Everyone faces at least one, great dilemma in their life, concerning their future. Whether it’s a decision one has to take in their everyday routine or one-in-a-lifetime choice, we all have to choose a path to follow
‘Should I wear this jumper?’ – ‘Should I vote for Brexit?’
Legendary Rick Wakeman, wizard of keyboards and prog rock band Yes member, was no exception.
At the beginning of the ’70s, Wakeman was one of the most prolific and youngest sessionman in the whole UK. However, despite the regular income and the chance to meet extraordinary musicians such as Elton John, Lou Reed, Cat Stevens, and T-Rex, just to mention a few, he “wasn’t getting a chance to be part of the music”(1).
He had a taste of freedom with folk rock band The Strawbs, but session work was still a priority for him. Wakeman had worked to few songs from David Bowie on his latest album at the time, Hunky Dory, contributing to masterpieces like Life On Mars with his amazing performance. It was no surprise then, when the keyboardist was asked to join Bowie’s backing band, The Spiders from Mars.
Rick Wakeman, however, already had a pending (and rather interesting) offer from the exploding phenomenon of Yes. Bad timing, Bowie, indeed.
“To be a Spider from Mars, or to be a Yesman? That is the question”
Many artists find themselves stuck in such a difficult position: choosing between money and their own creativity. Bowie was definitely a bigger name than Yes at the time, so the pay for Mr Wakeman would have been surely higher, but the role of a Spider from Mars was set and confined to a backing musician. With Yes he could finally participate to the creative process of the band, to “be able to put some of [his] own thoughts and music and [he] could grow with it”(2a), instead of just playing in a darkened corner of a stage. Back in the ’70s, musicians had definitely more freedom concerning the time and the direction their work needed, and even the big audience allowed them a certain range of experimentation in their projects, which was something both Yes and Wakeman were interested in. With Bowie, nothing of this was possible, as his backing musicians had the sole purpose of following his guidance. “I use musicians according to what music I’m doing”(2b) was what The Duke had interest in doing.
And so, the young Rick Wakeman said yes to Yes (pun intended)
Bowie later told Wakeman that not only he approved his decision, but he would have probably done the same if he was in his position. He had deep respect in the keyboardist’s talent and artistry, and he rather wanted to see it expressed in more complex projects like Yes’ prog rock directions. Wakeman felt rather relieved to hear it from his fellow friend, but honestly, who would not feel the same when David Bowie in the flesh says you did the right thing?
Art and passion lead men where no money can, that’s what Rick Wakeman’s actions (not so) subtly teach us. No matter how hard your dilemma is, the important thing is to stay true to yourself. There is always the right path to take, and that is the one your guts tell you to choose.
Pic by A&M Records Archives available at: https://www.udiscovermusic.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Rick_Wakeman013-web-optimised-1000.jpg
(1) Milano, Dominic (March 1976). “Rick Wakeman: Rock Powerhouse”. Contemporary Keyboard.
(2a) (2b) Melton, Lori (September 2019). Interview: Rick Wakeman on early sessions, David Bowie, Yes, latest albums, and more . AXS.