Rick Wakeman Biography

Richard Christopher Wakeman, 18 May 1949, Perivale, Middlesex, England. The spectacular live extravaganzas undertaken in the mid-70s by the former Strawbs and Yes keyboard player tended to mask the talent of one of rock’s premier musicians. In the early 70s Wakeman, who eventually left Yes at the end of 1973, regularly battled it out with Keith Emerson in the annual music press reader’s poll for the prestige of the world’s top keyboard player. His solo career was launched with a series of conceptual classical rock albums that were overblown with ambition, but briefly made him an international superstar. Following the release of The Six Wives Of Henry VIII and Journey To The Centre Of The Earth, and after suffering a suspected minor heart attack, Wakeman took his success to extremes by staging The Myths And Legends Of King Arthur And The Knights Of The Round Table using a full orchestra and 50-strong choir at Wembley’s Empire Pool, on ice! All three albums were hugely successful, but Wakeman’s attempts to balance his solo career and renewed membership of Yes were hampered by a serious drink problem.

Nevertheless, his prodigious work rate saw him composing the score for Ken Russell’s Lisztomania and recording and touring with the English Rock Ensemble. The ensemble’s 1976 tour of Brazil broke indoor attendance records. In 1979 Wakeman walked out on Yes and became a director of Brentford Football Club, although he resigned the following year. In 1981, he wrote the score for the horror movie The Burning and co-wrote a musical version of George Orwell’s 1984 with lyricist Tim Rice. The two men collaborated again on Cost Of Living, which was released at the same time as Wakeman’s soundtrack for the 1982 Soccer World Cup. Having overcome his alcoholism with the help of his new partner Nina Carter, Wakeman signed a new recording contract with President Records and began to make an impact on the New Age charts. His superb technique shone through on the chart-topping Country Airs, with all the pomp and grandeur of his 70s recordings stripped away. Wakeman also became a born-again Christian, offering an interpretation of his new faith in the shape of The Gospels. At the end of the 80s he was back with some of his former superstar friends as Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, Howe. Now permanently based in The Isle Of Man, Wakeman formed the Ambient Records label in 1990, worked with Norman Wisdom on a series of relaxation cassettes, and began recording and touring with the re-formed Yes.

By 1992, his son Adam was performing with his father and has subsequently released a number of albums with him (as Wakeman With Wakeman). Wakeman’s prodigious recording and touring schedule was maintained during the rest of the decade, alternating new age, religious and solo piano work with commitments to Wakeman With Wakeman and Yes. Wakeman, a born raconteur, also became a regular on the after dinner speaking circuit and a ubiquitous television personality. In 1998, he returned to one of his most successful concepts, teaming up with English actor Patrick Stewart and the London Symphony Orchestra and English Chamber Choir to record Return To The Centre Of The Earth. Sessions were briefly interrupted when the seemingly tireless Wakeman contracted chronic pneumonia. Wakeman’s life is never dull; he is constantly working, either as a chat show guest, a showbusiness personality, or a highly accomplished pianist.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.