The late Peter Banks isn’t the most well-known rock and roll guitarist. He helped found a legendary group, was kicked out before they achieved fame, went out on his own and scored a minor hit with his new band, and then pretty much fell off the face of the earth as far as record sales were concerned.
The band he was a founder member of was, of course, Yes. He even came up with the name of the group. He contributed often jazzy, improvisational guitar and backing vocals on the first two albums, and after butting heads with other band members over musical direction, found himself out of a job after their second album, “Time and a Word” was completed (when the US version came out, his replacement, Steve Howe was pictured on the cover, though he didn’t play a note on the album).
He would bounce around with a couple of bands before founding a new group that attempted to carry on the early Yes tradition, called Flash. They recorded three albums for Capitol sub-label Sovereign, but only the first LP really sold, thanks in large part to the Top 40 hit single, “Small Beginnings.”
I used to have the double-album CD of the group’s first two albums, and honestly, I never really got into most of it and eventually reassigned it from my CD rack to the “sell back” pile. I did make sure to preserve “Small Beginnings” in my digital music collection, however.
In my travels over the weekend, I chanced upon this song and gave it a nice loud listen for the first time in a while. The main riff comes dangerously close to aping “Pinball Wizard,” but this might not be the greatest of musical sins as Banks and Pete Townshend apparently were very chummy in the London club scene in the late 1960s, and no one seemingly made much of a fuss over it. It’s certainly one of the more driving, energetic hits in the progressive rock genre, as minor a hit as it was.
Much like Yes’ contemporaneous hit “Roundabout,” the album version of Flash’s “Small Beginnings” stretched out beyond eight minutes, while the single version barely clocks in at three minutes. In Yes’s case, the single edit was pretty much a “Light My Fire”-esque hack job. I’d have to say that the single cut of “Small Beginnings” definitely trimmed out a lot of fat, though I’m sure a four-and-a-half minute edit could have included a few more ear-grabbing bits that were left off, and still have made an impact as a single. I have only ever played this song on the radio once in my professional career, and that was back in my New Hampshire days when I had a weekly deep-cuts show, where I often got away with commercial radio murder.
I haven’t really heard much of Peter Banks’ work following Flash, aside from his solo debut “The Two Sides of Peter Banks,” an instrumental album that I highly enjoy (I bought it at age 17. What 17-year old buys 20 year old solo albums by forgotten prog rock guitarists? This guy, apparently). He put together another intriguing prog band called Empire that never quite got off the ground (their three albums were released about 20 years after they were recorded), and pretty much did sporadic solo albums the rest of his career.
Banks always gave intriguing and insightful interviews, but there always seemed to be an undercurrent of bitterness in some of those interviews that he never got his due. He’s allowed, I guess. I hope he found some modicum of peace before his 2013 passing.