Rick Wakeman

Today one of my two favorite keyboardists turns 75. Yes, I’m referring to Rick Wakeman. He also might have been the luckiest keyboardist in rock history.

How lucky was he? Wakeman’s first booking as a session musician, and his first time in a recording studio, occurred after guitarist Chas Cronk entered the music shop where Rick was working, asked him if he knew anyone who played organ, and Rick said, “Well I do.” So, his first session was as organist for members of the Ike & Tina Turner band.  During this session there were a few producers who happened to be at the studio and decided to listen in. Those producers? Tony Visconti, Gus Dudgeon, and Denny Cordell. Visconti went on to produce Bowie which is how Rick wound up playing on Space Odyssey, Changes, and Life on Mars?, while Gus went on to produce Elton for whom Rick played on Madman Across the Water. (Cordell formed Shelter Records with Leon Russell and helped discover a raw kid from North Central Florida, Tom Petty.) All of these producers would teach Rick techniques that allowed him to produce his solo records.   
After a brief stint in the Strawbs, Bowie asked Rick to join him in The Spiders from Mars. But, wouldn’t you know it, Tony Kaye had decided he didn’t want to play synthesizer in the band he was with and the other band members wanted to utilize the synthesizer to augment and layer their ever-more-complex orchestral arrangements. So, later on the same day Bowie called, Chris Squire called and asked Rick if he’d like to audition for Yes. And the rest, as they say, is history. 

Along with his amazing keyboard playing on his solo records as well as Yes classics like Roundabout, Heart of the Sunrise, Close to the Edge, and the incomparable South Side of the Sky, Rick is one of my favorite pianists based on a session for which he inexplicably was never paid and remained uncredited for decades. That is Rick who wrote, arranged, and played the piano part on Cat Stevens’ Morning Has Broken. If you don’t listen to anything else today, go to YouTube and find “Rick Wakeman: The Story Behind Morning Has Broken” and “Morning Has Broken live in Collingswood, New Jersey”. I guarantee his introductory speech will make you smile and laugh. And I can almost guarantee his performance will be the most beautiful playing you have heard in a very, very long time. It is every bit as magical as any composition by Bach or Beethoven, IMO. 

Happy birthday, Rick.

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