The very idea of playing with Ozzy Osbourne is daunting, but it’s a gig Adam Wakeman was literally born to do. Adam may have come from rock royalty—his father is original Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman—but his skills stand on their own. Besides touring and recording with his father, Wakeman has played keyboards for Travis, Annie Lennox, and Black Sabbath, the latter of which led him to his current gig with hard rock’s Prince of Darkness.
Though one might assume Wakeman grew up in a veritable keyboard museum, his early exposure was limited. It wasn’t until he started piano lessons at age eight that he saw an Anderson-Bruford-Wakeman-Howe show at Wembley in London. “I saw that show and I thought, that’s what I want to do!” he says. “That was the start of many hours of practicing instead of going out with my mates to play football.”
Adam’s dad was supportive, buying him an upright piano with a bit of history. “Once I stuck with piano lessons, my dad got me a piano from the band Mungo Jerry. ‘In the Summertime’ was written on this piano. I was about ten when it arrived at my mom’s. She was sweeping out the back of it and all these joints came out!” (Fortunately, he wasn’t quite aware of what to do with them at the time.)
“I was learning classical music and some of Dad’s bits, like ‘Merlin the Magician’,” says Adam. “I asked him to show me how to play it, but he told me to go listen to it and learn it, which was harsh for a ten-year-old! In hindsight, he did that to help develop my ear, and it’s probably the best lesson he’s given me. At studio sessions in London, you have very little time to learn a piece of music, and learning to listen as early as I did has helped me immeasurably.”
His first electronic keyboard was one of his dad’s Yamaha CP30 electronic pianos. “It had eight sounds you could mix, but seven were just very bad electric pianos—plus one harpsichord,” he chuckles. When he finally got a chance to play his dad’s working rig, it blew him away. “I went to Dallas to see him with Yes, and he let me play his Hammond,” he recalls. “It was so loud! I have in-ears, but my dad’s kind of old-school. He had these big Celestion P.A. speakers behind him.”
Soon after, he and Rick embarked on a musical journey that spanned eight studio albums and a lot of touring. The music ran from prog to classical in flavor. After ten years recording and touring with Rick, he started doing more London sessions, where he met musical directors for pop bands. He played on dozens of boy band sessions, for which he says he “could have left one hand at home.”
His first tour after that was with Atomic Kitten, after which he played with Travis for four years, followed by a high-profile stint with Annie Lennox. After a celebrity-packed Lennox show in L.A., he got to chat with Sharon Osbourne. While on the road with Travis, he got an email offering the Ozzy gig, which he reluctantly declined—the professional thing to do when you’re already mid-tour. Right after that, Ozzy had his infamous all-terrain vehicle accident and was recuperating for over a year, which was just how long the Travis tour ran. When Adam got the next call for Ozzy, the timing was right. A week before the tour was to begin, it turned into a Black Sabbath reunion.
When it came time to record Scream, Zakk Wylde would normally have been co-writing, but given his schedule, producer Kevin Churko phoned Adam to come write with Ozzy. Five of the songs they wrote together made the record. Though Ozzy is not an instrumentalist, “he was hands-on with writing the music,” says Adam. “He’d vocalize riffs and come up with melodies. It was very much a good environment. He has a studio in the basement and he’d come down after working out in his gym most days. We were always just . . . around, and I think he liked that—it wasn’t 20 songwriters coming in.”
On the current Scream tour, Wakeman plays keyboard parts from not only the new album but classics such as “No More Tears” and “Mr. Crowley.” He also played some guitar alongside Ozzy’s wicked new guitarist, Gus Z. “As a kid, I was more into Zeppelin and Van Halen,” he says. “This is the perfect gig because I get also to play some guitar on Sabbath tunes like ‘Paranoid,’ ‘Iron Man,’ and ‘Sweet Leaf.’ ‘Snowblind’ is part keys, part guitar.”
Adam’s live rig with Ozzy Osbourne, clockwise from left: Korg M3 above Korg Triton Extreme 88; Moog Little Phatty atop racks containing utility drawer, Mackie 1202-VLZ3 mixer, and two Akai Z8 samplers; Bolt BTH-100 amp head and 4 x 12" cabinet; Korg SV-1 above Yamaha Motif XS8; Motion Sound Pro-145 rotary speaker.
Adam uses a Motion Sound Pro-145 to amplify organ sounds. “The Motion Sound cabinets are brilliant,” he beams. “I have an assignable out to the Pro-145 from my Yamaha Motif XS8, carrying just a clean, dry organ sound. Now that I play more guitar, I also use their parent company’s new Bolt amps, which are amazing.”
Wakeman’s rig also features a host of Korgs to replace the vintage keyboards he keeps at home. “I love the string sounds on the Kurzweil K2000,” he says, “but I’ve stopped using it live because it’s older. I had a Korg Trinity for a long time, but the Triton is still my favorite keyboard. It’s so easy to use and it’s got great sounds. I did some programming for Korg in Japan. I use a Korg M3 and Triton Extreme now. The Korg family of keyboards seems to be more playable. I love the Motif XS8 and it’s got a good action. But for programming, I feel most comfortable on a Korg. It’s a little like Mac versus PC—you gravitate to one or the other.
“There’s one thing that really bugs me about all modern keyboards,” Adam points out. “Out of the box, they’ve got far too many effects on them, arpeggiators triggering drums, all this nonsense. The first thing I do is to turn it all off. I just want to get the fundamental sound I need.
“With the Korg SV-1, it’s kind of gone the other way. It’s much more basic and they really concentrate on vintage sounds. Just having the dials is brilliant. I love how you can just turn the distortion up. I wish I had that for the Sabbath stuff back in 2003 and ’04. My predominant job there was doubling the guitars, so I sampled my 1974 Fender Rhodes and put some distortion on it. That was a great sound for anything heavy. Now I do the same thing with the Rhodes sample from the SV-1.”
Wakeman has a taste for keyboard design as well as sound. “The first thing I thought about the SV-1 was that finally, the design is up there with the Moog Little Phatty. Moog’s stuff has always looked cool. The Korg SV- 1 was designed by the Italians. They’ve got their style down. There’s a wow factor—the red color, the visible tube. With the Little Phatty, I love the way the lights move when you turn on. It doesn’t need to do that but it does. It’s just great.”
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