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Asia is a rock group formed in 1981. The band was labelled a supergroup and included former members of veteran progressive rock bands Yes, King Crimson, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Uriah Heep, U.K., Roxy Music, Wishbone Ash and The Buggles. As of 2008, there are two distinct groups using the Asia name: a recently-formed reunion of the band's original line-up performing as Asia, and Asia Featuring John Payne as a continuation of the pre-2006 Asia lineup, featuring three of its members.

History

Formation

Asia began with the apparent demise of Yes and Emerson, Lake & Palmer, two of the flagship bands of British progressive rock. After the break-up of King Crimson in 1974, various plans for a super group involving bassist John Wetton had been mooted, including the abortive British Bulldog project with Bill Bruford and Rick Wakeman in 1976. In 1977 Bruford and Wetton were reunited in UK, along with guitarist Allan Holdsworth and keyboardist/violinist Eddie Jobson. Their eponymous debut was released in 1978. By 1980, after UK's demise, a new super group project was suggested involving Wetton, Wakeman, drummer Carl Palmer and (then little known) guitarist Trevor Rabin, but Wakeman walked out of the project shortly before they were due to sign to Geffen and before they had ever played together. Rabin, in a filmed interview from 1984 and included in the recently released and updated DVD 9012Live, said that his involvement with this project never went anywhere because "there was no chemistry" among the participants.

In early 1981, Wetton and Yes guitarist Steve Howe were brought together by A&R man John Kalodner and Geffen Records to start working and writing. They were eventually joined by Carl Palmer, and finally by Howe's recent Yes cohort, keyboardist Geoff Downes. The band's early offerings, under the auspices of Geffen record label head David Geffen and Kalodner, were considered disappointing by music critics and fans of traditional progressive rock, who found the music closer to radio-friendly AOR pop-rock. However, Asia clicked with fans of arena acts such as Journey, Boston, and Styx. Rolling Stone gave Asia an indifferent review, while still acknowledging the band's musicianship was a cut above the usual AOR expectations.

Early years

Asia's eponymous debut album, released in March 1982, received considerable commercial success, spending nine weeks at number one in the U.S. album chart and selling over 4 million copies in the US alone. The album sold over 10 million worldwide. The singles "Only Time Will Tell" (#17) and "Heat of the Moment" (#4) became huge Top 40 hits, with the latter cracking the Top Five, and the remaining a stadium favourite at U.S. sporting events. "Sole Survivor" also received heavy air play on rock stations across the US, as did "Wildest Dreams". The band's best performing single, and perhaps their most recognized and popular hit song, "Heat of the Moment", climbed to #4 on the American Top 40 (AT40) charts, having debuted on the AT40 on May 1, 1982, and spent a total of 12 weeks in the AT40.The four Asia hit singles which made the AT40 from 1982-83, are as follows, with their hightest chart position noted: "Heat of the Moment" (#4); "Only Time Will Tell" (#17); "Don't Cry" (#10); "The Smile Has Left Your Eyes" (#34).

In the US, the band did extremely well, selling out every date on their debut tour, which began in theaters but quickly expanded into arenas because of high ticket demand. Asia would go on to receive a Grammy nomination as Best New Artist of the Year. MTV also played Asia videos on heavy rotation....as many as 5 times a day. Billboard named the Asia debut as album of the year. Asia's logo and cover art were handled by famed illustrator Roger Dean of Yes and Uriah Heep fame.

However, neither the second nor any following Asia album repeated the chart success of the first. "Don't Cry" was a Top Ten single in the summer of 1983 and the video received considerable play on MTV, while "The Smile Has Left Your Eyes", a fan favourite for John Wetton's vocal performance, charted inside of Billboard's top 40. The video for "Smile" also scored heavy MTV play. But Rolling Stone panned Alpha as an over-produced commercial album, while others lamented that Howe and Palmer were effectively reduced to session musicians. The tracks "Eye yo Eye" and "My Own Time" became huge fan favourites. "Open Your Eyes" and "The Heat Goes On" became concert staples. Alpha received indifferent reviews from various critics, while still attaining platinum status. Alpha reached #6 on the USA Billboard album chart.

In October 1983, Wetton was forced out of the group on the heels of the comparatively disappointing sales of Alpha. The band stated that Wetton quit and it remains debatable to this day what really happened. In any event, the next leg of their 1983 US tour (which had begun in the summer but shut down suddenly on September 10 after a performance at Pine Knobmarker in Detroitmarker), scheduled for the fall, was abruptly cancelled, reportedly because of low ticket sales. Ex-King Crimson and ELP front man Greg Lake replaced Wetton for the highly publicised "Asia in Asia" concert at the Nippon Budokanmarker Hall in Tokyo, Japanmarker on Dec. 6, 1983, which was the first concert broadcast over satellite to MTV in the US and later made into a home video. Some of the songs had to be played in a lower key to suit Lake's voice and he read most of the lyrics from a teleprompter. The Japanese dates were successful financially but not musically. Lake left in early 1984 and Asia reunited with Wetton that same year to start work on their next album. But Steve Howe soon left to be replaced by Krokus guitarist Mandy Meyer. Howe then enjoyed brief success with GTR, another supergroup, formed with Steve Hackett of Genesis and produced by Downes.

Astra to the USSR

The third Asia album, Astra, released in November 1985, was not as commercially successful as the first two. Geffen cancelled the projected tour because of lack of interest. Howe's replacement, Mandy Meyer of Krokus, provided more of a hard-rock guitar approach. The band enjoyed a modest charting single, "Go," (#46) with Meyer's guitar heroics centre stage. The music video was another hit with MTV. In 1986 this Asia line-up folded, bringing the group to an end for the time being. Wetton resurfaced with a 1987 album with guitarist Phil Manzanera, Wetton-Manzanera, based on material that had been originally intended for Asia. Also in 1987, Wetton played with Phenomena on their Dream Runner album and landed a number one hit in South America with the Phenomena single "Did it All for Love", also appearing in the related music video. Asia were also credited with a contribution to the Sylvester Stallone film soundtrack to Over the Top, although Wetton was the only original band member involved. Wetton and Downes' attempt to restart the group in 1987 with guitarist Scott Gorham (formerly of Thin Lizzy) and drummer Michael Sturgis (ex-a-ha) fizzled when they were unable to land a recording deal. Wetton and Palmer were more successful in reuniting the band for a few tours of Europe in 1989. Downes (who was working on a project with Greg Lake) was not available at this time, so keys were played by John Young. Guitars on this tour were handled by Alan Darby (who was replaced shortly after by German guitarist Holger Larish) and Zoe Nicholas and Susie Webb were brought aboard to provide back up vocals. Unlike Wetton's later anger at Asia continuing without him in the 1990s, this lineup was viewed favourably by other Asia band members.

Asia returned to the studio in 1990 with Toto guitarist Steve Lukather and other musicians (see discography below) and released Then & Now, a best-of with 4 new tracks. Pat Thrall joined Downes, Palmer, and Wetton on tour and they performed classic material, including King Crimson and UK songs. The band toured the former Soviet Unionmarker in November 1990 to play in front of 20,000 fans on two sold out nights. "Days Like These" charted at #64 in 1990 and climbed all the way to #2 on the Album Rock Tracks chart. A video was planned but was scrapped because various problems hampered the single's chance at the Top 40. Asia received the RIAA Gold album award for Then and Now many years later, but the initial response was poor as the album failed to dent the Top 100. The decision not to tour the US for this album did not help any. A DVD and CD can be bought of the Asia concert in the USSR. John Wetton left in 1991 after a South American tour, disgusted by Asia's lack of success in the States. He went on to focus on recording solo albums, none of which would yield any hits.

The Payne Era

In 1991, vocalist/bassist John Payne joined the band and, together with Geoff Downes, enlisted new musicians and led Asia through to 2005. The first album with this line-up, Aqua (1992), also featuring Steve Howe and Carl Palmer (whose drum tracks were re-recorded from other works, to give the impression that three original members worked on the project), and former Alice Cooper, Danger Danger and then future Megadeth lead guitarist Al Pitrelli, was released on Great Pyramid/JRS Records in the US. Howe returned during the sessions having just left Yes again, but Palmer would leave soon, committing to an ELP reunion, and was able to play on just three songs. Session men then completed the drumming. Downes' environmentalist single "Who Will Stop The Rain?" (originally written for Max Bacon and the aborted Rain project, later appearing on Bacon's album From the Banks of the River Irwell) attracted some radio attention. The Aqua club tour featured Howe (whose presence was heavily promoted), who took the stage after the fifth song. The tour was successful enough to warrant the band's continuation. The 1992-93 tour featured Downes, Howe, Payne, guitarist Vinny Burns and drummer Trevor Thornton. Before a European festival tour in late 1993, Howe and Burns left and were replaced by guitarist Keith More. Payne acquitted himself on the tour, but many fans refused to support an Asia lineup without Wetton.

The group released Aria in May 1994, which featured lead guitarist Al Pitrelli once again, who would leave Asia during the short Aria tour. This illustrates how the keyboard-driven band often faced trouble keeping a regular guitarist. Aria did not fare well commercially and the ensuing tour was limited to four concerts. Ex-Simply Red guitarist Aziz Ibrahim took over during the tour. Aria also introduced new drummer Michael Sturgis, who had been involved during the band's aborted 1987 reunion and had appeared on some of the sessions for Aqua.

Over New Year's Eve 1996, a broken pipe inundated the control room in Downes and Payne's recording studio, Electric Palace, in London. Amid the lost equipment, a vault containing unreleased material was found intact. The band decided to release the double-disc Archiva, a collection of unreleased tracks recorded during the first three Downes/Payne albums. Next, Arena, released in February 1996, featured Downes, Payne, Sturgis, Ibrahim and guest guitarist Elliott Randall (ex-Steely Dan, Randy Crawford). The album featured Asia's longest track ever in "The Day Before The War". The album was released on Resurgence Records but there was no tour because of lack of interest. The group's lone promotional performance in conjunction with the album occurred on April 19, 1996 when Downes and Payne appeared with guitarist Elliott Randall on the Virgin FM radio program Alive in London to play the song "Never".

An all acoustic album, Live at the Town & Country Club, was recorded by the group in September 1997 (and released in 1999) that featured a lineup of Downes, Payne, Ibrahim and Bob Richards on drums.

In 1999, there was talk of a reunion of the original lineup (minus Howe). The original proposition included Dave Kilminster on guitar, who had previously toured and recorded with John Wetton. While Howe was interested in participating, he was unable because of his busy schedule with Yes. This reunion did not take place and John Payne continued to carry on Asia with Downes uninterrupted. Wetton and Palmer did, however, get together to form Qango, which included Dave Kilminster and John Young, although the band was short-lived. Dave Kilminster went on to work with Keith Emerson and Roger Waters. In 2000, Geffen/Universal released a best-of entitled The Very Best of Asia: Heat of the Moment (1982-1990) which also included three rare B-sides from the early days.

2001's Aura featured three different session guitarists, including Ian Crichton (of Canadian progressive rock band Saga) who'd briefly joined Asia in 1998-1999. Aura took a more progressive rock form, but still did not recapture the commercial success of the first album. Former members Howe, Thrall, Sturgis and Elliott Randall also made guest appearances. The single "Ready To Go Home" was barely distributed. Asia then signed with Recognition. 2001 did see the band with a stable lineup, achieved during the Aura sessions featuring Downes, Payne, guitarist Guthrie Govan and ex-Manfred Mann's Earth Band/The Firm/Uriah Heep/Gary Numan/AC/DC drummer Chris Slade (who had first joined Asia in 1999, briefly). Asia would tour for the first time since 1994, including the first US dates since 1993. A live album and DVD "Asia: Live in the USA" was released in 2003, recorded at the Classic Rock Festival in Trenton, NJ in October 2002 which they co-headlined with Uriah Heep.

In the summer of 2003, Downes and Payne did the "Asia Across America Tour" which got some national media attention. Performing "unplugged", the duo would reportedly play anywhere in the US that fans requested, provided there was a venue and the fans put up $3,000 to cover costs. From New Jersey to Alaska gigs took place and the fans were treated to "meet and greet" sessions after each show as well and given a rare chance to see Downes in an intimate setting.

Marking a departure from convention, for the first time, a studio release was not titled as a single word starting and ending with the letter A. Released on Asia's newly signed label SPV/Inside Out Records, 2004's Silent Nation (name influenced by the Howard Stern vs. FCC incident) picked up some unexpected exposure on the Internet.

In 2004, an acoustic Asia toured featuring only Downes and Payne. In 2005, the full band toured in Europe and the Americas playing settings ranging from small clubs to medium-sized theatres. Again, in the US, attendance was poor at best. Meanwhile, Wetton and Downes released some archival Asia material under the name Wetton/Downes and they then reunited to record a full-length album (Icon, released in 2005), and an accompanying EP and DVD.

In August 2005, Chris Slade left the group to be replaced by Jay Schellen. The new band started work on an album, tentatively entitled Architect of Time, which was originally planned for release in 2006, though later developments would cause this project to be shelved for the time being.

Two bands

In early 2006, the partnership between Downes and Payne was dissolved when Downes left for a reunion of the original band line-up under the Asia name - a breakup which Payne describes as "painful". The existing line-up (minus Downes) continued for a short while before morphing into GPS. Payne, Govan and Schellen subsequently launched the Asia Featuring John Payne name in 2007 with a new line-up. The official websites of each band reflect a split between the shared history of Payne's tenure with the band, as the reunited Asia acknowledge only pre- and post-Payne albums, whereas "Asia Featuring John Payne" claim Payne-era albums Aqua through Silent Nation as part of their own discography. Although Asia's live set lists reflect this, Asia Featuring John Payne has stated that they will perform songs from the entire history of Asia.

The four original members of Asia

Geoff Downes and the other three original members (Wetton, Palmer, and Howe) convened a group meeting in England in early 2006 in anticipation of formally reforming for work that year. And after a slew of rumours, they announced that this original line-up of Asia were planning a CD, DVD and world tour to celebrate the band's 25th anniversary. The band appeared in October 2006 on U.S. cable channel VH-1 Classic and began a world tour largely focused on the U.S. The band secured ownership of the Asia name and toured under the description of the Four Original Members of Asia. The setlist featured most of the first album as well as a couple of songs from the second, along with one selection each from Yes, ELP, King Crimson and the Buggles to acknowledge the history of each member of the band. In a 2006 interview guitarist Steve Howe states that "This is the real Asia. There have been other incarnations of the band, but this is the one that the public truly embraced".

John Wetton and Geoff Downes (2006)
The tour began on Aug. 29th, 2006 in Rochester, New Yorkmarker. "The Definitive Collection" was released by Geffen/Universal to tie into the tour in September and peaked at #183 on the US album charts--—the first time Asia had made the charts since 1990. A limited edition release available only at Best Buy stores also included a DVD of all the band's music videos.

The reunion tour continued into 2007 with venue size based on the success of the 2006 shows where the band was mainly playing in clubs and theatres, many of which sold out, including all seven dates in Japan. Also in 2007, the band released Fantasia: Live In Tokyo on CD and DVD through Eagle Records, commemorating the 25th Anniversary and documenting the success of the 2006-2007 tour.

In mid-2007, all four original members (Wetton, Downes, Howe and Palmer) went into the studio to record a new album, marking the first recorded material from all four original members since 1983's Alpha. The band continued to tour until major heart surgery for Wetton in the second half of the year saw remaining tour dates rescheduled for 2008. The new studio album, entitled Phoenix, was released on Frontiers Records on 14 April 2008 (via EMI/Capitolmarker on April 15 in North America), along with a world tour to promote it. The 12-track album includes "An Extraordinary Life", based on Wetton's experience of ill health; rockers such as "Never Again" and "Nothing's Forever"; and power ballads such as "Heroine" and "I Will Remember You". The world tour features a couple of the new songs. The album cover features Roger Dean's illustration and design. The Phoenix album did well in both the American and European/Japanese markets. It debuted at #73 on the American Billboard pop Charts; the band had not charted with a studio album since 1985.

As a special finale to the US Phoenix tour, the band performed, for the first time ever, the entire first Asia album from beginning to end at their San Francisco concert at The Regency Center on May 5. The album comprised the entire 2nd set of the evening's concert.

In summer 2009, Asia toured the USA with Yes. Asia opened with a 55 minute set, with Yes closing with a 1 hour 50 minute set. Asia's set included only "An Extraordinary Life" from Phoenix, the rest of the songs coming from the first two albums plus one cover each from The Buggles ("Video Killed the Radio Star" with Wetton on lead vocals and Downes on vocoder), King Crimson ("The Court of the Crimson King", which was actually never performed live by King Crimson while Wetton was a member of the band) and Emerson, Lake & Palmer ("Fanfare for the Common Man"). For obvious reasons Yes songs are omitted from this tour's setlist, though Asia also covered "Roundabout" on earlier legs of the "Four Original Members" tour. Contrary to some early expectations, Geoff Downes does not perform with Yes although their setlist includes two songs from the 1980 album Drama, which featured Downes on keys. A series of shows late in the tour featured a special appearance by Ian McDonald (flute and vocals on "The Court Of The Crimson King" which he co-wrote, backing vocals on "Heat Of The Moment").

In late 2009, the band have been working on their follow-up CD to Phoenix. According to John Wetton's website in late November: "Good news is that the new album is starting to leap, rather than creep (or sleep) in terms of progress. This week I have two completed lead vocals, with complete harmony/chorus voxes on three. It's just me, Geoff [Downes], Steve R[ispin], and Mike Paxman in the studio--- Carl [Palmer] is pretty much all done, Steve H[owe] is half done, and returns to the fold after Yes tour. It sounds absolutely wonderful".

Asia featuring John Payne

Payne, Govan and Schellen continued working together after Downes' departure for the aforementioned reunion. This included continuing work on what had been planned as the next Asia album, Architect of Time. They began to work under the name GPS with Ryo Okumoto of Spock's Beard on keys. Their debut release, Window to the Soul (2006), included material developed for Architect of Time.

In May 2007, Payne, Govan and Schellen announced the new band name, "Asia Featuring John Payne", adding Erik Norlander on keys. The name had been contractually agreed between Payne, Downes, Wetton, Howe and Palmer on the 9th of May 2006. The first release under this name at the end of 2007 was a live recording of the late 2005 Asia line-up of Downes, Payne, Govan and Schellen, entitled Extended Versions in the US and Scandinavia in the UK.

In June 2008, the band has announced the release of an EP entitled "Military Man" with a royalties being donated to the USO. The band is also planning to release a completed Architect of Time , with all songs written by Payne and Norlander. The band are touring in 2009 under the Asia Featuring John Payne name, and currently playing festivals and small venues, performing songs from the entire history of Asia, including "Heat of the Moment". Govan left the band in 2009. Meanwhile, Payne, Govan, and Schellen are also continuing work as GPS, while Schellen is also recording with Circa.

In late 2008 they signed a three album deal with Sony Music Japan with Arcana to be released in 2010. A Summer 2009 tour saw Mitch Perry replace Govan on guitar.

Personnel

Many musicians participated through the years, especially during the 1990s, when the band consisted essentially of Geoff Downes and John Payne plus an ever-changing set of guests.

Current members of Asia are:

Current members of Asia Featuring John Payne are:

Previous members of Asia are:

Certain musicians have joined and left after a short time without recording any studio material with the group. The most notable collaboration of this kind was the participation of Greg Lake in the "Asia in Asia" concert in bass guitar and lead vocals. Yet more musicians have played as session or guest artists without formally joining Asia. Some of these names include: Simon Phillips, Steve Lukather, Luis Jardim, Ant Glynne, Tomoyasu Hotei, Kim Nielsen-Parsons, Ron Komie, Francis Dunnery, Alex Thomas, Scott Gorham, Tony Levin and Vinnie Colaiuta.

Discography

Studio albums


Cultural references

  • Although Asia has not recaptured the success from the early Eighties in its later years, the band's legacy endures, and occasionally Asia references are found in the media. Some of these references are not altogether flattering. The Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode "Overdrawn at the Memory Bank" features Professor Bobo (played by Kevin W. Murphy) singing part of verse two from "Heat of the Moment". In addition, the doorbell of the Satellite of Love plays the intro to "Only Time Will Tell".
  • In an episode of the animated TV series South Park, Eric Cartman and the United States Congress sing "Heat of the Moment" a cappella.
  • In the Supernatural episode "Mystery Spot", Sam Winchester is reliving a day over and over again. Every time he wakes up to relive the day, the song playing on the radio that wakes him up is "Heat of the Moment". Dean tells him to admit that he loves the song. He says he'll kill himself if he ever hears it again, and Dean proceeds to dance around and lip sync to it.
  • Asia's hits and some deep tracks from the debut can be heard today on various classic rock stations around the world and on Satellite radio like XM's channels 46 and 8. In 2005, DJ Manian's dance remix of "Heat of the Moment" was released to nightclubs.
  • "Heat of the Moment" is also featured in the film The Matador in the scene in which Pierce Brosnan's character must commit an assassination at a horse race. Since horse races are run in "heats," this usage could be considered a musical pun.
  • In reference to Korean scientists successfully cloning an Afghan hound, Comedy Central's the Colbert Report held a special Bring 'em Back or Leave 'em Dead: Asian Edition offering the studio audience the chance to decide which deceased Asians should be brought back to life. After clamouring to bring back military strategist Sun Tzu and Chinamarker's first emperor Qin Shi Huang, the studio audience decided to leave the 80's super group Asia dead.
  • THX certified videos play a distinctive audio logo called Deep Note, which was recorded in 1983. Apart from a slight difference in key, it is identical to the synthesized crescendo played during the intro to Countdown to Zero on the 1985 album Astra.
  • A cover of the song "Heat of the Moment" is playable in the Playstation 2 game Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the 80s.
  • In the film The 40-Year-Old Virgin, main character Andy Stitzer is mocked for having a framed Asia poster in his apartment. Also, Heat of the Moment is played during the scene in which Andy chases Trish's car after she leaves his home.
  • In the Mexican Soap Opera Alcanzar una estrella (1991) starring singers Ricky Martin and Sasha the intros of all four new songs from the album Then and Now were used at the closing of each scene before a commercial break.
  • The song "Lay Down Your Arms" was used by the animated film Freddie the Frog (1992) starring Ben Kingsley, Jenny Agutter and Brian Blessed. On 5/21/2007 AOl.com claimed that this film is the lowest grossing animated movie of all time. ($1.19 million).


See also



References

  1. Asia featuring John Payne » Blog Archive » Scranton Pocono 500 Fanfest Interview with John
  2. ASIA Featuring John Payne Kicks Off Summer Tour At American Music Festival July 5th
  3. Asia featuring John Payne » Blog Archive » “Military Man” USO CD EP To Be Released
  4. New Keyboardist Joins “Asia Featuring John Payne”
  5. Jay Schellen to Perform on Circa CD


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