Prog-rock bassist and frontman leaves behind “revolutionary” legacy
By David Sands
January 31, 2017
Regrettably, prog-rock icon John Wetton is with us no longer. The Asia frontman and bassist, known also for his work with King Crimson and a slew of other bands, passed away early this morning (Jan. 31) after a long battle with colon cancer. He was 67.
The famed rock drummer Carl Palmer, who played alongside Wetton in Asia, spoke about his friend’s legacy in a statement on Facebook.
“With the passing of my good friend and musical collaborator, John Wetton, the world loses yet another musical giant,” he said. “John was a gentle person who created some of the most lasting melodies and lyrics in modern popular music.”
“I will miss his talent, his sense of humor and his infectious smile. May you ride easy, my old friend,” Palmer added.
Born in Derby, England and raised in Bournemouth, Wetton first came to music playing church songs on the family piano. He was later drawn to bass guitar, which he played in a series of local bands during his teen years. The musician then went on to play with Mogul Thrash and Family, before rising to prominence as a member of King Crimson alongside Robert Fripp, Bill Bruford and David Cross. In addition to bass, Wetton took on the role of lead singer and composer with that iteration of Crimson until it disbanded in 1974.
In the years after that, Wetton would go on to play with Roxy Music and Uriah Heep and then rejoin Bruford to form the supergroup U.K. in 1977. After U.K. dissolved in 1980, he recorded his first solo album, Caught in the Crossfire, and briefly made music with Wishbone Ash before co-founding the supergroup Asia with Carl Palmer, Steve Howe and Geoff Downes.
Asia’s debut hit a chord with the music-buying public in 1982, scoring a hit with the song “Heat of the Moment” and ultimately becoming the best-selling album in the world that year. The band’s label Geffen Records fired Wetton the following year, but he would rejoin its ranks several times in the ensuing decades, mostly recently with the 2006 reunion of Asia’s classic lineup which he fronted until his recent battle with cancer forced him to step away.
Wetton touched on the topic of his sometimes rocky relationship with Asia in a 2011 FBPO interview.
“When we first formed Asia, in 1981, we were more concerned with our individuality,” he said. “The big difference today is that the individuality is seen as a strength, whereas in the beginning it was seen as a threat, as the band struggled for identity in the wake of its progenitors. Today we feel no such pressure.”
In addition to his work with high-profile bands, Wetton also enjoyed a respected solo career. Due to his illness, Billy Sherwood of Yes agreed to take over Wetton’s duties for Asia this winter and spring.
In a statement on his passing, Asia keyboardist Geoff Downes called Wetton’s bass playing “revolutionary” and seemed to indicate that the group would be sticking together.
“It is the end of an era for all of us,” he said. “But we will soldier on — the music of John Wetton needs to be heard loud and clear from the rooftops.”
FBPO interview with John Wetton
John Wetton takes break for cancer recovery
John Wetton healing after cancer surgery