RIP Chris Squire, Yes bassist and founding member

Chris Squire (March 4, 1948 – June 27, 2015) was the only continuous member of legendary progressive rock band Yes throughout all its many line-up changes.

A church choir singer growing up, his is one of the two backing voices in Yes’s trademark 3-part harmony vocals. But his biggest musical legacy undoubtedly is as one of a handful of innovators  responsible for taking the bass guitar out of its ‘harmonic foundation’ ghetto. In Yes (like in more modern bands like Primus, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Tool), the bass guitar was effectively a co-equal instrument that took on melody and especially countermelody roles.

Squire’s favorite instrument, the Rickenbacker 4001, was originally bought with an employee discount at the Boosey & Hawkes music store where he worked. Already having learned to play bass earlier, he developed his trademark technique on that 4001. The story goes that, after a bad acid trip, he was so afraid to go anywhere that he holed up in the apartment of his girlfriend for months and did (presumably almost) nothing but play bass, emerging with a unique style. Se non e vero e bene trovato. 

More prosaically, he adopted the split-amp technique pioneered by The Who’s John Entwistle, in which the treble of the instrument is sent through a lead guitar amplifier while the low end is routed to a bass amplifier, thus sacrificing neither low-end punch nor high-end clarity. Combined with the already bright sound a Rickenbacker with Rotosound strings produces, and Squire playing with a pick rather than finger style, one obtains an almost harpsichord-like sound that, from deep growls to sweet melodies high up on the G string, never fails to project.

A legion of rock bassists acknowledge his influence: whether you hear Geddy Lee of Rush or Justin Chancellor of Tool (to name just two very different musicians), you hear echoes of Chris Squire. Squire himself cited Jack Bruce (Cream), John Entwistle, and funk bassist Larry Graham (Sly and the Family Stone) as his primary role models.

He will be dearly missed, but the music he created with Yes contains many timeless classics. Below is posted not one of their marvelous prog epics like “Close to the Edge”, but the sensitive ballad “Onward”. After that, what I regard as Squire’s signature piece, “Heart of the Sunrise”.

Growing up, I couldn’t really hear most bands’ bass players due to the appalling bass response of my little tape recorder. Chris Squire changed all that — the brain will ‘fill in’ the missing fundamental of a tone if enough overtones are there. Thus, for the first time I acquired a sense of what this instrument can do.

Enjoy the great gig in the sky, brother.

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