Review

 

from GLORY-DAZE e-magazine:

Asia (USA) - The American Asia
Review By: Richard Baldwyn - July 2003

 

Before the guys from Yes formed the million selling band from the UK called Asia, there was already an American band of the same name in operation.. Read on..

ASIA - ASIA/ARMED TO THE TEETH (ASI 1978/ASI 1980)

Michael English: Lead and harmony vocals, bass guitar, percussion
Larry Galbraith: Lead and harmony vocals, rhythm and slide guitars, 12 string acoustic guitar, mandolin
Mike Coates: Lead rhythm, Leslie and Classical guitars, 6 and 12 string acoustic guitars, mandolin, piano, harpsichord, mellotron, background vocals
Doug Johnson: Drums and percussion (Armed to the teeth)
John Haynes: Drums and percussion (Asia)

We're not talking about the English version of this well-known band name. No, this version hails all the way from the unlikely breeding ground of Rapid City South Dakota. The origins of Asia (American version) can be traced back to the group Whitewing who disbanded in 1976. From these proverbial ashes, Asia rose.

By all accounts Whitewing had been the victims of a disastrous marketing ploy by record company ASI who tried to promote them as the next Moody Blues. The heavier reality came somewhat as a shock to the many booking agents and club owners at the time. This being the 1970's my theory is that the record company executives were under the influence of substances somewhat stronger than the odd joint. This can surely be the only rational explanation for such an interesting (for interesting read idiotic) decision!

Asia were formed, to quote band leader and creative driving force Mike Coates, "with the express intent of capitalizing on the successes of Whitewing and learning from their failures."

It's difficult for me to define the band's sound as they don't sound derivative of anyone in particular and I find myself grappling with the many superlatives that spring to mind. A crude analogy I guess would be progressive hard rock with symphonic tendencies. Indeed many of the songs on both albums are lengthy workouts characterised by fantastic lead and harmony vocals from singers Michael English and Larry Galbraith and a virtuoso performance on guitar from Mike Coates. To cap it all, the lyrics are both thought provoking and soul searching at the same time.

On the self titled debut, Asia create an indelible first impression with 'Love May Be Gone' with its twin hard driving guitars and excellent dual vocals from Michael English and Larry Galbraith. It also has an instrumental bridge sounding reminiscent of 'Detroit Rock City' by Kiss - but don't let that put you off (sorry Kiss fans!). Elsewhere you have the haunting, philosophical 'Better Man For Leaving' and the epic 'Taming of the Bull'.

'The Road of Kings' (their first single) is highlighted by it's unforgettable hookline, and one of the few occasions when a mandolin has been used by a hard rock band to great effect (the gauntlet is down for those of you who know of anything better!).

The debut closes with the decidedly caustic 'Requiem (A.M.Radio Blues)', which was supposed to be a broadside to the Disco/New wave movement. However, the line "all those grease paint guys in their nine inch highs" sounds suspiciously like a thinly veiled swipe at the stack heeled self-styled "Gods of Thunder" Kiss. Given that the band was supposed to have supported Kiss during this period, there must have been some interesting backstage conversations!

Trying to follow such an awesome debut album would have proved a difficult task in the hands of lesser mortals, though there were no such problems for Asia. In fact, 'Armed To The Teeth' picked up where the debut left off, and saw the band progress, if you'll pardon the weak pun, to even dizzier musical heights.

Opener 'Thunder rider' gallops along at an exhilarating pace swiftly followed by the melancholic 'Xanadu' - definitely not to be confused with the turgid Olivia Newton John effort (sorry ONJ fans if any of you are actually reading this!!).

'Paladin', the band's second single, is commercial AOR tinged pomp, with its unforgettable chorus proving that the band can mix it with the best of 'em. The magnum opus and live favourite 'Genghis Khan' is indicative of the band at their musical zenith. This bombastic hard rock contrasts nicely with the plaintive closer 'The Bard', even if it's Shakespearian narration at the end does come across as slightly portentous.

Things were looking decidedly rosy for the band. With 'Armed To The Teeth' as their crowning glory and the fact that 'Paladin' was starting to gain airplay on local radio stations the band were understandably in high spirits. Then fate dealt a cruel hand. Without prior warning NBC announced news of an English "supergroup" also called Asia formed by ex members of ELP, Yes and King Crimson. Radio stations promptly dropped our Asia's single like a hot potato and the band scrambled to meet with their lawyers to register their trademark application in the name of Asia.

Various communications with Brian Lane (ex-Yes manager) followed, and at one stage it is understood he tried to dupe the band into believing a Louisiana band already owned the rights to the name (this subsequently proved bogus).

Having originally demanded $100k to give up rights to the name Asia, the band were eventually forced to accept an offer substantially less than this together with a promise from Brian Lane that he would negotiate a major record deal on their behalf (Atlantic and Geffen were the targets). At last, it seemed that the band would finally get the break they so richly deserved.

However Brian Lane failed to deliver on his part of the bargain and despite numerous calls to his offices, no deal was forthcoming.

In a final twist to the story, the band were stunned to find out that their trademark application had been accepted and they had exclusive ownership of the name Asia.

Legal wrangles followed but it was a case of David versus Goliath. Sadly, in this case Goliath won as Mike Coates et al were no financial position to contest a costly international suit despite touring under the name Solomon Kane to raise funds for legal bills. By early 1983, the band had grown weary of the fight and decided to call it a day - a sad indictment against the music giants. I wonder if the UK Asia were ever aware of the consequences brought about by their choice of moniker.

Finally, I extend a very big thank you to Michael Piper's generosity in allowing me to experience Asia's musical legacy.


 

 

 

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