Rock Star and Freemason

Worshipful Brother Rick Wakeman of “Yes” and Chelsea Lodge No. 3098.

By: Bert Dalton
Grand Musician

Bert Dalton

Recently, a picture of rock legend Rick Wakeman in Masonic regalia caught my attention. Here is a brilliant musician who has had an unbelievable roller coaster rock star life and is still touring at age 75. In addition to his countless recordings and compositions, he is an incredible piano virtuoso with amazing technique.

Rick WakemanBrother Wakeman was born in 1949 in Middlesex, England. His father was a pianist in Ted Heath’s big band when he was in the Army. Rick started piano lessons at age 7 and took up clarinet at 12. As a teen, he attended church, learned the church organ, taught Sunday school, and was baptized at age 18. During these years he played in various bands.

He secured a place at the Royal College of Music in London with the intent of becoming a concert pianist. He found that “everyone there was at least as good as me; and a lot of them much better.” He adopted a more relaxed attitude and began doing recording session work for various artists. His ability to produce what was needed on the spot led to his nickname “One Take Wakeman.” He mastered electronic keyboards, including the mellotron, and recorded on David Bowie’s second album. Other sessions were with Elton John and recording the piano part on Cat Stevens’ “Morning Has Broken.”

In 1971, Rick had to choose between touring with David Bowie or joining the progressive rock group Yes. He chose Yes, and from the success of their first recording Fragile, he was able to buy a new home and started a classic car collection which he rented out through his new business, the Fragile Car Collection.

Brother Wakeman created colossal projects beginning with the concept album Journey To Center Of The Earth. It was recorded live with his band the English Rock Ensemble, the London Symphony, and the English Chamber Choir. By 1974, his strenuous touring and recording schedule combined with a lack of sleep, excessive smoking and alcohol use, and a wrist injury took a toll on his health and he suffered a minor heart attack.

While recovering, Rick wrote a progressive-rock opera, The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Against doctor’s warnings, he resumed touring in 1975 with a concept album based on the Arthurian legends. He envisioned an inflatable castle, rock band, symphony orchestra, and two choirs. However, he learned that the Ice Follies were booked for two months into his selected venue, the Empire Pool Wembley. Not to be dissuaded, he put the actors on skates dressed as knights and maidens.

Although the production was successful, expenses were higher than profits. Wakeman had to sell his assets, including his car collection and his house, winding up homeless and sleeping on a bench in Kensington Park. Within a year, however, he was back on his feet with a successful top-40 album based on George Orwell’s 1984.

Brother Wakeman has produced over 122 solo albums which have sold over 50 million copies. In addition to his projects with the English Rock Ensemble and four stints with Yes, he has recorded with such diverse artists as Ozzy Osbourne, David Bowie, Cat Stevens, William Shatner, Deep Purple, Etta James, Elton John, and Dr. Feelgood.

Brother Wakeman joined Chelsea Lodge #3098 which is composed mainly of entertainers. His father was a member of Brent Valley Lodge #3940, and the support Rick and his mother received after his father’s passing motivated him to learn about Freemasonry. He became a Knight Templar in 2011 and an honorary Member of his father’s Lodge in 2019. Brother Wakeman served as 110th Master of Chlesea Lodge in 2014. He is active in other charitable and fraternal organizations and was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 2014.

For further information, and to hear Brother Rick talk about his thoughts on Freemasonry, there is an excellent two-part interview on Youtube for a series entitled “On The Level” – well worth watching.

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