Passings: John Wetton of Asia (1949 - 2017)

by VVN Music

John Wetton, the singer and bassist who has played in a long list of bands including King Crimson and Asia, has died after battling colon cancer at the age of 67.

An announcement was made on his passing:

Rock music legend John Wetton sadly passed away in the early hours of this morning, Tuesday 31st January 2017, after a long and courageous battle against colon cancer.

John rose to fame with King Crimson in the early 70s during the iconic Red era and later formed the band UK. In the early 1980s he was a founder member of supergroup ASIA which was his biggest commercial success. The band’s 1982 self-titled debut album was the biggest selling album in the world that year and gave fans and mainstream radio the mega-hit Heat of the Moment.

John also enjoyed a successful solo career, including the seminal album Battle Lines, and formed iCon with ASIA bandmate Geoff Downes. In 2006 the original line-up of ASIA reformed and toured the world several times to promote four new studio albums.

John had been planning to tour with ASIA for the band’s forthcoming US arena tour with Journey and following the success of his solo Studio Recordings Anthology, to continue working on the ongoing re-issue programme of his solo albums, via his own Primary Purpose label.

John valued his over 11 years of sobriety and volunteered time in fellowship with other alcoholics to share his experience, strength and hope with them. John is survived by his recently wed wife Lisa and 18 year old son Dylan, brother Robert and mother Peggy.

The very last studio song of John Wetton’s career was the closing track on the most recent and indeed final ASIA album “Gravitas” and included the profound lyrics “Think the best of me, till we meet again.”

His bandmate Geoff Downes was quick to salute Wetton:

Wetton was born in Willington and grew up in Bournemouth, England where he played in a number of local bands including the Corvettes, The Palmer-James Group, Tetrad and Ginger Man. Between 1970 and 1972, he quickly moved through Mogul Trash and Family and played with both Gordon Haskel and Larry Norman before accepting an invitation from friend Robert Fripp to join King Crimson. It would be the third major lineup for the iconic group and also included Jamie Muir, Bill Bruford and David Cross.

Commonly known as King Crimson's "Red Period", Wetton played on Lark's Tongues in Aspic (1973), Starless and the Bible Black (1974) and Red (1974) before the band went on hiatus.

Wetton next played for two years with Uriah Heep before working again with Bill Bruford to form U.K.  Originally a four-piece with Wetton, Bruford, Eddie Jobson and Allan Holdsworth, they became a trio when Holdworth was let go and Bruford quit to form his own band, adding drummer Terry Bozzio. U.K. released a second album, Danger Money, after which they broke up over musical differences.

In 1980, Wetton released his first solo album, Caught in the Crossfire, and, a year later, began working with Steve Howe on what would eventually become Asia. The pair brought in Carl Palmer from ELP and Geoff Downes and recorded their self titled debut album which was released in 1982. Fans who expected a continuation of the progressive music for which most of the members were known were disappointed by what was a much more radio friendly format but the general public took to the new band quickly and the album went to number 1 in the U.S. and 11 in the U.K. on the strength of the singles Heat of the Moment (1982 / #4) and Only Time Will Tell (1982 / #17).

The band's second album, Alpha (1983 / #6 U.S. / #5 U.K.) was also a hit but, during the supporting tour, Wetton left the band although it is still not known if it was his choice or he was fired. Greg Lake replaced him for a short time but John was eventually brought back to complete their third album, Astra.  Sales for the album were much lower than the first two and the band split up.

John went on to work with Roxy Music's Phil Manzanera on the album Wetton/Manzanera followed by additional solo albums, attempts at reforming Asia's original lineup and other projects. Asia, in the form of Wetton, Downes, Howe and Palmer, finally officially came back together in 2006 and have, since, released four albums including 2014's Gravitas.

Carl Palmer also paid respect to Wetton, saying:

With the passing of my good friend and musical collaborator, John Wetton, the world loses yet another musical giant. John was a gentle person who created some of the most lasting melodies and lyrics in modern popular music.

As a musician, he was both brave and innovative, with a voice that took the music of Asia to the top of the charts around the world. His ability to triumph over alcohol abuse made him an inspiration to many who have also fought that battle.

For those of us who knew him and worked with him, his valiant struggle against cancer was a further inspiration. I will miss his talent, his sense of humour and his infectious smile. May you ride easy, my old friend.

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