John Wetton, Asia singer, dead at 67. Spoke of the band’s troubled history, reunion in Morning Call interview
By John J. MoserContact Reporter Of The Morning Call
John Wetton, the bassist and front man for Asia and a former member of King Crimson and U.K., died this morning at the age of 67 after a battle with cancer, the band Asia said on its Facebook page.
“We regret to announce that iconic singer, John Wetton, passed away in his sleep this morning,” a statement on the page said. “Rest in Peace, John. 12th June 1949 – 31st January 2017.”
Wetton had played the Lehigh Valley area in several bands in recent years.
Lehigh Valley Music had the pleasure of being Wetton’s first interview when The Original Asia re-formed and went back out on tour in 2006, playing Penn’s Peak near Jim Thorpe and Keswick Theater in Glenside.
Wetton, who was a consummate gentlemen and great interview during our phone call, was very open about the division of the band’s members and how it came back together.
Here’s the story I wrote that appeared in The Morning Call on Aug. 26, 2006:
Long way around proving best route for Asia’s 25th anniversary tour
Synthesizer-based disco and new wave music ruled the airwaves when arena rock super group Asia rose from the ashes of progressive rock heavyweights Yes and Emerson, Lake and Palmer in 1981.
“Everyone said about the music we recorded, “Oh, that’s not going to fly,’ because it was, I suppose, a hark back to prog-rock with one step in pop,” recalls vocalist-bassist John Wetton. ” And people said, “No, that’s not going to work. It’s all keyboards now. It’s all synthesizers.’ I think A Flock of Seagulls was No. 1.”
Against the odds, as well as critics’ brickbats, Asia’s self-titled debut, released in the spring of 1982, zoomed to No. 1 and stayed there nine weeks, selling seven million copies with the hit “Heat of The Moment” and three other singles, “Only Time Will Tell,” “Sole Survivor” and “Wildest Dreams.”
“Actually, what we did was make a sound that blew synthesizers out of the water,” Wetton says. “Everyone said, “Oh, no, no, no. A prog-guitar band ain’t gonna work.’ But it did.”
A quarter-century later, Wetton figures the musical climate is much the same, with genres fractured.
And so the four original members of Asia — Wetton, guitarist Steve Howe, drummer Carl Palmer and keyboardist Geoff Downes — are back together for the first time in 23 years, ready to give it another go with a 25th anniversary tour that starts Tuesday in Rochester, N.Y., and stops at Penn’s Peak near Jim Thorpe and at the Keswick Theatre in Glenside.
“At the moment, I don’t think anybody knows which direction music’s going, so we just do what we do and see what happens again,” Wetton says over the telephone from England, where the band had just finished rehearsals for the tour.
Whether Asia — whose members together, in the earlier bands and in other groups such as King Crimson and The Buggles have sold 200 million records — can work another miracle remains to be seen.
But Wetton says just for the four original members of Asia to even be in the same studio is a miracle, so acrimonious was the band’s breakup.
The multiple platinum success of the first album — Billboard named it Album of the Year — was followed by a second disc, “Alpha,” that also went platinum and had hits with the power ballads “Don’t Cry” and “The Smile Has Left Your Eyes.” But egos and slower sales led to cracks in the band even as they sold out 1982 and 1983 tours.
Wetton says he was replaced by former ELP bassist Greg Lake before a huge MTV satellite concert in Japan in 1983 without even being told. “I wasn’t even consulted about it,” he says, laughing.
And when other band members asked him to return in 1984, Howe quit. “It all got — it got incredibly immature,” Wetton says. “We were all in our 30s — we weren’t spring chickens even then, you know? — but still behaved like teenagers. … You’d think that we would have been used to it and could have taken the blows, the slings and arrows.
“But, in fact, the trajection of the first band was so phenomenal that it caught everyone off guard, including managers and the record company, and nobody was prepared for quite that level of success. And yes, I am one of the first to stick my hand up and say, “Yeah, I spiraled out of control.’
“So hopefully we’re a little bit more grown up now.”
Howe was replaced and the band released a disappointing third album, “Astra,” but the four never played together again, and Wetton and Palmer also eventually left.
As the last original member, Downes continued on as Asia with other players through 2005 — they played Allentown’s Crocodile Rock Cafe in 2001 — although none of the albums or singles charted in the United States after 1990. Downes even kept the name when Wetton and Palmer, in a band called Qango, had more original Asia members.
Wetton says he thinks the later work detracted from Asia’s reputation, but says, “For most people, they would still think of the original band as being Asia. … It’s got to be those four or none at all.”
Wetton says the reunion came about after he and Downes, who remained friends and to whose daughter he is godfather, finished the second album of a new band, Icon, as Asia’s 25th anniversary loomed.
In addition, “Heat of the Moment” was used in the 2005 movie, “The 40 Year Old Virgin,” and in the Canadian version of the “American Idol” television show.
“[People] would say, “Well, you know, what are you going to do — the 25th anniversary would be a perfect opportunity for everyone to get back together again,”‘ he says. “We thought, “Oh, my god, you know, maybe it’s worth asking the other two.’ But we didn’t really expect anyone to say yes. It was a longshot.”
The band met Jan. 9 “with a view to sit the four of us down in the same room again,” Wetton says.
“I mean, um, a lot of people wouldn’t have even put money on that, you know?” he laughs. “So we stood in the same room and we just talked for a couple of hours and decided there weren’t any sort of insurmountable personal problems and we all got a genuine desire to do this.
Wetton says the reunion was planned as a four-week jaunt to simply acknowledge the anniversary, “but as we’ve been kind of solidifying as an entity again, things have started moving on. People want us to do a bit more.”
The U.S. tour has been extended through November, followed by a UK tour, and one in Japan in March.
Wetton says he also expects the reunion to result in new music from Asia. Universal Records is releasing greatest hits and video compilations, and a DVD of the tour is planned.
“And then we’ll move it along from there,” Wetton says. “I’m sure there’ll be a move to record at some stage. … I think the vast majority of the people … want to see us go on and do some more stuff and make a record.
Wetton says the show will be nearly two hours, with a set list of the entire first album, two songs from the second album and “an obscure track that the diehard fans will absolutely adore.”
But he says no songs will be played from any of the subsequent 10 albums released as works of Asia.
But Wetton says Asia also will play a few songs from the members’ other bands, such as “Roundabout” by Yes, “Fanfare For The Common Man” by ELP and The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star” — ironically, a synthesizer-based song like those Asia swept to the wayside when it first emerged.
Asked how that song sounds played by Asia, Wetton says, “Come and see.”