It’s not easy being a Yes fan. The band changes members practically every other week, they intersperse strong albums with not-so-strong ones, and the personal dramas within the group are more ridiculous than some of the dramas currently on television. Nonetheless, fans stick with the group through thick and thin, even though it must try their patience at times to do so.
The old joke about “this is Lincoln’s original axe; the handle has been replaced twice and the head three times” hits close to home for Yes. Their lineup changes are legendary, some more ill-advised than others, and in particular the number of singers the band has had is crazy. In addition, replacing a Yes singer is no mean feat, as much of Yes’s early appeal was the unique tone of Jon Anderson’s voice. What’s so interesting is that the band has been extremely careful to choose subsequent singers whose voices are remarkably similar to Anderson’s, and they’ve been extremely successful in this regard.
Trevor Horn was perhaps the least like Jon Anderson, but his stint as Yes frontman was relatively short-lived, with only one studio album and a handful of live performances. Benoit David, who replaced Anderson in 2008 after Anderson suffered respiratory failure, was with the band for nearly four years, but when he himself also contracted a respiratory illness, he was replaced by Jon Davison, known best by his work as the vocalist for Glass Hammer.
Most of these lineup changes, not just with vocalists, come down to personal dramas. Jon Anderson has cited artistic differences with other band members on several occasions, while keyboardist Rick Wakeman left and rejoined Yes a number of times, frequently complaining about the direction the band was heading. Wakeman’s son, Oliver, took over his dad’s role in the band, but even though he played on their most recent album, he is currently not part of the band (Geoff Downes is the current Yes keyboardist).
With Jon Davison now at the helm of the patchwork quilt of Yes, the band is heading out on tour in support of their latest album, Fly from Here (which actually featured David on vocals). This collection of songs represents the first original material from Yes in a decade, and shows once again that this band is a force to be reckoned with, with songwriting that is stronger than ever, and a refreshing sound delightfully reminiscent of the heyday of Yes in the early 1970s.
This does not mean that new fans aren’t popping up. While it’s true that the Yes fan base is strongly rooted in longtime fans who have been listening for decades, younger fans of progressive music have caught on to the magic, and have embraced both the back catalogue and the newer material. In fact, it may be down to the younger fans that the latest album has proven so popular, charting in both the United States and the UK as well as Germany.
Yes fans are a dedicated bunch. They stick with the band through thick and thin because, despite all the drama, there’s nothing quite like seeing Yes live. The band has described themselves as primarily a touring band, and even though some of the band members are now in their 60s, they still consider live performances to be their strong point. This is especially impressive when you take into account just how complex and difficult some of their song arrangements are; these are performances that require the band members to give their full attention at all times.
Anyone trying to predict the future of Yes probably would have used the frequent lineup changes as a reason to say that the band wouldn’t last, but time and time again they have shown that they can put the music first and not let the issues of individual band members affect the output of the group. There are near constant rumors about which former members may or may not be returning to the band, as well as which current members may be leaving. Given the band’s history of personnel changes, it wouldn’t be surprising if any or all of those lineup switches came to pass.
Nonetheless, history has shown that Yes can survive no matter who is singing or playing at any given time. Despite appearances, they are actually incredibly careful about choosing new members or allowing old members back in, with the quality of the music always being top priority. Given the tendency for the newer members to be much younger than those from the original lineups, it begs the question as to whether Yes as a band could continue on indefinitely. After all, if the thread that holds them together is the music, and that has proven able to stand regardless of the performers, then it seems there’s nothing (at least in theory) to keep the band going forever, which would no doubt please fans to no end.