Entertainment

Geoff Downes of Yes talks future of Asia, hall of fame induction

Progressive rockers Yes will be at the IP Casino Resort at 8 p.m. on Friday.
Progressive rockers Yes will be at the IP Casino Resort at 8 p.m. on Friday. Courtesy

It’s been almost 50 years since progressive rockers Yes released their eponymous debut album. Since then, the band has become one of the most influential bands of the last century, releasing about 30 albums along the way.

There have been numerous lineup changes over the years. There was bassist Chris Squire, who died in 2015, Steve Howe, Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin, Trevor Horn, Rick Wakeman, Geoff Downes, Tony Kaye, Alan White and Bill Bruford, just to name a few.

There have also been several landmark albums during Yes’ lengthy career, from the 1970s masterpieces “Fragile” and “Closer to The Edge” to the 1980s smash “90125” and the early 90s album “Union.” There have also been an abundance of radio rock songs like “Roundabout,” “Long Distance Runaround” and the early MTV hit “Owner of A Lonely Heart.”

At 8 p.m. on Friday, Yes — guitarist Howe, drummer White, keyboardist Downes and vocalist Jon Davison and bassist Billy Sherwood — return to Biloxi for a show at the IP Casino Resort — the band’s first Coast appearance since a 2015 show with Toto at the Beau Rivage Resort & Casino. Billed an “Evening With Yes,” the show will feature a performance of the entire 1980 album “Drama” and sides one and four of 1973’s “Tales From Topographic Oceans,” as well as some of their greatest hits.

The band also will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2017. The members being inducted will represent the “Union” era of the band — Howe, Anderson, Squire, White, Bruford, Wakeman and Rabin.

Downes joined the band, briefly, for the recording and release of “Drama” in 1980, which was the same year he and Horn released The Buggles debut album “The Age of Plastic.” In 1982, he started the super group Asia, along with singer/bassist John Wetton, Howe and Drummer Carl Palmer. The band’s first album sold millions of copies and contained the hit singles “Heat of The Moment” and “Only Time Will Tell.”

Downes has been recording and touring with Yes since 2011.

Asia is doing a summer tour of arenas and amphitheaters with Journey. The show will hit the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans on June 9. The tour, however, will be a bittersweet affair as Wetton died on Jan. 31.

In one of his first interviews since Wetton’s death, Downes remembers his close friend and talks about Yes’ upcoming induction.

I’m very sorry to hear about John’s passing. I have been a fan of Asia since I was 11 years old. I thought he was a great singer and a fantastic songwriter. There’s a big Asia tour happening this summer. Were you guys already looking to have a replacement for John because of the nature of his illness?

John had already said that he wouldn’t be well enough to do the tour and I had worked with Billy Sherwood in Yes and what was meant to be something of a temporary thing has become a full-time gig for him since things took a turn for the worse with John, who died earlier this week.

I was very, very saddened by that. It’s a big blur. I was very, very close to him.

You have mentioned that you guys were working on another Asia album before his death. Do you plan to complete it and release it?

Yes. I think so. He had a lot of material for it. I think we will definitely do something with it because I think John would like me to do that.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time you’ve lost a friend and collaborator as Chris Squire died in 2015 and Greg Lake dies last year. Do you still find yourself looking over and expecting to see Chris during a Yes show?

Yes. I guess it’s the age we’re all getting to. It’s part of life. But it’s been a particularly tough time with losing Chris and my good friend Keith Emerson and Greg Lake at the end of last year. It’s been a tough time. Maybe we just have to say “That’s life” and just get on, you know? It doesn’t make it any more palatable. John and I have been writing songs together for what seems like forever and that’s something no one’s going to be able to take away from me nor John’s legacy.

The first Asia album came along at an interesting time in music — new wave was happening and radio was changing. Are you still surprised by how big that album was?

It took us by surprise because we hadn’t expected to anything like that. In many ways, we were just taking it easy. We certainly thought the album was good, but the snowball effect that happened since that album was released was pretty incredible.

You also made another one of my favorite records — The Buggles “The Age of Plastic” — which was also a very groundbreaking album and is etched in pop culture. Are you still fond of the work you did with Trevor Horn?

Oh absolutely. We still talk quite a bit. I’ve had the privilege of working with some of the top people in music. I think Trevor and I may want to do something with The Buggles in the future.

“Video Killed The Radio Star” was the first video that was on MTV and somehow, it’s just a part of people’s psyche. It’s quite significant. We didn’t know that was going to happen and it has happened. It went crazy. We’re lucky. It was a mix of rock stuff and progressive and a bit of pop and “dancey” stuff with some classically-influenced chords and stuff like that. I’m very proud of “The Age Of Plastic” album. It was a groundbreaking album. It showed what two guys messing around in the studio could come up with and I think it was a great thing for us.

I know there are a lot of rules with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and who can and can’t attend and perform. Are you going to get to be a part of the ceremony and perform with the band?

I totally will. That’s a good question. Certainly from my standpoint, I would like to. But they cap the amount of inductees that they have. But in the whole grand scheme of things, it’s probably the right choice because I think the ones getting inducted are deserving of it. I think all in all it’s fair.

But that said, I would certainly like to go and I think the other band members in this version of Yes would like to go as well. We just have to play it by ear. If there’s a big objection from Jon Anderson or someone that we shouldn’t be there, then we’ll see what happens.

But I’m not certain about the performance yet.

If you go

An Evening With Yes

IP Casino Resort at 850 Bayview Ave. in Biloxi

8 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 17, 2017

Tickets start at $50 and are available at Ticketmaster.

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