Chris Squire, bassist and founding member of prog rock legends Yes, died Saturday at age 67, following a bout with leukemia. “For the entirety of Yes’ existence, Chris was the band’s linchpin and, in so many ways, the glue that held it together over all these years,” the band’s statement read. A chat with veteran record executive Jerry Greenberg affirms all this and more.
Yes signed with Atlantic in 1969, around the same time Squire was breaking in with the label that would name him president by 1974, making him (at 32) the youngest to pull off the feat. But outside of business, Greenberg forged a genuine friendship with the Yes leader that endured through the end of Squire’s days.
Here are Greenberg’s memories of Squire, as told to Billboard‘s Chris Payne:
I started back in 1969 with Yes and became very close to Chris. I knew the whole band, but somehow I latched onto him. He had a great personality and was always friendly. I think he had some extra respect for me, being a drummer and musician.
At that time I was the head of promotions at Atlantic. I was the guy that went to the band and told them if they did a shortened version of “Roundabout,” they could have a Top 40 hit. They weren’t sure how to edit it, so I went in and did it with an engineer. That was the beginning of really breaking the band with that single.
I’ve had nothing but really fond memories with the band and Chris. We’d been working on a documentary about my life for the last three years. I think I saw Chris two or three years ago and we got an interview from him. I called him two months ago, just before he found out he had leukemia: “Chris, I want to check on something. I remember you guys gave me a drum set as a Christmas present back in the early ’70s. I went out and sat in with you guys — was that at Madison Square Garden or Nassau Coliseum?” He was like, “That was Nassau Coliseum; I remember it!” We talked, laughed, and joked about it. I hadn’t spoken to him or seen him in years, but we just spoke two or three months ago.
He was just a great guy, a great bass player. If you think about it, bass players and drummers are the foundation for any band. You obviously have the guitarist and vocalist, but without a good bass player, it’s hard to succeed in any band. Chris was there from the very beginning. He founded the band with John Anderson. Back in the early days with Atlantic, we used to get a new album from the band every year — in ’71, ’72, ’73, ’74. They toured after almost every release and were just an amazing rock band, but with jazz and classical influences, which were noted in all of their songs and arrangements.
You’d probably walk into any Yes concert and the room was probably more filled with marijuana than any concert you attended (Laughs). You could go to a Stones concert or an AC/DC concert — but I don’t care who you are — you’d get high at a Yes concert.
I was head of promotion at the time. I was wired in with a lot of DJs and knew what would and would not get played. One of my greatest accomplishments was being involved in the edit on “Roundabout” and convincing (Led Zeppelin’s) Jimmy Page to let me do an edit on “Whole Lotta Love.” I was the responsible for convincing these bands to make Top 40 radio records that could get massive exposure and eventually break the bands.
I sent to the radio stations the longer and the shorter versions of “Roundabout” and gave them the option. In their documentary, Steve Howe or Alan White says, “Jerry Greenberg wanted a short version to get it on AM radio. We allowed him to make the edit on the record and we had a big hit!” So I feel I had something to do with their careers.
John Anderson was into whatever he was into… very spiritual… incense. He was off in his own corner in the dressing room. You wouldn’t get much out of him. Chris was basically the leader of the band. I remember when I first got involved with the group, we were in England and we really hit it off. He goes, “Oh you gotta come to my house for dinner!” It wasn’t a business relationship. It was a musician-musician relationship and not a record company business relationship.