crimson in 1972.[3] After the breakup of King Crimson at the end of 1974, Wetton was in progressive rock and hard rock bands including Roxy Music (1974–1975), Uriah Heep (1975–1976), U.K. (1977–1980), and Wishbone Ash (1980–1981).[1]

In 1981 he co-founded Asia as lead vocalist and principal songwriter, which was considered to be a super group.[1] Their debut album "Asia" which was released in 1982 sold 10 million copies worldwide and was Billboard magazine's number one album of 1982.[4] He later formed the duo "Icon" with his Asia bandmate and songwriting partner Geoff Downes and had a successful solo career.


Wetton was born in Willington, Derbyshire and grew up in Bournemouth, Dorset, where he attended Bournemouth School. His elder brother Robert was a classical organist and choirmaster.[5] While practising organ Robert would have John play the bass parts on a piano, since their home organ did not have a pedalboard. John recalled that during the 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."[2] Though an enthusiast of classical music since childhood, he opted to go into rock and roll instead in order to avoid being compared with his brother.[2] 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.[6] A key early band he was in was the jazzy Mogul Thrash; after live work with Renaissance, he joined Family and also was in various recording sessions.[1]

Wetton's big break came when his fellow Dorset native Robert Fripp invited him to join King Crimson in late 1972. The incarnation of the band also included violinist David Cross, former Yes drummer Bill Bruford, and percussionist Jamie Muir. Being in the band solidified his ability as a lead singer and writer. Wetton's 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.[7] 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 period of 1972–1974 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, the latter of which was traditionally used with a Hammond organ) often verged on heavy metal.[8][9] Fripp once compared playing onstage with Wetton and drummer Bill Bruford to working with "a flying brick wall".[9]

After the dissolution of King Crimson, Wetton continued to work on various projects, including a tour with Roxy Music[10] and two albums with Uriah Heep.[11] 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.[2] In 1977, after failed attempts to reunite King Crimson and to create a new band with Rick Wakeman,[12] Wetton formed U.K. with his King Crimson rhythm section partner Bill Bruford. Wetton recruited Roxy Music keyboardist/violinist Eddie Jobson;[1] 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.[2]

After the break-up of U.K., Wetton released his first solo album, Caught in the Crossfire (1980). Later in the 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' president 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), the band became Asia[1] and they produced one of the bestselling 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. Wetton worked with Asia until 1983, when he was fired (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) completing Astra (1985).[13]

In the late 1980s, a collaboration between Wetton and Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera was released as Wetton/Manzanera (1986). Around that time, Wetton began working with Downes and 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".

In the 1990s Wetton focused 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.

John Wetton (left) and Geoff Downes performing in 2005

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.[14] 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, Wetton guested on the album Grandine il vento with Renaissance, with whom he had played live 42 years before. In the same year, he toured with American Idol finalist Leslie Hunt's District 97 which was based in Chicago, to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the King Crimson album Larks' Tongues In Aspic.

Wetton worked extensively as a session musician with musicians including Brian Eno, Bryan Ferry, and Ayreon.


Wetton died in his sleep from complications of colorectal cancer at the Macmillan Unit at Christchurch Hospital in Christchurch, Dorset, on 31 January 2017, at the age of 67.[2] He was survived by his wife Lisa, son Dylan, brother Robert, and mother Margaret (Peggy).[15][16][17]

Geoff Downes:

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.[18]

Billy Sherwood, who was Wetton's producer, co-songwriter, and co-performer on his 2011 solo album Raised in Captivity, replaced him in Asia. On 17 June 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. Some King Crimson songs were also performed at the event.[19]

Asteroid 72802 Wetton, discovered by Marc Buie at Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona in 2001, was named in his memory.[20] The official naming citation was published by the Minor Planet Center on 18 May 2019 (M.P.C. 114955).[21]


Artists who have cited Wetton as an influence or have expressed their admiration for him include Billy Sheehan,[22] Juan Alderete of The Mars Volta and Racer X,[23] Michael Sweet of Stryper,[24] Ron Anderson,[25] and Joseph D. Rowland of Pallbearer.[26] After Wetton's death, Eric Clapton published a short instrumental tribute entitled, "For John W."[27]

Band timeline[edit]



Studio albums[edit]

Years Titles Labels
1980 Caught in the Crossfire E'G/Polydor Records
1987 Wetton/Manzanera (with Phil Manzanera) Geffen Records
1994 Voice Mail / Battle Lines Pony Canyon / Magnetic Air Records
1997 Arkangel Eagle Records
1998 Monkey Business 1972 - 1997 (with Richard Palmer-James) Blueprint
Chasing the Deer (Soundtrack EP)
2000 Welcome to Heaven / Sinister Avalon Records
2003 Rock of Faith Giant Electric Pea
2011 Raised in Captivity Frontiers Records

Live albums[edit]

Years Titles Labels
1995 Chasing the Dragon (Live in Japan) Eclipse Records
1996 Akustika: Live in America Blueprint
1998 Live in Tokyo 1997
Hazy Monet (Live in New York City USA, May 27, 1997)
1999 No Mans Land (Live in Poland) Giant Electric Pea
Sub Rosa (Live in Milan July 5, 1998) Blueprint
2000 Live at the Sun Plaza Tokyo 1999
2002 One Way or Another (with Ken Hensley) Classic Rock Legends
More Than Conquerors (with Ken Hensley) (CD/DVD)
2003 Live in Argentina 1996 Trade Mark of Official Quality
Live in Stockholm 1998 Blueprint
Live in Osaka 1997 Trade Mark of Official Quality
Live in the Underworld (CD & DVD) Classic Rock Legends
2004 Amata Metal Mind Records
2009 Amorata (DVD)
2014 One More Red Night – Live in Chicago (with District 97) Primary Purpose
2015 Live via Satellite
New York Minute (with Les Paul Trio)
  • King's Road, 1972–1980 (1987) E'G/Virgin Records
  • Anthology (2001) NMC
  • ...Caught in the Crossfire... (2002) Digimode Entertainment UK. Not to be confused with Wetton's 1980 first solo album. 17 tracks from various Wetton projects including Wetton/Manzanera (1987) and Battle Lines (1994).
  • The Studio Recordings Anthology (2015)

As band member[edit]

Years Bands Titles Notes
1971 Mogul Thrash Mogul Thrash
1971 Family Fearless UK No. 14, US No. 177
1972 Bandstand UK No. 15, US No. 183
1973 King Crimson Larks' Tongues in Aspic UK No. 20, US No. 61
2012 Larks' Tongues in Aspic – 40th Anniversary edition – box set
1992 The Great Deceiver Live, Recorded 1973–1974
1997 The Night Watch Live, Recorded 23 November 1973
1974 Starless and Bible Black UK No. 28, US No. 64
2014 Starless – 40th Anniversary edition – box set
2013 The Road to Red – 40th Anniversary edition – box set
1974 Red UK No. 45, US No. 66
1975 USA Live, Recorded June 1974
1975 Uriah Heep Return to Fantasy UK No. 7, US No. 85
1976 High and Mighty UK No. 56, US No. 161
1976 Roxy Music Viva! UK No. 6, US No. 81
1978 U.K. U.K. UK No. 43
1999 Concert Classics, Vol. 4 Live, recorded 1978
1979 Danger Money US No. 45
1979 Night After Night US No. 109
1979 Jack-Knife I Wish You Would
1981 Wishbone Ash Number the Brave UK No. 61
1982 Asia Asia UK No. 11, US No. 1
1983 Alpha UK No. 5, US No. 6
1985 Astra UK No. 68, US No. 67
1987 Over the Top - 'Gypsy Soul' Soundtrack
1990 Then & Now US No. 114
1991 Live in Moscow 1990 Live
2000 Qango Live in the Hood Live
2002 Icon (Wetton/Downes) Wetton Downes (Demo Collection)/Icon Zero (2017 Reissue) Stallion Records/Epicon Records (2017 Reissue)
2005 Icon Frontiers Records/UMe Digital (US)
2005 Heat of the Moment '05 EP Frontiers Records
2006 Icon II: Rubicon Frontiers Records
2006 Icon Live: Never in a Million Years Frontiers Records
2006 Icon: Acoustic TV Broadcast Frontiers Records (also released as DVD)
2007 Asia Fantasia: Live in Tokyo Live
2008 Phoenix US No. 73
2009 Icon (Wetton/Downes) Icon 3 Frontiers Records
2009 Icon: Urban Psalm Live CD&DVD, Asia Icon Ltd.
2012 Icon: Heat of the Rising Sun Live, The Store for Music
2010 Asia Spirit of the Night – Live in Cambridge 09 Live
2010 Omega
2012 Resonance – The Omega Tour 2010 Live, Recorded 2010
2014 High Voltage – Live Live, Recorded 2010
2013 U.K. Reunion – Live in Tokyo Live CD&DVD, Recorded 2011
2012 Asia XXX US No. 134
2015 Axis XXX Live San Francisco Live, Recorded 2012
2017 Symfonia: Live in Bulgaria 2013 Live, Recorded 2013
2015 U.K. Curtain Call Live CD&DVD, Recorded 2013
2014 Asia Gravitas US No. 159
2016 Icon (Wetton/Downes) Action Moves People United - 'The Wake Bhind' Various artists
2016 U.K. UK: Ultimate Collector's Edition'

Session Work[edit]

With Gordon Haskell
  • It Is and It Isn't (1971) Wetton plays organ, bass, keyboards, vocals, gut string guitar & vocal harmony.
With Larry Norman
With Malcolm and Alwyn
  • Fool's Wisdom (1973)
With Peter Banks
With Brian Eno
  • Here Come the Warm Jets (September 1973): Wetton plays bass on track 3 ("Baby's on Fire") and track 5 ("Driving Me Backwards")
With Pete Sinfield
With Bryan Ferry
With Phil Manzanera
  • Diamond Head (1975)
  • K-Scope (1978)
  • Round in Circles/ Talk to Me (Singles) (Limited Edition vinyl) (2020)
With Duncan Mackay
With Atoll
  • Rock Puzzle (1979)
With Roger Chapman
With Phenomena
  • Did It All For Love (Single) (1987)
With David Cross
  • Exiles (1997)
With Steve Hackett
  • Genesis Revisited (1997): Wetton sings on tracks 1 and 5 and also plays bass on track 5.
  • The Tokyo Tapes (1998)
  • Genesis Revisited II (2012): Wetton sings and plays guitar and bass on track "Afterglow".
  • Genesis Revisited: Live at Hammersmith (2013): Wetton sings on track "Afterglow".
  • Genesis Revisited: Live at the Royal Albert Hall (2014): Wetton sings on track "Firth of Fifth".
With Martin Orford
  • Classical Music And Popular Songs (2000): lead vocals on track 2.
  • The Old Road (2008): lead vocals on tracks 4 and 8, bass guitar on tracks 4 and 6.
With Galahad
  • Year Zero (2002): Joint lead vocals on "Belt Up" and "Take a Deep Breath and Hold on Tight".
With Daniele Liverani
  • Genius A Rock Opera – Episode 1 (2002)
With Billy Sherwood
  • Back Against the Wall (2005): lead vocals on "Mother" and "Hey You".
  • Return to the Dark Side of the Moon (2006): lead vocals on "Us and Them".
With Martin Turner's Wishbone Ash
With Alan Simon
With Eddie Jobson
With Ayreon
With Renaissance


With David Cassidy


  1. ^ a b c d e f Dancha, Kim (1997). My Own Time: The Authorized Biography of John Wetton. Northern Line Publishers. ISBN 9780965484718.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Curtiss, Ron; Weiner, Aaron (3 June 2016). "John Wetton (King Crimson, U.K., Asia): The Complete Boffomundo Interview". YouTube. Retrieved 3 June 2022.
  3. ^ Slotnik, Daniel E. (February 2017). "John Wetton, Rocker with King Crimson and Asia, Dies at 67". The New York Times.
  4. ^ "The Billboard 200 – Year-end albums – 1982". Billboard. Archived from the original on 5 February 2009.
  5. ^ "John Wetton's Family: 5 Facts You Need to Know". 31 January 2017.
  6. ^ "Biography". Johnwetton.co.uk. Retrieved 5 June 2014.
  7. ^ Eder, Bruce. "King Crimson Biography". Allmusic. Retrieved 19 August 2007.
  8. ^ Hickman, Langdon (24 June 2019). "A Beginner's Guide to the epic music of King Crimson". Treblezine.com. Archived from the original on 24 June 2019. Retrieved 25 July 2019.
  9. ^ a b Smith, Sid (20 March 2017). "An extraordinary life: John Wetton, 1949-2017". Prog. LouderSound.com. Archived from the original on 25 July 2019. Retrieved 24 July 2019.
  10. ^ Stump, Paul – Unknown Pleasures: A Cultural biography of Roxy Music, Thunder's Mouth Press, New York, 1998, pps. 72, 154
  11. ^ Kirk Blows. "Uriah Heep Story p.6". www.uriah-heep.com. Retrieved 15 March 2011.
  12. ^ "U.K. Humbled in the U.S.A.", Rolling Stone, Sept. 21, 1978
  13. ^ "Asia: Continental Drift?", CREEM Magazine, April 1986
  14. ^ Billboard magazine, April 2008
  15. ^ "Asia frontman, ex-King Crimson bassist John Wetton dies – NME". NME. 31 January 2017. Retrieved 31 January 2017.
  16. ^ "John Wetton dies aged 67". Prog. 31 January 2017. Retrieved 31 January 2017.
  17. ^ Robbins, Josh (31 January 2017). "John Wetton, frontman for Asia and key prog rock figure, dies aged 67".
  18. ^ "Geoffrey Downes Official". www.facebook.com. Archived from the original on 26 February 2022. Retrieved 4 June 2019.
  19. ^ ""An Extraordinary Life" Celebration". 8 March 2017. Retrieved 4 June 2019.
  20. ^ "72802 Wetton (2001 FT192)". Minor Planet Center. Retrieved 3 June 2019.
  21. ^ "MPC/MPO/MPS Archive". Minor Planet Center. Retrieved 3 June 2019.
  22. ^ 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.'
  23. ^ 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) [...]
  24. ^ "Michael Sweet's Facebook". Facebook. 19 May 2017. Archived from the original on 15 July 2017. Retrieved 15 July 2017.
  25. ^ Anderson, Ron (31 January 2017). "Remembering John Wetton King Crimson's Greatest Bass Player" (video). YouTube. Brooklyn, New York. Retrieved 14 November 2017.
  26. ^ 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. [...]
  27. ^ Lifton, Dave (3 February 2017). "Eric Clapton Releases Song for John Wetton". Ultimate Classic Rock. Retrieved 6 February 2019.

External links[edit]