by Attila Juhasz
JOHN WETTON (Born June 12, 1949, Died January 31, 2017)
I am deeply saddened by the loss of John Wetton. While I did not know the man personally, my relation is strictly through the enjoyment and experiences of decades of music that he has provided.
Listen to anything featuring John Wetton and it will touch your heart and soul.
My first encounter with Wetton was in the late ’70s when he joined Uriah Heep. I have been a Heepster since their debut record in 1970. I was only 8 years old in 1970, but having an older teenage brother, exposed me to the great surge of ’70s hard and progressive rock to come. I became a self-proclaimed music aficionado early in life. 😉
So who was this John Wetton who replaced the late, great and very young Gary Thain on the new Heep album ‘Return to Fantasy’ in 1975? I wasn’t aware of his earlier stint with King Crimson yet. Needless to say, the bass chops were there. Wetton was perfect.
Then came ‘High and Mighty’ in 1976. When I played the opening track, “One Way or Another” I was taken aback as someone other than Byron or Hensley was singing. It was different. It was aggressively unique. It was Wetton. A signature type prog rock vocal style that I made akin to Greg Lake from ELP. Then I learned that earlier Wetton, like Lake a few years before him, performed vocals and bass for King Crimson.
It wasn’t until Wetton released U.K.’s self-titled debut in 1978 that Wetton was propelled as one of my favorite bass players, composers and vocalists in prog rock. The debut U.K. album is a definitive prog rock album featuring Eddie Jobson, Allan Holdsworth and Bill Bruford. Wetton created a masterpiece.
In 1979, U.K. released their sophomore effort ‘Danger Money.’ This time without Holdsworth and with Terry Bozzio on drums replacing Bruford. Bozzio is brilliant.
Then late in 1979 I finally saw Wetton live with U.K. at NYC’s Madison Square Garden opening for Jethro Tull. I was utterly blow away with how tight they were. Wetton’s vocals and play were spot on perfect. Bozzio’s performance rivaled and perhaps surpassed all the greats that I had seen up until then including my favorites Neil Peart, Phil Collins and Lee Kerslake.
In 1982 Wetton formed his supergroup Asia with Geoff Downes, Steve Howe and Carl Palmer. While I loved the group, it was lighter in the commercial vein than the prog rock excellence I was expecting from this line-up. I never did see the original original tour.
In 2006, Wetton reformed the original line-up of Asia and went on tour. Of course I saw that show twice. 🙂 In 2008, Asia released a new album called “Phoenix.” While preserving the sound they perfected in the 80s, I found “Phoenix” to be superior to the initial 80s releases. This was a fantastic comeback. In fact Omega (2010), XXX (2012) and Gravitas (2014) were all great releases. I was fortunate enough to see Asia several more times in support of the first 3 new releases.
But my biggest thrill was yet to come. A brief but extraordinary reunion and tour of UK with Jobson and Bozzio was announced. On May 21, 2012, I witnessed an absolute magical brilliant night of musicianship. They were perfect in every way.
So much music. So much history. So many memories. Listen to anything featuring John Wetton and it will touch your heart and soul.
I wish John Wetton’s family and friends my deepest condolences. I adored his music and will continue to appreciate his tremendous catalog of music.