Yes returns to the road: An interview with Geoff Downes



Since forming in 1968, Yes has included many different musicians. But never until its current tour — which stops at NJPAC in Newark on Saturday and The Borgata in Atlantic City on Sunday — has it hit the road with someone other than Chris Squire playing bass.

In May, though, it was announced that Squire couldn’t participate in the tour (which also features Toto) because he was being treated for acute erythroid leukemia, and that former Yes guitarist and keyboardist Billy Sherwood would be taking his place. Squire died in June, at 67.

“It’s going to be pretty tough, because obviously Chris was such an integral part of our whole thing,” says Yes keyboardist Geoff Downes, adding that it was Squire who suggested Sherwood as a replacement.

“We’re all very saddened, but we’re going to honor (Squire’s) legacy, as much as anything else, as well as hopefully giving a good account of what Yes is, at the moment.”

(NOTE: Click here for a wonderful tribute page Yes has assembled for Squire, with reminiscences from band members, past and present, plus other musicians, family members, music industry figures, journalists, friends and fans.)

Downes, 62, has also played in the bands Asia and The Buggles, and was in Yes in 1980 and 1981 before rejoining in 2011. He is joined in the current lineup by guitarist Steve Howe, drummer Alan White and singer Jon Davison, in addition to Sherwood.

Howe and White were both members during the band’s ’70s heyday, but Downes, Davison and Sherwood weren’t. The tour doesn’t begin until Thursday at Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut, but I think it’s safe to say that the setlists will draw heavily from the band’s ’70s output, and that the newer members are not interested in radically reinterpreting anything.

Yes before the death of Chris Squire: From left, Steve Howe, Geoff Downes, Jon Davison, Alan White and Squire.

Yes before the death of Chris Squire: From left, Steve Howe, Geoff Downes, Jon Davison, Alan White and Squire.

“I think the core parts have to be adhered to, in the same way that, in classical music, you’ve got to play the parts that were written for the piece,” says Downes. “But certainly soundwise, I try to add some different sounds and textures to the music. But as I say, we have to pay respect what was written, and what people liked about it in the first place. So I think it’s important to keep that core, even though, obviously, I’m a different kind of player from (former Yes keyboardists) Tony (Kaye) and Rick (Wakeman) and Patrick (Moraz).”

Yes released its 21st studio album, Heaven & Earth, last year. In regard to future Yes recording, Downes says: “We’ve really got to take it each day at a time, I think, and see how the new band gels. And from that point, we’ll see.”

For years, I’ve been writing articles about artists who have been unfairly overlooked for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and I usually cite Yes as the No. 1 oversight. Yes was, arguably, the flagship band for the entire progressive-rock movement. It has a deep catalog, and has made occasional forays into the Top 40. It has also been a staple of the international rock concert scene for 45 years, and spent a good portion of that time entertaining crowds on the arena level.

Yet Yes has never made the final cut, and has only been nominated once.

It’s just unfathomable. I’ll understand how people can seriously consider Donald Trump to be a good candidate for president before I’ll understand this.

“If you think about it logically,” says Downes, “it seems a little bit odd for a band like Yes — and, to some extent, quite a few of the other British prog-rock bands, like ELP, and Deep Purple … all of those bands … King Crimson … the bands that really forged British rock in the late-’60s and early ’70s. But we’ll wait and see. We were nominated last year; we just barely missed going in. So we’ll see what happens. But it’s not the be-all and end-all for anybody in the band.”

Yes and Toto will perform at Prudential Hall of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, and at the Event Center of Borgata Hotel Casino and Spa in Atlantic City at 7 p.m. Sunday. Visit or

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