By Carol Anne Szel
With over 90 solo albums under his belt, thousands of sessions with the likes of David Bowie, Elton John, and Cat Stevens among others in his repertoire, and his five tenures in the mega-classic rock band Yes from it’s inception through 2004, Rick Wakeman can be considered one of the premiere keyboardists in music.
Goldmine magazine had the chance to catch up with Wakeman to talk about his new endeavor with PledgeMusic and the re-recording of "The Myths and Legends Of King Arthur and The Knights of the Round Table" (with five new original pieces of music), his childhood learning about music with British skiffle bands, the resurgence of the vinyl format in the music industry, and more.
GOLDMINE: You’ve done a great deal of session work over the years with some of the best.
RICK WAKEMAN: It started in the '60s. I started doing sessions with different people. I had a sort of solid musical training and classical training so my reading music was very good. My music reading was great, so that helped get me sessions. The other helpful thing was my father. He encouraged me to both listen to and play as many different kinds of music as possible. So I played in jazz bands, rock bands, blues bands, I mean you name it and I’ve played in it. I played anywhere as well. I mean I played in churches, I played in strip joints, I played in quite a few places. It was fantastic because when I started doing sessions I had the advantage of not only knowing different types of music but my reading was very good. So I was doing two or three sessions a day, which I did for quite a few years. Over two thousand I did in the end before Yes took over and there wasn’t any time. But I’ll tell you, what a wonderful apprenticeship course. I worked with some great people. I worked with some tremendous Producers, some tremendous Artists. And I’ve always come away trying to learn something. Whether it’s ‘that’s really good how they do that,’ or ‘I hope I never do what they did!’
GM: Talk about what PledgeMusic is. I know you are involved for the re-recording of “The Myths and Legends Of King Arthur and The Knights of the Round Table.”
RW: Yes. PledgeMusic is where people pre-order stuff to do with the album or to do with the whole project. It’s like pre-ordering. It’s pre-orders of what you’re going to do. And the great thing is whether its CDs or T-shirts of any special thing you want to do. Not only do you know already how many really interested people there are who are going to buy the album, but also, you can gauge through discussion groups, or whatever, the specific interest that the fans have in the album. That was something that was really, really helpful.
It's been very interesting because you offer other things as well. For example, we offer places for people to come for the orchestral recording sessions and to be part of the day. And it’s really nice because you get really close to the people who come, you find out why they’re interested, what is it about the music that they like, what are they looking forward to. And it really actually helps you understand exactly what you’re doing. I mean the whole thing has been absolutely tremendous in so many ways. It’s not at all like crowd funding, it’s simply asking people to pre-order whether it be programs or whether it be T-shirts or whether it be the album or the vinyl (pressing of the album). And also at the same time it gives you a chance to let people know all the while along what you’re doing and how it’s going. We send pictures and videos to the PledgeMusic site so the people can see where we’re up to, what’s going on, who’s involved. And it’s been a real learning curve on a way of working. Really, for me, PledgeMusic are doing what every record company should be doing. I really think it’s the way of the future.
GM: You spoke about vinyl releases. What do you think about the vinyl record resurgence in popularity?
RW: Vinyl is so popular over here now. Vinyl is outselling physical CDs. It’s huge. And interestingly enough it’s not people necessarily my age and older who are going back and buying it, it’s very much 30s, 40s, and under ... the 20s and the students. It’s huge.
GM: Why do you think that is?
RW: Well, the interesting thing is my kids range from age 29 to 44 and they’ve all got kids. And the thing is, when you talk to them, they’ve got their vinyl and they’ve got their other forms of downloading and things they do. But they want to physically hold onto something. They’re suddenly discovering what great artwork we had and they’re just loving it.
I think the world of the record industry made a huge mistake when downloading and all that started. And streaming. They instantly went ‘Oh, a replacement.’ And it’s not a replacement. The same as the CD was not a replacement for the LP. It’s just another way of having your music. I mean, when the CD came out, for a period of time you could buy the CD or you could buy it on vinyl. I know people who bought both. And I know people today that would like to buy both. And the record industry has made this huge mistake of saying ‘Oh, when something new comes along it’s a replacement for what came before. And the record industry being stupid did exactly that. And what is the result and the spin-off is pretty much all over the world, we’ve lost our record shops. We’ve lost that social place, where people go to buy music. And the argument is that now you can get everything online. But where that falls down, is whenever I’d go to record shops, I’d go into buy something and I’d probably come out with three or four things that I hadn’t gone in for! And you talk to people in the shop. Like ‘Oh, I didn’t know that was a good album, thanks.’ It was big and social. Record companies back in the 1970s were probably ten times more than they are now. And what do we have now? We’ve probably got twice the record buying public and yet we’re selling ten times less. You’d think somebody out there in their Ivory Record Presidential Tower would go, ‘Do you know what? I think we’ve done something wrong here.’ I’ve gotten on my high horse here because I think we’re missing out on something social, so much music, so many potential artists, so much.
That’s why PledgeMusic is the way forward. And do you know what the other thing about it is? I was talking about going into record shops and talking about the music and things. It’s amazing that you’ve got people coming on and having discussions and meeting up and talking about music. This is what it used to be like. It’s very social.
I mean, it would not be hard to make right, it would just take a couple of record labels out there who are brave enough do it and give it a shot. Yes, record shops would have to change, but you could still have them. They could become again a big social area. They could have vinyl, they could have CDs, and they could have second-hand albums and things. You could also buy to download, you could also make your own CD. There’s so much you could do. They could become again a big social area.
I’ve always been very aware that music is the first thing that anyone ever owns themselves. I mean, your parents choose what you eat, they choose what you wear, they choose where you go because they have to take you. They choose everything, and you inherit the music that they had. That’s what you listen to. Until you save up your pocket money or from your weekend job or whatever, and you go and buy your first record. That is yours. And there’s no greater noise that you can ever hear then when you’re playing something in your bedroom when you were a kid and to hear one of your parents yelling up the stairs to ‘turn that racket off!’ That is mine.
And what record companies have done is that they’ve taken that away. The interesting thing now is that it’s not working. The new generation is discovering what it’s all about. And discovering the album covers, and discovering all of the great information that came with these covers. And they’re wondering why it was taken away.
GM: What was the first record that you bought?
RW: The very first record that I bought was in 1959. Isn’t that terrible? (laugh). It was a chap called Lonnie Donegan’s “Have a Drink on Me.” And the great thing about Lonnie Donegan’s skiffle band is that at that time nobody could afford instruments and things. But a skiffle band you had what was called a tea chest bass. Which was just an old tea chest with a piece of wood in the back and a piece of string tied down it that vibrated. It had sort of a bass sound when you’d pluck it. And then you had a washboard, which was an old metal washboard and you’d put metal thimbles on your fingers to play it. That ran up and down which created your rhythm. Hopefully somebody had a guitar. And that was your skiffle band! So everybody had a little skiffle band because you could make it by using things that were lying around your house. So Lonnie Donegan was HUGE. And the wonderful thing about Lonnie Donegan was that he was considered to be very important to the big birth of rock 'n' roll music in the U.K. Then Bill Haley, obviously when he came over to the U.K., he really set it on fire. And the lovely thing was, in the '90s I got to, amazingly enough, to meet Lonnie Donegan. And we became really close friends and I actually played at his memorial service at Royal Albert Hall. That was really important to me because he played such an amazing part of my life being my first record.
GM: How would you like the legacy of Yes to be seen?
RW: That’s a really good question. I’d like the legacy of Yes to be that of an encouragement to musicians anywhere who wanted to be their own person and not be frightened to break the rules. So I’d like the legacy to be that it inspires people to be their own person. And break the rules if they want to!
Go to PledgeMusic.com for more information or to pre-order Rick Wakeman's " The Myths & Legends Of King Arthur 2016."