By Keith Sharp
John Wetton, lead vocalist/bassist of one of England’s first `supergroups’, Asia, died Tuesday in England from colon cancer at the age of 67.
Launched in 1981 at a time when ‘super groups’ (bands formed by members of previously established groups) were all the rage, former King Crimson frontman/bassist, Wetton, had joined forces with ex Yes guitarist Steve Howe, former Buggles’ keyboardist Geoff Downes and ex Emerson Lake And Palmer drummer Carl Palmer to release a self-titled debut record.
Although panned by critics who were expecting some mega tour-de-force considering the pedigree of the performers, Asia’s debut still succeeded in topping the Billboard charts fuelled by two major hits; “Heat Of The Moment” and “Only Time Will Tell”.
However, as with most of these all-star efforts (including Blind Faith and Power Station), egos collided and when their 1983 follow-up release `Alpha’ failed to live up to expectations and sales figures of their debut, Wetton was either fired or quit (depending on who’s story you believe) to be replaced by King Crimson’s Greg Lake, who had starred in arguably the first super star band, joining Nice keyboardist and former Atomic Rooster drummer Carl Palmer to launch Emerson Lake and Palmer.
A bitter Wetton told Music Express in 1984 that he was stunned when he was fired by the rest of the band following dismal sales of their follow up. “I know it didn’t do well and I know that as the band’s lead song writer the blame fell on my shoulders, but we were trying to forge an identity for the band and not just be four individual performers. Maybe in retrospect, that first album was too successful but considering who we had in the band it was to be expected that people’s expectations would be high”.
Wetton said in the interview that he hoped to one day reunite with Asia and he did come back for their 1985 third album, `Astra’. But when that release also stiffed, Wetton was out again, to be replaced this time by John Payne.
What followed was a revolving cast of players as the band would chalk up a total of 14 albums but none of them enjoyed anything like the success of their first two. Wetton was back for a Best-of four new tracks effort titled `Then And Now’ in 1990 which produced one new hit “Days Like These” but it was Howe. Downes and Palmer who kept the name alive until the original line up reformed in early 2006 to launch a world tour in celebration of their 25th Anniversary.
Even with Howe retiring from the band to refocus efforts with Yes, Asia announced March 2017 dates opening for Journey but Wetton, who had been enduring chemotherapy treatment to battle colon cancer and had previous endured a major heart operation in 2007, succumbed to the disease January 31st. The band, now consisting of Downes, Palmer, guitarist Sam Coulson and new lead vocalist/bassist Billy Sherwood have announced that they will fulfill the Journey dates.
By Keith Sharp