Bassist and singer John Wetton, who served in King Crimson and co-founded the Eighties prog rock supergroup Asia, died Tuesday after a battle with colon cancer. He was 67.
According to Wetton’s personal website, health issues forced the musician to drop out of Asia’s upcoming tour with Journey. He was also preparing reissues of his solo catalog through his own Primary Purpose label. He is survived by his wife Lisa, son Dylan, brother Robert and mother Peggy.
In a statement, Asia drummer Carl Palmer (also of Emerson, Lake and Palmer), wrote: “John was a gentle person who created some of the most lasting melodies and lyrics in modern popular music. As a musician, he was both brave and innovative, with a voice that took the music of Asia to the top of the charts around the world. His ability to triumph over alcohol abuse made him an inspiration to many who have also fought that battle. For those of us who knew him and worked with him, his valiant struggle against cancer was a further inspiration. I will miss his talent, his sense of humor and his infectious smile.”
Wetton was raised in Bournemouth, England and began playing music at a young age. He learned church music on his family piano and often provided the bass parts while his brother rehearsed songs for services. As a young man, Wetton played in a handful of bands, often with friend Richard Palmer-James, whom he’d continue to work with over the next five decades.
In the early Seventies, Wetton played in several British prog rock outfits including Mogul Thrash, Family and Renaissance. During this time, he was also being recruited by another longtime friend, Robert Fripp, to join the latest incarnation of King Crimson. Wetton finally joined in 1972, serving as singer, bassist and composer during the group’s short but legendary 1973 to 1974 run of albums, Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Starless and Bible Black and Red.
After Fripp disbanded King Crimson in 1974, Wetton bounced around the British music scene. His mid-Seventies studio output included two Uriah Heep records, a handful of Bryan Ferry albums and two songs on Brian Eno’s seminal Here Come the Warm Jets. He also toured briefly with Roxy Music, appearing on several tracks on their 1976 live album, Viva!.
Eventually, Wetton reunited with King Crimson drummer Bill Bruford and tapped Eddie Jobson (Frank Zappa, Roxy Music, Jethro Tull) and Allan Holdsworth, to form U.K. The group split after two albums, and in 1980, Wetton released his first solo album, Caught in the Crossfire. Not long after, however, Wetton teamed with Carl Palmer, and Yes’ Geoff Downes and Steve Howe to form Asia.
The group scored a monster hit with their first single, “Heat of the Moment,” and would remain a fixture on radio and MTV throughout the Eighties. Wetton, however, left the group before their 1992 album Aqua, resuming his solo career with 1994’s Voice Mail/Battle Lines.
Wetton would eventually reunite with Downes, forming the duo, iCon, which put out a handful of LPs and EPs throughout the 2000s. During this time, however, Wetton’s alcoholism came to a head but he fought to get sober by the time Asia fully reunited for a tour in 2006. While Wetton was forced to undergo heart surgery a year later, Asia persevered and released a new album, Phoenix, in 2008.
Asia would continue to tour and record, releasing their most recent LP, Gravitas, in 2014 (without Howe, who left in 2013). A new live album, Symfonia – Live in Bulgaria 2013, is scheduled to arrive February 24th. As for Asia’s future, Wetton was replaced by Yes bassist Billy Sherwood after he was forced to drop out of the upcoming Journey tour, and in a post on Facebook, Downes signaled his desire to keep the group going in Wetton’s honor.
“Life will not be the same without him,” Downes said. “And words are not really enough to describe the loss I feel right now, and the many friends and fans all over the world will also be feeling. It is the end of an era for all of us. But we will soldier on – the music of John Wetton needs to be heard loud and clear from the rooftops.”