Jan 31, 2017: Asia Singer/Bassist John Wetton Dies

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John Wetton via his Facebook page

John Wetton, best known as lead singer and bassist of such classic rock acts as Asia, UK, Uriah Heep and the Red-era of King Crimson, and for his extensive solo and collaborative catalog, died January 31, 2017, following a battle with cancer. He was 67.

Just days earlier Wetton had announced that he “will soon be starting a new medical chemotherapy procedure.” Wetton had been scheduled to tour with Asia in 2017, opening for Journey. It was announced that, instead, current Yes member Billy Sherwood would take his place.

Asia’s Geoff Downes had shared the news of Wetton’s death: “Dear All, I am sorry to be the bearer of the very sad news that my dearest friend, bandmate and co-writer, John Wetton has passed away.”

A tweet from Asia read: “We regret to announce that iconic singer, John Wetton, passed away in his sleep this morning. Rest in Peace, John. 12/06/1949 – 31/01/2017”

Related: Tributes pour in for Wetton

Wetton had a cancer procedure in 2015. As a singer, bassist and songwriter, Wetton initially rose to fame in King Crimson. He then co-founded UK and later was the frontman and co-principal songwriter of the supergroup Asia, his biggest commercial success.

Asia was formed by musicians who were already established stars in their own right. Each member came with a proven pedigree: singer/bassist Wetton, drummer Carl Palmer (Emerson Lake and Palmer), guitarist Steve Howe (Yes) and keyboardist Geoff Downes (Yes, Buggles).

Related: Downes’ beautiful tribute to Wetton

John Kenneth Wetton was born June 12, 1949, in Willington, Derbyshire, England. He worked with a number of local bands, including the Corvettes, The Palmer-James Group, Tetrad, Ginger Man and Mogul Thrash and worked with the better known Renaissance and Family. In 1972, King Crimson leader Robert Fripp brought Wetton into the band as singer, bassist and songwriter. He contributed to the band’s albums Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Starless and Bible Black and Red, staying with them until Fripp disbanded the group in 1974.

Wetton next toured with Roxy Music and recorded two album with Uriah Heep, Return to Fantasy (1975) and High and Mighty (1976). In 1977, he, drummer Bill Bruford, keyboardist Eddie Jobson and guitarist Allan Holdsworth formed the prog supergroup UK, recording a self-titled album in 1978. When both Bruford and Holdsworth left, percussionist Terry Bozzio was recruited and the trio recorded Danger Money in 1979.

Wetton released his debut solo, album, Caught in the Crossfire, in 1980, and worked briefly with Wishbone Ash before he and guitarist Steve Howe formed Asia. The band’s self-titled debut album reached #1 on the U.S. Billboard chart and was 1982’s biggest selling album in the U.S. It featured the huge radio hits “Heat of the Moment” and “Soul Survivor.” A second album, Alpha, in 1983, went to #6 but Wetton was fired from the group, reportedly due to sales figures below that of the debut. He returned to the fold to record Astra in 1985, but it stalled at #67.

In the late ’80s, Wetton teamed with former Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera to cut an album and attempted once again to restart Asia, this time without Howe. The commercial results were less than spectacular.

Wetton concentrated on his solo career in the ’90s and beyond, recording five more alums. The most recent was 2011’s Raised in Captivity. The original lineup of Asia reunited in 2006 and variations on the band have continued into the present day. (Steve Howe left in 2013.)

Wetton valued his over 11 years of sobriety and volunteered time in fellowship with other alcoholics to share his experience, strength and hope with them. He was survived by his recently wed wife Lisa (a drummer) and son Dylan, a brother Robert and mother Peggy.

Related: Wetton’s widow plays with Asia in tribute to her husband

Downes has announced that a new book, John Wetton: An Extraordinary Life, is expected in 2023, featuring interviews with more than 70 people who collaborated with him over the years. More details are here.

Best Classic Bands Staff

4 Comments so far

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  1. Chris
    #1 Chris 1 February, 2020, 01:01

    Loved John Wetton’s voice. Asia was a great Supergroup. Saw them in 2012 at the Keswick in Philly area!

    Reply this comment
    • KT-S
      KT-S 3 February, 2020, 12:16

      I too saw ASIA @ Keswick/2012, & again @ Mohegan Sun /2014, NEVER imagining that would be my last time to view Wetton or ASIA as we knew it! Every time I listen to ASIA, W/D’s or Wetton, I lament how I miss his inspiration & music in my life. God I miss him!

      Reply this comment
  2. JCB
    #2 JCB 1 February, 2020, 13:45

    Sad. He was a first class talent for sure. Saw him with Crimson, UK and Asia. A great singer and excellent bass player. He had been given a gift he shared with the world. RIP.

    Reply this comment
  3. Jeffrey
    #3 Jeffrey 1 February, 2022, 12:48

    Along with Chris Squire, one of the two greatest prog bassist singers and the reason for going to see many bands. A lovely man as well

    Reply this comment

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