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There are few bands in rock music who can boast that their music is strong enough to withstand any number of personal issues within the group. Progressive rock supergroup Yes has shown time and again, however, that they fall into that very small category of bands that can keep going no matter what, and what's more, they're somehow able to maintain an incredibly high performance standard no matter who is in the band at any given time, or how many personality conflicts pop up between band members.
In fact, it might be argued that the band's flexibility when it comes to lineup changes is part of what makes them so resilient. Yes started in 1968 as the evolution of another band called Mabel Greer's Toyshop, with a lineup consisting of Jon Anderson on vocals, Chris Squire on bass, Peter Banks on guitar, Tony Kaye on keyboards, and Bill Bruford on drums. None of the members thought Yes was a great name for the band, and they agreed to use it only until a better name could be found. More than four decades later, the name is still in use, and it's probably unlikely they'll change it anytime in the foreseeable future.
The members of the band, however, did change, and did so frequently. Most notably, Yes has been through no fewer than four singers (five if you include the intermittent lead vocals of Trevor Rabin in the 1980s and '90s), with the original singer Jon Anderson leaving and rejoining the group several times.
Trevor Horn (of Buggles fame) was the first replacement singer, and although he only lasted in that role for one album, he is still involved with the band to this day in a production capacity. Canadian Benoit David, who was the vocalist of a Yes tribute band, joined the real Yes in 2008 as a replacement vocalist, when Jon Anderson was unable to tour due to respiratory failure. David also sang on one album, 2011's Fly from Here, but has since been replaced by Jon Davison under very similar circumstances. David was suffering from respiratory problems and couldn't tour as a result; Davison was brought in based on his success with another Yes cover band.
One thing that has been made clear throughout the history of Yes is that they put the music above all else. Personal conflicts between band members have been frequent, and have sometimes led to band members leaving, but this is often due to so many talented people having such intense passion for what they do. The standard of music within the band has remained incredibly high, and although commercial success has not been consistent, Yes values quality over popular appeal, and has accepted the fact that their music appeals to a very vocal subset of rock fans who love the progressive genre and the technically complex music that comes along with it.
Nevertheless, the trajectory of the band has certainly been affected by the actions and inactions of its members. The release of the album Fly from Here represents the first new music from Yes in a decade, due to issues within the band that kept them from touring and recording during much of that time. In 2008, keyboardist Rick Wakeman was advised by his doctors that touring would not be a good idea, so he was replaced by his son, Oliver. Jon Anderson, who was not interested in recording a studio album, initially agreed to tour in 2008, but then the entire tour had to be cancelled when Anderson's respiratory failure prevented him from continuing.
The current lineup of Yes is a strong one, perhaps one of the strongest to date, and fans seem to love it, despite missing some of the older members. What's great about younger blood like singer Jon Davison is the energy that is now brought to the table. This in turn helps attract a new generation of progressive rock fans who may not have given Yes a chance in the past.
With such a flexible attitude toward personnel changes and such strong dedication to quality, there's no reason Yes can't continue on indefinitely. With a tour coming up, the current lineup have said that they're looking forward to recording some new material with Davison on vocals, so that is one thing on the horizon for fans to look forward to. In the meantime, a North American tour in the spring of 2013 will see the band playing three classic Yes albums in their entirety: The Yes Album, Close to the Edge, and Going for the One.
Yes fans have a lot to be happy about these days. Although the band hardly resembles the original 1968 incarnation, the music is still as good as ever, and as Yes is primarily a touring band, the emphasis is on giving the best live performances possible. This is good news for those who want to see Yes live, as they pride themselves on giving their absolute best every time, and never letting the fans down.
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