John Wetton

John Kenneth Wetton (12 June 1949 – 31 January 2017) was an English singer, bassist, and songwriter. He was born in Willington, Derbyshire, and grew up in Bournemouth. He rose to fame with bands Mogul Thrash, Family, King Crimson, Roxy Music/Bryan Ferry, Uriah Heep, and Wishbone Ash.

After his period with King Crimson, Wetton formed U.K., and later he was the frontman and principal songwriter of the supergroup Asia, which proved to be his biggest commercial success. Their eponymous debut album sold eight million copies worldwide and was Billboard magazine’s No. 1 album of 1982. He later formed the duo Icon with Geoff Downes (ex-Yes, ex-The Buggles), and from the 1990s had a successful solo career, releasing a large number of studio and live albums.

Wetton had a long career as an in-demand session bass player, and collaborated with many members of progressive rock bands such as Yes (including Steve Howe, Bill Bruford, Geoff Downes, Alan White, Billy Sherwood and Peter Banks), Roxy Music, Bryan Ferry and Genesis’ Steve Hackett.


Wetton grew up in Bournemouth and was in a number of early bands with Richard Palmer-James, on bass and vocals, including, The Corvettes, The Palmer-James Group (formed with Alec James), Tetrad, and Ginger Man. A key early band was Mogul Thrash; after live work with Renaissance, he joined Family and also did various sessions.

Wetton’s first big break came when he joined Wimborne, Dorset, musician Robert Fripp in his new line-up of King Crimson in 1972, allowing Wetton to come to the fore as a lead singer and composer. Palmer-James also worked with the band as a lyricist. Wetton remained with the band until Fripp unexpectedly disbanded it in 1974. Wetton continued to work on various projects, including a tour with Roxy Music[4] and two albums with Uriah Heep. In 1977, after failed attempts to reunite King Crimson and create a new band with Rick Wakeman, Wetton formed U.K. with Bill Bruford, who had also been in King Crimson with him. Wetton brought into U.K. keyboard/violin wizard Eddie Jobson, while Bruford brought in guitarist Allan Holdsworth. Upon Bruford and Holdsworth’s departure, American percussionist Terry Bozzio joined, making U.K. a threesome a la Emerson, Lake & Palmer. This version of U.K. released the studio album Danger Money (1979) and toured in support of Jethro Tull.

Wetton released his first solo album, Caught in the Crossfire, in 1980 after the break-up of U.K. Later that same year, he had a brief stint in Wishbone Ash, contributing bass and vocals to their album Number the Brave (1981). In 1981, at the urging of Geffen Records’ John Kalodner, Wetton started working and writing with Steve Howe, who had most recently been in Yes. They went on to form Asia with whom Wetton worked until 1983. In that year, Wetton was fired from Asia at the insistence of Geffen Records, ostensibly because of less-than-expected sales of the Alpha (1983) album. Wetton was brought back to Asia in 1985, with Mandy Meyer replacing Steve Howe, to complete Astra (1985).

In the late 1980s, Wetton’s collaboration with former Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera was released as Wetton/Manzanera (1986), with drums provided by Yes’s Alan White. Also around this time, Wetton began working again with Geoff Downes and Carl Palmer in an attempt to restart Asia without Steve Howe. Some of the material by this incarnation of Asia made its way onto 1990’s Then & Now CD.

The 1990s saw Wetton mostly out of Asia and focusing on a solo career. In 1999, another attempt to reform Asia resulted in Wetton participating in the short-lived progressive rock group Qango with Carl Palmer, John Young, and Dave Kilminster. The group performed several shows in the U.K. and recorded one live album, Live in the Hood, before disbanding when Wetton and Palmer returned to their solo projects.

In the early 2000s, he reunited with Asia keyboardist Geoff Downes for iCon. In 2006, an official reunion of the original Asia line-up (Wetton, Downes, Howe, and Palmer) finally occurred. The studio album titled Phoenix (2008), the original band’s first since 1983’s Alpha, was released in April 2008 and peaked at No. 73 on the North American Top 200 albums charts. The original line-up released two more studio albums, Omega (2010) and XXX before Howe departed in January 2013. With new guitarist Sam Coulson, Asia released Gravitas in March 2014.

In 2013 he guested on the album Grandine il vento with Renaissance, with whom he had played live 42 years before.

Wetton also worked extensively as a session musician with such musicians as Brian Eno, Bryan Ferry and Phil Manzanera.


Wetton died in his sleep at a hospice in Bournemouth, Dorset on 31 January 2017, from colon cancer. He was survived by his wife Lisa, son Dylan, brother Robert and mother Margaret (Peggy)

Comments from other musicians

Some artists have cited Wetton as an influence or have expressed their admiration for him, including Billy Sheehan, Juan Alderete of The Mars Volta and Racer X, and Joseph D. Rowland of Pallbearer.

Band timeline

  • Mogul Thrash (1971)
  • Gordon Haskell (1972)
  • Family (1971–1972)
  • Larry Norman (1972)
  • King Crimson (1972–1974)
  • Roxy Music (1974–1975)
  • Uriah Heep (1975–1976)
  • U.K. (1977–1980, 2011–2015)
  • Jack-Knife (1979)
  • Wishbone Ash (1980)
  • John Wetton (1980–2017)
  • Asia (1981–1983, 1984–1986, 1989–1991, 2006–2017)
  • Qango (1999–2000)
  • Icon (Wetton/Downes) (2002, 2005–2009)



  • Caught in the Crossfire (1980) E’G/Polydor Records
  • Voice Mail / Battle Lines (1994) Pony Canyon / Magnetic Air Records
  • Arkangel (1997) Eagle Records
  • Welcome to Heaven / Sinister (2000) Avalon Records
  • Rock of Faith (2003) Giant Electric Pea
  • Raised in Captivity (2011) Frontiers Records
Live albums
  • Chasing the Dragon (live in Japan)(1995) Eclipse Records
  • Akustika: Live in America (1996)
  • Live in Tokyo 1997 (1998)
  • No Mans Land Live in Poland (1999) Giant Electric Pea
  • Hazy Monet Live In New York City May 27, 1997 (1999)
  • Sub Rosa Live in Milan Italy (1999)
  • Live At The Sun Plaza Tokyo 1999 (2000)
  • Live in Argentina (2003)
  • Live in Stockholm 1998 (2003)
  • Live in Osaka (2003)
  • Live in the Underworld (2003) Classic Rock Legends
  • Amata (2004) Metal Mind Records
  • Agenda (2004) Metal Mind Records
  • Live via Satellite (2015)
  • Chasing the Deer (1998)
  • Wetton / Manzanera (with Phil Manzanera) (1987) Geffen Records
  • Monkey Business 1972 – 1997 (with Richard Palmer-James) (1998)
  • One Way or Another (with Ken Hensley) (2002) Classic Rock Legends
  • More Than Conquerors (with Ken Hensley) (2002) Classic Rock Legends (also released as DVD)
  • New York Minute (with Les Paul Trio) (2015)
  • King’s Road, 1972–1980 (1987) E’G/Virgin Records
  • Anthology (2001) NMC
  • The Studio Recordings Anthology (2015)

King Crimson

  • Larks’ Tongues in Aspic (April 1973); US No. 61, UK No. 20
  • Starless and Bible Black (June 1974); US No. 64, UK No. 28
  • Red (October 1974); US No. 66, UK No. 45
Live albums
  • USA (1975, expanded edition 2002) recorded live June 1974
  • The Great Deceiver (1992) recorded live 1973–1974
  • The Night Watch (1997) recorded live 23 November 1973


  • UK (1978)
  • Danger Money (1979)
Live albums
  • Night After Night (1979)
  • Concert Classics, Vol. 4 (1999) recorded live 1978
  • Reunion Live in Tokyo (2013) recorded live 2011
  • Curtain Call (2015) recorded live 2013


  • Asia (1982); No. 1 US, No. 15 JP
  • Alpha (1983); No. 6 US, No. 4 JP
  • Astra (1985); No. 67 US, No. 15 JP
  • Then & Now (1990); No. 114 US, No. 24 JP – half studio album, half Compilations
  • Phoenix (2008); No. 73 US No. 28 JP
  • Omega (2010)
  • XXX (2012); No. 134 US
  • Gravitas (2014)
Live albums
  • Live in Moscow 1990 (1991)
  • Fantasia: Live in Tokyo (2007)
  • Spirit of the Night – Live in Cambridge 09 (2010)
  • Resonance – The Omega Tour 2010 (2012)
  • High Voltage – Live (2014)
  • Axis XXX Live San Francisco (2015)
  • Symfonia: Live in Bulgaria 2013 (2017)
  • The Very Best of Asia: Heat of the Moment (1982–1990) (2000)
  • Definitive Collection (2006); #183 US

Icon (Wetton/Downes)

  • Wetton Downes (Demo Collection) (2002) Stallion Records
  • Icon (2005) Frontiers Records/UMe Digital (US)
  • Heat of the Moment ’05 EP (2005) Frontiers Records
  • Icon II: Rubicon (2006) Frontiers Records
  • Icon 3 (2009) Frontiers Records
  • 1 track on Action Moves People United (2016)
Live albums
  • Icon Live: Never in a Million Years (2006) Frontiers Records
  • Icon: Acoustic TV Broadcast (2006) Frontiers Records (also release as DVD)
  • Icon: Heat of the Rising Sun (2012) The Store for Music

Session work and collaborations

With Mogul Thrash
  • Mogul Thrash (1971)
With Gordon Haskell
  • It Is and It Isn’t (1971) Wetton plays organ, bass, keyboards, vocals, gut string guitar & vocal harmony.
With Family
  • Fearless (October 1971); US No. 177, UK No. 14
  • Bandstand (September 1972); US No. 183, UK No. 15
With Larry Norman
  • Only Visiting This Planet (1972)
With Malcolm and Alwyn
  • Fool’s Wisdom (1973)
With Peter Banks
  • Two Sides of Peter Banks (1973)
With Brian Eno
  • Here Come the Warm Jets (September 1973): Wetton plays bass on track 3 (“Baby’s on Fire”) and track 5 (“Driving Me Backwards”)
With Pete Sinfield
  • Still (1973)
With Bryan Ferry
  • Another Time, Another Place (July 1974); UK No. 4
  • Let’s Stick Together (September 1976); UK No. 19, US No. 160
  • In Your Mind (February 1977); UK No. 5, US No. 126, Aust No. 1
  • The Bride Stripped Bare (September 1978)
With Uriah Heep
  • Return to Fantasy (1975); UK No. 7, US No. 85
  • High and Mighty (1976); UK No. 56, US No. 161
With Roxy Music
  • Viva! (July 1976)
With Phil Manzanera
  • Diamond Head (1975)
  • K-Scope (1978
  • Wetton Manzanera (1987)
With Duncan Mackay
  • Score (1977)
With Atoll
  • Rock Puzzle (1979)
With Jack-Knife

Note: Jack-Knife was a project in which John Wetton and W.J. Hutcheson, who were his bandmates in Tetrad, visited Richard Palmer-James at his home in Munich. They recorded as Jack-Knife an album with the German drummer Curt Cress in 10 days called I Wish You Would, performing songs from the early days.

  • I Wish You Would (1979)
With Roger Chapman
  • Mail Order Magic (1980)
  • Hyenas Only Laugh for Fun (1981)
With Wishbone Ash
  • Number the Brave (1981) MCA Records
With David Cross
  • Exiles (1997)
With Steve Hackett
  • Genesis Revisited (1997): Wetton sings on tracks 1 and 5 and also plays bass on track 5.
  • The Tokyo Tapes (1998)
  • Genesis Revisited II (2012): Wetton sings and plays guitar and bass on track “Afterglow”.
  • Genesis Revisited: Live at Hammersmith (2013): Wetton sings on track “Afterglow”.
  • Genesis Revisited: Live at the Royal Albert Hall (2014): Wetton sings on track “Firth of Fifth”.
With Qango
  • Live in the Hood (2000)
With Daniele Liverani
  • Genius A Rock Opera – Episode 1 (2002)
With Martin Turner’s Wishbone Ash
  • Argus Through The Looking Glass (2008) Mystic Records
With Alan Simon
  • Excalibur II: The Celtic Ring
  • Excalibur III
With Eddie Jobson
  • Ultimate Zero – The Best of the U-Z Project Live (2010)
  • Four Decades (2015)
With Ayreon
  • The Theory of Everything (2013) InsideOut Music
With Renaissance
  • Grandine il vento (2013)
With District 97
  • One More Red Night – Live in Chicago (2014)

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