An Extraordinary Life: The Inspiring Legacy of Musician John Wetton

The recently published book, An Extraordinary Life, chronicles the life of the renowned singer and bass player John Wetton. It is a poignant and inspiring account of his legacy in the music industry. It is also heartbreaking.

John Wetton – An Extraordinary Life

Release Date: Out Now

Words: Steve Ritchie

Wetton’s career has been well documented. The stints with King Crimson, Roxy Music, U.K., and Uriah Heep are well known. The early conversations with John Kalodner about his newly formed label, Geffen Records, which would lead to the formation of Asia and their self-titled debut, are stories of legend.

That debut, released at a perfect MTV-inspired time, would sell over 10 million copies worldwide and lead to an urgent record company directive for a follow-up. For the record, I really liked Alpha, but the songwriting for this was a pressure situation forced on the band by Geffen.

When you think he had the chance to crack the music business, things like this must take their toll. Wetton would be fired from Asia but return for 1985’s Astra.

John had issues.

Phil Manzanera describes John as “my dream bass player.” This is a remarkable theme throughout the book.

The book is a 77-chapter set of memories of people who have worked with or known John. As I started to read, the format bothered me, as this was just a collection of people’s thoughts. But, very soon, you realise that editor Nick Shilton has presented this in the best way possible.

The Phil Manzanera chapter is one of the first that hits home. Phil talks passionately about his admiration for John and their time in Roxy Music. Phil watched the first U.K. show and “was so happy for John” when the Asia album hit Number One. He also saw the disintegration that followed for John from Asia. Wetton’s continued drinking meant that for the Wetton/Manzanera project, “we would work as much as we could until he [John] fell asleep.”

Phil says they managed to get the album done, and he “really thought we were onto something and that it had a hit single.” A meeting with Geffen followed, but the label said of John that “this guy’s never going to work again.”

Atlantic would have taken the album, but “Geffen held John to his contract as a solo artist outside Asia,” Phil says, “and wouldn’t let the album go to Atlantic.” It’s difficult to imagine how anyone could deal with this, let alone someone who was struggling with issues.

The challenges John had to deal with in his life are laid bare by his colleagues, friends and family. Alcohol is a frequent topic. Carl Palmer, Geoff Downes and Steve Howe talk in great detail about the pressures they felt as a band and the love they felt for John. Alcohol would force lineup changes.

Alcohol led to the lows of the fan club and convention in the US when John tried to miss the plane, but Geoff Downes got him there. This are several low points like this.

But there are at least two tear-inducing moments early in the book when you realise that the theme is also inspirational. John worked with people who found him difficult but who loved their time with him.

John may have been married twice and had a son with another partner, but all talk about him with a deep-seated love.

Later in his life, he cracked the alcohol demons that had troubled him for so many years. The joy of all involved in the Asia reunion is uplifting. That he conquered his problem and was able to help and support others through his work with AA is inspirational.

It took a long while, but through the words of family, friends and musicians, you can read that his last years were happy. He turned it around, and that is wonderful.

You don’t have to like music. If you have empathy for the troubles of others, that so many would write about their memories of John Wetton is comforting and makes this a must-read.

It cannot have been easy to have loved John, but this story shows there is always hope for those in trouble.

John Wetton – An Extraordinary Life is available from

The John Wetton Memorial Concert is tonight. Tickets and streaming options are available from Trading Boundaries.

John Wetton Memorial
John Wetton Memorial – 3 August – Trading Boundaries

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