Global Bass Online March 2000
CHRIS SQUIRE of YES
Forever Changing,Forever Learning
Most bass players over the age of 35 know of YES. As one of Britain’s most enduring Progressive Rock groups, they remain one of the last few original bands of their genre.
Progressive Classical Rock music as a style arose in the late sixties and enjoyed commercial success well into the early `80’s. Progressive could be loosely described as a perfect amalgam of the fire and testosterone that Rock and Roll offered, melded perfectly with the loftier and sometimes spiritual aspirations of Classical music.
By the mid `80’s, New Wave and Disco had captured the commercial market, and the major labels, no longer able to make a fast and easy buck from these older groups, began to drop them one by one.
Relegated to forming their own labels, or signing onto fledgling labels with smaller budgets and less developed distribution, many ‘Prog’ bands, as they had come to be known, simply chose to call it a day.
YES, however, weathered the storm, and chose instead to infuse new life into the band by inviting South African rock guitarist Trevor Rabin into the fold in the early `80’s.
Invigorated by Rabin’s rock sensibilities and a technique not too far removed from Eddie Van Halen’s, YES released 90125, their most commercially successful album to date. For a while they even courted the interests of AM radio with their hit single OWNER OF A LONELY HEART.
YES today now share the somewhat diminished Progressive field with other survivors like KING CRIMSON and Canada’s RUSH,(a more straightforward rockier group than the others). Another groundbreaker from the same era, GENESIS had long since fallen to the pop influences of Phil Collin’s, vocalist and occasional drummer for the band.
Today a new batch of musicians can claim they fall roughly under the banner of Progressive Rock, including bands such as Marillion, Dreamtheatre and Envision. All very good in their own right, none to date have truly taken up the gauntlet from YES or reached the commercial success of the original wave of Prog Bands.
With the big labels no longer behind the Progressive movement, these bands are however learning to build a following on the Internet. YES, forever changing, forever learning, have followed suit and can be found there as well.
Going back to beginning however, in their early days what set YES apart was their willingness to take chances and break new ground. Completely reworking mainstream commercial songs almost to the point of burying the original intent, that very audacity captured the interest of fans everywhere they played.
CHRIS SQUIRE, their bassist, was on the leading edge of a vanguard that was reshaping what most were used to thinking of as the typical role for bass players. His thunderous Rickenbacker literally soared over the music, mixed louder than we had ever heard before. Everywhere they went, Chris onstage showmanship coupled with that delicious ‘Ricky’ growl set bassists ears to attention!
Chris was also doing something else that was different, something most of us had never heard before. Though we had all seen bass players venturing into the ‘solo’ arena, never, not even with master bassists like John Entwistle and John Paul Jones, had we ever heard such never-ending and convoluted melodic lines, presented on a platter and shoved into your face.
The most miraculous realization about Chris’s playing was that in spite of the heresy he was committing in his role as bassist, swimming in a sea of constant melodious ‘soloing’, he was still somehow always right there, smack dab on the beat.
Whether it was with the jazz influenced BILL BRUFORD on percussion, or rocker ALAN WHITE, Chris inevitably shook up the usual role relegated to the rhythm section, in turn catapulting it to a higher level than ever before attained.
Legions of bassists today owe their inspiration to the new vistas that CHRIS SQUIRE first had the courage to venture into…myself included.
Chris’ Squire’spublicist calls to say that things are running a bit behind. He asks me if I would mind waiting 45 more minutes for The Call. I cannot help but laugh and say "I’ve been waiting for this for 30 years, 45 minutes I can do!’.
You just can’t help it. You build images in your mind of a people you admire. Not only as to what they might look like should you meet them, but also what they might sound like as well. All those years of listening to Chris’s powerful voice backing up Jon Anderson on countless songs somehow lead me to expect a Richard Burton quality to his voice, somehow larger than life. Instead, what comes across on the phone is the voice of just a regular guy with a British accent.
I tell Chris that he has long been one of the biggest influences in my own life as a bass player. Even to this day, I look back on some of the parts he came up with, lines from songs like ‘TEMPIS FUGIT’, ‘SIBERIAN KHATRU’, ‘ROUNDABOUT’, with so many brilliant moments, and I marvel.
These were bass parts that I would have never thought of, lines so unusual, so melodic and so innovative that even today as I look back to some of these songs, with some of them 25 to 30 years old now, they contain parts I still can’t unravel.
One of the greatest attractions to Chris’ playing, aside from that incredible piano-wire Rickenbacher sound he introduced to so many of us, was that the bass parts he came up with were so very ‘out there’ and so different than most of us would have come up with ourselves. One cannot help but ask what led his creative imagination along these uncharted paths. The answer was surprisingly ordinary…
“Well, it was a combination of things really. My influences were everyone who had come before me, which included Jack Bruce, Paul McCartney, John Entwistle and also a bit of Larry Graham from Sly. Kind of a combination of all the people I had listened to.”
I asked what he thought of other innovative bassists the likes of Stanley Clarke and Michael Manring. “Well, they kind of came onto the scene after I did. They took some things even further. Stanley was a pretty accomplished string bass player long before he played bass guitar.”
Have you ever considered tackling stand-up bass yourself?
What about fretless bass?
“I like fretless bass and I’ve used them on a couple of different tracks during Yes’s history. In fact I used a bit on CLOSE TO THE EDGE and a bit on AWAKEN from GOING FOR THE ONE. I’ve played around with them, but once again, other people like Jaco Pastorius were so accomplished at that. It seemed to me to be a bit somebody else’s field.”
Are you comfortable talking about the band Esquire?
(Note: for those that aren’t aware of Esquire…in late `87 a new progressive rock band named Esquire released a self-titled album. Nikki Squire, then Chris’ wife, was singing lead vocals, and with the strong influences of her then husband Chris, the tracks inevitably came across with a very Yes-like air. Long multifaceted songs, filled with thick instrumental and vocal tracks, Nikki’s voice seemed reminiscent of a slightly less polished combination of Jon Anderson’s and Chris’ voice, the hero of this story. Even the bass tracks themselves were rife with Chris’s influence).
Am I correct in saying that you and Nikki are no longer together, but at the time you helped her with the first Esquire album? Also how about the most recent one, ?
“Ah yeah! No we haven’t been together since about `86, but I helped her with the first one. I was not involved in the second one at all. I helped them put together some numbers for the first one and I supervised the mix.”
“You know what? I think she was! Yeah!”
Did we also hear her on Jon’s album, Olias of Sunhillow
Going even further back in time, did one of your earliest bands, Mabel Greer’s Toyshop, ever make it into the studio. Is there anything out there for your fans?
“I don’t think so. No we didn’t have any official releases. It was just a holding pattern. It was a band I was in just prior to YES, and it was actually the band where I met Jon Anderson.
Songs like BEYOND AND BEFORE developed from those early years? “Yes”. How about HAROLD LAND? “No, Jon wrote that, but that around the time when we first brought YES together”.
“I don’t have any grudge towards him.”
He was, and is one of the finest drummers from that whole era.
“Is he still playing around, he was in a jazz band at one point, wasn’t he?” In King Crimson as well. “Yeah, yeah, that’s right.”
YES’s membership over the years has been many and sundry, has it ever reached the point where it seemed a bit like a revolving door? Somewhat like ‘If you’ve been in YES once, odds are you will be again’? (a la Rick Wakeman and Steve Howe).
(Laughs) It could come across as slightly humorous, but it’s a bit more serious than that. It’s true, people have come and gone, and I guess we never fully close the door on someone who leaves, but we tend to see some people return more than others.
In that light, is it nice to have Steve Howe back again?
Looking back to 1984, to the DRAMA album and to what appeared to many to be an odd choice for new blood for YES, of all people to invite into a serious progressive rock band, you chose the pop duo THE BUGGLES. What brought about that decision?
“Well you know they happened to just walk into our office looking for management representation. They wanted YES’s manager to handle them. It was just a fluke really, being a singer and a keyboard player, just as Jon and Rick were going off to do their solo albums.”
DRAMA in fact turned out to be arguably one of the finer albums YES has released, filled with strong songs.
“Yeah, as it turned out working with them produced a very fine album.”
The critics however sloughed over the album, dismissing it somewhat.
“Amongst the fans, it certainly received its due, but I am not so sure about the record company, whether they believed in it as much as they should have done. They were a bit nervous, because they felt that with Jon and Rick not there, that it wasn’t going to sell. I don’t even think they, (the record label) even knew that THE BUGGLES had a number one single all over the world.” (‘Video Killed The Radio Star’-a pop new wave number that shot to the top of the charts. It was also the first video the MTV played on-air in August of 1981)
One last question about the DRAMA album. The song WHITE CAR seemed abbreviated, almost like song fragments from the Beatles ABBEY ROAD album. Just as it began to hit its stride, it was over and let hanging in the air. Was that deliberate?
“It was a vignette sort of piece, something that Geoff (Downes) developed on the Fairlight really. We are really rushed to do that album. We had a tour that we had obligations to that was coming up and with the personnel change and everything, we just were really up against the wall doing that album. It was a bit of an ‘insert piece’ that helped fill out the album, because we didn’t have enough time really.”
Was it a conscious effort on your part to make sure you were in every incarnation of YES?
“No, it was just a fluke. It was just how the cards fell really. It was not like I was there wielding a stick saying ‘You’re in and you’re out’. Certain people would want to go out and promote their solo careers, and I was just really left there holding the baby! Actually that was more the way it was.”
I had read a quote somewhere that seems somewhat comical that has you saying, “I guess I am doomed to never releasing another solo CD”.
“Well, I’ve been trying to since `74! I was almost there. I was working with Billy Sherwood on something called The Chris Squire Experiment, and we got together to do the OPEN YOUR EYES album. We had new management that said ‘Why don’t you use that track and that track? And that one’s good!’, and before I knew where I was they had taken my album, it was right pillaged! The track called OPEN YOUR EYES was originally called WISH I KNEW and it and MAN ON THE MOON were to be on The Chris Squire Experiment album.
DID the band XYZ actually stand for ‘ex-Yes and ex-Zeppelin? “Yeah it did!”
You also have a bass instruction tape out called BASS INSTRUCTI?
Have you ever ventured into the arena of bass synth guitars like the PEAVEY Cyberbass or the YAMAHA B1-D module, availing yourself of the hundreds of voices they offer?
“Yeah, they’re good, but you have to realize that people are trying to give me bass guitars all the time, and the odd things is that the more you say ‘No it’s okay, I don’t really need any more’, the more they want to give them to you. So I do my very best to say, ‘No, I am serious, I just don’t need any more.
Do you still feel you have challenges after all these years?
“YES has always been a very hard band to pin down, it’s almost part of our quality as much as anything else. It’s like ‘just when you think you know what YES is’, we change. That is also part of our survival technique as well.”
Thirty-one years of YES. Chris has said more than once that in the early years they would have been very proud to have achieved even 6 or 7 years as a band. The lyrics from one of their earlier songs talk of ‘Ten True Summers’, bespeaking an amazement and satisfaction they had reached even that far.
With Squire an ever present influence on this always changing and perpetually transmuting band, one can hope that he has a few surprises left for us. Perhaps even a second solo album! Chris and Billy Sherwood are presently finishing the tracks on an album due out shortly, called CONSPIRACY. He just has to remember to not let the rest of YES know that he is recording it!
You can find even more information on Chris and the band YES, The Buggles, ESQUIRE and YES tribute bands at sites such as…
A complete discography can also be found at
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