Creem - June 2004

Rick Wakeman Interview

Extracts: The Missing Link / Bolan Incognito / Stereo Oddity

By Jeffrey Morgan

JEFFREY MORGAN: You played on David Bowie's first album and you played on Lou Reed's first album. You were a member of Strawbs and for the past 32 years you've been a member of Yes, on and off. So what I want to know is this: in the anthropology of rock 'n' roll -

RICK WAKEMAN: (laughs)

MORGAN: - is Rick Wakeman the missing link between the glam rock era and the progressive rock era?

WAKEMAN: Well, I did all Marc Bolan's stuff as well. A lovely man. I did all T.Rex.

MORGAN: I was looking for a credit on his albums and couldn't find one.

WAKEMAN: I did a lot of -

MORGAN: The singles?

WAKEMAN: Yeah, I did "Ride A White Swan" - "Get It On" - In fact, at the time when Marc was really at his height, when T.Rex were just selling shed loads of stuff, I was sitting up at Regal Zonophone with him and Tony Visconti and Marc was having a huge argument with the record company. He was so fed up with them. And he had this song he wanted to record and, for whatever reason, the record company didn't want him to record it. And he said, "Sod it. I'm going into the studio, let's record it." And Tony Visconti, who was the producer, said: "OK, but the record company won't release it."So we went in and recorded this track. He only pressed up, I think it was 5,000, and it came out under the band name 'Dib Cochran And The Earwigs.' And it was only way after his death that it came out that it was Marc. I wish I had one. I mean, they've been going for five thousand dollars on eBay if you can find one, they're so collectible.

But I'd play on everything from pop records to a lot of the glam stuff to rock stuff to classical stuff. I used to get called to do all those things, it was great. I really enjoyed it because I like people who are adventurous. When you sort of take away - and there's no pun intended - all the glam and glitter, you have to see what's left. And there's a lot of music left. And there were a lot of people like Lou Reed, people like Marc, who had a lot to offer, they were really very clever.

David Bowie is far and away the cleverest man I've ever worked with. Far and away. Absolute walking genius, David Bowie was, to work with. I did about 2,000 sessions in four years, and of all those sessions the person I learned more from, was David.

MORGAN: In terms of music or attitude?

WAKEMAN: Both. Absolutely both.

MORGAN: Because he would've been around 20 at that time.

WAKEMAN: Yeah, he was in his early 20s. And he was just... Gosh, he was so far ahead of the game. He absolutely listened to nobody who he felt didn't have anything worth listening to. He wasn't into listening to managers and record company executives. 'Cause his argument was: "If they want to be musicians, let them go and make a record, don't tell me what to do." And it was a wonderful attitude.

I can remember, in Trident Studios in London... how old was I... Crikey, it was 1969, I was 20 years old. In fact, when we recorded it, I was 19 years old when we did "Space Oddity" originally because it was March 1969.

I remember going into the studio, and we recorded it, did my Mellotron bits, and walked up the stairs to go into the control room. And he was in there having a blazing row with the guy from Phillips, the record company guy. Because he wanted the single to be in stereo. And there weren't stereo singles then.

And he said, "This is stereo."

And the guy said, "No, we don't do stereo singles. Juke boxes are in mono, everything's mono."

And David said, "I don't give a damn, this is stereo. In a little while, everything's going to be in stereo. There's going to be stereo jukeboxes. Everybody's going to have stereo at home, this has to be in stereo."

"Well, we're not geared up to press singles in stereo."

"You'd better start getting ready."

"Well, we're not going to do it!"

"Well, you don't have the single then!"

He fought and he was right. He was dead right and it was the first stereo single in the UK. And a massive monster. He was always one step ahead of the game.

He was always incredibly prepared in the studio. He said to me: "Never waste time in the studio. Studio time's really precious. Whilst you might have the money to waste in the studio now, there might be in years to come a time when you might wish you had that money. You'll look back at the time you wasted."

He never wrote in the studio, everything was already done. He was always what he called "75 percent prepared." You go in and he'd get the piece that far, and then the studio would take it that extra 25 percent. He respected the studio, and I think that's the one thing he taught me more than anything else: respect the studio. It's not a plaything.

He was light years ahead of his time, and it was an absolute pleasure to work with him. He respects what he can do more than anyone else I've ever met. Amazing character. Amazing man.