"I could sense the end was near": Yes bassist Billy Sherwood recalls his "heartbreaking" final conversations with his hero Chris Squire

Chris Squire and Billy Sherwood
(Image credit: Bob Berg/Getty Images))

Yes bassist Billy Sherwood has spoken about how "devastated" he was to learn about Chris Squire's leukemia diagnosis a decade ago, and the guilt he felt even as he honoured Squire's wishes by taking his place in the legendary English band.

Sherwood was first drafted into Yes in 1994 as a touring musician, playing keyboards, guitar and bass, and joined the band officially in 1997, appearing on their 17th studio album, Open Your Eyes. The Las Vegas-born musician stepped away from the band in 2000 ahead of Rick Wakeman rejoining once again. While Sherwood was recording his solo album Citizen, Chris Squire asked if he would stand in for him while the band toured North America alongside Toto, as he had "some medical stuff" to deal with. It was only later, during a phone call with Squire's wife Scotland, that Sherwood learned of the bassist's diagnosis with a rare form of leukemia: "It’s heartbreaking to think about this stuff. I was in shock."

"And then I was absolutely emotionally just devastated," Sherwood tells Rolling Stone in a wide-ranging new interview. "Chris calls me back and says, 'Well, I guess she told you, didn’t she? I’ll knock this on the head, but I’ll be back. Don’t get too comfortable there'."

"We started talking all the time," Sherwood continues. "I was trying to psychologically empower him to get through this. The conversations got deeper and heavier... I could sense the end was near.

"About 10 days before the tour started, something like that, I was taking a morning walk. I started getting this weird feeling on it. And when I came back, I checked my email and I just saw one from the manager. The subject line was 'Chris.' I sat there for a minute, afraid to open it. And then I hit open, and that’s when I got the news that Chris died this morning. I was absolutely devastated."

Squire died on June 27, 2015 little more than a month after he revealed he had cancer. For Sherwood, honouring his friend's wishes on the tour which followed was an emotional and conflicted experience.

"I did my best to get my act together and got onstage and performed the stuff," he tells Rolling Stone. "I found some way to do it respectfully and in a way to honor Chris as best I could. But that first tour was very difficult because there were moments where I’d look out there and think, How the hell has this happened in my life?

"There was a part of me that felt extremely guilty for being there at all, because this should be where Chris is. And then the joy to play this amazing music, and intense sorrow to have to play this music that I loved … It was the strangest double-edged sword."

You can read the full interview with Sherwood on the Rolling Stone website.

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.