50 Years of Progressive Rock
Tony Kaye of Yes Celebrates The Past, Present and Future

By Lee Valentine Smith

As Yes reflects on 50 years of influential music, two versions of the ever-evolving progressive band are hitting the road this summer. The edition headed to Atlanta this month is led by guitarist Steve Howe, as part of a 35-city tour for an evening of music called "Celebrating 50 Years of Yes." Founder and vocalist Jon Anderson heads an ensemble sometimes known as ARW, with band alumni Trevor Rabin and Rick Wakeman.

Howe's line-up includes drummer Alan White, keyboardist Geoff Downes, vocalist Jon Davison and bassist Billy Sherwood. Billed as a "special guest," founding member and keyboardist Tony Kaye has also joined the tour. Kaye has the unique distinction of being in two of the band's most pivotal moments, at the formation in 1968 and returning during their '80s MTV-era revival.

An aggressive reissue/remix campaign is also in line with the tour. Last month, Warner Music released Yes: The Steven Wilson Remixes, a five-album vinyl collection featuring remixes of five classic studio albums and Fly From Here - Return Trip, a new edition of 2011's album Fly From Here LP was released in March.

INsite spoke with Kaye by phone the day before current tour began.

There's a lot of current activity in the Yes world. Do you think the recent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction really kicked off this new era?

Yeah it seemed to, and now with two bands that are vying for competition, it's really heating up. Both bands are on tour, so we've got the alumni coming out in force one way or the other. It's pretty exciting, actually.

How does it feel to be heading back out on the road with the band, after so long away?

It was a hard decision to make in a lot of ways. I decided to miss out on the hall of fame for various reason and then the band phoned and asked me to get involved with this. I couldn't really turn it down.

Was the recent Yes cruise a turning point?

That was the tipping point, really. I had such a great time with them. Such great guys. It was great playing with [Circa and Yoso bandmember] Billy Sherwood again.

So working with Billy was the gateway back into the band that you helped start.

I guess it was. Billy being in the band was something that [founder/bassist Chris Squire] really wanted. So with him being involved in Yes for so long, yeah, it was an easy fit to get back into. I was basically retired. In the mid-'90s, I had no intention of going back on the road and he kind of forced me back into it.

And that is Yes in a nutshell. Constant change and reinvention.

It does seem to be, doesn't it? You know, you're not really a member of Yes until you've been fired at least once.

The tour kicks off tomorrow, so it's almost here.

I'm on my way to rehearsal in about an hour and then the first gig's tomorrow. But I had a little taste of it on the Cruise to the Edge. It was really cool to get in front of Yes fans again and you can't find any more dedicated fans than on that cruise. It felt great to be on stage and doing the Hammond thing again.

You're billed as "special guest." What does that entail?

I'm playing with [current Yes keyboardist] Geoff Downes. I didn't know him before, but he's doing a great job. This stuff is not easy and he manages to put his own stamp on it. He's extremely generous to me, so we play together. Then I basically play at the end of the set, on the tunes from the old days, "Starship Trooper," "Roundabout," all those great tunes from the early years.

In previous years, Yes has been playing a couple of albums in their entirety. But this is more of a retrospective evening, correct?

Yeah and there's a lot of great music. It's great they play those albums, but this time it's especially the music from the '60s and '70s that the fans want to hear. Not so much the '80s, [laughs] but that's OK.

Since you mentioned it, why do you think people shun the hit-period Yes of the '80s? There was some good, but very different, music from that era and you were a big part of it.

Yeah, it was a great period, the show was excellent and it kind of took off. The band got very successful again. Number one records and all of that. But it wasn't totally appreciated by the die-hard fans, I don't think. We pulled in a lot of new fans in that period. A lot of good things came out of it and I have a lot of great memories from that time. But as of today, there's another band that includes Trevor [Rabin] and it's their thing to explore both the early and '80s periods, really.

It must be a great feeling of vindication to know that you were part of two very different eras of the band.

Well when we first started we didn't know what the hell we were doing. It was just making music and trying to be as different and experimental and music as we possibly could. Fortunately, the era was open to that concept. When I left, there was no really big deal made about it. I had my own band [Badger] and it went on easily from there. And I was determined to move to America. Then I got a very lucky break in being invited to join the Bowie band. So how perfect was that?

And then to be able to rejoin the band you helped create.

Yeah, it was the beginning of a new era with new keyboard equipment and it was a whole new look at technology. 90125 was great and I liked Big Generator, so it was a good time.

In the early incarnation, you held on to standard keyboards and totally rejected synthesizers. Then in the "hit" era, you fully embraced the whole MIDI revolution.

Yeah I was a purist snob in that respect and great admirer of the players of the time. All those Hammond players were kind of where it was at for me. Mini-MOOGs and all that didn't appeal to me and the fact that none of it stayed in tune was a bit disconcerting for me. The Mellotron really aggravated me. But by the '80s things had changed a lot. Keyboards that stayed in tune, and creating synthesized orchestral sounds was just easier.

The whole uproar over '80s Yes mirrors the rebellion of punk against '70s progressive.

Yeah, there's a whole deep discussion there. It went through several different eras when music became political and rebellious and the progressive music was scorned. Then the pop music of the '80s was scorned and it went into a whole different era in the '90s with grunge. But that's what happens. It's probably a good thing and great bands came from each of the eras.

But that is a perfect example of the old manta that good music will endure, no matter what year it was created. Yes has withstood every sort of trend you can throw at it.

In our case they're still coming to hear the music. Even for me, I'll stand backstage and listen to the show, songs like "And You and I," "Awaken," and "Close To The Edge." There're such great pieces of music, it will continue.

It must be a nice feeling to know that people still love the music from the first three albums. You were a big part of those and in retrospect, you can hear the trademark sound was really starting to gel.

Right, and we're doing songs from those three albums. They're still relevant, great to play and the audience loves them.

When you look back at the legacy - and what better time than the 50th anniversary - do you think there'll be a time when there's an official Yes with no original members left?

It has been suggested by various people in the band that that's what's going to happen. I think there's a lot of validation in that and it very much could be. In this band, you know, we have Jay Schellen who is another youngster, and he's playing drums too. It's definitely a progression because they really love the music.

The mindset of change that you inadvertently ushered in five decades ago, keeps the band alive and fresh.

That's right. The music is the important thing and the people who are playing it can move on. Who knows, in 20 years time, orchestras may be playing these songs without any of us!

Yes will perform on Saturday, July 28 at Symphony Hall. For more information, please visit yesworld.com.

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