Progressive rock giant John Wetton passed away on January 31. John was a phenomenal bass player, well known for his proficiency and sought after as a session musician. His voice was extremely expressive- at times spirited and strong, other times forlorn and melancholy. He contributed significantly to progressive rock, playing and singing with major acts such as King Crimson and Asia and Roxy Music, but he has played and collaborated with with hosts of artists, among them Steve Hackett, Wishbone Ash, Renaissance, Uriah Heep, Geoff Downes, and even Ayreon.
It is safe to say that John Wetton was a legend of progressive music, and we will miss his incredible soul and talent.We at Proglodytes mourn his passing, and wanted to memorialize him the way we know best- by sharing how he has touched our lives through music.
Thomas: John was among my favorite vocalists in early prog. He had a really versatile voice that reminded me of Greg Lake at times, but with darker edge and tonality that made it much more versatile. He could sing saccharine prog pop like Asia, and could belt edgy tunes like “One More Red Nightmare” and “In the Dead of Night”. His basswork was always brilliant and solid.
King Crimson’s Red album has become a progressive rock classic, and his contributions as both the lead vocalist and and bassist are nothing short of brilliant. A good example of a song that showcases his brilliant musicianship and vocal ability is ‘Starless’. He begins the song with his melancholic, solemn voice, but things progressively get more and more sinister until the song climaxes in harsh dissonance. It is his thunderous thunderous bass ostinato that provides the groundwork for the other instruments to interact and clash. Though everyone has their moment to shine, he is truly the star of this song.
Falstaff: I first heard John Wetton sing my junior year of high school. Asia’s eponymous album was released that spring, but it was during my senior year that ‘Heat of the Moment’ and ‘Don’t Cry’ dominated the airwaves in Salt Lake City. Those songs are associated with indelible memories of that time. Of course, I had no idea who John Wetton was. It was popular and it was on the radio. That’s all that mattered at the time. It wasn’t until nearly a decade later, in Reno, that I first got to know John’s talent and what an incredible singer and bass player he was. It was 1992, I was a year from graduating from the university and, a few years prior, I had discovered the pleasures and benefits of hanging out and getting to know the weirdos at the local indie record store. There’s no better way to traverse the strange, magical byways of musical rabbit holes than to hang out with those folks. One day, my pal behind the counter pulled a record with a cover that was relatively spare and unadorned, yet evoked a kind of mystery. The sun, surrounded and embraced by a blue crescent moon, occupied the center of a blank, white space. He put the needle down and for the first time I heard ‘Lark’s Tongues in Aspic, Pt. I’. It was my first King Crimson song. You all know it. A few minutes of chimes and bells gradually evolve into David Cross’s insistent, stuttering violin intertwining with Fripp’s slide guitar, and then mayhem breaks loose. I can still see my friend crouched over, lanky, red-headed, with a Residents top-hatted eyeball tattooed on his left arm, playing air guitar to the loud, fuzzed out, fat tone coming out of Fripp’s guitar, much more violent and thick than the thinner sound Fripp was able to produce when playing the song live. You know the song and what comes next. After a few refrains of Fripp with violin, that indelible funky groove kicks in, with muscular, dextrous bass and Jamie Muir and Bruford keeping time with a crazy racket of percussion and drums. That was my introduction to Wetton’s bass skills. I was blown away. Suffice to say, I was an instant Crimhead. That’s when I first learned John’s name and discovered the connection to Asia. I had no clue, all those years.
The Wetton period is my favorite of Crimson’s entire catalog, especially the recordings that capture that incarnation live. The studio releases are top shelf, but they pale by comparison with the wallpaper shredding power of the live band. Starless performed live during that time period is my favorite Wetton song. I will always love those live recordings. RIP, John Wetton.
Xerxes: I first became aware of John Wetton as the voice of Asia, a band that I enjoyed but that didn’t stand out as much as I would have expected given the presence of Steve Howe and Carl Palmer. What made the band stand out for me was the vocals, which sounded so different from other bands on the radio. Powerful and melodic, Wetton’s voice was always a pleasure to hear.
A short time later, I was introduced to King Crimson, as a relative late-comer to the band. I was, of course, blown away by the early albums, but to this day, my favorite Crimson albums remain Starless and Bible Black and Red, the second of which remains for me the ultimate expression of the progressive metal genre. Those albums, of course share Mr. Wetton’s talents in common. He had power when needed and a gentle touch when needed.
Prog loses one of its true luminaries with his passing. But his music will remain.
Arthur: John Wetton had my favorite voice of any prog singer, hands down. One that doesn’t get as much recognition is his work with U.K., but “In the Dead of Night” was fantastic. I’m sad to know that he’s gone.
Rest in peace, John. What are your favorite John Wetton moments?