The “Yestival” is coming to Jacob’s Pavilion on Sunday, August 20. This tour features Carl Palmer’s ELP Legacy, Todd Rundgren and of course, YES.
We spoke to Billy Sherwood of YES to talk about the upcoming show, his career, his twenty year and his plans for the future.
Greg Drugan: Hey Billy, thanks for taking some time out this morning.
Billy Sherwood: It’s my pleasure.
GD: How has the Yestival been going so far?
BS: It’s been going great! All of these great fans of all these genre’s of music. It’s been really good.
GD: I know that some of the members of YES, including yourself, have worked with Carl Palmer in the past, specifically with Asia and he seems like a great fit. How did you guys end up choosing Todd Rundgren to join this tour?
BS: We were talking about who would be a great opener in Japan, after our last tour. We were throwing artists and bands around and I’m a huge Todd fan so I threw his name into the hat and thankfully it’s worked out.
GD: The past few tours Yes has been playing different albums or album sides. This time out, YES is playing one song from each of their first ten albums, plus a few other songs. I think this is a great idea! Who came up with that concept and do you ever change the songs from the different albums?
BS: I think the concept started with Steve (Howe) and he kinda selected the tracks that would fit best in the set. We all agreed and started working on it rehearsal and it came together pretty quick. It’s a thing that takes you from the beginning through the first ten albums. For the die-hard fans, they know it all and they’re right there with it. It’s worked out quite well.
GD: Looking back, how did you first get interested in playing music?
BS: My parents were both musicians and entertainers. My dad, Bobby Sherwood was a big band leader in the ‘40s and had his own successful records and television career and film stuff. My mother was a chorus line dancer on Broadway. They got together and formed an act and moved to Vegas when the town was really coming alive in the early days. They’ve been there forever and I grew up in that environment where the household always had a band rehearsal in it! (laughs) It seemed like the logical path for me.
GD: How many instruments do you play and which is your favorite?
BS: I play drums, keys, bass, guitar and I guess harmonica now due to Chris and (the song) “You and I.” I really enjoy playing all of them. I fall into different pockets in my career where I’m playing more bass than guitar. I play guitar in CIRCA and I do a lot of solo albums where I play everything myself. I love playing drums and tracking drums and I’ve played on a bunch of records for other people as well. Keys is something I’m not great at. My brother Mike Sherwood is great! I’m not that prolific at keys where I could go on tour and play keys. The other three slots I’m happy to do. I’ve yet to play drums on tour but maybe that’s coming! (laughs)
GD: Who was the first person or band you saw in concert?
BS: The first concert I ever saw was Earth Wind and Fire in ‘76 and they were fantastic! I love that band and always have. I was young and impressionable and the whole production of that was just outstanding. The second concert I saw was Going For The One YES tour the next year. I’ve been addicted to YES ever since, obviously!
GD: Wow, that’s awesome. Earth Wind and Fire are still out there doing it, I just saw them last month.
BS: It’s great stuff. I kinda thought of them as the progressive end of funk and soul and R&B and that’s why I was drawn to it.
GD: I agree! You were in a couple of different bands early in your career; how did you end up meeting Chris Squire and the other guys from Yes?
BS: Strangely, we had an album called World Trade, which our third album was just released August 4th and it’s the featured album on Amazon this week called Unified. But that band had an album in 1987-88 we were starting to get the demo’s together and Chris heard the demo’s and YES was at a point where they had ABWH (Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman and Howe) and YES was left without a lead singer. So they were trying to figure out what they were going to do. At that point, I was introduced to Chris to possibly be the lead singer of YES. As things progressed, it seemed like a great idea to everyone but me. At that point, it was not something that I wanted to do. I remained in the loop and wrote a song with Chris on the Union album. But that’s where it started, Chris heard my demo’s and my voice was a lot higher back then and I had that Jon Anderson range so that’s what attracted Chris to me and got the ball rolling.
GD: That’s great! So you ended up being a touring musician with YES in the ‘90s?
BS: Yeah, in ‘94 when they put the Talk record out, I got a call from Trevor Rabin to play with the band and have me do multi-instruments and what not. They had me do a double-bass thing with Chris which was “Endless Dream” which was fun. That was my first toe in the water of a major tour and working with YES on a level that you don’t get to see all that often. It was a great experience.
GD: You worked on some other projects in the 2000s including forming CIRCA and YOSO, which I saw YOSO when you played in Kent about eight years ago. Are there any plans for any other Circa or YOSO albums or tours?
BS: Oh wow. CIRCA’s last record came out about 8 months ago called Valley of the Windmill and it’s a very cool record that we’re proud of. As far as playing live, with any band that I’m involved with, my schedule is super, super busy right now. YES has taken a lot of time and more recently with John Wetton’s passing, and him wanting me to do what I was doing with Chris which is to step in and take his spot. John wanted the same thing with Asia and we just finished 45 shows not too long ago and that went right into YES rehearsals. So I will be out on the road for four more months or so. It’s hard to say if there is an opening in the calendar but with that said, I would love to play live with all the bands I’m involved with. It’s just a matter of timing.
GD: That was going to be my next question about Asia. Are there plans to tour again with that band as well?
BS: Right now, there’s nothing on paper so to speak. It’s very fresh with John’s passing and that tour with Journey was set up long before. Carl is out here opening up the Yestival. We’re just putting our head down and trying to get done with the mission at hand. With that said, I hope there will be more because it felt like a good thing to do and the band sounded really, really good! I’m hoping that it would continue. It’s a great legacy of music.
GD: Geddy Lee has said that learning Chris Squire’s bass parts were “At first difficult, and after a while, difficult.” What do you think is one of the more difficult songs to play?
BS: (laughs) I would agree at first that it’s difficult to look at because Chris’ bass compositions are filled with so many notes and nuances that to really get it nailed, it does take a study. I guess I have an advantage over Geddy in this department in that Geddy was in Rush doing his own thing while I was listening to YES records. It’s not really fair. For me, the stuff comes super easy because I know it so well and love it. I don’t really find any of the bass lines I play in YES to be difficult in terms of thinking “man, this is difficult. Am I going to make it?” It just flows very naturally for me. I think that’s a statement as well of why Chris knew I could slide in here and make things kind of seamless. We worked very closely for years and he was my hero. I got the chance to learn all of his tricks up close and personal. Plus we had our band Conspiracy outside of YES and many times we played the bass parts together. It was a real natural sort of zone for me that is not difficult.
It would be difficult for me to figure out what Geddy is doing in Rush! He sounds amazing and he has all of these killer bass lines that he plays with his fingers and I play with a pick. That’s also maybe that’s a crossroads for players. You either commit to being a finger player or a pick player. Geddy’s got it down with his fingers, he makes that thing sound amazing. I don’t know if I could generate that kind of tone with the way I play. My world is closer to Chris’ so it makes it seem easy.
GD: That totally makes sense. What is your favorite Yes song to play live?
BS: God, there’s so many! To date, in a selfish way I have to say “Ritual.” There’s so many bass parts all over the place, great harmony. There’s an extensive bass solo that I get to play and stretch out on.
GD: Awesome. Being on tour, and like you’ve said you’ve been on tour pretty much all year, what do you like to do on a day off?
BS: Sleep! (laughs) It’s random acts of sleep out here! With travel and everything, especially with this tour, we don’t go on until 9:20 and then we have a Meet and Greet after. I get back to the hotel, and I don’t know about the other guys but it takes a while to decompress. Television and a bed helps that along. On a day off, I don’t move around very much. I just kinda recharge.
GD: What’s the one thing that you can’t live without while on tour?
BS: I would love to have my PC gaming computer and get into some Battlefield 4. That’s my personal addiction when I’m at home and not working on music. I’m so addicted to it!
GD: I read that you guys are doing something for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on Sunday. Are you going to be a part of that?
BS: Yeah, I’m going to be a part of that. I’m looking forward to seeing everybody there and I’m going to check out the exhibit myself!
GD: To finish up, what can fans expect from the show?
BS: It’s just a non-stop musical adventure all night. Carl comes out and plays excerpts from all of our beloved ELP tracks. His band is phenomenal! Then you got Todd Rundgren up there playing great stuff. With great musicians as well: Prarie Prince, Jesse on guitar and one of my all time favorites next to Chris was Kasim Sultan from Utopia and he’s there. So I’m just kinda following him around backstage trying to pick up any tricks from him because he’s one of my heroes too. Todd’s fantastic and he’s got Greg (Hawkes) the keyboard player from the Cars who’s been at it for a long time. Then we play and do this chronological set. It’s an adventure!
GD: Sounds great! Billy, thank you so much for your time today and I’m looking forward to seeing you on Sunday.
BS: Thank you man, I appreciate it! Take care, brother!
Be sure to catch Billy and the rest of the guys in Yes at the “Yestival” on Sunday, August 20th.
Tickets are available at http://www.ticketmaster.com