Rick Wakeman (born May 18, 1949 in Perivale, Middlesex, England, as Richard Christopher Wakeman) is a British progressive rock keyboard player. He is currently the keyboardist for legendary progressive rock group, Yes. He is a classically trained pianist and has been highly acclaimed for his virtuosity. In his early years he was a pioneer in the use of electronic keyboards, and his name has become a byword for a keyboard player surrounded by a vast array of equipment.
Wakeman initially went to a formal music school; however, he was expelled due to the fact that he preferred playing in local clubs to his lessons.
Wakeman came to fame in 1970 playing with The Strawbs, and joined Yes for the first time in 1971, following keyboardist Tony Kaye‘s departure. His first album with the band was Fragile released 1971 in the UK and 1972 in the US, and his last was Tales From Topographic Oceans, released in 1973. He also played on Close to the Edge (his favorite Yes album) and Yessongs.
Many fans of Yes refer to the Anderson-Bruford-Howe-Squire-Wakeman lineup as the best formation of the group.
In addition to his skills, Wakeman is also known for wearing long silver capes on stage. This tradition began early on after he joined Yes and a review in a newspaper referred to his movements while playing more than one keyboard as resembling those of a spider (though the review did compliment his performance). Their next show was in Hartford, Connecticut, and the local DJ that introduced the band was wearing a silver cape. After he introduced the band, Wakeman, backstage, offered him $200 USD for his cape. After some haggling, Wakeman went onstage with the cape, which he still owns to this day.
He left the band following the Tales from Topographic Oceans tour, and reportedly was unhappy with their selection of which material to use for the final cut of the album.
Shortly before his first departure from Yes, during a live performance of a song from the album, Wakeman ordered a curry meal from a local restaurant to be delivered to him on the stage, and consumed the food behind his keyboards in a well-known protest against the music.
During this time, he released his second solo album, The Six Wives of Henry VIII, which showcases his skills with various electronic and acoustic keyboard instruments. Some members of Yes played their respective instruments on certain tracks.
He rejoined Yes for their 1977 album Going For The One. He remained until their next album, Tormato, a year later. He gave the album its name by throwing a tomato at a showing of the art used for the album’s cover. He took action on a sentiment felt by the rest of the band, which the artist, who was used to replace Roger Dean, had ripped them off.
Wakeman has had a turbulent long-term relationship with Yes. He rejoined the band in 1991 but left a year later. He then returned in 1996 for the “Keys to Ascension” albums but left before the band could tour. In 2002, he rejoined Yes and has been with the group ever since.
Wakeman has enjoyed a long, extremely prolific, but only occasionally successful solo career. He has also performed as a guest or session musician for artists as disparate as John Williams, Brotherhood of Man, Elton John, Lou Reed, David Bowie, Cat Stevens, and Black Sabbath.
Wakeman became highly skilled at playing the temperamental and notoriously intractable Mellotron – an electronic musical instrument that used a bank of prerecorded tape strips, activated by each key on its keyboard. He went on to invent the Birotron, developed with David Biro, and designed to overcome the quirks and challenges on the Mellotron. The Birotron was not a commercial or technical success.
Once known as one of the hardest-partying rock musicians, and a self-confessed former alcoholic, he has been calmed down somewhat by several heart attacks in his 20s, marriage (to former model Nina Carter, although they have since divorced), children and renewal of his Christian faith. Children include Adam Wakeman, Oliver Wakeman and Nina Wakeman, who are all musicians, too.
In January 2005 Wakeman donated his skills to the single, “Grief Never Grows Old”, a benefit track released to aid victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster.