After the break-up of King Crimson in 1974, various plans for a supergroup involving bassist John Wetton had not been successful, including the abortive British Bulldog project with Bill Bruford and Rick Wakeman in 1976.
In 1977 Bruford and Wetton were reunited in a group called UK, augmented by guitarist Allan Holdsworth and keyboardist/violinist Eddie Jobson. Their self-titled debut was released in 1978. But by January 1980, UK had folded after one lineup change and three recordings.
In January 1981, Wetton and former Yes guitarist Steve Howe were brought together by A&R man John Kalodner and Geffen Records to start writing material for a new album. They were eventually joined by drummer Carl Palmer and finally by keyboardist Geoff Downes.
Asia’s eponymous debut album (March 1982) gained considerable commercial success, spending nine weeks at #1 in the US. The singles Heat of the Moment and Only Time Will Tell became Top 40 hits, both boosted by popular MTV music videos. Sole Survivor also received heavy airplay on rock stations across America, as did Wildest Dreams and Here Comes The Feeling.
The second album, Alpha (July 1983), and future Asia albums did not achieve the chart success of their debut release, although Don’t Cry became a Top 10 Pop hit in the summer of 1983, and The Smile Has Left Your Eyes was another Top 40 hit for the band.
Wetton left the group in October 1983 (the band said he quit – he claimed he was fired by telephone) and their 1983 United States tour was cancelled, reportedly because of low ticket sales.
Greg Lake replaced Wetton for a few concerts in Japan before Wetton was asked to return after a three-month absence. He agreed on the condition that Steve Howe was ousted from the band. Howe was replaced by guitarist Mandy Meyer.
The third Asia album, Astra (November 1985), was not as commercially successful as the first two albums and their record label cancelled the projected tour because of lack of interest and the band folded after the single Go.
Wetton and Palmer reunited the band for tours of Europe in 1989 with a new lineup, releasing the album Then & Now – a “Best of” collection with four new tracks – in August 1990.
The band toured the former Soviet Union in November 1990 while Days Like These charted in the US (#64) at No. 64. Wetton left the group in April 1991 after a South American tour, discouraged by Asia’s lack of success in the United States.
After Wetton’s departure, vocalist/bassist John Payne joined the band and, together with Downes, enlisted new musicians and led Asia through to 2006.
John Wetton died on 31 January 2017 from complications of colorectal cancer at the age of 67.
Armand ‘Mandy’ Meyer