Lead singer Jon Anderson started out playing in various English 'beat groups' before going solo in 1967, recording two singles on the Parlophone label. He was making a meager living cleaning up at a London club called 'La Chasse' during June of 1968, and was thinking of starting a new band. One night at the bar, he chanced to meet bassist/vocalist Chris Squire, a former member of the band, the Syn, who had recorded for Deram, the progressive division of Decca.
They recruited Tony Kaye formerly of the Federals, on keyboards; Peter Banks, previously a member of the Syn, on guitar; and drummer Bill Bruford, who had only just joined the blues band Savoy Brown a few weeks earlier. The name 'Yes' was chosen for the band as something short, direct, and memorable.
The group's big break came in October of 1968, when they, on the recommendation of The Nice's manager, Tony Stratton-Smith, played a gig at the Speakeasy Club in London, filling in at yet another missed date by the declining Sly & the Family Stone. The group was later selected to open for Cream's November 26, 1968 farewell concert at Royal Albert Hall. This concert, in turn, led to a residency at London's Marquee Club and their first radio appearance, on John Peel's Top Gear radio show. They subsequently opened for Janis Joplin at her Royal Albert Hall concert in April 1969, and were quickly signed to Atlantic Records.
Their debut single, entitled "Sweetness" was released soon after and their first album, 'Yes' was released in November of 1969. The record displayed the basic sound that would characterize the band's subsequent records, including impeccable high harmonies, clearly defined, emphatic playing, and an approach to music that derived from folk and classical, far more than the R&B from which most rock music sprung. Also present was a hint of the "space rock" sound (on "Beyond and Before") in which they would later come to specialize.
Anderson's lead vocals gave the music an ethereal quality, while Banks' angular guitar, seemingly all picked and none strummed, drew from folk and skiffle roots. Squire's bass had a huge sound, owing to his playing with a pick, giving him one of the most distinctive sounds on the instrument this side of the Who's John Entwistle, while Bruford's drumming was very complex within the pop-song context, and Kaye's playing was rich and melodic.
The group's fame in England continued to rise as they became an increasingly popular concert attraction, especially after they were seen by millions as the opening act for Iron Butterfly. It was with the release of 'The Yes Album' in April of 1971 that the public began to glimpse the group's full potential.
Despite the early success, Banks began a Yes tradition that would stretch for two and a half decades: He quit the band. All told, the band received eight letters of resignation -- one or more from every founding member except Squire.
As 'The Yes Album' reached number seven in England and number 40 in America, the band made their first U.S. tour opening for Jethro Tull, and came back late in the year, sharing billing with Ten Years After and the J. Geils Band.
By the summer, the band began work on their next album, but were interrupted when keyboard player Tony Kaye left in August, to join Peter Banks in the group, 'Flash'. He was replaced by former Strawbs keyboard player Rick Wakeman, who played his first shows with the band in September and October of 1971.
Wakeman was a far more flamboyant musician than Kaye, not only in his approach to playing but the number of instruments that he used and the way he played them. In place of the three keyboards that Kaye used, Wakeman used an entire bank of upwards of a dozen instruments, including Mellotron, various synthesizers, organ, two or more pianos, and electric harpsichord. This line-up, Anderson, Squire, Howe, Wakeman, and Bruford, which actually only lasted for one year, from August of 1971 until August of 1972, is generally considered the best of all the Yes configurations, and the strongest incarnation of the band.
The group completed their next album, 'Fragile', in less than two months, partly out of a need to get a new album out to help pay for all of Wakeman's equipment. Released in December of 1971, the new album reached number seven in England and number four in America. Its success was enhanced by the release of an edited single called "Roundabout", the group's first (and, for over a decade, only) major hit, which reached number 13 on the U.S. charts. The single's impact among teenage and college-age listeners was far greater than this chart position would indicate. They simply flocked to the band, with the result that not only did 'Fragile' sell in huge numbers, but the group's earlier records (especially The Yes Album) were suddenly in demand again.
Their next recording session produced 'Close to the Edge', in the late spring of 1972 and released in September of that year, consisting of only three long tracks. The fans and critics alike loved 'Close to the Edge', full of rich harmonies and keyboard passages of astonishing beauty and complexity, powerful guitar, and precise drumming. The album reached number four in England and number three in the United States without help from a hit single (though an edited version of "And You and I" did reach number 42 in America).
By the time of the record's release, however, Bill Bruford had left the band to join King Crimson, and was replaced by Alan White, a session drummer who was previously best known for having played with John Lennon and Yoko Ono's Plastic Ono Band. The group then went on tour behind the new album to massive audience response and critical acclaim. As an added bonus for fans, Rick Wakeman had completed his first solo LP, the instrumental concept album 'The Six Wives of Henry VIII', which was released by A&M Records in February of 1973. (Wakeman had played excerpts from it during his featured solo spot during the previous Yes tour)
A large part of the 'Close to the Edge' tour, like the group's prior tour, was recorded, and a three-LP set entitled 'Yessongs', released in May of 1973, was assembled from the best work on the tour. 'Yessongs' became a model for progressive rock live albums. At over 120 minutes, it included the band's entire stage show, all of it uncut and all of it well-played. The live album reached number seven in England and number 12 in the United States.
The group spent the second half of 1973 trying to come up with a follow-up to four successive hit albums. The resulting record, a double LP entitled 'Tales from Topographic Oceans', was released in January of 1974 with such high expectations, that it earned a gold record from its advanced orders. The album took critics and fans by surprise with its long, psychedelic medleys. Apparently out of line with Rick Wakeman's vision, the 1973 album drove a wedge between him and the rest of the band, prompting a hasty departure and an even hastier replacement by the classically trained Patrick Moraz.
Three months later, the group's new album, 'Relayer', was released, reaching the British number four spot and the American number five position. Moraz proved an adequate replacement for Wakeman, but lacked his predecessor's gift for showmanship and extravagance. The group toured in the wake of Relayer's release in November of 1974, and in March of 1975, gave their fans a collection of their early music entitled 'Yesterdays', drawn from the first two albums and various singles, which rose to number 27 in England and number 17 in America.
Amid a series of solo projects, the group's line-up changed once again, as Wakeman announced his return to the fold in late 1976, while Moraz exited. Wakeman's original plan was to assist the group in the studio on their new album, but the sessions proved so productive that he made the decision, fully supported by the band, to return permanently.
Wakeman spearheaded a new movement toward tighter, shorter song structures on the band's next effort, 'Going for the One'. The album topped the British charts for two weeks and reached number eight in America, while the singles "Wonderous Stories" and "Going for the One" rose to numbers 7 and 24, respectively. The group embarked on a massive tour shortly after the album's release, including their most successful American appearances ever, playing to record audiences.
The badly named 'Tormato', released nearly a year later, heralded by the single "Don't Kill the Whale", made the Top Ten in both England and America in the fall of 1978. Once again, after finishing the tour behind the album, the group members began working on solo projects.
In March of 1980, Yes' line-up changed yet again, as Wakeman and then Anderson walked out after an unsuccessful attempt to start work on a new album. Two months later, Trevor Horn (vocals, guitar) and Geoff Downes (keyboards), formerly of the British band, 'Buggles', joined the Yes line-up of Steve Howe, Chris Squire, and Alan White. This configuration recorded a new album, 'Drama', which was released in August of 1980. Rather ominously, this record did dramatically better in England, reaching the number-two spot, than it did in America, where it got no higher than number 18. This hybrid line-up lasted for a year, but the old Yes incarnation remained much closer to the hearts of fans. In January of 1981, Atlantic Record released 'Yesshows', a double live album made up of stage performances dating from 1976 through 1978 that reached number 22 in England and number 43 in America.
Finally, in April of 1981, the total break-up of Yes was announced. Geoff Downes formed 'Asia' with Steve Howe, which went on to some considerable, if short-lived success in the early '80s, and the rest of the band scattered to different projects. For a year-and-a-half, the group seemed a dead issue, until Chris Squire and Alan White announced the formation of a new group called 'Cinema', with original Yes keyboard player Tony Kaye and South African guitarist Trevor Rabin. The line-up failed to gel, and Squire soon called his old friend, Jon Anderson to join. It was about then that everyone realized that they'd reformed virtually the core of the Yes line-up, and that they should simply revive the name.
In late 1983, this Yes line-up, with guitarist/vocalist Trevor Horn serving as producer, released an unexpected chart-topping hit single (number one in the U.S. in January of 1984) in "Owner Of A Lonely Heart", displaying a stripped-down, modern dance-rock sound unlike anything the group had ever produced before. They also released a successful dance-rock style album, '90125', under Horn's guidance, which sold well, but also proved a dead-end, with no follow-up, when Horn chose not to remain with the group.
Yes was fairly inactive for nearly two years after that, until the late 1987 release of 'The Big Generator', which performed only moderately well. Meanwhile, in 1986, Steve Howe re-appeared as a member of the quintet 'GTR', whose self-titled album reached number 11 in America.
The proliferation of ex-Yes members gathering together in various combinations led to an ongoing legal dispute over who owned the group name, which came to a head in 1989. Luckily for four of them, the name "Anderson-Bruford-Wakeman-Howe" was recognizable enough to reach the fans, which sent the resulting album into the US Top 30 and the British Top 20, more or less handing them a victory by acclamation (later supported by court settlement) in their dispute over the name. By touring with "An Evening of Yes Music," they presented their classic repertory to sell-out houses all over the country.
With their success re-kindled, the four sued the other various members who had toured as 'Yes', over the legal use of the name. Happily, in 1991, the legal battles where settled when the foursome kissed and made up with Squire, White, Rabin and Kaye (all of the key past members except Peter Banks) before launching a successful world tour. The accompanying album, "Union", which displayed somewhat tougher sound than they'd been known for, debuted on the British charts at number 7 and reached number 15 in America. This tour, which allowed the band to showcase music from all of its previous incarnations and, in the second half, featured each member who wished it in a solo spot, broke more sales records. These mammoth three-hour shows and the resulting publicity only seemed to heighten interest in the four-CD boxed set, "YesYears", which was released by Atlantic in 1991.
Unfortunately, the newfound harmony was fleeting. Bruford, Wakeman and Howe left again in 1993, leaving the remaining members to record "Talk" in 1994.
The group continued to sell CDs in large quantity and in 1995, Atlantic Records issued upgraded, remastered versions of the group's classic 1960s and '70s albums, even as the work of many of their one-time rivals are consigned to the discount bins.
In 1997, Anderson, Squire, Howe, Sherwood, White and Khoroshev hit the studio to record an album of new material, titled 'Open Your Eyes', and launched a nationwide tour.
Their periodic shows as well as numerous solo albums (especially by Wakeman, and later by Anderson and Howe), are taken very seriously by fans and critics. The band's music of almost every era is regarded with undiminished enthusiasm, and by their critics as respectable attempts at doing something serious with rock music.
In May of 2002, the band announced that Rick Wakeman would be re-joining them, but following the 35th Anniversary tour in 2004, Yes were inactive for four years. The band had hoped to tour in 2005, 2006 or 2007, but were unable to after Anderson begged off due to respiratory problems. Anderson was admitted to hospital in May 2008 following a severe asthma attack. He was diagnosed with acute respiratory failure and doctors advised him not to work for at least six months in order to avoid suffering further health complications. On June 4th, 2008, the band officially put their tour plans on hold. In November of that year, they did manage to get a North American tour off the ground as Steve Howe, Chris Squire and Alan White of Yes, featuring Howe, Squire and White, along with Oliver Wakeman on keyboards and Canadian vocalist Benoît David replacing Jon Anderson. Subsequently, Anderson conducted solo tours in Europe and North America, as well as a tour with Rick Wakeman in 2010. After a South American tour in 2010, Yes embarked on a North American tour called Rite of Spring, which concluded with two shows in Mexico in May 2011. In March, Geoff Downes had returned to the band, replacing Oliver Wakeman on keyboards. Over the summer months, a new album called "Fly From Here" was released and the band toured with Styx in support of their latest effort.
In February, 2012, after contracting a respiratory illness, Benoit David was replaced as lead singer by former Glass Hammer vocalist Jon Davison who, like David, had initially been discovered while fronting a Yes cover band. Yes was slated to return to New Zealand and Australia for an April, 2012 tour that will also include stops in Japan, Indonesia and Hawaii.
In mid-March, 2014, Yes hit the road again, kicking off what they called their "Three Album Tour" in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. Alan White told reporters that the band was continuing to write new material with an eye on recording a new album later in the year. Unfortunately bassist Chris Squire was forced to step away from the band while undergoing treatment for leukemia. Sadly, he lost that battle on June 28th, 2015 at the age of 67. Later that Summer, Alan White said that the band had decided to "keep moving forward" in the wake of Chris Squire's death. They continued to tour across Europe in 2016 and were booked for nine shows in the United States in 2017. Much to the delight of their fans, Yes was slated to be inducted into Cleveland's Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame on April 17, 2017. The inducted members are Jon Anderson, Steve Howe, Trevor Rabin, Chris Squire, Rick Wakeman, Tony Kaye, Bill Bruford, and Alan White.
For more, be sure to read Gary James' interviews with Rick Wakeman, Jon Anderson and Chris Squire.