Rock history is filled with men and women who have pioneered their way by original means. Geoff Downes is a man to whom several chapters in the history of Rock ‘n Roll must be dedicated to. He had the first music video ever played on Music Television, was the keyboardist for the influential rock band Yes and an original member of one of the most successful superstar bands of the 1980’s, Asia. Even today, history is still in the making for Downes with chapters waiting to be written.
On the road this year with both Yes and Asia, Downes says he enjoys playing older Yes songs that he didn’t have a chance to play when he was in the band in the early 80s.
“I’m playing with both, two really, quite different bands, even though, you know, two members are common to each band. I think that Yes is a very different kind of music and I’m really enjoying playing some of the old Yes songs that I didn’t play when I was in the band thirty years ago because their very challenging and I didn’t realize, you know when you study them in more depth, what a great piece of music they are,” Downes said.
As for being back on the tour road, Downes says, “it’s really great to see the people and to bring enjoyment to people.”
A second tour for Downes will be later this year with Asia as part of a 30-year anniversary tour . Along with the tour, Asia released a new album, XXX, in July.
“I think it’s [XXX] more full circle in away. The sound of the band is very much what it always was. I think that that’s the combination of the various players involved in it. So it’s always got a song, in some respects, like the orginal album. But I think we wanted to take a new direction and challenge ourselves as well. So, there are things for the die-hard Asia fans and hopefully will get some new fans along the way,” Downes said.
Asia has returned to it’s original line up consisting of Downes, Carl Palmer, John Wetton and former Yes band mate Steve Howe.
Credited as a super group, their 1982 debut album became an international, multi-platinum success with hit singles such as, “Heat of the Moment” and “Only Time Will Tell.” Both of which were co-written by Downes.
“It [Only Time Will Tell] was one of the first songs we started working on for Asia and in many ways it kind of sums up what the band is all about. You know, the Melodic rock, big emphatic chorus, musicality and instrumental scenes. I think all that is encompassed in one piece of music. I think ‘Only Time Will Tell’ is probably the best example of Asia in pursuit of that,” Downes explained.
Before Asia, Downes was part of a duo known as The Buggles along with Trevor Horn. Their hit single, “Video Killed the Radio Star” was the first music video played by Music Television on August 1st 1981.
“I don’t think it will ever be like was in the day when we started,” said Downes in regards to MTV.
He says in the early days the amount of time spent on the video was “disproportionate” to the time spend on the record. Downes said is wasn’t until videos were expanded and became features films, to whom Downes credits Michael Jackson, that they became a force in the industry.
“I think when it first started out it was pretty much an afterthought,” said Downes.
Another historical milestone to Downes’ credit is holding the record for using the most keyboards during a concert.
Downes once used twenty-eight keyboards during a show.
“Somebody put a nomination in for me but it never actually got into the record books, so it’s sort of half true and half not,” Downes said.
“It’s quite a feat,” said Downes as he thought back. However, today Downes has left a few of the keyboards at home.
“I have about ten today, I cut quite down. I’ve got about ten keyboards on stage and you know that’s enough, I can make the noises I need to make with that,” he said.
Downes explains that his passion for music grew out of his family’s musical roots.
“My family was very musical and they kind of pushed me I think into you know musical directions and it kind of stuck then from then on. I always wanted to do something in music,” Downes recalled.
With new musical chapters unfolding everyday for Downes, the book of Rock must make room for his future entries. After all his success and milestones, Downes says the one thing musicians must do is, “you have to have a belief in yourself.”