For over 30 years, pianist and keyboardist Rick Wakeman has maintained one of the busiest performance and session schedules in modern popular music. Since the mid-1960s, he has performed on an estimated 2, 000 tracks and belonged to nearly one dozen bands. At one point in his early career he reportedly completed as many as 18 recording sessions per week. During his youth, Wakeman was immersed in classical piano lessons and musical education until his teen-age years, when he branched out in search of musical venues that appealed more closely to his personal taste. Wakeman is most widely associated with his membership in two popular bands of the 1970s, Strawbs and Yes, although he has also performed in sessions with a diverse list of artists, including Elton John, David Bowie, Cat Stevens, Lou Reed, and Black Sabbath. He has recorded numerous solo albums and composed numerous musical scores.
Wakeman was born Richard Christopher Wakeman in Perivale, Middlesex, England, on May 18, 1949. His parents, Cyril and Mildred Wakeman, sent their son to Wood End Infants School beginning in 1954. Wakeman was a typical child; he joined the Cub Scouts’ 1stScout Troop of Sudbury in 1958, and the following year he graduated to Drayton Manor County Grammar School in West London. He vacationed with his family at Exmouth in Devon every summer, and joined a football team in the early 1960s.
Wakeman studied classical piano from age seven, and became a regular participant—and winner—of musical competitions; he won his first music festival competition in 1960. In 1961 he started a band, called Brother Wakeman and the Clergyman, and in 1962 he abandoned his scout troop for the Boys Brigade at nearby Baptist Church, where he also learned to play the church organ. In 1963 he joined a mediocre (at best) band called the Atlantic Blues, and by 1964, when he first began to study the clarinet, he had evolved into a seasoned young performer. He quit the Atlantic Blues in 1965 and joined a dance band quartet called the Concords, but by 1966 he had formed another band of his own, called Curdled Milk—a takeoff on Eric Clapton’s Cream. Additionally, Wakeman established a dance band called the Green Dolphin Trio, and in 1967 he joined the Ronnie Smith Band. During his years with the Ronnie Smith Band, Wakeman became acquainted with a vocalist named Ashley Holt. The two formed a professional bond, and years later Holt was a frequent contributor to Wakeman’s solo endeavors.
Though Wakeman’s musical interests flourished, he was bored with school and avoided his studies. Eventually he quit school in order to train to become a concert pianist.
Born Richard Christopher Wakeman on May 18, 1949 in Middlesex, England; son of Cyril and Mildred W. Wakeman; married Nina Carter, 1983; children: Oliver, Adam, Benjamin (from first marriage); Jemma, Oscar (from second marriage). Education: Royal College of Music, London, 1968.
Formed or was a member of several bands as a youth in the 1960s; member of the Strawbs, 1970-71; signed with A&M Records, 1971-80; signed with Charisma Records, 1980; member of Yes, 1971-72 and 1976-80; solo artist, 1973—; toured U.S. with the National Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus, 1974; composed soundtrack for Ken Russell’s Listztomania, 1975; toured U.S. with Yes, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1991; toured with Anderson, Bru-ford, Wakeman, and Howe, 1989—.
In 1968 he enrolled at London’s Royal College of Music where he studied clarinet, orchestration, modern music, and piano. He remained at the college only briefly, but his training there constituted the mainstay of his education in keyboard and composition. By 1969 he grew tired of the classical orientation of the Royal College and left the school to indulge his own musical inclinations. His natural energy and instinctive curiosity kept him on the move; even his membership even in the Ronnie Smith Band became sporadic at best. On two occasions he was in fact dismissed from the group outright. In the wake of his waning relationship with the Ronnie Smith Band, Wakeman joined the Spinning Wheel, a group that performed regularly at the Greyhound Pub in Chadwell-Heath in Essex.
Before long he found work at recording studios as a session pianist where his musical talent was readily appreciated. In 1972 he played the eloquent piano background for Cat Stevens’s “Morning has Broken,” and in 1973 Wakeman played in session for David Bowie on the Space Oddity album as a part of the Mellotron soundmaking ensemble. Wakeman was exceptionally deliberate in his approach to music and quickly earned a reputation as “One-Take Wakeman.” He performed in sessions with T. Rex and Elton John, and went on to accompany White Plains, Brotherhood of Man, Edison Lighthouse, Black Sabbath, and many others. Michel Bane in Who’s Who in Rock called Wakeman “perhaps the premier keyboard man in rock.”
In 1970 Wakeman abandoned the Spinning Wheel band, and for approximately the next 15 months, performed as a member of Strawbs. Strawbs originated as a folk-rock band, but evolved toward an electric sound when Wakeman joined the group. His initial tour with Strawbs not only took him to Paris, but coincided conveniently with the honeymoon celebration of his first marriage in April of 1970. Wakeman’s first recording with Strawbs was a live performance at Queen Elizabeth Hall, called Justa Collection of Antiques and Curios. The recording was a breakthrough for Wakeman’s career in terms of name recognition. The album featured an extended organ solo by Wakeman on “Where Is This Dream of Your Youth,” and Wakeman achieved headliner status. During his brief tenure with Strawbs, Wakeman made one studio recording with the group; that album, called From the Witchwood, appeared in 1971.
In August of 1971 Wakeman left Strawbs and joined a group called Yes as a replacement for one of the original band members, Tony Kay. Wakeman’s first album with that group was released in early in 1972. The recording, called Fragile, drew praise as a classic example of progressive rock, and by 1972, the band was a worldwide sensation. Wakeman played with Yes until 1974 when Patrick Moraz replaced Wakeman who left the group to further his solo career. Wakeman returned to Yes in 1976 and remained with the group until the end of the decade, after which time he continued a sporadic association with the group.
Even during his years with Yes, Wakeman spent a great deal of time in solo recording sessions for A&M Records. His earliest releases received notable reviews and earned gold records. Six Wives of Henry VIII was released in January of 1973, and Journey to the Center of the Earth appeared in 1974. Journey, recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra and narrated by David Hemmings, was an original Wakeman composition, based on the Jules Verne novel by the same name. The recording topped the charts in England, and Wakeman performed the composition at London’s Royal Festival Hall on January 18, 1974. He recorded his next album, Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, with the English Chamber Choir in 1975. Myths received mixed reviews, and Wakeman recorded and released afourth album, No Earthly Connection, in 1976, shortly before he rejoined with Yes. His reunion with Yes was encouraged by the resurgence of longer, symphonic renditions by the group, music that was abandoned during Wakeman’s absence. The Wakeman charisma was seen especially on their 1977 gold album, Going for the One, and their platinum release, Tormato, in 1978. According to Irwin Stambler in Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock Soul, Wakeman returned to Yes because, “they were back to playing the kind of music they should be playing.” Wakeman also recorded two solo albums for A&M during the nextfewyears: CriminalRecordin 1977, and Rhapsodies in 1979.
In 1980 Wakeman left Yes once more and signed with Charisma Records. Later in 1990, he reunited with Yes co-founder Jon Anderson Bruford, to try to reignite Yes. Although the reunion failed to earn critical approval, the music received a warm reception from audiences. In 1989 Wakeman rejoined with his old Yes bandmates to form the group Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, and Howe. The foursome released an album that sold over a million copies worldwide; they tou red extensively that year, and in 1991 their album, Union, sold over two million copies worldwide. Wakeman toured extensively throughout the United States with Yes in 1977, 1978, 1979, and again in 1991.
Wakeman emerged as a talented composer during the 1970s. In 1975 he contracted to write the soundtrack for Lisztomania, a Ken Russell production based on the works of the composer Franz Liszt. Wakeman later wrote a soundtrack for White Rock, a documentary of the 1976 Winter Olympics. In 1983 he composed the soundtrack for a film, Golé, about World Cup Soccer, and in 1984 he collaborated with Tim Rice to put George Orwell’s 1984 to music. Also that year he scored the film Crimes of Passion; and earlier, in 1982, he composed the score for The Burning. Anthologies of Wakeman’s best works were released as albums in 1978, 1981, 1984, and 1994.
Wakeman’s intense involvement in his own productions lay at the heart of his genius. Early in his solo career, in 1975, the stress took a toll on his health when he collapsed at the Crystal Palace Bowl following a performance of Journey to the Center of the Earth. He wrote his next album, Myths and Legends of King Arthur, largely during his recuperation, and in November of that year moved to Switzerland. He returned to England in 1980, following the death of his father. In 1988 Wakeman and his family moved to Isle of Man where he fulfilled a lifelong dream of building his own recording studio.
Even as Wakeman nurtured his career, his family grew. His oldest child, Oliver, was born in 1972, followed by a second son, Adam, in March of 1974. That same year Wakeman toured the United States with the National Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus, and in 1975 he again toured the United States as a solo artist with his own backup group. Wakeman’s third son, Benjamin, was born in February of 1978. In 1983 Wakeman married the former model, Nina Carter; they set up housekeeping in Edinburgh. Their daughter, Jemma, was born in February of 1983. The family moved to Surrey in 1986 shortly before the birth of Wakeman’s fourth son, Oscar, in May of that year. Wakeman has involved himself with various athletic clubs over the years, includingthe position of director of the Brentford Football Club in 1979, and as the chairman of Camberley Town Football Club in 1983. Additionally he joined the Peel Golf Club, Isle of Man, in 1984, with a handicap of 16. Wakeman began work on an autobiography, Say Yes!, in 1993. In addition to his solo work and continued involvement with Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, and Howe, Wakeman spent much of his time in the 1990s bonding with his children and working for charity benefits.
Wakeman continually released solo albums throughout the 1990s, including Black Knights at the Court of Ferdinand IV, with Mario Fasciano in 1991, and The Official Bootleg, alive recording from his 1993 South American tour. In 1994 Wakeman traveled to India; he also made assorted television appearances. He composed Cirque Surrealin 1995, a human circus that toured England under the musical direction of his son, Adam Wakeman. Rick Wakeman later signed with EMI Records to reprise Journey to the Centerof theEarthand spentthe remainderof that calendar year in recording sessions associated with that contract. The new Journey was released in March of 1999.
Just a Collection of Antiques and Curios (with Strawbs, recorded live at Queen Elizabeth Hall), 1970.
From the Witchwood (with Strawbs), 1971.
Six Wives of Henry VIII, A&M Records, 1973.
Journey to the Center of the Earth (with the London Symphony Orchestra and narrated by David Hemmings), A&M Records, 1974.
No Earthly Connection, A&M Records, 1976.
Criminal Record, A&M Records, 1977.
Rhapsodies, A&M, 1979.
Silent Nights, TBG/President Records, 1985.
Live at the Hammersmith, TBG/President Records, 1985.
The Family Album (with Tony Fernandez), 1987.
Zodiaque, Relativity, 1988.
A Suite of Gods, Relativity, 1988.
Time Machine, President Records, 1988.
Phantom Powers, Ambient Records, 1990.
Aspirant Sunset, Ambient Records, 1990.
Aspirant Sunrise, Roi Digital Records, 1990.
Softsword, King John & the Magna Carta, Roi Digital Records, 1991.
Black Knights at the Court of Ferdinand IV (with Mario Fasciano), 1991
The Official Bootleg (recorded live in South America), 1993.
Fragile (included “Roundabout”), 1972.
Close to the Edge, 1972.
Tales from Topographic Oceans, 1973.
Going for the One, 1977.
with Anderson, Wakeman, Bruford and Howe
Anderson, Wakeman, Bruford and Howe, Arista, 1989.
An Evening of Yes Music Plus, Herald, 1994.
Bane, Michael, editor, Who’s Who in Rock, Facts On File, Inc., New York, 1981.
Hardy, Phil and Dave Laing, editors, Encyclopedia of Rock, Schirmer Books, New York, 1988.
musicHound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, Visible Ink Press, 1999.
Stambler, Irwin, editor, Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock & Soul, revised edition, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1989.
“Rick Wakeman Biography,” Rick Wakeman Website, http://www.rwcc.com/rwcc/code/biogra.htm (November 26, 1999).
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