Band: Asia, UK, King Crimson, Solo
Bio: Born in Derby, raised in Bournemouth, John Wetton first cut his musical teeth on church music at his family’s piano. He often played the bass parts to help his brother rehearse tunes for services….an experience that led to John’s love of bass melodies. In his teens, John focused those melodies on the bass guitar and honed his skills by playing and singing with local bands. He also discovered a knack for songwriting with an early bandmate, Richard Palmer-James; a relationship that would continue to flourish through five decades.
John’s early work with a variety of bands allowed him to show off his impressive bass talents, but did little to showcase his equally impressive singing and songwriting skills. Frustrated, John began to listen a bit closer to the sales pitch of an old friend, Robert Fripp, who set about to reform King Crimson in 1972. The eventual Crimson core of Wetton, Fripp, and Bill Bruford is often considered the “classic” line-up, releasing three studio albums (“Larks’ Tongues in Aspic,” “Starless and Bible Black,” and “Red”) that truly stretched the band to its imaginative limits. But after a blistering show in New York’s Central Park in 1974, the band took a hiatus that became permanent.
Again, John quickly found work to bide his time, but comments from fans and even the media proved to John that there could still be some life in the Wetton/Bruford rhythm section of King Crimson. A series of phone calls and meetings proved to be all the momentum needed in getting U.K. off the ground. The line-up of Wetton, Bruford, Eddie Jobson, and Allan Holdsworth delivered a potent mix of jazzy fusion and progressive pop that brought great success, but also division in the band. After one album, Bruford and Holdsworth were out, and drummer Terry Bozzio in. The trio delivered one studio album and one live album before a demise similar to King Crimson…a hiatus that turned permanent.
At this point, John decided to turn his attentions to a solo career and entered the studio to record “Caught in the Crossfire,” an album that, in hindsight, shows a logical bridge from the music of U.K. to the eventual music of Asia. While most Wetton fans are now familiar with “Caught in the Crossfire,” not many people heard it in 1980. E.G. Records failed to give it the necessary promotion; a move John blamed on his advancing age. He was 31 at the time…..
Feeling it was time to clean house, John parted ways with his old management, publisher, and record company, and joined forces with Brian Lane, who had just ended a successful run with Yes. Brian was working with rising A&R star John Kalodner and Geffen Records to assemble a group that would unleash a new sound across the musical landscape while preserving the finest elements of progressive rock. Lane found his dream line-up with Wetton, Geoff Downes, Steve Howe, and Carl Palmer. This “fab four” of progressive pop would rule radio and record sales for a scant year and a half before losing Wetton in an unceremonious shake-up just weeks before MTV’s heavily-promoted Asia in Asia concert broadcast. Not long after, John returned to the Asia fold as Steve Howe made his exit. The band entered the studio with new guitarist Mandy Meyer to record “Astra.” The album showcased a few Wetton/Downes classics such as “Rock and Roll Dream” and “Go,” but the changing line-ups and changing face of American music meant a loss of momentum and sluggish sales.
By the end of the 80s, interest in Asia reignited in Europe. John rejoined Carl Palmer, and eventually Geoff Downes, for a series of concerts that proved successful but left John empty. To him, Asia was sounding tired and he was ready for a break. Further enticing him was a solo deal with Virgin Records. So, after wrapping up a South American tour in 1991, John temporarily bid adieu to Asia… or so he thought.
With renewed energy, John moved to California and began work on his “Voice Mail” album, the first album to really show off his talents for emotional, autobiographical material. Two songs from the album, “Hold Me Now” and “Battle Lines,” have become classics among Wetton fans. In fact, “Battle Lines” eventually replaced “Voice Mail” as the album’s title when British producer Bob Carruthers selected it as the theme for his film “Chasing the Deer.” To promote the album, John embarked on his first solo tour and later released a live CD called “Akustika.”
Returning to the studio in the mid 90s, John contributed tracks to tribute albums featuring the works of Jethro Tull, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, and Genesis. He furthered the link to Genesis by signing on with Steve Hackett for his “Genesis Revisited” project, which culminated in several highly successful live performances in Japan.
Continued autobiographical songwriting led to 1997’s “Arkangel” album, an emotionally gritty album that would add more staples (“Arkangel,” “Emma”) to John’s live solo performances. 2000’s “Sinister” album, also entitled “Welcome to Heaven,” finished the trilogy of solo offerings. He further promoted these albums with extensive tours of Europe, Japan, and South America.
Despite being left off the tour schedule, American fans had plenty to celebrate in 2002 with the first-ever John Wetton Fan Convention in suburban Allentown, PA. Hundreds filled a local venue to spend a weekend with John, his band, and Geoff Downes, who joined John for a gala Saturday night concert which marked the first time the two had shared a stage in more than ten years.
Fans delighted in a resurgence of the Wetton/Downes team when John returned to the studio to begin work on 2003’s “Rock of Faith.” Two new songs written by John and Geoff ("I’ve Come to Take You Home” and “I Lay Down”) created a buzz among fans hoping for an eventual reunion of the original Asia line-up. That buzz roared in 2005 with the release of “iCon,” an album of original music by Wetton and Downes that the duo followed with a number of live shows. Fans cheered the fact that Wetton sounded as good in person, if not better, than he did during the heyday of Asia.
With Wetton at the top of his game (again), imagine what it would sound like if Downes, Howe, and Palmer all joined in! It indeed happened in early 2006, as the four musicians responsible for Billboard's Number One Album of 1982 sat down in a London hotel and began the groundwork for a worldwide reunion tour. After a media blitz across the US, the tour kicked off in Rochester, NY in August of 2006. Fans quickly snapped up tickets as more and more dates were added.
Several months into the reunion tour, Asia and its fans were stunned to learn that John Wetton needed emergency heart surgery. During his hospital stay in London, worried fans flooded the switchboard with calls about his progress. Thankfully, John made a remarkably quick recovery and, after a few short weeks of resting at home, Asia returned to the road.
During this same time, John and Geoff released the second of their iCon albums, "Rubicon." The historical meaning of the title was not lost on the musicians or their fans, as the songs reflected John and Geoff's personal and professional decisions to sever restrictive ties of the past and forge a positive new outlook.
As Asia set out on a much-anticipated second year of touring, fans demanded more. They wanted to hear what would happen if Wetton, Downes, Howe and Palmer sat down in a studio and created a new album. Fans got their wish as the band retreated to the studios at Liscombe Park and got to work on "Phoenix." The appropriately titled project was an incredibly balanced one, fully showcasing the writing and playing of each band member. John's thoughtful reflections on his health crisis and his healthy resurgence colored many of the lyrics on the album.
Asia wrapped up months of touring in the spring of 2008 with a series of shows in Eastern Europe, leaving John and Geoff with time to craft their third iCon album. While hard at work on writing and recording that project, all four members of Asia are looking forward to early 2009 and their fourth consecutive year of touring....something that didn't even happened in their 80s heyday.
Borrowed from johnwetton.com
Zon bass(es) of choice: