Heat of the Moment: Asia Featuring John Payne rocks Rams Head in Annapolis

Hear our full conversation on my podcast “Beyond the Fame.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews Asia at Rams Head (Part 1)

This year marks a double anniversary for the classic rock band Asia, which celebrates the 40th anniversary of its self-titled debut album with the hit single “Heat of the Moment,” as well as the 30th anniversary of “Aqua,” which was the first album with John Payne.

The hardworking spinoff band Asia Featuring John Payne performs live at Rams Head On Stage in Annapolis, Maryland, on Tuesday, July 12 at 7 p.m.

“June was 30 years since I joined the band … then it occurred to me that 1982 was also the 40th year of the founding members. … Why not do a double anniversary?” Payne told WTOP. “We’re going to play most of both of those albums … all through the ‘Aqua’ album, then we play the original ‘Asia’ album backwards because all of the hits are at the end.”

Born in Luton, England, in 1958, Payne grew up listening to rock ’n’ roll.

“When I was 10 in 1968, there was a huge musical revolution,” Payne said. “Guitar sounds changed from The Shadows’ twangy, surf guitars to amazing guitarists: Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Carlos Santana, Jeff Beck. I had already got the guitar bug listening to Deep Purple and Rory Gallagher. My friends and I started playing in my garage.”

He was a fan of John Wetton (King Crimson), Carl Palmer (Emerson, Lake & Palmer), Steve Howe (Yes) and Geoff Downes (Buggles), who formed the supergroup Asia in 1981.

“I was a fan of Asia in the early ’80s when [producers] John Kalodner and David Geffen put the band together,” Payne said. “Brian Lane, the manager of Yes, was part of it. … They were looking for singers. They brought in Trevor Rabin, Robert Fleischman of Journey, they did all these demos. The band went, ‘John Wetton, why don’t you be the singer?'”

The band’s first album, “Asia” (1982), featured the smash hit single “Heat of the Moment.”

“I think the riff probably came from John Wetton,” Payne said. “It’s a very un-Steve Howe type riff. Steve played it and used a Les Paul Junior, but Steve’s style is very quirky and ‘Heat of the Moment’ is big power chords, so I believe that came from John Wetton.”

The album went quadruple platinum, attracting tons of fans and even a few critics.

“When it came out originally some of the deep prog [rock] people were disappointed because John and Geoff had a very commercial writing aspect,” Payne said. “‘Only Time Will Tell’ and ‘Heat of the Moment’ have pop sensibility. … That’s why the band got so huge. … All of a sudden, they were canceling club dates and going to stadiums.”

The band’s second album, “Alpha” (1983), featured the hit single “Don’t Cry,” while the third album, “Astra” (1985), featured the hit single “Go,” but album sales dipped.

“They didn’t evolve and that was one of the problems,” Payne said. “When you’re touring a lot, the second and third album are harder to write because you’re on the road. They got a new guitarist. … There’s still great songs on those albums, but because the first album was so huge, it was seen as a disappointment. … The band became despondent.”

Payne joined the band as lead singer and bass player in 1991.

“When I came along, the band had been dormant for a while,” Payne said. “Joining a band that I had listened to as a fan was very daunting. Some big shoes to fill, especially with John Wetton. … When I came into the band, Steve and Carl were a part of it, as well as Geoff, and it was incredible being brought into such musical heritage.”

Payne’s first album with the band was the successful “Aqua” (1992).

“We spent six months on the album like solid, every day, and that’s why it’s such a huge production,” Payne said. “We had a really good push in America. ‘Who Will Stop The Rain’ was on the radio a lot and charted a lot in Europe, so it was a wonderful and a scary time for me. A lot of people don’t know I went on to do eight albums in 16 years in the band.”

In 2007, Payne broke off to form a group called Asia Featuring John Payne.

“John Wetton wanted to come back [and] it was a slightly sticky situation because I’d been in the band so long,” Payne said. “If original Journey got back together, you can’t stop that train, it’d be huge, so we all came to an agreement where I’d be able to still use the name but make it clear that it was my version. … I’ve got great respect for the original lineup.”

Today, the band appears in pop culture in “South Park” and “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.”

“The poster was on the wall, but we won’t go there with what [Seth Rogen and Paul Rudd] said about the poster,” Payne said. “I was featured on ‘Family Guy’ singing ‘Only Time Will Tell.’ The creator of that, Seth [MacFarlane], he’s a genius. I wrote to him and he sent me a cel [of animation]. He said, ‘Here’s a cel, as long as you’re not going to sue me.'”

Now, Payne invites folks to check out the band at Rams Head in Annapolis.

“Singing some of those songs, ‘Love Under Fire’ or ‘Someday’ or ‘Who Will Stop the Rain,’ it’s like I’ve gone back 30 years,” Payne said. “Sadly, physically I haven’t. I can still sing, I’m a person who loves to sing every day. Like an athlete, you have to, especially with rock stuff, you have to keep your voice in shape. … I’m really excited to play the Rams Head.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews Asia at Rams Head (Part 2)

Hear our full conversation on my podcast “Beyond the Fame.”

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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