(1949-) A well-known and influential keyboard player and synthesist of the progressive rock era. Like his contemporaries Keith Emerson and Tony Banks, Wakeman is known as a talented performer on both synths and conventional keyboard instruments.
Wakeman attended the Royal College of Music in London to study keyboard instruments in 1968, but left after a year to go into session work. One of his first gigs was playing the iconic Mellotron strings on David Bowie's "Space Oddity". He quickly got a gig with the bluegrass-turned-progressive-rock band Strawbs, and gained notice for his keyboard skills and his pioneering use of instruments such as the Minimoog and Mellotron. He left Strawbs after one album and joined the iconic progressive rock band Yes, beginning an on-and-off association that lasted for forty years. His work with Yes includes performances on the albums Fragile and Close to the Edge, which are considered canonical progressive rock works. At the same time, in the early '70s Wakeman was developing his own solo career with expansive high-concept works such as Six Wives Of Henry VIII and Journey To the Center Of the Earth.
Wakeman participated in the development of several electronic instruments. He always had a love-hate relationship with the Mellotron, appreciating its distinctive sound, but disliking its limitations and unreliability. In a moment of frustration, he once set one afire in his back yard and burned it. In 1976, Wakeman invested some of his own money into the development of the Birotron, an instrument designed to overcome many of the Mellotron's problems. Unfortunately, design and production problems resulted in a market failure for the Birotron. Wakeman also consulted with Moog Music on the development of the Liberation, a monosynth packaged in the form of a keytar, which Wakeman used on stage in the late '70s. Additionally, Wakeman did considerable work with Sequential Circuits on the prototypes which resulted in the Prophet-5.
After 1980, Wakeman concentrated more on his solo career, occasionally participating in various Yes formations, and getting involved in television and soundtrack work in the UK. He was a regular participant in the comedy "Grumpy Old Men" on BBC2 in the early 2000s. Wakeman ended his relationship with Yes in 2008 due to health issues which no longer allow him to support that band's extensive tour schedule, although he still does occasional live appearances both with Yes and as a solo musician.
Wakeman was known for his use of Moog instruments in particular, especially the Minimoog, Polymoog, and modular systems. On stage, he is known for his flashy stage wear incorporating heavily-decorated silk capes, as well as his nimble keyboard playing.