June 28, 2015

CHRIS SQUIRE, YES BASSIST AND CO-FOUNDER, DEAD AT 67:

Chris Squire, the co-founder and longtime bassist of prog rock icons Yes and the only member of the group to feature on every studio album, has passed away just over a month after revealing that he was suffering from a rare form of leukemia. Squire was 67. Current Yes keyboardist Geoff Downes first tweeted the news, “Utterly devastated beyond words to have to report the sad news of the passing of my dear friend, bandmate and inspiration Chris Squire.”

Back in May of 2001, there was a history of the bass guitar up to that point with the modest title of How the Fender Bass Changed the World, but Leo Fender’s invention of a fretted bass guitar really did change popular music in radical ways. Listening to the first Beatles records, Paul McCartney was basically playing four to the bar oompah tuba-style rhythmic bass parts on bass guitar. By the mid-‘60s, he was playing melodies on bass, intricate mini-compositions in their own right. Numerous other bass players emerged during that period with a similar melodic style, including John Entwistle of the Who and John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin. All of these players took their cue from the brilliant Motown house bassist James Jamerson, who was arguably the first musician to realize the potential of the Fender bass, as the moving 2002 documentary Standing in the Shadows of Motown explored.

Squire absorbed all of those influences, but happened to play in a band devoted to virtuosoism and flash for its own sake, which made Yes reviled by rock critics, particularly as the back-to-basics punk/new wave scene emerged in the mid-to-late ‘70s. (One of Rolling Stone’s early 1980s record guides edited by veteran rock journalist Dave Marsh just took a sledgehammer to the group’s reputation, dismissing them as “Classical rockers with hearts of cold… perhaps the epitome of uninvolved, pretentious and decidedly nonprogressive music, so flaccid and conservative that it became the symbol of uncaring platinum success, spawning more stylistic opponents than adherents.”)

All of which made the band’s reemergence with a tightly arranged Fairlight synthesizer dominated chart-topping production by Trevor Horn called “Owner of a Lonely Heart” so amazing in 1983, which also featured some tastefully melodic playing by Squire. RIP.