Rick Wakeman — aka Richard Christopher Wakeman (born May 18, 1949) — is an English keyboardist and composer from London, best known as the on-off keyboardist of rock legends Yes. He initially did session work before joining folk-rockers the Strawbs in 1970, appearing on their second album Dragonfly and the live release Just a Collection of Antiques and Curios. Notable contributions as a sessionist from the period include the Mellotron layers on “Space Oddity” by David Bowie and the piano intro to “Morning Has Broken” by Cat Stevens.
In 1971, Wakeman played on Bowie’s Hunky Dory and Elton John‘s Madman Across the Water amid further appearances on albums by Colin Scott, John Kongos, and Ralph McTell. Wakeman also appeared on Piano Vibrations, a 1971 “Moog hits” album for Polydor. Though originally credited to arranger John Schroeder, certain pressings of the album have attributed the title to Wakeman.
In late-1971, Wakeman replaced Tony Kaye in symphonic-rockers Yes, debuting with the band on their November release Fragile and staying through the 1972/73 albums Close to the Edge and Tales from Topographic Oceans. Live recordings from this period were documented on the 1973 triple-album Yessongs, later released as a concert film. It was during these shows that Wakeman first donned his trademark sequinned cape.
Amid his commitments to Yes, Wakeman debuted as a solo artist with the album The Six Wives of Henry VIII, recorded in late-1972 and released in January 1973 on A&M. During this period, he also played on the albums Orange by Al Stewart, Two Weeks Last Summer by Dave Cousins, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath by Black Sabbath, Nickelodeon by Hudson-Ford, and Weren’t Born a Man by Dana Gillespie.
Wakeman left Yes for the first time in mid-1974 as sessions commenced for Relayer, which the band ultimately recorded with Swiss keyboardist Patrick Moraz. The ensuing three-year period witnessed Wakeman in solo capacity with four albums and two soundtrack recordings on A&M, including the popular 1974 release Journey to the Centre of the Earth, recorded at the Royal Festival Hall with the London Symphony Orchestra and English Chamber Choir; and 1975’s The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, presented in a lavish tour that culminated with an ice show at Wembley Arena.
In 1975, Wakeman was commissioned by director Ken Russell to arrange the score for Lisztomania, a musical dramatization of the life of 19th century classical composer Franz Liszt. The accompanying soundtrack features vocals on four tracks by Who-frontman Roger Daltery, who starred as the movie’s titular character.
During this period, Wakeman bankrolled a venture by American techie Dave Biro, who developed a tape-loop variant of the Mellotron dubbed the “Birotron.” Despite full-page adverts and advance orders from Rod Argent, Keith Emerson, Gary Wright, Edgar Froese, Klaus Schulze, Larry Fast, Robert Lamm, and numerous other musicians, production of the keyboard stalled after an initial test-run.
In late 1976, Wakeman rehearsed for six weeks with drummer/ex-bandmate Bill Bruford and bassist John Wetton for a project that never came to fruition. (Bruford and Wetton would ultimately form the supergroup UK with guitarist Allan Holdsworth and keyboardist/violinist Eddie Jobson.) Soon thereafter, Wakeman rejoined Yes for the 1977/78 albums Going for the One and Tormato. He left once again amid the band’s ill-fated Paris sessions to continue as a solo artist, issuing 13 studio albums during the ensuing 10-year period.
In 1980, Wakeman issued the synthpop single “I’m So Straight I’m a Weirdo” with an accompanying video clip that features denizens of London’s then-raging Blitz scene, including an 18-year-old George O’Dowd, who later rose to fame as Culture Club frontman Boy George. In 1981, Wakeman collaborated with lyricist Tim Rice for an album based on author George Orwell’s 1948 dystopian novel 1984. The album appeared on Charisma with vocals on select tracks by Chaka Khan, Steve Harley, and recurrent Yes colleague Jon Anderson. (Coincidentally, a title-sake instrumental album was released on RCA that same year by ex-Genesis guitarist Anthony Phillips.)
In 1989, Anderson — weary of Yes’ then-current direction under guitarist/producer Trevor Rabin — invited Wakeman to partake in a four-fifths reformation of the 1972-era Yes lineup along with Bruford and guitarist Steve Howe. Since rights to the Yes nameplate were retained by bassist Chris Squire, the four-man configuration billed itself as Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe (ABWH) for a self-titled album on Arista. Before a second album could be completed, ABWH surprisingly joined en-mass with the other Yes camp for 1991’s eight-man Union tour. Wakeman left the band again in 1992 but rejoined a fourth time for the 1996/97 Keys to Ascension live-and-studio double-discs. He rejoined Yes a fifth and final time for a 2002–04 round of appearances that overlapped with the band’s 35th anniversary.
- Piano Vibrations (1971)
- The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1973)
- Journey to the Centre of the Earth (1974)
- The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table (1975)
- No Earthly Connection (1976)
- White Rock (OST, 1977)
- Rick Wakeman’s Criminal Record (1977)
- Rhapsodies (1979)
- The Burning (OST, 1981)
- 1984 (1981)
- Rock n’ Roll Prophet (1982)
- G’olé! (OST, 1983)
- Cost of Living (1983)
- Crimes of Passion (OST, 1984)
- Silent Nights (1985)
- Country Airs: Piano Solos (1986)