John Wetton

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John Wetton
John Wetton playing bass live (cropped).jpg
John Kenneth Wetton

(1949-06-12)12 June 1949
Died31 January 2017(2017-01-31) (aged 67)
OccupationSinger-songwriter, musician, producer
Years active1965–2017
Musical career
GenresProgressive rock, hard rock, pop rock, jazz fusion
InstrumentsVocals, bass guitar, guitar, keyboards
LabelsE.G., Atlantic Records, Geffen, Universal Records, Island, Eagle, Avalon, EMI, King Records, Frontiers
Associated actsMogul Thrash, Family, King Crimson, Roxy Music, Uriah Heep, U.K., Jack-Knife, Wishbone Ash, Asia, Phenomena, Renaissance, Qango, Brian Eno, Ayreon
WebsiteOfficial website

John Kenneth Wetton (12 June 1949 – 31 January 2017) was an English singer, bassist, and songwriter.[1] He was born in Willington, Derbyshire, and grew up in Bournemouth, Dorset. He rose to fame with bands Mogul Thrash, Family, King Crimson, Roxy Music and Uriah Heep.[1]

Following his period in 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,[1] which proved to be his biggest commercial success. Their eponymous debut album sold eight million copies worldwide, and was Billboard magazine's No. 1 album of 1982. He later formed the duo Icon with Geoff Downes (also from Asia, ex-Yes, ex-The Buggles), and from the 1990s had a successful solo career, releasing several studio and live albums.

Wetton had a long career as an in-demand session bass player, collaborating with many members of progressive rock bands such as 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."[2] 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.[2] He was in a number of early bands with Richard Palmer-James, on bass and vocals, including The Corvettes, The Palmer-James Group (formed with Alec James), Tetrad, and Ginger Man.[3] A key early band was Mogul Thrash; after live work with Renaissance, he joined Family and also did various sessions.[1]

Wetton's first big break came when he joined Robert Fripp (also a native of Dorset) in Fripp's new line-up of King Crimson in 1972, allowing Wetton to come to the fore as a lead singer and composer. Palmer-James also worked with the band as a lyricist. Wetton remained with the band until Fripp unexpectedly disbanded it in 1974.[4] With the bassist in the band, King Crimson maintained their interest in improvisation but moved away from the blues and English folk leanings of their early work towards a more aggressive avant-rock sound, led by Wetton's melodic bass lines whose "roaring and crunching" sound, along with Fripp's distorted guitar, often verged on heavy metal.[5][6] Fripp compared the rhythm section of Wetton and drummer Bill Bruford to playing onstage with "a flying brick wall".[6]

After the dissolution of King Crimson Wetton continued to work on various projects, including a tour with Roxy Music[7] and two albums with Uriah Heep.[8] 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 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,[9] Wetton formed U.K. with Bill Bruford, who had been in King Crimson alongside him. Wetton recruited keyboard/violin player Eddie Jobson,[1] while Bruford brought in guitarist Allan Holdsworth. U.K. adopted a much more structured, 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, in 1980. Later that year he had a brief stint in Wishbone Ash, contributing bass and vocals to their album Number the Brave (1981). In 1981 he had a meeting with Geffen Records' boss John Kalodner who took him to task for playing bass in the backing band for Bryan Ferry. At Kalodner's insistence Wetton started working and writing with Steve Howe, who had most recently been in Yes. They went on to form Asia[1] with whom Wetton worked until 1983. In that year, Wetton was fired from Asia at the insistence of Geffen Records, ostensibly because of lower-than-expected sales of the Alpha (1983) album. He was brought back into Asia in 1985, with Mandy Meyer replacing Steve Howe, to complete Astra (1985).[10]

In the late 1980s Wetton's collaboration with former Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera was released as Wetton/Manzanera (1986), with drums provided by Yes's Alan White. Also around this time, Wetton began working again with Geoff Downes and Carl Palmer in an attempt to restart Asia without Steve Howe. Some of the material by this incarnation of Asia made its way onto 1990's Then & Now CD.

The 1990s saw Wetton mostly out of Asia and focusing on a solo career. In 1999, another attempt to reform Asia resulted in Wetton participating in the short-lived progressive rock group Qango with Carl Palmer, John Young and Dave Kilminster. The group performed several shows in the UK and recorded one live album, Live in the Hood, before disbanding when Wetton and Palmer returned to their solo projects.

In the early 2000s, he reunited with Geoff Downes for iCon. In 2006, an official reunion of the original Asia line-up (Wetton, Downes, Howe, and Palmer) finally occurred. The 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.[11] The original line-up released two more studio albums, Omega (2010) and XXX (2012) before Howe departed in January 2013. With new guitarist Sam Coulson, Asia released Gravitas in March 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 also worked extensively as a session musician with such musicians as Brian Eno, Bryan Ferry and Phil Manzanera.


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).[12][13][14]

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".[15] 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.[16]

Asteroid 72802 Wetton, discovered by Marc Buie at Kitt Peak National Observatory in 2001, was named in his memory.[17] The official naming citation was published by the Minor Planet Center on 18 May 2019 (M.P.C. 114955).[18]


Artists who have cited Wetton as an influence, or have expressed their admiration for him, include Billy Sheehan,[19] Juan Alderete of The Mars Volta and Racer X,[20] Michael Sweet of Stryper,[21] Ron Anderson,[22] and Joseph D. Rowland of Pallbearer.[23] Following Wetton's death, Eric Clapton published a short instrumental tribute titled, "For John W." [24]

Band timeline[edit]



  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 Curtiss, Ron; Weiner, Aaron (3 June 2016). "John Wetton (King Crimson, U.K., Asia): The Complete Boffomundo Interview". YouTube. Retrieved 3 March 2019.
  3. ^ "Biography". Retrieved 5 June 2014.
  4. ^ Eder, Bruce. "King Crimson Biography". Allmusic. Retrieved 19 August 2007.
  5. ^ Hickman, Langdon (24 June 2019). "A Beginner's Guide to the epic music of King Crimson". Archived from the original on 24 June 2019. Retrieved 25 July 2019.
  6. ^ a b Smith, Sid (20 March 2017). "An extraordinary life: John Wetton, 1949-2017". Prog. Archived from the original on 25 July 2019. Retrieved 24 July 2019.
  7. ^ Stump, Paul – Unknown Pleasures: A Cultural biography of Roxy Music, Thunder's Mouth Press, New York, 1998, pps. 72, 154
  8. ^ Kirk Blows. "Uriah Heep Story p.6". Retrieved 15 March 2011.
  9. ^ "U.K. Humbled in the U.S.A.", Rolling Stone, Sept. 21, 1978
  10. ^ "Asia: Continental Drift?", CREEM Magazine, April 1986
  11. ^ Billboard magazine, April 2008
  12. ^ "Asia frontman, ex-King Crimson bassist John Wetton dies – NME". NME. 31 January 2017. Retrieved 31 January 2017.
  13. ^ "John Wetton dies aged 67". Prog. 31 January 2017. Retrieved 31 January 2017.
  14. ^ Robbins, Josh (31 January 2017). "John Wetton, frontman for Asia and key prog rock figure, dies aged 67".
  15. ^ "Geoffrey Downes Official". Retrieved 4 June 2019.
  16. ^ ""An Extraordinary Life" Celebration". 8 March 2017. Retrieved 4 June 2019.
  17. ^ "72802 Wetton (2001 FT192)". Minor Planet Center. Retrieved 3 June 2019.
  18. ^ "MPC/MPO/MPS Archive". Minor Planet Center. Retrieved 3 June 2019.
  19. ^ Bosso, Joe (21 November 2015). "Billy Sheehan: 10 Live Albums That Changed My Life". 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.’
  20. ^ 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) [...]
  21. ^ "Michael Sweet's Facebook". 19 May 2017. Archived from the original on 15 July 2017. Retrieved 15 July 2017.
  22. ^ Anderson, Ron (31 January 2017). "Remembering John Wetton King Crimson's Greatest Bass Player" (video). YouTube. Brooklyn, New York. Retrieved 14 November 2017.
  23. ^ Lawrence, Dan (14 August 2014). "Interview: Joseph D. Rowland (Pallbearer)". 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. [...]
  24. ^ Lifton, Dave. "Eric Clapton Releases Song for John Wetton". Ultimate Classic Rock. Retrieved 6 February 2019.

External links[edit]