On Monday morning, 29th June, when I heard the sad news of the passing of YES bass guitarist Chris Squire, having been diagnosed with Acute Erythroid Leukemia, I bawled my eyes out, me, a grown man. The loss of Chris Squire touched me deeply, as if I had lost a family member, a musical family member in this case. I thought I was starting to get over it but every time I read a fresh tribute, like the one from Billy Sherwood, the tears came flooding back. Cringeworthy some may say. I sat there, realizing the significance of it all being that the so-called classic YES line-up would never get together for one more album. He was the only remaining founder member in the current incarnation of the band, the only member of YES to have played on all their albums and in every one of their concerts, having never missed a tour. They had scheduled an August 2015 North American joint tour with Toto yet despite the news regarding Squire’s illness, the tour would proceed without the legendary bass guitarist. It would have been the first time since the band formed in 1968 that they will have appeared live without him. Chris Squire passed away a month after his illness was made public. Chris Squire. Gone. Forever.
I have adored YES music passionately for the best part of 40-odd years. I remember when I was just in high school in Cape Town, South Africa and walked into a record bar one day in my local town. The owner put a vinyl record on the turntable: “I’ve got a new release you’ve got to listen to. I think you’ll like it”, she exclaimed excitedly. The song was “Roundabout”, the first on the album “Fragile”. The band was YES. The song started with the reverse tape effect of a single minor chord played on a grand piano, following by some gentle acoustic guitar before launching into the first verse of the song, featuring the subtle interplay between jazz-like drums and rumbling bass guitar underpinning the angelic vocals.
That trebly, metallic bass guitar sound emanated from Chris Squire’s 1964 Rickenbacker, a trademark sound that was to become a cornerstone of YES’s music and single out Chris Squire from any other bass guitarist at the time, although it wasn’t the only feature of his distinctive bass style. In the mix were Rick Wakeman’s keyboards, Steve Howe’s “noodly” guitar bits as well as Jon Anderson’s alto voice and strange lyrics. The album was a powerful creative blend of rock, jazz and classical influences. I was blown away from that moment on. Through the medium of vinyl alone I grew to love YES all the way through to the release of “Relayer” or thereabouts, which was probably when I first acquired a compact disc player. The love affair continued as I re-acquired the band’s catalogue on the newer format. It wasn’t the only thing I was listening to at the time. I was into jazz fusion– Return To Forever, Weather Report, Brand X, as well as the chamber-style ECM jazz however YES was the thing for me.
From this point on in my musical development, I devoured any YES-related articles and news I could find in magazines, hoping that one day I would realize the dream of seeing them live. The closest I came, apart from seeing a South African YES tribute band who were pretty good, was when Rick Wakeman controversially played in the country in a solo capacity and later with the English Rock Ensemble. I started a YES scrapbook. I even wrote about the band in my school magazine when “Close To The Edge”, arguably the greatest Prog album ever made, was released. I remember the day I had some school friends around, one a budding young guitarist of note. I played “Tales From Topographic Oceans” on my parent’s old stereo hi-fi system. The family joke to this day, during one of Rick’s monophonic moog synth solos on “The Revealing Science Of God”, was my brother calling out from his bedroom for me “to get my foot off the cat’s tail”.
For a variety of reasons, I wasn’t able to see YES live until the mid-1990’s, during the “Open Your Eyes” tour, in the UK, when the band had changed, not for the first time in its history. The most notable difference in the 70’s was the replacement of drummer Bill Bruford by Allan White. Significantly, and this is the key point, the power of the music alone had sustained itself for all those years and touched me time and time again. Having never seen the band live up to this point, it was excitement and deep love for the music that had kept the interest alive. Every time I play YES music, I get goosebumps, even to this day.
On that Monday morning, I received an e-mail from an ex-colleague of Iranian descent, now based in South Korea. We had not corresponded for some time. He had stumbled upon a blog post of mine documenting my customary ritualistic practice, whenever my favourite band is in town, that being to attend several concerts on any given tour, 2014 being the last occasion for such hedonistic excess: Newcastle, Birmingham, London and Bratislava.
I was preparing a reply when I stumbled upon the devastating news of Chris’s sudden departure. I had just booked for the band’s next European tour in 2016 and had wondered if Chris would have made a full recovery by then. It is true I had been less than enamoured by the band’s most recent studio offering “Heaven and Earth”, an album which promised so much and yet delivered so little. In the knowledge that these guys won’t be around forever however, I still wanted to attend whatever live shows I could, yet I I continued to long for the return of Jon and Rick to the fold, for the classic line-up to return to the studio to create one final masterpiece. Chris’s sudden demise has put paid to that.
Yes, he has left a tremendous musical legacy and his musical spirit will live on. He has influenced a generation of musicians, as Rick Wakeman put it: “We have now lost, who for me, are the two greatest bass players classic rock has ever known. John Entwistle and now Chris,” Wakeman wrote. “There can hardly be a bass player worth his salt who hasn’t been influenced by one or both of these great players.”. It remains to be seen what transpires with the band, whether the very capable Billy Sherwood (arguably Chris’s protégé) will assume a more permanent role, however there is the nagging thought….of what might have been.
Much has been written about the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame’s reluctance to recognize 70’s prog bands, including YES. In the face of such bias, it has demonstrated that it is not representative of rock musical culture if it chooses to embrace all forms of musical expression. It therefore renders itself as a body with a meaningless, subjective and largely irrelevant opinion, with no bearing on the world of rock music. Who cares whether they have a problem with 70’s Prog? The music itself has value and whether a band is inducted or not does not enhance or diminish the contribution to the world of music or reputation of any artist whatsoever. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation was created by Atlantic Records founder and chairman, the late Ahmet Ertugan, himself a huge fan of YES. He will be turning in his grave.
Chris wasn’t known for his bass guitar alone. He was a great songwriter. He had a fine voice too, his ability to harmonize honed from his days as a young choirboy. He was a significant part of the YES musical tapestry. Not to diminish his solo work or collaborations with other artists, it’s been said that “YES has always been larger than the sum of its parts“. As a founder member of this great band through the ever-changing line-up, Chris Squire was the glue, the linchpin that kept the band together during its most fractious periods. His physical presence as he strutted the stage during live performances notwithstanding, notably during the bass/ drum Whitefish solos, Chris’s stature as de facto band leader has left a huge hole in YES, as well as in rock musical history, one which will be difficult to fill.
Gone. Forever. R.I.P. Chris Squire. 1948-2015.