Rick Wakeman to play 'grumpy' solo show at Rialto
Former Yes keyboardist to perform intimate Tucson concert with plenty of stories
When it’s time for the band to take the stage at the end of School of Rock, the young keyboard player played by Robert Tsai had quite a list of iconic players to emulate. He could have picked Little Richard, Booker T. Jones or Elton John. Instead, he took the stage with a cape in homage to Rick Wakeman.
“It was great because we got a name check,” said Wakeman in an interview this week. “(Jack Black’s character) gave him the single ‘Roundabout' and told him to go home and listen to the organ solo and that's all he ever needed to know. It was great...that was just really nice. I was really proud when he did that. It was really kind of them.”
Wakeman, whose credits include several classic albums with Yes, solo records, soundtracks and work backing up artists from Chaka Khan to Black Sabbath, will be playing at Tucson’s Rialto Theatre on March 1. The cape and the bank of keyboards will be missing in the stripped-down solo show.
“This is just me. A nice piano. Well, hopefully a nice piano and lots of silly stories,” said Wakeman. “It's where I get hold of the music that I've been involved with over the years. I take it back, really almost to as it first started. A lot of the pieces work tremendously well as piano pieces and I can do adaptations on them, and they're enjoyable to do.”
The tour is being dubbed “The Even Grumpier Old Rockstar Tour,” a sequel to his “Grumpy Old Rockstar Tour.” Embracing his age (he’s 72) has become Wakeman's brand in recent years. His induction speech to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2017 included an off-color, and funny, description of his prostate exam.
“I don't like this getting old business…There's a lot of baggage with it, like rheumatoid arthritis, a very weak bladder, getting up during the night to go all that kind of thing, not being able to do all the things that you used to be able to do. Sometimes it takes you all night to do what you used to do all night,” said Wakeman. “However, I guess I would like to be younger, but to have had all the experience that I've managed to get musically throughout all years of my life as that's not possible.”
“Yeah. I'm grumpy. I'm grumpy because I've had two years taken away because of all the COVID restrictions,” he added. “I'm not able to do all of the things that I would like to do both musically and well, just in general. But overall, when I analyze it, I'm happy.”
He will be missing the bank of keyboards, but he still brings them out for arena shows with his English Rock Ensemble (a band that includes his son, Adam) and tours with Anderson Wakeman. His set up can include 24 keyboards, surrounded by all that equipment is a part of his on-stage identity.
“I like being surrounded by the keyboards,” he said. “It's like my castle. I like to walk into my castle. Trevor Rabin said to me on the last AW tour, don't ever try and make it smaller, because it's just not you.”
For the solo shows, he gives up the castle for a bit more intimacy.
“I like the concert really to be a journey of emotions. I like to think that people can laugh, they can shed a tear if they want. They could be happy. Some bits can be informative. But most of all, I want people to leave hopefully saying, we had a really great evening,” he said. “That's the thing that's most important to me. And I like to be able to walk off stage because I'm part of the audience as well. Even though I'm sitting at the piano, I'm listening, I'm there. So I work on the principle that if I can enjoy what I'm doing, there's hopefully a good chance that people sitting out front can, too.”
That time he played for Lou Reed
Wakeman estimates that he played on more than 2,000 songs, including well-known tracks such as Cat Stevens’s “Morning Has Broken,” David Bowie’s “Life on Mars” and T Rex’s “Bang a Gong.” It would surprise some that the prog rock icon also played on proto-punk Lou Reed’s first solo album in 1972.
“I loved him. He was as mad as I was, and I loved that,” he said of Reed. “We recorded that album at Morgan Studios in North London, and there was a bar downstairs, and the main studio was upstairs. And he had everybody wait down in the bar until they were called up to do whatever it is he wanted them to do. None of us knew in advance what he was he wanted. And I got my course."
"The studio was pitched black, apart from a little light on the piano. And I picked up the headphones and he said, Hi, Rick. I said, we met you before. He said, OK, I'm going to play you a track, have a little listen. So he plays the track. And then he said, okay, what I want you to do. He said, Play what you like, but I want you to play fast. I said, OK, I'll do that. So he played the track and I played along with it. And I thought, OK, let's go for a couple more, do this, do that. And he said, that's great. Love me, just what I want. And I said, don't you want me to do it again? He went, no, very happy. OK. He said, Go back down to the bar, get a drink and get paid. Thanks. And that was it. It was absolutely brilliant.”