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Cruise to the Edge Diary, Day 3

Intrepid cruiser meets his heroes over waffles

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Photos by Jennifer Kantor

Wednesday begins with my interrupting Steve Howe’s breakfast.

It’s not intentional. I see he’s eating with Yes bassist Billy Sherwood, and since we’re in somewhat of a remote corner, I figure I can slide him my Drama vinyl sleeve for a quick signature, shake his hand, and then let him carry on with his day.

He’s a good sport. He tells me he wants to finish eating and then he’ll sign it. Yet I still feel bad. I mean how would you feel, encountering one of your rock gods and feeling like you displeased him?

Sherwood, with a smile, says he is going “to help me out” by telling me something I truly had no idea about – “He doesn’t shake hands.”

Great, that’s two apparent goofs and I haven’t even finished my waffles yet.

After a few minutes, Howe comes over, gesturing for the album. I extend thanks and breathe a sigh of relief – the deed is done.

From here, it’s on to a Q&A with Kansas in the Pacifica Theater, preceded by a five-song acoustic set. Major kudos to the band for breaking out their 1980 hit “Hold On!” Guitarist Rich Williams explains that Kansas is built on a “lot of variety” despite the band’s progressive label. Drummer Phil Ehart takes time to give props to former guitarist Kerry Livgren for his writing chops that led to the band’s big hits.

The biggest audience reaction comes when the group says it plans to hit the studio at the start of 2018 for a new album. As Williams tells the crowd, “The joy is in the doing.”

Carry on, our wayward sons!

***

Next on my list is a visit to the Roger Dean gallery on floor 13. Dean is an affable fellow with an amazing head of slick white hair. I’m surrounded by his gorgeous artwork – from prints to original sketches. I want them all. I settle for one of his new black and white limited edition Tales from Topographic Oceans prints, signed by the master himself.

Dean does me a solid—he personally inscribes “For Ira” at the bottom of the print.

I ask him his thoughts on Yes’ RRHoF induction: “It’s about 20 years too late, but it’s great.”

I then switch topics to his art, particularly asking him about his covers for Budgie’s Squawk album and African group Osibisa’s eponymous debut album. Dean lights up telling me the latter “started it all” for him. It was anticipated the album would sell maybe 7,500 copies. It went on to sell a quarter of a million.

He gets even more excited telling me the significant of the Budgie album cover in the world of science. The cover features an aircraft merged with the skeletal structure of a bird’s head.

“I thought, these two belong together,” he tells me.

I ask if his artwork was inspired by the music of the artists he designed covers for or vice versa. He responds, “I think that’s an easy answer. They’re parallel. I don’t think the music is influenced by the art and the art wasn’t influenced by the music. It was ideas whose time had come.”

***

As mentioned, I encountered Steve Howe for breakfast. For lunch, it’s the Kansas guys. Rich Williams and Phil Ehart kindly stop their conversations/meals to sign my vinyl copy of Power. I approach bassist Billy Greer with the same album, saying I’m sorry to bother him.

“Are you really sorry?” he asks back with a chuckle. He adds his John Hancock to the cover.

Violinist David Ragsdale tells me it’s this album that increased his drive in wanting to join the band. Realizing the album lacked its trademark violins, Ragsdale recorded his own violin parts over parts of the album and sent the cassette to Ehart, which “got the ball rolling.”

“(Power’s) still very Kansas,” he adds.

***

In the early afternoon, I pop down to watch Eddie Trunk host his radio show. Special guests include Mike Portnoy, and Alan White of Yes. Alan explains that the reason he hasn’t been doing much drumming on stage recently is because he had surgery to correct a herniated disk in his back. Other than that, he says he feels great and there’s no talk of Yes stopping in its tracks.

White is nice enough to add his signature to the Drama album below Steve Howe’s. Trust me, this little souvenir is going in the room safe until we’re back on dry land.

***

The afternoon concludes with a stellar performance from ex-Genesis guitarist and wholly underrated solo artist Steve Hackett. Back into the Pacifica Theater we go. As the show begins I look to my left and see Tony Levin snapping away with his camera. It’s nice to know the acts performing on this ship are all fans of one another at heart.

Hackett, draped entirely in black and sticking with one Les Paul throughout the duration of his show, is in top form, kicking things off with “Every Day” and then moving into tracks from his soon to be released studio album The Night Siren. “In the Skeleton Gallery” is quite good. However, he assures us there will be plenty of Genesis to go around.

“People ask, ‘Why do you still do the old stuff?’,” Hackett says. “Because I love it.”

Hackett turns the singing of Genesis classics (and there were some great classics showcased here) to his live staple Nat Silven. We were treated to “One for the Vine,” “Inside and Out,” “Anyway,” “Unquiet Slumbers for the Sleepers…,” “…In That Quiet Earth,” and a powerful “Afterglow,” which Hackett dedicated to his friend John Wetton, who tragically died last week.

I spend a good portion of the show trying to capture Hackett smiling on camera. His demeanor is typically stoic while letting his fingers do the emoting for him. Fortunately, I get the shot, during “Firth of Fifth.”

Sadly, Hackett was told his show was exceeding time limits. He tried to soldier out but ultimately bowed to cruise rules. As he said, “Boo!”

After dinner, we dropped by shows from Focus and Patrick Moraz to watch these prog masters at work. Thijs van Leer ripped into his flute with great fervor while Moraz pounded away at his piano—literally.

Quite a day. Tomorrow, we add Cozumel to the mix.

—Ira Kantor

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  1. A piece of advice from me, after 42 years of interviews, and 4 years on music cruises: never bother a musician while they are eating, only before and after. 2) it’s Nad Sylvan who sings with Steve Hackett. 3) Many others beside Howe don’t shake hands- Carl Palmer, Annie Haslam of Renaissance, Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull, etc.