Local Wire

Yes Bassist Chris Squire Dies in Phoenix

Bassist Chris Squire of the seminal prog-rock band Yes died Saturday night at a hospital in Phoenix. He was 67.

"It’s with the heaviest of hearts and unbearable sadness that we must inform you of the passing of our dear friend and Yes co-founder, Chris Squire," read a post on the band's Facebook page.

Widely acknowledged as one of the greatest rock bassists ever, Squire was a founding member of the group and the only member to appear on all 21 of the band's studio albums. 

Squire announced his illness (acute erythroid leukemia) in a statement in May, saying that he would not go join the band on its fall tour with Toto. Billy Sherwood is scheduled to play bass on the tour; as of now, it looks like the tour will continue uninterrupted. 

"This will be the first time since the band formed in 1968 that Yes will have performed live without me," Squire said in the release. "But the other guys and myself have agreed that Billy Sherwood will do an excellent job of covering my parts and the show as a whole will deliver the same Yes experience that our fans have come to expect over the years."

Prominent Valley promoter Danny Zelisko has worked with YES for decades, including bringing the band to Talking Stick Resort in September. He remembers Squire as a supremely nice person, a devoted music fan who loved seeing other bands perform live. Zelisko says Squire recently attended the Alan Parsons concert at Celebrity Theatre in October.

"When he was in town, he liked to go to shows, go to dinners," Zelisko says. "He’s one of those guys who will definitely be missed. No one would ever say a bad thing about him, and that’s rare in this business."

The roots of Yes date back to the late ’60s in England, where a club owner introduced Squire and singer Jon Anderson. The band would go on to add drummer Bill Bruford, guitarist Peter Banks, and keyboardist Tony Kaye and release its self-titled debut in 1969. In the ’70s, Yes went on to release a string of albums now considered prog-rock classics — Time and a Word (1970), The Yes Album (1971) Fragile (1971), Close to the Edge (1972), Tales from Topographic Oceans (1973), and Relayer (1974). The band took a fairly seismic sonic shift with the release of 90125 in 1983, which saw the band incorporating hair metal-esque power chords and pop songwriting into its prog-rock dramatics. The album became the band's best-selling effort, going on to sell more than 6 million albums, propelled by the single "Owner of a Lonely Heart." 

The band endured many lineup changes through the decades, but Squire was the only member of the band to perform at every concert. He moved to Phoenix in 2008, telling local oldies station KOOL-FM that his wife's water broke while on tour, and they rushed to Phoenix to have the baby close to his wife's mother, a Valley resident. 

The self-taught bassist constantly pushed the boundaries of what how the instrument could function in a rock band. Squire's bass featured prominently in many YES songs, and he played with a melodic awareness rare among bass players. 

"Anyone who wants to play bass guitar, take a look and this guy and think again," Zelisko says.

The band has set up a tribute website, where member, former members, and other musicians have written tributes to the bassist.

"Chris was a very special part of my life; we were musical brothers," wrote Anderson. "We traveled a road less traveled, and I’m so thankful that he climbed the musical mountains with me. Throughout everything, he was still my brother."

"I’ll miss seeing him looking across the stage — a wink here and a wink there with that Mephistophelean grin particularly if something had gone slightly awry," wrote keyboardist Geoff Downes. "He was a legendary bassist, lovable funny guy both on and off the stage. He took bass guitar to another level and inspired thousands of others, the undisputed king of the 4 strings."

"Chris was a truly unique bass player. The word ‘unique’ is used a lot, these days, of course, but in Chris’s case, it’s indisputable," writes Brian May of Queen. "His bass playing style was a million miles away from the low-pitched thud of most bassists of the time. His bass guitar was wired up to make an incisive full-frequency range ‘clank’ that had the presence of an orchestra when he played on his own. Blended into the intricacies of the arrangements in his band’s music, it formed a massively strong backbone in both rhythm and pitch. As young musicians, we boys in Queen were huge fans of Yes. We had a loose connection with them, since Freddie had worked in Kensington Market alongside Tony Kaye, their original keyboard player. We regularly saw Yes playing around London in their very early days — when they were still playing covers — among them a very impressive version of ‘Something’s Coming’ from West Side Story. In these early days they were learning their harmony skills which later emerged strongly in their own compositions … like ‘I’ve Seen All Good People’, etc."

Update, 3:20 p.m.: Added a quote from Danny Zelisko

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David Accomazzo is a music wrangler, award-winning reporter, critic, and editor with more than a decade in the business.
Contact: David Accomazzo