The deaths of rock and roll icons continues in 2017, with the passing of Prog Rock legend, John Wetton. Even if you don’t know who he is (and if you are over the age of 40 you should know), you know many of the bands he once played with.
King Crimson. Asia. Roxy Music. UK. Uriah Heep. Wishbone Ash. Just to name a few. Also, an extensive solo album career.
For most of these bands Wetton played the bass, and also sang vocals. Usually lead. His voice was unique and recognizable, deep and smooth, with a slight bit of rasp, but there was always something comforting in his voice. He sounded like someone’s dad fronting a bar band. He didn’t have a lot of range, he couldn’t hit the high notes, but he had the essential ingredient — feeling. I think it was what led to Asia, his most commercially successful band, to such great heights in the early 80s.
I’ve written about Asia a bit more extensively here, so I won’t go into detail, but for fans of the members of Asia — Wetton, Steve Howe, Carl Palmer, Geoffrey Downes — Asia was a bit of a disappointment. The mind-blowing solos had disappeared and been replaced by hooks and sing-along choruses. But, listening to the first two Asia albums again today, although the production on them sounds quite dated, there are some masterful instrumental breaks that showed these prog-rock dinosaurs still could show off, just for ten seconds at a time instead of ten minutes.
My favorite John Wetton recorded performances were probably with King Crimson, where he played on arguably the bands most musically adventurous albums: Larks Tongues’ in Aspic, Red, Starless and Bible Black, and USA.
It’s not easy to play the intricate type of music that Robert Fripp writes, let alone sing at the same time. I’ve spent many hours in my late teens and early 20s focusing on the individual parts of the King Crimson canon. Usually I concentrated on the drums, but Wetton’s bass lines were deceptively crazy. But at the same time, Wetton played the role of “glue”: keeping the songs together when all the instruments seemed to be heading in all different directions. There’s a reason King Crimson, once Wetton left the band in 1975, never had a bassist/vocalist again.
John Wetton was irreplaceable and there will never be another musician like him ever again.
I leave this post with one of my favorite songs Wetton ever played on, recorded with the band UK…though this is during a reunion, just 6 years ago, back in 2011, with Eddie Jobson and some other fine musicians.