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Rick Suchow: Bass

chris squire: rock and roll hall of famer 2017

December 20, 2016


He didn't live to see the honor, but Chris Squire is officially a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame bassist.

It was announced earlier today that Yes will finally be inducted into the Hall as part of the Class of 2017. It took them a few shots to get the nod, but get it they did, and now will be able to wear that badge of distinction proudly forevermore. In the eyes of critics who weigh in with nominations, I suppose they've decided that progressive rock has progressed to respectability. Hey, better late than never.

Although many musicians have come in and out of Yes over the years, only the band's eight major players are being inducted, and rightfully so: Squire, vocalist Jon Anderson, guitarists Steve Howe and Trevor Rabin, keyboardists Tony Kaye and Rick Wakeman, and drummers Bill Bruford and Alan White. All will likely be present at the award ceremony in April, with the sad exception of Squire, who passed away in 2014 after a losing a short battle with leukemia.

I'm grateful that I had the chance to interview Chris years back; it was definitely a personal highlight for me. At the time Yes had just announced that they were going to be performing a few of their classic albums in their entirety with a new tour, something they had not done before. Squire was excited by the prospect of pulling that off. We talked music for about 45 minutes, and had a few big laughs as well. Some stuff wasn't appropriate for print, and I'm smiling now recalling parts of our conversation.

When he passed away, Bass Player asked me to write a cover story in tribute. I accepted the task, but it was daunting. How could I capture the bassist's legacy in words? How would I come up with something that wouldn't dissapoint his huge legion of fans, those fanatical Yes freaks?

I decided the only way to properly tell his story was to talk to the guys with whom he achieved the heights of success with. I reached out to Anderson, Wakeman, Bruford, Howe and White. All, with the exception of Bruford, were happy to chat about Chris with me (or write, in Wakeman's case). And not that Bruford wasn't polite about declining; he explained to me that he had already said publicly what he wanted to say about Chris, and wished me luck with the article.

I also interviewed luthier Michael Tobias for the story, since he had worked for years repairing and building some of Squire's instruments.

As it usually goes with print magazine space, I had more material than I needed for the 3000 word story my editors alloted; it took me a week of editing just to cut it down to size. So, on the occasion of Yes joining the Rock Hall elite today, here's the bigger picture, much of which didn't make it to print: Jon Anderson, Steve Howe, Rick Wakeman and Alan White reminiscing about their fallen comrade, who just happened to be one of the greatest bass players in rock history. And now it's official.



Steve: We knew sometime before he first announced it, that he had a kind of leukemia and he was having some treatment. Chris is a very strong chap, and we thought he was gonna get through it. Well he did, I mean, for some time. But by the time we got around to this year we knew internally in late February, I guess it was. It was getting more complicated and Chris was getting weaker. A few days before he passed away we got a message saying that it was looking really bad, and maybe he only had a few more days to live. So that was when it all went down.

Jon: As soon as I knew, when I heard he was sick, I just wanted to get in touch and reach out. I sent him an email , just connecting. It’s a lot easier sometimes to write your feelings, you know, so I told him that without him I really wouldn't be doing what I do, and the adventure we had together was amazing. And that I can't thank him enough, and get well and be strong.

Alan: He was very positive about it. But as soon as anyone is diagnosed with leukemia it's not a great thing. But he was very positive, he said just give me a couple of months to shake this thing off and I’ll be back at ‘em again and we’ll be touring Europe next year same time. That was his attitude, which was the only attitude you can kind of have, really, in that position. So he wasn’t going and giving up. But he was making sure that all things were covered, just in case anything went the wrong way.

Steve: It got progressively worse from February onward. He had thought he was making a lot of progress, and he wasn’t really thinking very doubtfully about the situation. But I think in that period in late February then he knew that it was really serious. I mean, he kept writing and he kept believing that he might make it through, but then his functions started to go and he had more and more problems. And he got more prone to new problems and eventually it kind of took him away.

Jon: I hadn't spoken with him for a couple of years or so, because he was doing his work with Yes touring and things. You know you get on with life and you don't really connect, so it was good to re-connect, especially at that time in his life you know.

Rick: All of us in Yes kept very much separate lives, as we spent so much time together as a unit, and so we all needed space. We also all had completely different likes and dislikes in life. Certainly when we were together Chris liked a good laugh and so there was always fun around.

Jon: Very funny guy. He had a very dry sense of humor. The joke was, he was always late. Always late. And it drove Trevor Rabin crazy 'cause Trevor never had to go through the experience of somebody in a band always being late for a plane trip or a car or a bus. Everything was always "Where's Chris?"... "Oh he's not here, and we're going to have to wait around for him you know." And Chris would joke and say yeah, you can always put on my tombstone the late Chris Squire. That sums him up you know?

Alan: Absolutely. He had that reputation. I think the reason was that it was because he was a Pisces and a bass player. I find that in life in general, a lot of bass players I know-- not everyone, but quite a few--  are notorious for turning up late. And Chris would say, "Well I knew everyone was telling me to come early, so I just came when I thought I should come." And then he would say "I don’t like to wait for people," [laughs] so that was his answer.

Jon: And he had a fun life. He lived life very largely and he became a rock and roll icon and celebrity in that sense that he lived a wild life.

Rick: During the "Union" tour, there was a moment in the show where, through a trap door in the revolving stage, the lid was opened without the audience being able to see what was happening, and one of his bass guitars handed up to him but appeared to be coming out of the floor. A moment Chris loved... although he initially wasn’t that amused when on the last show he discovered that I had replaced the guitar with a giant inflatable fish. The audience loved it. And so did Chris when photos appeared everywhere!

Jon: There are far too many funny moments [laughs]. Sometimes he would do his bass solo and he'd sort of sink to the floor at the end on the last chord, and [laughs] sometimes he was so exhausted he couldn't get back up! I felt like running on with a cape and putting it over him like James Brown [laughs]. He'd look over and say [with exasperated voice], "It's alright, I can get up." He'd stand up, you know? Those bass solos were pretty good, and he put a lot of work into it. He was very good at stagecraft and he entertained the audience, which was always great.

Alan: There are not many bass players who had a tone like Chris, in fact he set the standard for that kind of bass sound. It had a very treble-y kind of action to it, there was a lot of percussion in Chris’ playing and his sound. He set the bar for a lot of bass players who followed that route, because it was an iconic kind of bass sound where you could play the bass like a lead guitar, which is where Chris went sometimes.

Steve: He certainly affected my playing, because we had a bass player who was capable of a lot more than most bass players were. And also, you know, he swung. He rocked, he swung, he pounded like me, he was trying to use all the techniques that you could get out of an instrument. His was the bass, mine was the guitar. It was great. The fact that he was a high player, I think we didn’t notice much at first because he was always convincing. So when somebody’s playing convincingly, you don’t stop and say "oh god the guy’s all the way up his neck". [laughs] it was great you know? Chris was a very mobile player, but also if you listen to the records, in the studio he was also a very dynamic player. He didn’t play at one peak all the time, which can happen when you work on stage a lot. But there were moments when his thoughtful, feel-y kind of playing was really part of the key, you know, that suddenly we were all able to do that and we were playing differently. That was a real beautiful thing; being part of the team he added a tremendous amount. Not a lot of playing was as interesting before that.

Rick: He was one of those rare musicians that pretty much refused to be influenced. He was the ‘influencer’, if there is such a word. He treated the bass guitar as more than just propping up the bottom end, and truly considered it to be a lead instrument that deserved recognition and that’s what he gave the instrument.


This page is a work in progress and the additions from my original transcriptions will be completed shortly.

(Dec 20, 2016)