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Meet the new Yes

On tour and ready to release a new album, the current Yes lineup consists of three recognizable names and a few new ones: vocalist Benoit David and keyboardist Oliver Wakeman.

By Howard Whitman

Although it’s been 40 years since Yes made its career-defining recordings, the band has carried on to the present day.
But it’s not the same Yes from the old days. Unsurprisingly for a band whose history has been characterized by numerous personnel changes,

Yes has undergone many membership shifts since its early heyday.

Yes’ new vocalist, Benoit David, left, and bassist Chris Squire, right, onstage in the Czech Republic, 2009. AP Photo/CTK, Vladislav Galgonek

Yes’ new vocalist, Benoit David, left, and bassist Chris Squire, right, onstage in the Czech Republic, 2009. AP Photo/CTK, Vladislav Galgonek

Drummer Alan White replaced Bill Bruford in 1972 following the release of the fifth Yes album, “Close to the Edge.” The band’s had more keyboard players than Spinal Tap had drummers, with Rick Wakeman quitting and rejoining at least four times at last count.

The current Yes lineup consists of bassist Chris Squire (the only member to be on every Yes album), guitarist Steve Howe, White and two new members: vocalist Benoit David (no relation to jazz keyboardist David Benoit), and a Wakeman on keyboards — but not Rick; rather, his son Oliver.

The saga of the current Yes configuration began in 2008, when Yes planned to reconvene after a four-year hiatus for a tour to feature original vocalist Jon Anderson, Howe, Squire, White and Oliver Wakeman filling in for his dad, who bowed out due to health concerns and commitments as a British TV star. This tour was put on hold when Anderson suffered acute respiratory failure and was unable to travel or perform. In 2009, Squire, Howe and White announced their “In the Present” tour with Oliver Wakeman, along with singer Benoit David “sitting in” for Anderson, presumably until he was well enough to tour again.

Like Journey and Boston before them, Yes had found its new singer online. The band came across Canadian vocalist David through a Youtube video of his Yes tribute band Close to the Edge that was sent to Squire.

David’s voice was eerily close to Anderson’s; he even looked a bit like Yes’ founding vocalist. The lineup was well-received on its 2009 tour; even though it wasn’t officially billed as Yes, (rather, “Howe, Squire and White of Yes”) many media outlets used the band name anyway.

A subsequent co-headlining tour with Asia (which saw Howe do double duty, playing with both bands) was also successful, and by 2010, Squire announced that the touring lineup was officially the new Yes. Anderson, who’d recovered and was touring solo and performing with Wakeman senior, was not invited to return.

This Yes revival/reboot has now come full circle, as the band is currently recording a CD of original material set for release by early summer 2011 by Frontiers Records, which recently signed the band to a worldwide recording deal.
Trevor Horn, who replaced Anderson as vocalist for 1980’s “Drama” album and produced the band’s 1983 comeback “90125,” is reportedly producing the new album.

This CD will hold special appeal to Yes fans who delighted to hear songs from “Drama” performed by the new lineup (Anderson reportedly refused to sing “Drama” songs with the band since he wasn’t on that album).

It’s rumored that the CD will include “We Can Fly From Here,” an unreleased song from the “Drama” era, possibly with Horn singing.

Otherwise, the CD will feature new songs by Howe, Squire and Wakeman, possibly with contributions from David, although he hasn’t done much songwriting up to this point.

This release will connect visually with previous Yes works through the return of artist Roger Dean, who created the band’s most famous covers.

There is an undercurrent of drama accompanying this new beginning. Anderson has posted statements on his Web site indicating his feelings of disappointment and betrayal at being replaced. Wakeman has gone on record that even though it includes his son, he feels the band isn’t Yes without Anderson.

The ex-members haven’t been idle. Anderson and Wakeman released a new CD, “The Living Tree” in 2010, and are rumored to be collaborating with “90125”-era guitarist Trevor Rabin (now a busy movie soundtrack composer) on a new sorta-Yes supergroup.
Whatever the future holds for Yes members past and present, it promises to be interesting, at the least.