By David Coulson. August 3, 2017. BOONE, NC — Billy Sherwood still remembers his first exposure to the progressive rock super group Yes, growing up as a 12-year-old, music-crazed adolescent in Las Vegas, Nevada.
COVER IMAGE: Billy Sherwood. Photo courtesy of www.yesworld.com
“It was the Going For The One” tour,” Sherwood said. “It was an invigorating experience.”
It was one of the defining moments for a youngster who was to become one of the rock world’s premier bass players.
“Yes was the soundtrack of my years growing up,” said Sherwood. “It has been a constant thread going through my life.”
YEStival is one of the most talked about music events ever to come to the High Country.
That was in the fall of 1977. Now nearly 40 years later, Sherwood is firmly planted as the bassist as Yes kicks off its “YEStival” tour this weekend with a concert Friday at the Greensboro Coliseum and another Saturday at Appalachian State University’s Holmes Convocation Center.
Tickets are still available for the 7 p.m. concert on Saturday — one of the most talked-about music events ever to come to the High Country.
Yes will be playing on a star-studded bill that also includes Carl Palmer’s ELP Legacy and solo artist Todd Rundgren. Palmer is the lone surviving member of the iconic Emerson, Lake & Palmer, while Rundgren has carved out an ultra-successful career as an award-winning and best-selling artist, songwriter and producer. One of his most significant ventures was as the leader of the progressive rock group Utopia.
When I got my first bass, it helped me get my chops up.
Yes will be playing a 90-minute collection of hits ranging from its its Beatles-influenced and self-titled first album through 1980’s Drama.
Starting out originally as a drummer, Sherwood fell in love with the sounds of Yes drummer Alan White.
“I used to play along to Yes,” said Sherwood. “I was always looking for the most challenging things I could find to get my chops up. I listened to Jaco Pastorious (Weather Report), Geddy Lee (Rush) and Jack Bruce (Cream), in addition to Chris.”
When he picked up the bass to form a band called Logic with his brother and keyboardist Michael at the age of 15, Sherwood was already familiar with the innovative sounds of Yes bassman and co-founder Chris Squire.
“When I got my first bass, it helped me get my chops up.”
Little did he know that within a decade that Squire would personally ask him him to join his favorite band.
The band has had its thunder and lightning moments.
“How did I end up here?” Sherwood asked rhetorically. “Be careful what you wish for.”
Sherwood came on board in 1990 during one of the most tumultuous times in this band’s pandemonious career, just as lead singer, co-founder, and then-guitarist Jon Anderson was exiting the group.
“The band has had its thunder and lightning moments,” the easy-going and quick to laugh Sherwood said of a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame collective that has endured enough Drama (no pun intended in using the title of the group’s 1980 album during another explosive period) to fill a television reality show. “Right now, it’s pretty chill. We’re just getting on with playing the music.”
Sherwood began working on demos with Squire, White and original keyboardist Tony Kaye. By the time the Union album was recorded, Anderson, Rabin, keyboardist Rick Wakeman and original drummer Bill Bruford had rejoined the band, making its configuration eight strong.
That brief sojourn with Yes solidified a 35-year friendship with Squire and Sherwood returned to work with Yes again as a band member from 1997-2000, co-producing, engineering and mixing the two Keys to Ascension albums, Open Your Eyes and the Ladder.
It was highly emotional. No way was I going to say ‘no.’
Through the years, as Sherwood kept busy with various solo projects (nine albums and counting) and work with other groups, he continued to collaborate with Squire, White and Kaye.
When the 67-year-old Squire was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer (acute myeloid leukemia) in 2015, the legendary musician summoned Sherwood and made a special request: Squire asked his younger friend if he would return to Yes as Squire’s hand-picked successor.
“It was a heavily emotional conversation,” Sherwood remembered. “The best word I can think of to describe it is surreal. No way was I going to say no.”
Squire passed away about a month later and Sherwood has filled his rather large shoes ever since.
“He was the main influence on me, musically,” said Sherwood. “Chris used to say that I sounded more like him than he did.”
It doesn’t get much better than that.
History repeated itself earlier this year when veteran progger John Wetton (King Crimson, UK, Asia, Roxy Music and Uriah Heep) learned he was also dying (colon cancer) on the brink of the tour Asia was planning to perform with Journey.
Sherwood had grown close to Wetton, a bassist and vocalist known particularly for his great songwriting chops, while working on the production of this veteran musician’s final solo album.
One day last winter, Wetton brought Sherwood in for another serious discussion, asking him to be his replacement for Asia’s new tour.
“It took me completely by surprise,” said Sherwood. “I was just floored.”
Wetton passed away on Jan. 31 after a two-year battle with cancer.
Sherwood joined drummer Carl Palmer, keyboardist Geoff Downs and new guitarist Sam Coulson (replacing Yes guitarist Steve Howe in Asia) on a recently-completed string of concerts.
“It’s a blessing,” Sherwood said of his busy musical chores. “Playing (in a rhythm section) with Alan White and Carl Palmer? It doesn’t get much better than that.”
On the new Yestival tour, Sherwood gets to hangout each day with the irrepressible and always hilarious Palmer and play with another of his close friends, White.
Also joining Yes — and the rhythm section of Sherwood and White — on the current tour is Dylan Howe, the son of Steve Howe.
So how do you make music work with two drummers?
“A lot of patience and rehearsal,” said Sherwood, with a hearty laugh.
Yes rehearsed for five days in Lancaster, Pennsylvania last week to prepare for the latest leg of touring.
“It’s good and it’s tight,” Sherwood said. “One of the great things about this group is everybody comes prepared. Everyone knows their parts and knows all of the chord changes (something that can get pretty complex in a Yes arrangement).”
Sherwood wouldn’t divulge any of the set list for this weekend’s concerts, even when his interviewer made a special request for Siberian Khatru.
“You’ll just have to come and wait for the show,” Sherwood said with a big smile. “This is going to be a very special tour and people are going to have a lot of fun. I am really looking forward to it.”