Chris Squire. Many younger people today may not know the name. That is rather unfortunate. For those a little older, Squire may just be known as the bass player of the progressive rock band Yes. For still others, and me included, Squire is someone who took a musical instrument, namely the bass guitar, and turned into something new and is now, whether one knows it or not, will always be an influence on bass guitar playing forever.
Prior to founding Yes, Squire was also a member of the bands that preceded Yes, namely The Syn, which became Mabel Greer’s Toyshop, which eventually became Yes. While fans have debates on what makes up the core of Yes, most especially some saying vocalist/songwriter/percussionist Jon Anderson‘s voice, vision, and song writing, there can be no doubt that Squire, his bass style, his song writing, his voice, and vision, is within that core. Yes (the technical and arguable issues of ABWH aside) has never not had Chris Squire on record and on stage since its founding in 1968. In a band with a notoriously rotating lineup, Squire is the only Yes man who can make that claim, and that is saying something.
As my readers and friends know, I am a huge Yes fan. Some would say Yes fanatic. Yes, as the cliche goes, has provided the soundtrack to my life. When I was first offered a cassette tape of Yessongs back in 1991 my life changed. I heard music that was the most amazing music I had ever heard to that time. While I have explored music greatly since then and have seen hundreds of musicians and bands live and accumulated thousands of hours of music, Yes, for some reason, was always able to stay ahead of, and on top of, the pack for me. While many bands may come close, for me, Yes, at their best, has always been able to remain unmatched.
Over the years I have ravenously consumed Yes. I have, thus far, seen 20 concerts (and another coming up), gotten concert shirts from every show, gotten posters and brick-a-brac, met Yes artist Roger Dean many times, attended Yestival 1998 (see here and here) and Yesday in 2002 (see here), taken dozens of photographs, bought virtually everything they have produced (not to mention solo material and side projects!), and even have had the opportunity to shake some of their hands. Suffice it to say, Yes is an intimate part of my life. Indeed, it was important to me that my wife attend at least one Yesshow with me (she went to the May 10, 2004 show at the Spectrum in Philadelphia).
I say all of this as to explain my frame of reference when I heard last week that Chris Squire had been diagnosed with acute erythroid leukemia. This is a tough disease to conquer for anyone as it is let alone a 67 year old man who has lived the rock star lifestyle. Needless to say, it was a blow.
Now, as stated above, Yes has a history of rotating people in and out and this will be no exception. Yes has tour dates for the last quarter of 2015 scheduled (I will be attending the 8/9 show) and former Yes member Billy Sherwood will be filling in for Squire on bass and voice for those dates. What happens after that is anyone’s guess: the band may decide to finally pack it in; the band may continue with Sherwood; the band may go in an entirely different direction; or, Squire may triumphantly return. Who knows? Indeed, Squire and Rick Wakeman have both publicly mused that Yes is more than a band but is now an prog rock institution and will continue on perpetually like an orchestra or sports team where the actual members are changeable and subservient to the institution itself.
This is not the first time Yes has lost someone hugely important to the band. Back in 2008 Yes co-founder Jon Anderson left the band due to chronic acute respiratory failure. There is absolutely no doubt that Anderson and Yes are practically interchangeable in many ways and Anderson was a, if not the, driving force behind the band for nearly 40 years. Yet, for as much of a blow that was, the band moved on anyway. Perhaps this is because Anderson left twice before, however I think there is more to it than that, at least for me.
Despite having the reputation for having a rotating lineup, Yes’ personnel is actually a lot more stable than people like to admit. Yes formed in 1968. Squire has been in Yes ever since (until now). Starting in 1970 the core of Squire, Anderson, and guitarist Steve Howe formed. In 1972 that core expanded to include drummer Alan White. From 1972 to 2015 there has never been a Yes (again leaving the technical and arguable issues of ABWH aside) without at least three of these men in the lineup and all four have been in Yes from 1972 – 1979, 1991 – 1992, 1996 – 2008.
In the context of Yes’ “core,” Squire’s departure is a huge step into the unknown for Yes. I did not realize just how huge until this past Sunday when I just happened to be watching old footage of Yes’s television appearances in 1968 through 1970 (see here). The Yes in those videos consisted of Anderson, Squire, Bill Bruford (drums), Peter Banks (guitar), and Tony Kaye (keyboards). After watching this I realized that it is now possible, for the very first time in Yes history, to watch or listen to a Yes lineup (or indeed even ABWH) that contains no current Yes members. This is perhaps why Squire’s loss has hit me so much harder than the loss of Anderson. At least with the loss of Anderson the core still retained three of them (as it did without Anderson during the Drama era for example). Now the core is reduced to two and, in a five man band, can two really be considered “a core,” especially since neither, either together or separate, can lay claim to every era of Yes? For the very first time in Yes’ history, its lineup has lost all continuity with its origin.
The loss of Squire really placed the reality of Yes’ demise directly in front of me. What was to become of Yes? Could this really be the beginning of the end for Yes? Obviously I hope Squire returns to the fold soon and Yes finds ways to continue the Yes tradition far into the future and indeed, sure, I can envision Yes lineups with their current singer, Jon Davison, Sherwood, and even Rick Wakeman’s son (and former Yes member himself), keyboardist Oliver Wakeman, leading a younger version of Yes into the future. Despite all of that the loss of Squire looms large. It is the end of an era. It marks an enormous transition for such a great band. If Yes continues, the loss of Squire, perhaps more than anyone else in the band, will create a line of demarcation like no one else has. Not only because of the reasons set forth above but also because of what Squire, his unique bass sound, approach, and writing have brought not just to Yes but to music itself. Although Squire has many imitators (Geddy Lee is probably the most famous example), no one can really duplicate him. Squire is a bass player unto himself. He is instantly recognizable in any context. Squire shows the difference between being merely a musician or technician and an artist. Many people may be able to play Squire’s bass lines, and mimic their sound, but it took Squire’s artistry and creativity to write them and create that sound and that will never be duplicated again. His sound defined Yes’ sound for nearly five decades. With Anderson’s departure one could take solace in that at least Squire’s sound was still there as the Anderson/Squire sound is at the heart of any Yes song, but with both gone, it is like the rug has been pulled out from the band. This is huge.
All this makes me realize that the soundtrack to my life may soon fade into the distance. It is sobering. It is a very sad milestone in my life. What has brought me so much enjoyment and joy for nearly 25 years may soon be coming to an end. This is why the loss of Squire has been such a blow to me.
So, God bless Chris. I hope he can fully recover and return to the great band that he helped build and ride into the sunset with it. God bless Yes. I hope that they can recover. I hope that they can recover with Chris and, if not, that they can find a way forward that respects their great heritage and past, but can also move into the future and continue to make beautiful, impactful, influential, high quality, and, for me, life changing music. Finally, God bless music as without it life would be much less joyful, beautiful, and meaningful.
See more about Yes here.