Friday, November 01, 2013

Seven questions to Rick Wakeman

Richard Christopher Wakeman - yes, Rick Wakeman - was born on May 18th 1949 in Perivale - a suburb in west London, England -, to bring joy and happiness to Cyril Frank Wakeman and Mildred Helen Wakeman, his parents. Young Rick started playing the piano at the age of 5, attended Clarinet lessons and formed a tradicional jazz band at 12, commenced Church organ lessons at 13 and joined a blues band called The Atlantic Blues at 14. In 1966 he bought his first car (one of his passions) and also played his first BBC sessions with the James Royal Set for Radio One (with The Who's John Entwhistle on bass guitar). In 1968, Rick secured a place at the Royal College of Music, studying piano, modern music, clarinet and orchestration for one year, leaving the college in favor of his work as a session musician.

In June 1969, Rick Wakeman recorded a Mellotron on David Bowie's "Space Oddity" (released in July 1969) and also recorded piano on the first Strawbs album, "Dragonfly", joining the band in the next year. In July 1970 the Strawbs recorded their second album, "Just A Collection Of Antiques And Curios - Live At The Queen Elizabeth Hall". The concert that originated the album was one of the first events in Rick's life that brought him the attention of the media (Melody Maker mentioned him as the "Tomorrow's Superstar"), increasing his demand for session work with other artists. In 1971 Rick recorded Strawbs' third album, "From The Witchwood" but left the band right after the album was ready. Also in 1971, Rick purchased his first Minimoog, previously owned by actor Jack Wild, who didn't know that the synthesizer was monophonic and, thinking that it was broken, sold it to Rick for half the price it originally costed. In 1971 Rick Wakeman recorded with Cat Stevens ("Morning Has Broken"), David Bowie ("Life On Mars?", "Changes" and "Oh! You Pretty Things", among others from Bowie's "Hunky Dory" album) and Lou Reed (on his debut solo album, "Lou Reed", released in April 1972).

Of course by that time Rick Wakeman was already a very well-known musician, but his life and popularity would change after a phone call he received from a certain Chris Squire, from a certain band called Yes. Rick said Yes to Yes and in August 1971 Jon Anderson, Chris Squire, Bill Bruford and Steve Howe had a new keyboard player in their band. Not only a keyboard player but THE keyboard player. Rick Wakeman brought to the band the certain elements that they needed to continue their search for the perfect, orchestrated progressive rock. The band released the album "Fragile" in November 1971 and Rick Wakeman toured the United States Of America for the first time with his new friends. And naturally, being a Yes member brought more attention to Rick and he signed a solo recording contract with A&M Records in the end of 1971.

In 1972, Rick Wakeman recorded his first solo album, "The Six Wives Of Henry VIII", parallel to the concerts and tours with Yes, the recording of "Close To The Edge" - the band's fifth album (the second with Rick), released in September 1972 -, and the recording of "Yessongs", a triple live album and film from their 1972 concerts. Also in 1972, Oliver Wakeman, his first son, was born.

"The Six Wives Of Henry VIII" was released in January 1973 and Yes' "Yessongs" was released in March 1973. In the second half of the year, Yes went to studio to record their sixth studio album, the  conceptual double LP "Tales From The Topographic Oceans", released in December 1973. The album was controversial, even inside the band, and it is known that Rick didn't like the result, so he left the band right after the album's tour. And yes, also in 1973, Rick Wakeman found some free time to record with Black Sabbath on their "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath" album!

The second of two concerts realized on January 18th 1974 resulted on the recording of "Journey To The Center Of The Earth", not only the second Rick Wakeman solo album and not only his most famous and best-seller album, but also one of the most famous LPs from the golden age of progressive rock. Personally, almost everyone I know in this world has (or had at some point) this album. And it couldn't be different, the mixture of the London Symphony Orchestra, the English Chamber Choir, a nice rock band, two vocalists singing lyrics based on Julio Verne's novel, Moog synthezisers, Mellotrons, piano, electric piano, clavinet, Hammond organ, and the famous silver cape, all inside a nice and colored cover and booklet, "Journey To The Center Of The Earth" caught almost every rock fan, all around the world. Adam Wakeman, Rick's second son, was born on March 1974.

After a performance of "Journey To The Center Of The Earth" at the Crystal Palace Bowl, Rick Wakeman collapsed after the concert, entering the Wexham Park Hospital with a suspected minor heart attack. During the weeks he stayed at the hospital, he wrote his third solo album, "The Myths And Legends Of King Arthur And The Riders Of The Round Table", recorded in late 1974 and early 1975 and released in April 1975. Even with the recent hospital event, Rick toured around the world in 1975, playing in Japan, Australian and, for the first time, in Brazil (on September 1975. Unfortunately I was born a few weeks after his brazilian concerts, so I wasn't able to attend). Also in 1975 the soundtrack for the movie "Lisztomania" was released (on November, with Frank Liszt pieces and other music played by Rick Wakeman, who also appeared on the screen) and Rick almost bankrupted, losing lots of money on the production of an extravagant concert that mixed King Arthur and ice skating at the Wembley Empire Pool. On May 1976 the album "No Earthly Connection" was released and in November Rick Wakeman decided to rejoin Yes, moving to Switzerland for some months since the band was there to record their new album, "Going For The One". The recording process was filmed almost in full and there are some hours of the recording sessions available on Youtube. "Going For The One" was released on July 1977, the same year that Rick released his solo albums "White Rock" and "Criminal Record". "Tormato", Yes' ninth studio album, was released in 1978, with Rick Wakeman leaving the band for the second time, again after the subsequent tour, in the next year (by the way, Jon Anderson left the band also in this occasion). Benjamin Wakeman, his third son, was born in 1978. Rick Wakeman released the double album "Rhapsodies" on May 1979.

Throughout the eighties, Rick Wakeman continued to release very good albums (the soundtrack for the movie "The Burning" and the concept album based on George Orwell's novel "1984", both released in 1981 being the best examples, in my opinion), evolving himself more and more with football (also one of his passions - he became the director of the Brentford Football Club in 1979 and chairman of the Camberley Town Football Club in 1983, and also recorded the soundtrack for the official documentary film on the 1982 FIFA World Cup in Spain), divorced and married two times during the decade, had his first daughter, Jemma Wakeman (born on February 1983), became a golf enthusiast, had his fifth kid, Oscar Wakeman (born in 1986), and rejoined his Yes bandmates in the 'almost Yes' band/project Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman and Howe, in 1989. In the ninties he rejoined Yes again (in 1990, when ABWH and then Chris Squire's Yes merged in one big band to record the album "Union"), left Yes again, rejoined Yes again (in 1996 to the album "Keys To Ascension", but left again before the subsequent tour), released solo albums, recorded and toured with his son Adam Wakeman, wrote his autobiography ("Say Yes!", first published in 1995), and recorded a sequence for "Journey To The Center Of The Earth" called "Return To The Center Of The Earth" (released in 1999). In 2000 a live DVD was recorded in Argentina ("Live In Buenos Aires", released in 2001). In 2004 Rick divorces from his third wife, Nina Carter, and also talks for the first time about Amanda Wakeman, his american daughter, born in 1986. In 2003 he appeared for the first time on the TV-show Grumpy Old Men, broadcasted on BBC. After the success of Grumpy Old Men, Rick Wakeman became a constant figure in various other TV programs in England, and released two books full of funny stories (he's a very good writer and storyteller!): "Grumpy Old Rockstar and other wondrous stories" (2008) and "Further adventures of a Grumpy Old Rockstar" (2010).

I don't remember exactly when and how it was my first contact with Rick Wakeman's music, but I was very very young, because I remember that I wanted to be "like Rick Wakeman" in my childhood and teenage days, discovering that I wanted to be a musician and play that instrument that I've read in many album covers: the Moog synthesizer! But my contact with Rick to this interview was via Wayne Smith, the webmaster of Rick's official website. Wayne was nice in replying me right after he received my invitation and told me to send the questions to the interview, so Rick would reply me with the answers as soon as he could. In a few days I received a nice email, with Rick's answers and that's it: I interviewed one of my childhood superheroes, Mr. Rick Wakeman!

ASTRONAUTA - Rick, what were your earliest influences in popular and classical music?

RICK - Having started my classical training at the age of 5 and radio being very limited in England in the 1950's, it was not easy to hear popular music except on the occasional pop music programme on the radio. By the late fifties popular music has started to appear on television and I was fascinated with skiffle and Lonnie Donegan in particular, who became a great friend in later life. I think like all young musicians, you were influenced by all sorts of music but whilst I have favourites I never wanted to copy or be like anyone else.

As I got older my classical love was nearly all eastern. Prokofiev being my main hero.

ASTRONAUTA - When and how did you meet Robert Moog for the first  time and what are you memories about Bob Moog?

RICK - I met Bob for the first time in 1971 and we remained great friends right up until his death. He changed history for keyboard players and literally all forms of music from rock to film. He was extremely modest, loved musicians and had time for everybody. Without him, music would have a very different sound today.

ASTRONAUTA - How many Minimoog model D synthesizers did you have during all your career and how many of those Minimoogs do you still have? Can you tell us a little bit about the history of your Minimoogs?

RICK - I don't know the exact answer, but I think I have probably owned about 20 Minimoogs in my lifetime. I currently have 9. Finding good ones is extremely difficult. I have a very good man who repairs them for me and keeps them in good order. I cannot even imagine not having one. I have bought them for many different countries, and one from Switzerland which amazingly I used to own back in the early seventies!

ASTRONAUTA - And how about Mellotrons? Do you still have a Mellotron (or a Birotron)?

RICK - No... I use a Memotron now which is just sensational. It does everything a Mellotron used to do without all the problems!

ASTRONAUTA  - In 1975 you came to Brazil for the first time, being the first prog-rock superstar - let me use the word 'superstar', if you don't mind - to play in Brazil. What are your memories from those concerts in Brazil?

RICK - The most memorable and fantastic times. I fell in love with Brazil the day I arrived and that love for the country and the people has never wavered. A great source of inspiration. We played Journey To The Center Of The Earth on that tour and it is my hope that we will be back again playing it very soon.

ASTRONAUTA - What are your favorite album and song from Yes?

RICK - Favourite albums... Fragile... Close To The Edge... And favourite track, Awaken from Going For The One.

ASTRONAUTA - And how about your solo albums, if you'd have to choose a preferred one, which one would be?

RICK - The answer would change every day!!!... But probably the new 55 minute studio version of Journey To The Center Of The Earth.


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