Playing Kent Stage March 13
Rick Wakeman has had quite the storied career. From playing with David Bowie and T. Rex, to joining Yes, to releasing solo albums and scoring movies, the man has done it all. You can also add member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the newly minted Commander of the British Empire awards to his resume.
Rick will be making an appearance at The Kent Stage on March 13, when he brings his Even Grumpier Old Rock Star tour to town.
We spoke with Mr. Wakemen from his home in England to discuss his upcoming tour and his career.
Greg Drugan: Hi Rick, I appreciate you taking some time with me today.
Rick Wakeman: No problem at all, thank you!
GD: I wanted to congratulate you on your CBE. What does this honor mean to you?
RW: A lot! It really, generally does. CBE’s are generally given not for things like charity work or that kind of thing. It’s normally given for recognition of the career that you’ve chosen. For music and broadcasting or anything to do with that type of entertainment, to get that, I was absolutely over the moon. I am a Royalist. I am an Anglophile, I must admit. I never, ever thought that they’d give it to somebody like me. I never really thought they would. It did come as a big shock. When they did call up, I thought it was a joke, I thought it was one of my mates playing a joke.
GD: The career that you’ve had and all the music that you’ve played on, it’s very well deserved.
RW: That’s very kind. Ironically, actually the Investiture is held at Windsor Castle. The day I’m to go to the Investiture with the Queen, is actually a day that I’m on stage in Seattle. So I’ve got to try and rearrange the date. Unless she did in fact, come into Seattle!
GD: A few years ago you got inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame along with YES. I think you gave perhaps the best speech of all time. Was that off the cuff or was some of that planned?
RW: No, it was completely off the cuff. I’m a great fan of award ceremonies and I watch them. But the thing that gets me is the acceptance speeches, they’re just so boring! How many times can you thank your mom, your dad, your Uncle Bert, the man who gave you your first guitar lesson? Or in case with films the first director you worked with or who did your makeup. It’s interesting, at the Hall of Fame they basically know everything about all the bands. They know more about the people than the people themselves! So when someone starts rambling on, you hear this hum all around, which is people talking. It’s basically the signal, “get it over with and go play.” Trevor Rabin said, “liven it up for heaven's sake!” I said, “I’m not known for doing any comedy in America. I’m very well known for doing it over here in the U.K.” He “Give it a go, see what happens. Someone’s got to do something.” I’ve got routines that I do, so I thought that I’d start with some one-liners and see how they go. So I did a one-liner about the venue being very close to the place where I had my first sexual experience. Suddenly, the hum went down to nothing. So I carried on. It was interesting because as I was speaking, I was thinking about what I could pluck out of some of my routines. It was great fun, it was not meant to be disrespectful or detrimental to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I’ve got a great deal of pleasure of being a part of what they do. I had so many great emails and texts and calls from people. It was quite astonishing, really. It was very much, well, I was bored.
GD: (laughs) I don’t think any disrespect was taken. I think you did liven up the ceremony, it was the highlight of the year. Speaking of the Rock Hall, have you been to the museum since you have been inducted?
RW: Not since I’ve been inducted. I was due to go the last couple of years. My second oldest daughter lives in Cleveland. I always like to get there and go see her and then go to the Hall of Fame. COVID put a stop to everything the last two years. We were meant to end the first part of the tour in Cleveland, well actually Akron and we would have gone to the Hall of Fame. So we will try to slot it in when we are in Ohio. With the COVID situation, it’s not been easy to see any of my kids, really.
GD: Very good, well hopefully you can make a stop by when you are playing in Kent in March. That would be fantastic.
RW: Absolutely! That’s the plan. I mentioned Akron, but it’s actually Kent. We were supposed to play there but it was cancelled for various reasons. I just do what I’m told, I’m that old.
GD: We are glad you are coming back and we’re glad you put Kent back on your tour.
RW: Absolutely! So is my daughter and so am I.
GD: Early in your career you got to work with David Bowie. Did you know that “Space Oddity” and “Life On Mars” were going to be something special when you recorded them?
RW: This sounds like a corny answer, but the answer is yes. I was doing a load of sessions. I did about 2,000 sessions over about a four to five year period. I played with so many artists. You get to know when you’ve got a track and think, “this is one that’s gonna hang around.” They do stick out. Occasionally when an absolute gem appears, and Bowie was a gem. “Life On Mars” was a joyous gem. Even some of the pop songs, you think, “oh that’s going to be a hit.” Some people might say, “no you didn’t.” but I did. I told people too at the time.
GD: You also got to work with another recent Rock Hall Inductee in T. Rex, what was that experience like?
RW: Marc was great! Marc was a good friend and I got to see him a lot. He was a good guy. I got to meet Marc Bolan through Tony Visconte. Tony was producing Marc, and we sort of became mates. I enjoyed working with Marc a lot. An interesting thing, there is a guitarist called John Williams, not the composer, the John Williams the classical guitar player. He’s enormous here in the UK and Europe. I played on one of his albums and we did a concert at the Festival Hall and we went back to his house in a place called Little Venice in London. There were about ten of us there and we sat in this huge lounge in his house and he got his classical guitar out and started playing. Marc Bolan lived two doors down from his house, and he turned up with his guitar. It was the most amazing combination of Marc singing songs and John playing classical riffs around the music. Oh, for the days for having a recorder! Because I would have recorded it because it was magical. Yeah, Marc was a lovely guy.
GD: After having success as a studio musician, like you said, you were asked to be in Bowie’s Spiders From Mars band and at the same time you were asked to be in Yes. I think on the same day. What a difficult choice and how did you make that choice?
RW: Purely on musical grounds. Bowie was the most influential person I’ve ever worked with and still is to this day. I loved playing David’s music! The thing about The Spiders From Mars, David was much bigger than Yes were at the time, certainly in the UK. But, I thought, ok, if I go with Spiders, I’ll always be playing David’s music, which was fine because I loved David’s music. But there was a ceiling about how far I could go. But if I was in a band, I have things that I could offer and they’ve got things that they could offer me. There is no ceiling, you could do so much more. David and I became neighbors when we lived in Switzerland, well I say neighbors but we lived in adjoining villages. We used to meet in a little club in Montreux called the Museum Club and we used to put the world to right and we’d talk about a lot of things. He told me, “You made absolutely the right decision to go with Yes. As time has shown, I’ve changed my band quite a lot. Chances are, after three years you would have been out anyway!”
GD: Well, you made the right choice. I was wondering, is it true that you wore a cape to hide your arms when you played live?
RW: Arms and legs. There was a review in 1971 where the reviewer wrote very complimentary about me. But said because my arms and legs were going everywhere to reach the keyboards and pedals, that I looked like a demented spider. I laughed and thought that’s fun. The next show that we did, I realized I did! The pedals were all over the place and the keyboards are nowhere as sophisticated as they are today. Then we played a festival in Hartford, Connecticut at a baseball grounds. The DJ who was introducing all of the bands was wearing a ¾ length cape. I was watching from the side of the stage, and when he came off, to put it politely, he was quite on the large side. I thought to myself, “that cape hides a multitude of sins.” I thought, that’s my answer. I had two hundred dollars in my pocket because we’d just been paid. He came to the side of the stage and I said, “I want to buy your cape,” He said, “It’s not for sale.” I said, “I’ve got two hundred dollars in my pocket and that’s all I’ve got in the world.” I took it out and waved it in front of him and he said, “Go on, then.” He took the two hundred dollars and I took the cape, which for me was a half size cape and lighting guy said to me, “that’s your answer. But you need a full size cape, not a half size cape and I know just the lady who can make one for you.” And that was the start of it.
GD: Wow, history was made. The last time you played in Ohio you were with ARW and those were excellent shows. Is there any chance that you might tour with Jon and Trevor or perhaps do one final Yes reunion?
RW: Every time I said no, something happened. We had plans to do an ARW tour two years ago but COVID put a stop to that and everybody went off to do other things. I was doing solo shows and Trevor was doing more films with Bruckheimer and Jon was doing whatever it was he wanted to do. There are talks between various managers and I’m just waiting to see what will happen. I always felt that Yes, or any form of Yes should have a proper ending. We’ve lost Chris (Squire) and Alan is limited to what he can do. It’s typical Yes, it’s fraught with difficulties. I would like to think that somewhere there is a decent ending because none of us are getting any younger. I think if you combine all of our ages, that would take us back to the time of the dinosaur. Which some people say if fact we are anyway! (laughs)
GD: I have time for one more question. You will be bringing your Even Grumpier Old Rock Star tour to The Kent Stage in March. What can fans expect from your show?
RW: It’s a kind of show where I take a lot of music which I’ve been involved with like David Bowie, Marc Bolan, Cat Stevens and Yes and my own stuff and even a few little surprises. I write everything on the piano, so I take them back to how they were written. Or how my participation (in them) was written, which is great fun to do. Intermingled with some anecdotes about things in my life or people that I’ve been involved with, and every single one of them have a little bit of truth to them. Some of them are absolutely ridiculous and some actually have to be watered down because if I told the true story, people wouldn’t believe it. It’s quite funny. I like to think that people can smile, they can laugh and maybe even shed a tear when I do certain tributes to the likes of Jon Lord and Keith Emmerson. I like to think that it’s a concert for everybody that goes not through the motions, but rather the emotions.
GD: Rick, it’s been a pleasure speaking with you. Thank you for your time and I look forward to seeing you at The Kent Stage in March.
RW: Thanks ever so much, I look forward to it. Come and say hello!
Be sure to check out Rick Wakeman and his Even Grumpier Old Rock Star Tour to The Kent Stage on March13. Tickets start at $65 and can be purchased here.