Tony Kaye Interview: Yes, David Bowie, Badfinger, and More - Rolling Stone
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Tony Kaye on His Years With Yes, David Bowie, and Badfinger

The keyboardist is a founding member of Yes and backed Bowie on the legendary ‘Station to Station’ tour

HOLLYWOOD, CA - JUNE 19:  Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member Tony Kaye, founding member of the classic rock band Yes, performs onstage as a special guest during the band's 50th Anniversary tour at Ford Theatre on June 19, 2018 in Hollywood, California.  (Photo by Scott Dudelson/Getty Images)

"You had to be there at the time," says Yes co-founder Tony Kaye of how the band found its sound. "We were 20 years old. Who knows where it came from?"

Scott Dudelson/Getty Images

unknown legends
Rolling Stone interview series Unknown Legends features long-form conversations between senior writer Andy Greene and veteran musicians who have toured and recorded alongside icons for years, if not decades. All are renowned in the business, but some are less well known to the general public. Here, these artists tell their complete stories, giving an up-close look at life on music’s A list. This edition features keyboardist Tony Kaye.

Keyboardist Tony Kaye has come and gone from Yes no fewer than five times over the past 50 years. This goes all the way back to the formation of the band in 1968 when his organ powered early classics like “Yours Is No Disgrace” and “Starship Trooper.” It continued in the Eighties when he played on their comeback hit “Owner of a Lonely Heart” and carried all the way through their 50th-anniversary tour in 2018 when he was a “special guest” every single night of the long run.

But there are long gaps in his Yes career and he filled them with stints in Badfinger, Badger, and even David Bowie’s band on his 1976 Station to Station tour. In recent years, the English musician found himself backing William Shatner on a brief California club tour. We phoned up Kaye at his new home in Florida to hear about the entire saga and why every time he thought he was out of Yes, they pulled him back in.

You live in Florida full-time now?
Oh, yeah. I moved two years ago. I had enough of L.A. after 30 years. I got the hell out.

How has your pandemic year been going?
It’s given me a chance to actually set up a studio and make some music, which is a good thing since there’s hardly anything else to do. We got a little taste of Florida life for about a year and then everything changed.

I want to go back here and talk about your life. What’s the first music you recall hearing as a child that really reached you?
Well, I came from a fairly musical family. My mother was an accomplished classical pianist, so I was on her knee at a very young age. It was a sort of classic upbringing where I learned classical piano. That was going to lead to me going to the Royal School of Music, which didn’t happen because I got into different kinds of music. At 15, I was playing with a 16-piece big band doing [Duke] Ellington and [Count] Basie and playing dance shows. It really kind of changed everything.

I played clarinet too and I was playing in a traditional jazz band and piano in a blues band. It kind of went on from there. And, of course, rock & roll happened.

In your teenage years, did you get into Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley and all that stuff?
Yeah. Very much so. We were playing American rhythm & blues rock. And my band went to Germany. It was post-war and were playing American music to American serviceman that were at the nearby military bases. Of course, the Beatles went there too. My first trip to Germany was playing opposite the Beatles in a club.

Did you see them play a lot?
Yeah. We played all day and night. It was one long set, hours and hours. And they did that too. In between sets, we’d go between and see them and meet them. It was the beginning of rock & roll.

Did you see the huge potential in them?
Oh, yeah. You knew. They were just great. You knew that they had the look. Of course, they weren’t in the silly suits. They were James Dean–influenced at that point, as we all were. We were all in leather pants back then.

What was life like for you in the Federals?
They were really my first professional band that I joined since they were actually making money and traveling. They played shows all around Europe and we went to Turkey and Romania, Germany, and Italy. It was a working band. For a young lad, it was a thrill.

Tell me about first meeting the guys in Yes.
We all ended up in London and hanging around the Marquee Club. That was basically where it was all happening. The Rolling Stones were playing there and I was a big fan. I used to go see bands there. It was before Yes, but also before any sort of experimental music. It was more of an R&B club, in a way, but different bands started to play there. The Nice played there and we started hanging out at a bar next-door called La Chasse.

At that time, [bassist] Chris [Squire] was in the Syn and [singer] Jon [Anderson] was in another band. I was playing with Pink Floyd–style acid bands. I was starting to be experimental. It was a place for everyone to hang out and that’s where it all started. [Guitarist] Peter [Banks] was there. [Drummer] Bill [Bruford] came a little later, but it was the nucleus of the band with Chris, Jon, and Peter.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fIELdjTQg-U

What were the goals of the band at that formation stage? It was long before “prog rock” was even a term.
Yeah. “Prog rock” came later, but it was starting to emerge. We were not that interested in playing R&B blues, Stones music. But in the beginning, we had no original material and were sort of jamming on rock songs. But we kind of knew that we wanted to do different things and Pink Floyd, Genesis, and the Nice were all starting at that time. Everyone was pushing each other to develop a new music, really.

And because we didn’t have any original material, we took other people’s songs and completely messed them up. That’s why you have [West Side Story‘s] “Something’s Coming” and Beatles songs and [Simon and Garfunkel’s] “America.”

You did them in really interesting ways. Jon has such a high, distinct voice and Chris and Bill were this incredible rhythm section. It led to something very unique. I can’t think of another band that would have interpreted the Beatles’ “Every Little Thing” like you guys did.
Yeah. I don’t know why or how it came out. It was just us experimenting with music and these were great songs. You could really say that it was sort of accidental. You had to be there at the time. I couldn’t really explain it definitely or in proper context. We were 20 years old. Who knows where it came from?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pO9gO_KnbEQ

This is the exact same time that King Crimson and Genesis are starting, but they didn’t have the harmonies like you guys. That really set you apart.
Yeah, the harmonies between the three guys were definitely a bonus over, say, Floyd or Crimson and Genesis. Interpreting those songs was definitely challenging. People certainly took notice and we got a residency at the Marquee club, which was kind of difficult to get. We were there Tuesday nights and the Nice would be there Wednesday night. It was a party, really.

Meeting Ahmet Ertegun and signing to Atlantic was obviously a big step.
Yeah. There wasn’t that much action, or even hope, of getting a record deal. You had to have original music and we didn’t have a lot. But Ahmet liked the band, and unlike today where you have to have it all together, we were allowed to learn and write and progress, which was nice. And the first record was done in about a week in a tiny sort of radio studio. We played it live.

Did you like the end result?
We all knew that we could do better. Everyone strove to do better. We’d go out and suddenly there was Vanilla Fudge and King Crimson. You’d start thinking, “OK, we’ve got to get better.” That definitely pushed us forward, especially Crimson.

Tell me about Time and a Word and the decision to bring in strings and move toward a more orchestral sound.
I don’t really remember too much about that except Jon was very into orchestral music. He went through a period where classical music was all he listened to and he wanted to add that to the band. Of course, back in those days, there were no Mellotrons or samplers or anything we could do. You had to do it with an orchestra.

I thought it was pretty successful. There was one person in the band who particularly hated it. Actually, in a way, although it was sort of becoming a progressive-type band, Peter and I were more rock-oriented from a Hammond [organ] point of view — the loud, distorted Hammond. And Peter was a sort of a Pete Townshend–influenced character, which was really the reason for the split, eventually.

How did Steve Howe’s arrival change the band?
Well, it was over a period of time. I was quite responsible, I think, for Steve. For a while, we had no guitar player. It was sort of news to me that Peter was fired, but that’s what happened. I just happened to be at the Speakeasy one night and Steve was playing with his band Bodast. I thought, “Oh, this guy is really good.” I suggested him to Jon and we had him come down and that was it.

Of course, at that point, we got a chance to do a third album with Atlantic. We went off to the country and composed The Yes Album, which was the start of the way the band was going to progress.

I can tell it’s a different band from the first second of “Yours Is No Disgrace” kicking off Side One. It was a huge leap forward for the band.
It just kind of happened. It had a lot to do with Steve. And we were stuck in this little cottage down in Devon, which is still Steve’s house, by the way. He bought the place and still lives there.

What led to your departure from the group?
It was complicated. Well, it was easy and it was complicated at the same time. It was not a big deal in a lot of ways. I had my own band going at the time, which was Badger. It was the beginning of the Moog synthesizer and the Mellotron, instruments I didn’t particularly like. It was not that pleasant to my Hammond ears, so to say. I was not particularly happy in doing that. I was working with David Foster, who was a co-writer with Jon on early Yes stuff. We had this band and I enjoyed playing with them more than with Yes at that time.

Jon and Chris, but particularly Jon, wanted to create this orchestral thing. And obviously, Rick [Wakeman] fit perfectly because that’s what he was playing. And so it was a split that had to happen.

After you left, did you listen to Fragile and Close to the Edge? Did you follow their work?
A little bit. They came back from an American tour at one point and had no equipment. Jon asked my band, Badger, if they could rehearse where we were rehearsing. We actually had only been in operation for about two weeks and we had enough material for an album. But we had no intention of recording or even getting a recording contract.

And so the band came to the studio and we chatted and Jon said, “We’re going to record the next show,” which was at the Rainbow. They were recording a live album. And so we tagged along and supported them. One Live Badger came out of that. After that, Badger wasn’t exactly a huge success. I did another album in New Orleans and decided I wanted to move to Los Angeles.

I read that you signed away all your rights to Yes royalties for $10,000. Is that true?
Yeah. That was a typical [Yes manager] Brian Lane trick. I very, very reluctantly went along. You knew that it was the wrong thing, but shyster managers are very good at getting what they want. And I wanted to leave and get out of England. It was the money I used to get to L.A. And I got it back eventually.

You lived at the Hyatt House in L.A. in the mid-Seventies.
Yeah, the Riot House. That was all I knew in L.A. It was from my early Yes tours.

That’s the most famously debauched hotel in rock history, and this was the peak of it. What was the most insane thing you saw?
John Bonham, I think. [Laughs] Nothing could be crazier than Jonh Bonham driving his weird car … whatever it was called with the open top. It looked like Mad Max. We lived next door to each other. He was at the Rainbow every night. Every night, we’d hit the bar at the Riot House and then go to the Rainbow. That was a nightly thing until I got serious.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3lfXWHqaRdY

How did you meet David Bowie and wind up on the Station to Station tour?
I vaguely knew his tour manager from England and I was going through … it wasn’t called rehab at the time, but after going through three months at the Riot House, I had some fairly serious things going on. I went into a sort of rehab seclusion.

I rented an apartment. I didn’t know many people, but one of my few friends took me to the Rainbow on my birthday for my first outing after the long seclusion. I bumped into Bowie’s tour manager. He said, “Can you be on a plane tomorrow?”

That was it. I said, “Sure.” He said, “Well, I’ll have a limousine come pick you up.” I didn’t even know where I was going. The limousine picked me up, and before you knew it, I was in Jamaica at Keith Richards’ house with David and the band rehearsing.

It was such a great band with Dennis Davis, Carlos Alomar, George Murray …
Killer band. Just great guys, too. Carlos was the guy. He was kind of my mentor, really. I learned everything about David’s music from him.

David described this as a very difficult time where he was doing way too much coke and not sleeping. Did you sense that he was struggling, or was he doing better by the time the tour started?
I didn’t get to see much of that, admittedly. But look at him on that tour. He looked great. He was the persona of the person on that stage. He didn’t look raggedy at all.

Yeah. He was the Thin White Duke.
[Laughs] He was the Thin White Duke and it was a great show. I loved that tour.

It’s one of my favorite tours by anyone ever. The vibe you created when you all walked out and slowly went into “Station to Station” was just incredible.
Yeah. All those white lights and the band got to jam for 10 minutes before he came on. It was sensational. I remember playing Madison Square Garden. … It’s a shame not a lot of it was recorded or filmed. I do have tapes that I tried to get to David just before he died. I found in a box a board mix of two shows. One at Madison Square Garden and one in Paris that are just fantastic performances.

Did you give those to the Bowie estate?
No. I tried to get a message to David that I had them right before he died. Of course, I had transferred them to digital since they were cassette tapes. I messed around with them, but they just sound so great. For board mixes, they are unbelievable.

You should really find a way to get them out. The only one show they released from that tour was Nassau Coliseum.
I only have two shows. I did hear that [Nassau Coliseum one] and the shows I have are really so much better. Maybe someone will want to release it just as a one-off thing. I should probably give Carlos a ring and see what he thinks. He’s the master Bowie dude.

Anyway, the Madison Square Garden shows were so great. Everyone was there, like Lennon, Liza Minelli … I don’t think there’s anyone since that has been as cool as Bowie was at that moment.

What’s funny is that you’re playing “Life on Mars” and “Changes” at every show and Rick Wakeman played those parts on the original recordings. Meanwhile, he was back with Yes the next year and he’s playing “Starship Trooper” and “I’ve Seen All Good People” and doing your old parts. It was like you swapped roles.
[Laughs] Yeah. I had no idea that Rick recorded with him. That was kind of news to me. I think David knew, sort of, that I had been with Yes. He didn’t really care, I don’t think. We never really talked about it. I certainly don’t think the band really cared who Yes was. They were a bunch of New York session dudes.

Tell me about forming Detective with Michael Des Barres.
Well, I had been on the Bowie run for quite a long time. I came back to L.A. and was just sort of retiring, really. It was a retiring time. I thought I should stop. And so I decided to become a tennis player. And I had a house close to tennis courts in Hollywood. Although I sort of knew Michael, we became friends around that time. I was learning how to play tennis all day. He lived around the corner and he put Detective together. He invited me down to play with the band and I became part of it.

Then the band was signed with Swan Song [Records] and we were kings at that Starwood in Hollywood and played there exclusively and packed it out every night. Jimmy [Page] played with the band. People thought it was going to be fairly successful, but it probably sounded too much like Zeppelin to be super successful.

How was the tour where you guys opened up for Kiss?
It was horrible. We were booed off every night. An entire 20 rows of children dressed as Gene Simmons. It couldn’t be worse.

Oof. That’s the worst nightmare of so many performers.
I think other bands fared better opening for Kiss. Trying to think who …

Rush and Cheap Trick fared better, I’ve heard.
Cheap Trick! I think it was Cheap Trick. But we were pretty intense, Led Zeppelin–esque. The Kiss fans didn’t want to know.

You joined Badfinger after that. How was that experience?
Well, you know, what can you say? I love Badfinger. I guess at the end of the Seventies, I bumped into Tommy [Evans] for the first time in a long time. I loved Tommy. He was such a character, such a great guy. They just finished [1979’s] Airwaves and Tommy asked me to come down to the studio. They wanted to go on the road. I just started playing with them. That was the beginning of a lot of craziness with Tommy.

They were such a great band, but this wasn’t an easy time for them.
It was a very disappointing … I can’t even say “period” because the whole thing was disappointing. It’s hard to understand how wrong it went.

You recorded Say No More with them in 1981. Was that a good experience?
Well, that was fun. I must say, I really kind of like that album. It had a certain something. Of course, we recorded it in Miami. The band was living in a house on Key Biscayne. There was a lot of drinking and stuff going on. But the band was performing in the studio and we’d go and play a bar in Key Biscayne after we finished. We became very close, actually.

Tell me how you got roped back into Yes for 90125.
It started just by chance in Miami, recording the Badfinger album. The house the band lived in just happened to be next door to the house that Chris [Squire’s] wife Nikki and the kids had rented in the summer while the band was on tour behind Drama with Trevor Horn and Geoff [Downes]. Chris turned up one day and I got to hang out with him. It was quite out of the blue and quite ridiculous.

I wound up at his place playing Beatles songs until 4 a.m. I got to chat with Chris and he said, “What did you think of Drama?” I said, “Well, it’s not really Yes, is it?” He said, “Well, no. We thought we’d try something different.” And actually, the album is good. I like the album. But live with Trevor Horn didn’t really work.

Chris said, “What do you think? Maybe we could do something? And I found this guitar player. He lives in L.A. His name is Trevor Rabin. Maybe you should get together when you get back to L.A.” And so we did. A year later, we were in England with a band called Cinema.

Do you recall first hearing the demo for “Owner of a Lonely Heart”?
I do.

Did you like it, or see it as a hit?
I was kind of the only one that potentially saw it. Trevor and I were sharing an apartment, [Atlantic Records Vice President] Phil Carson’s apartment, somewhere in Knightsbridge. Trevor had tapes, and basically, [it was] a lot of the songs that appeared on 90125. “Owner of a Lonely Heart” I thought was potentially a hit. He said, “No, it’s not.”

It was never rehearsed. It was never played. Everything else practically on 90125 was rehearsed and played for a year. But never “Owner of a Lonely Heart.” It was conceived at the end of recording the album. Trevor Horn says that he’s the one that found it, or at least recognized the potential.

How did you feel about Cinema becoming Yes?
Well, I left the band. I was not particularly enamored with [producer] Trevor Horn in a lot of ways. I think the feeling was mutual. I just left. I was getting tired of what it was becoming and tired of London and tired of Trevor Horn. I missed home. I missed L.A. Kind out of the blue, Tommy had organized a Badfinger tour. I felt it was just what I needed, really. And so that was the plan. I went back to L.A. and it was only a matter of weeks when I heard that Tommy had killed himself.

Oh, God.
[Softly] Yeah. And so that was the end of that. I missed the finale of Jon [Anderson] coming into the band and re-recording the vocals and all of that.

Then they pulled you back in?
[Sighs] Then they pulled me back in, yes. What happened was, I had a rock & roll T-shirt company. I was at the Rose Bowl Swap Meet and was selling T-shirts and making money. I had a portable radio next to my chair and this song came on. And there it was. And then they played it 10 minutes later and five minutes after that. You couldn’t get away from it. I thought, “Well, it’s a hit record. Could be fun.” Which it was.

How was the tour? You’re playing all these songs they recorded after you left, like “Roundabout” and “Long Distance Runaround,” for the first time.
I knew the songs. I mean, the songs were in my head. The bigger challenge was to learn how to play 90125 with all the samples and all the stuff you play in the studio, but then you’ve got to play it live. Thank God, Trevor [Rabin] had his little accident in Miami and the tour was delayed. [Ed. note: Rabin was swimming in the pool of the Fontainebleau hotel in Miami when a woman coming down a slide rammed into him and ruptured his spleen.] That gave me a little more time to set up a keyboard rig with samplers. These were early samplers and not very sophisticated, but MIDI had just come out.

It must have been weird that you guys are now veterans about 15 years into this and suddenly you have a giant pop hit and you’re playing to enormous crowds.
It was shocking to everyone. They discovered that at least 60 percent of the audience were just fans of “Owner of a Lonely Heart.” It was odd. The entire front of the stage was young girls. For Yes, that was completely a phenomenon since it’s always been completely male-dominated.

Did you have fun?
Yeah. It was great. The band got on really well. Everyone was having fun. What can you say? It was a hit. We had our own plane. We did anything we wanted to do, and everyone was getting along and having a good time.

When the tour ends and you start thinking about the next album, did you feel pressure to create another “Owner of a Lonely Heart”?
Yeah, there was pressure. But the band is just doing its music. There wasn’t that much pressure. There was pressure getting together to produce another album. Of course, it took a good long time, and probably way too long to capitalize on what had gone before.

It was three years before Big Generator came out.
Right. We spent an awful lot of time and money recording it because it started off in Italy at a castle in the middle of nowhere. It was just an odd situation with Trevor Horn, who probably still hated me. … At that point, I had co-written quite a lot of the material. Trevor [Rabin] and I had actually demoed the album before we ended up at the castle. It was sort of a change, really.

I love Big Generator. “Rhythm of Love,” ‘Big Generator,” “Love Will Find a Way,” and “Shoot High Aim Low” are fantastic songs.
They are. It’s an under-estimated album, I think. What I think about it is that I like earlier mixes of it. I think the mix destroyed it a little bit for me. They just went in too far with remixing it. Some of the earlier mixes were, for me, a lot better and showed the album a lot better. I liked it.

Did you enjoy the tour?
Yeah. It was fun. I liked it. There was oddness in the States that probably could have been different. Jon was having his own ideas when it came to portraying Big Generator. We had these inflatable, big balls hanging from the ceiling that had to be inflated. [Laughs] It was a little bit funny.

That sounds like Spinal Tap. Weren’t you almost a part of that movie?
We were definitely an inspiration for Spinal Tap. And I was almost a part of it, yes. I was a friend of the drummer and he wanted me to come in. Thank goodness I didn’t do it. First of all, the guy they got [David Kaff] was perfect. Secondly, as a serious musician, to be tied into Spinal Tap could have been the kiss of death. I’ll never know.

How did you feel about Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, Howe when they started doing that?
Well, I didn’t think anything about it, really. Jon was being Jon, musicians being musicians. He did his own thing and he’s always done his own thing. You kind of go along with it. We were all situated at that time on the West Coast, really. Alan [White], Chris was living there, Trevor was living there. And I think that, pretty much, the idea was that we’d get another singer and see what happens. [Laughs] We were kind of busy doing that.

You auditioned new singers?
Yeah, but I don’t quite remember … what’s his name from Supertramp.

Roger Hodgson?
Yeah. Roger. He was a strong contender, but he didn’t really want … you know, the band was a little dysfunctional at that point. Chris was off in his own little world. We were fresh out of Big Generator and fresh out of good ideas. Nobody knew quite what to do. I have demos to prove it.

How did you feel about the Union idea when it was first floated?
Someone came up with the bright idea of everyone playing together. We were told that it was probably not going to work and it was a bad idea and, “How could it possibly work?” [Laughs] Consequently, the financial deal was fairly minimal. And we all got together in Pensacola, Florida, and of course, it was a huge success.

When I interviewed Rick Wakeman a few years ago, he said he enjoyed the Union tour, but he hated the album. How did you feel?
Well, I wasn’t a part of what had gone on on the recording for most of it. I had no idea what it was. From what I heard, a lot of Rick and a lot of Steve were replaced by other people, people that I know very well now.

It’s pretty funny that there were two keyboard players, two drummers, and two guitarists, but they still brought in outside people to play on the record.
Yeah. It’s a mess and they tried to get it done. The thing that came out of it was that Steve’s replacement was Jimmy Haun, who is now the guitar player in the new Circa band. We’re playing together right now. And of course, Billy Sherwood’s brother [Michael Sherwood] plays most of the keys on Union. But I don’t know. That’s what I heard.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QO49gHC3tfc

Tell me about the tour and how you and Rick learned to share the keyboard duties.
Well, Rick’s a comedian, as you probably know, and nothing is ever that serious with Rick. He wasn’t drinking or being bad and naughty at that time. He had turned over a new leaf, but he’s still a really fun guy. If you can believe it, we’d never met. So meeting up in Pensacola was really something. And we got on really well.

People seem to think that you’re rivals and it’s not true.
There’s probably a perception of that. People on the internet like to create those animosities between people, but it’s not true at all.

You became friends.
Yeah. It was the easiest thing. We just said, “You kind of did that. Why don’t you do that?” I was playing a lot of Hammond on that tour anyway. It was divided up really simply. And, of course, Rick is a great player and plays all that Seventies Yes stuff like nobody can play it. We got on really well. Generally, the whole thing with eight guys really worked. Drum-wise, Bill was playing the electronic drums. Maybe the guitars were a little at odds.

I’m sure Steve didn’t love playing the Eighties stuff.
No. He was not that thrilled about playing Eighties material, I don’t think. Steve’s got his thing. I hadn’t seen him in a long time. When we toured two years ago, we became very close.

The tour ends, and it reverts back to the Eighties lineup for Talk. What happened?
Well, it was a record company saying, “Can you do an album?” And everyone was everywhere. Nobody knew what to do. Trevor [Rabin] was really coming into his own. It was the beginning of recording digitally. He’d set up a studio at his house. People started to really dial in their part. It was what has become normal. That was the beginning of it, though drums were recorded live in a studio, but not with a band. It was composing an album and it was Trevor’s thing.

This was 1994. It’s the grunge era and the appetite for new Yes music was pretty minimal.
It was definitely minimal. The band was not that happy. The tour proved to really … it was the beginning of the end of that era.

You played 77 shows that year. It was a hard time?
There were conflicts. It’s not easy to keep everyone happy. The album was not being received that well. I liked the tour. I only have that bootleg in Chile of the entire concert. I thought the band was actually great.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x0-rv5_GAVU

What did you do when the tour ended?
I went into retirement. That was the beginning of Billy [Sherwood] playing with the band. It went into a whole new direction that I know nothing about. And it was quite a few years, really, until Billy got hold of me and persuaded me to unpack the Hammond.

During those years, did you think you were done playing music forever?
It’s weird to contemplate that now since so much has happened between Circa and doing all those albums with Billy. But I thought it was over. I was happy retiring.

Billy pulled you back in.
He really did. I had no inclination. And so we started working and I thought the first Circa album was pretty good. Billy is such a boss. He’s so talented and can do anything. He’s great in the studio.

How did you guys wind up working with William Shatner?
He got together with Billy. The record company wanted him to do something. Basically, Billy wrote the album. I thought it was a pretty good album. And then we got the Circa band together and did a mini tour with him. William is pretty unpredictable, so you don’t really know where he’s going or where his head is at. We ended up doing the Christmas thing at the Hollywood parade. I actually thought it could have continued, but it was a weird concept.

It must be weird to be playing a show with Captain Kirk as the frontman.
[Laughs] It was definitely an experience.

When Yes got inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2017, I saw everyone in the band onstage besides you.
I didn’t go.

Why?
[Sighs] Well, you know, there’s the truth, there’s the near-truth, and probably what I’ve said before. Number one, they omitted Peter [Banks]. I tried to right that and make a little bit of a stink and a statement about that. I just thought it was wrong. I thought getting the award was great, but it would just wind up as bad vibes.

The band was very split at that point [into two competing bands]. I just knew they’d be at separate tables and that it would be a mess. I kind of knew that Billy was not going to be invited to play in the band. I was kind of projecting because I didn’t know what was going to happen, but I just made the decision to have my own party, which turned into a very good party. [Laughs]

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t1-NsnlPc54

They did play together, but I sensed the tension. It was like two bands thrown together.
I can imagine. Actually, I haven’t watched it. I can’t bring myself to actually watch that. I don’t know. Steve playing bass? I don’t know. It’s gotta be a train wreck.

I imagine it’ll be the last time they all play together.
Ah, yes. I would think so. But with Yes, you can never tell.

How were you pulled in yet again for the Cruise to the Edge and then the 50th-anniversary tour?
Well, I’m not sure. I think it was just down to Steve. I think he thought it was a good idea. Enough time had gone by and I was sort of getting old. [Laughs] He probably thought, “Let’s rope him in for the last time.” I’m kidding, of course.

It was probably Steve. The fact was, Billy was in the band. Jay [Schellen], who is in Circa also, and who has been a friend of mine for years, is the drummer, really. I did think about it and I did reject the idea for quite a long time. But then, the concept of me just coming out at the end and making an appearance for the encore numbers, yeah. I thought it was probably a good idea.

And the cruise was the whole inspiration for me moving to Florida. And so a good thing came out of it. The cruise is out of Tampa. Instead of going back, I rented a car and came down here. I wound up on Siesta Key and loved it and six months later I was moving here.

The Cruise to the Edge changed your life.
It really did. It added a lot, actually. And then it was very fun and the band asked me to do the anniversary tour.

You and Alan only played on the encores during the tour. Were the two of you just chilling backstage together most of the show?
Yeah. There would be Alan and I in the dressing room drinking Stella.

Was it fun?
You gotta love Alan. He’s a great guy and seen it all. And still playing, obviously, but he can’t play for a long time. He’s still playing really well. We were just having so much fun. I couldn’t believe how much fun it was. And of course, I had never met Geoff [Downes], ever. We just hit it off so great. It was one of those instant things. We became instant friends. I have so much regard for him.

So you really like one of the two Buggles, but not so much the other one.
[Laughs] Yeah. How weird is that?

I’ve seen them play “Starship Trooper” and “Yours Is No Disgrace” with Geoff and with Rick. But when you came out and played your original parts, it was a whole other deal.
I understand what you mean. I don’t know quite what it is, whether it’s the sound or the attitude. But playing it takes me back a long time. They were songs from The Yes Album. I loved it.

Do you see any chance of a future Union tour with you, Steve, Rick, Jon, Trevor, and Alan?
No.

Why?
I just don’t see it happening. I think the main reason I can come up with is that this band actually likes each other. They’re all good friends. Everybody gets along. Jay and Alan are close. As a band, it works.

I just think fans are frustrated because Jon is the lead singer and he wants back in the band, but they won’t let him. From a fan’s perspective, it’s like seeing the Stones and Mick isn’t there, but he wants to be.
Yeah. I understand that. But the band works … it may not “work” for everyone, fans. But it just works together. Jon Davison is such a cool guy. Such a nice guy and a great singer. They do great justice to the music — I think they don’t want to lose that. Anderson can be a weird guy. There’s a lot of history. That’s really all I can come up with. The band just loves each other and has a great time together.

What are you working on now?
Well, the 20th anniversary of 9/11 is coming up and there’s a very important album that has been percolating and written and re-written for 20 years. It is a musical commemoration that takes you through that day. It’s pretty intense. It’s basically an orchestral album and I’m just at the end of finishing it now. I’m mixing the last tracks now.

Do you miss playing live?
Not really. I didn’t think that I was going to until I got up there for the 50th-anniversary tour. And it was pretty nice to see all the old faces in the audience and to have an audience. It was pretty much fun. And of course, it was going to happen this year. Of course, everything stopped.

What do you want to accomplish in the next few years?
Play tennis. Have fun here. I have a beautiful wife that is also a musician. We’re starting a new album. Play more tennis.

You are living in the right state if you want to play lots of tennis.
Yeah. It’s perfect here. And if the band asks me to do something in the future, I think it’ll probably happen.

I think the Yes story is never quite done. There’s always one more chapter.
That’s a good way of putting it. You’ve wrapped it up. There’s nothing more I can say.

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