1954 – Yes guitarist Trevor Rabin is born in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Trevor Rabin

1954 – Yes guitarist Trevor Rabin is born in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Trevor Rabin (born January 13, 1954) is a South African-American musician, best known as a guitarist and songwriter for the British progressive rock band Yes from 1983–1994, and since then, as a film composer.

Early years

Rabin was born Trevor Charles Rabinowitz and comes from a family of classical musicians in Johannesburg, South Africa, where his father Godfrey was lead violinist for the Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra. Educated at a public school in Johannesburg, he took formal piano training before discovering the guitar at age 12. His parents encouraged his talents toward rock music, although Rabin would maintain his interest in Classical music throughout his career. Rabin also briefly studied orchestration at the University of Johannesburg, and later arranged and conducted for many artists in South Africa.

Rabin’s early influences included Arnold Schoenberg, Tchaikovsky, Cliff Richard and the Shadows, The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix. He also dabbled with progressive and heavy rock with his first bands, The Conglomeration and Freedom’s Children. The latter group were older musicians whose songs questioned the South African government, especially its racial policy of apartheid. During this same period, Rabin became a highly sought after session guitarist and bassist, playing with many jazz bands in South Africa. When Rabin fulfilled his obligation to the South African Army at age 19, he served with the entertainment division.

In 1974, Trevor Rabin formed his first major recording group, Rabbitt along with Neil Cloud (drums), Ronnie Robot (bass guitar) and Duncan Faure (keyboards, guitar, vocals). Rabbitt actually began just prior to Rabin’s year of military conscription in 1974, but it really took off in 1975 after their onstage popularity at Johannesburg’s “Take It Easy” club spread by word of mouth. Their first single, released in 1975, was a cover of Jethro Tull’s “Locomotive Breath”. It later appeared on their debut album, Boys Will Be Boys, which otherwise featured original songs penned by Trevor Rabin.

Rabbitt’s second album, A Croak and a Grunt in the Night, was released in 1977. Trevor Rabin would go on to win a South African Sarie music award (that country’s answer to the Grammy Awards) for his co-production on the album. Momentum gained with a short-term record distribution deal with Capricorn in the United States, but Rabbitt were unable to tour abroad because of continuing international disapproval of South Africa’s apartheid policies. As a result, Trevor Rabin decided to leave South Africa. After recording one album without Trevor Rabin, Rabbitt disbanded that same year.

After moving to London in 1978, Trevor Rabin recorded his first solo album, Beginnings. It was released in England and the US simply as Trevor Rabin, with a slightly different track listing. While some songs were reminiscent of Rabbitt, Rabin’s guitar playing was more prominent as it would continue to be on his successive solo albums. He also established Blue Chip Music and struck an international deal with Chrysalis.

In transition: the UK and Los Angeles

Along with a budding solo career, Rabin began working as a producer and session player. Some of his prominent work included South African vocalist Margaret Singana (“Where Is The Love?”) and fellow South African expatriate, Manfred Mann and his Earth Band. Rabin still found time to record his second album Face to Face, touring the United Kingdom in support of Steve Hillage in early 1980.

Face to Face had the melodic guitar style of his first solo album, but also took a more hard-edged approach on such songs as “The Ripper” and “Now.” Rolling Stone’s first edition of their Record Guide criticized Rabin’s music for its hook-ridden ballads but still gave his first two albums moderate ratings for their overall technical qualities.

Neither of Rabin’s first two solo albums found any commercial success. With the growth of the Punk scene in the late ’70s, power-pop and hard rock music had fallen out of fashion in England. Trevor Rabin began looking for more fertile ground for what would be characterised in the U.S. as album-oriented rock (AOR).

In 1981, he released the album Wolf, co-produced with Ray Davies of The Kinks. Manfred Mann’s Earth Band members Chris Thompson and Manfred Mann made vocal and musical contributions to the album. Wolf marks Rabin’s first collaboration with former Cream bassist Jack Bruce and session drummer Simon Phillips. Following the release of the album, Rabin severed ties with Chrysalis Records as he felt they did little to promote the album.

In 1981, Rabin moved to Los Angeles and signed with David Geffen’s label. Rabin briefly recorded new material with a rhythm section consisting of future Quiet Riot drummer Frankie Banali and bassist Mark Andes, who would later join Heart. Some of these demo recordings developed into the Yes songs “Hold On” and “Make It Easy”.

Although Geffen Records dropped his contract in 1982, Trevor Rabin kept composing material for his projected fourth solo album in Los Angeles. As a keyboardist, he also considered touring as a session player for Foreigner. During this time, Rabin auditioned with the prog-rock supergroup Asia, featuring former Yes members Steve Howe and Geoff Downes. He also was in his agent’s film Finding Kraftland.

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Rabin’s career was in a downturn after Wolf, as American recording companies were not interested in his style of music. While in Los Angeles, he met bassist Chris Squire and drummer Alan White, longtime members of Yes, who had experienced their own difficulties following the apparent demise of that band in 1981. Liking one another’s ideas, Rabin, Squire and White began collaborating under the name Cinema in early 1982. Later on they enlisted original Yes keyboardist Tony Kaye to complement their live performances.

Produced by former Yes member Trevor Horn, what was to become the 90125 album came together over eight months in 1982. During his time in Los Angeles, Rabin had written several songs that formed the project’s nucleus. “Owner of a Lonely Heart” evolved into a catchy riff-oriented song that Horn seized upon as a potential single. Atco Records liked the group’s demo, but raised the question of whether they needed a separate vocalist. Horn was invited to join Cinema for this reason, but the producer refused Squire’s offer, possibly recalling the extreme negative fan reaction toward his replacement of Jon Anderson in 1980. (Rabin would endure similar comparisons to Steve Howe throughout his tenure with Yes, though not to nearly as great a degree as Horn.)

With the question of a vocalist still up in the air, Squire encountered Anderson at a Los Angeles party and Anderson expressed interest in hearing what Cinema were working on. Squire acquiesced, and Anderson was so impressed by the songs he heard, especially “Leave It”, that he joined the group, adding vocal tracks to the mostly already-written songs, very late in the recording of 90125. Because the band now featured four former members of Yes, including Anderson, who was especially strongly identified with Yes in the public eye, the band (over Rabin’s objections) chose to revive the Yes name rather than call itself Cinema, a name which in any case was already in use.  The new Yes would meet with critical and commercial success, though not without some harsh criticism from fans of earlier incarnations of the band.

Both “Owner of a Lonely Heart” and “Leave It” became major hits, with “Owner” being the band’s only #1 single in most major markets including the US; along with heavy airplay of several other tracks, this helped propel 90125 to six million sales between 1983 and 1985, making it the most commercially successful of all Yes albums. Yes also received a Grammy award in 1984 for the instrumental “Cinema”. The band toured behind the album, in a series of well-received concerts across Europe and the Americas. In England and North America many younger fans were introduced to the earlier Yes catalogue because of the success of the 90125 album and its popular singles.

Trevor Rabin almost did not make the 90125 tour, because of a swimming accident in Florida just before the 1984 tour kicked off. According to interviews from the period, Rabin was injured severely when a large woman hit his midsection while jumping into a hotel swimming pool. He endured an emergency splenectomy and returned to Yes in time to begin the tour.

9012Live debuted as a live album and video package, taken from the group’s 1984 shows in Edmonton, Canada and Dortmund, Germany. On the former recording, Trevor Rabin contributed his acoustic guitar solo, “Solly’s Beard”.

In early 1986, Yes began recording its next album with Trevor Horn, but the production became bogged down due largely to personal differences among Anderson, Squire and Horn. Eventually, Rabin assumed control of the project, with Horn being fired as producer well before recording was complete. Rough tape demos have emerged with Trevor Rabin singing lead vocals on “Final Eyes” and “Rhythm of Love.”

Big Generator emerged in late 1987, with singles “Love Will Find a Way” and “Rhythm of Love.” Both were modest chart hits compared to the singles from 90125, though the album sold very well. The song “Shoot High, Aim Low” featured a dual lead vocal between Rabin and Jon Anderson. The 1988 Big Generator tour of the U.S. missed several dates after Rabin collapsed from influenza.

After the tour, Anderson left Yes for the second time, though his departure would prove short-lived. Trevor Rabin expressed a guarded neutrality over the split between Jon Anderson and Chris Squire, who briefly led rival groups consisting of Yes members. Squire held the Yes name, which now encompassed himself, Rabin, White and nominally Kaye, though the latter’s involvement was minimal; Anderson formed Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe — a line-up he felt better represented Yes. A lawsuit between Arista and Atlantic Records ensued.

While Yes members, old and new, quarrelled over rights to the Yes trademark, Rabin completed his fourth and final-to-date solo album, Can’t Look Away, released in 1989. The album’s lead single, “Something to Hold On To”, earned a Grammy for Best Music Video and topped the AOR charts for two weeks. But despite some positive reviews, and extensive marketing from Elektra Records neither “Something to Hold on To,” nor Rabin’s anti-apartheid ballad “Sorrow (Your Heart)” managed to crack the American Top-40 charts. Trevor Rabin toured between 1989 and 1990 with drummer Lou Molino III (one of Rabin’s best friends and a featured player on his soundtracks), fretless bassist Jim Simmons and keyboardist-composer Mark Mancina.

Trevor Rabin’s nationwide Can’t Look Away tour attracted a modest number of Yes fans, and has since been documented with 2003’s Live in L.A., featuring interpretations of ’80s Yes material, as well as highlights from his Wolf album. Rabin’s solo band also performed an instrumental version of a 90125 outtake, “You Know Something I Don’t Know.” On this tour, Rabin also unveiled part of “Lift Me Up,” which would become the lead single for Union. It has also been speculated that Trevor Rabin’s solo band may have recorded demos for “Miracle of Life,” which also surfaced on Union. However, any plans for Rabin’s fifth solo album were interrupted once more by the machinery of Yes.

Unexpectedly, Yes would reform in 1991 with a short-lived, eight-man lineup for the Union tour. Unlike the dramatic reunion of 90125, the story behind Union comes across as strictly a corporate decision. In late 1990, Chris Squire’s Yes line-up (still including Rabin) had been jettisoned by Atlantic Records after creative differences. During a recent interview with Mike Tiano in 2003, Trevor Rabin expressed considerable disdain for Atlantic Records executive Derek Shulman (one-time frontman of progressive rock band Gentle Giant) who damned Rabin with faint praise as “the one who writes the hits.”

Unfortunately, Rabin would find himself in precisely that position when he received a call from Jon Anderson in 1991. After a gold album and lucrative tour, Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe’s second album for Arista had encountered a creative block. Anderson asked Rabin for creative input, but after Can’t Look Away, Rabin did not have much new material on-hand. Even so, he submitted a demo of three songs, thinking the record company would select one. Instead, all three were accepted: “Lift Me Up”, “Saving My Heart” and “Miracle of Life”.

Arista subsequently made what Rabin later described as a “42nd floor boardroom decision,” and brought both Yes line-ups together — although at no point did the recording of Union feature all eight members of the touring group, and its sessions were augmented by a small army of session musicians. Rabin only appeared on one-third of the album, although two of his songs were released as singles — “Lift Me Up” and “Saving My Heart” — which were also performed live on the tour, on alternating dates. Trevor Rabin expressed dislike of the Union project, but still took part in the supporting tour, where he developed a lasting friendship with Rick Wakeman, often accompanying his keyboard performances onstage.

To no-one’s great surprise, the eight-person lineup didn’t survive the end of the tour. Howe and Bruford were the first to leave, the former at least partly due to unwillingness to share the spotlight with Rabin; and while Wakeman was very interested in working with the band and especially Rabin, he couldn’t commit to dates. This effectively left Yes with the same lineup that had recorded “90125” and “Big Generator”. 1992 and 1993 featured a series of negotiations between the short-lived Victory Music (not to be confused with a Chicago-based indie alt-rock outfit called Victory Records) and this so-called Yes West line-up. Phil Carson, responsible for Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s comeback in 1992, invited the Yes 90125 lineup to record a third album. Rabin had also hoped the next Yes project would have involved Wakeman, but owing to managerial problems, the plan fell through in 1993. (Rabin later contributed lead vocals and guitar solos to “Never is a Long, Long Time,” from Rick Wakeman’s Return to the Centre of the Earth in 1999.)

As Victory Records’ budget could not include an outside producer, Trevor Rabin undertook the mission. During sessions, he used a then-innovative digital hard-disk recording method now in common use in many studios. Although some Yes fans, and even Rabin himself, have criticized the limitations of digital sound, Talk made music recording history with its technical achievements.

Talk featured the final collaboration between Rabin and Jon Anderson, who had hitherto completed the last few albums after the principal writing. Despite a couple of filler tracks, the album represents a fusion between old and new Yes. Fans across the board have listed “Endless Dream” as one of group’s best songs. During 1994 the group performed nearly all the album, plus their earlier hits, to a quickly vanishing fanbase. While some venues were full, others were less than half capacity — fuelling ill-founded rumours that Yes fans had boycotted the shows. Yet, many fans who attended felt that the Rabin lineup’s performance, especially on classic Yes material, had never been better.

Numerous bootleg recordings exist, because the Talk concerts were simultaneously broadcast on FM radio frequency — allowing Yes fans to make high-quality tapes. Trevor Rabin went on record as being supportive of this particular form of music-sharing.

While some fans — and Steve Howe — did employ the press and Internet to blame Trevor Rabin’s influence, certain tour dates were simply given low promotion by radio stations. After an initial rush of fans took the album to #33, Talk failed to sell as expected, because the previously monolithic AOR radio format had become moribund in the wake of mid-90’s telecommunication deregulation. Despite live exposure on the David Letterman Show, both “The Calling” and “Walls” failed to catch as singles during the height of the popularity of alternative music. Moreover, Victory Records did not allot budgets for video promotion. Ultimately, the Talk tour ended on October 11, 1994 amid recriminations. By the end of the following year, Rabin had left Yes and, except for a small number of special events such as a tribute to Horn, has not played with the band since.

In 2008, Trevor was contacted by Yes members and their new management inviting him to tour with the band in the later part of the year. “I appreciate the invite and miss the excitement of playing live. Unfortunately, my schedule just does not allow for it this year,” Trevor acknowledged.


Following the 1994 tour, Trevor Rabin resigned from Yes to become a soundtrack composer.

Trevor Rabin has been a naturalized U.S. citizen since 1991. In 1996, he visited his native South Africa and performed Yes and Rabbitt songs during the Prince’s Trust Concert. Trevor Rabin released demo versions of pre-90125 Yes compositions and solo work, entitled 90124, as well as Live in LA, recorded at the Roxy in Los Angeles in late 1989. Most recently, aside from his film work, Trevor Rabin performed in aid of the Prince’s Trust with Yes at the Wembley Arena in London, where he served as lead guitarist and lead singer.

Trevor Rabin has scored over two dozen films which include: Bad Company, Con Air, Homegrown, Armageddon, Jack Frost, Deep Blue Sea, Gone in Sixty Seconds, Remember the Titans, The 6th Day, The Banger Sisters, Kangaroo Jack, Bad Boys 2, The Great Raid, Exorcist: The Beginning, National Treasure, Coach Carter and most recently Glory Road, Snakes on a Plane, The Glimmer Man, Flyboys, Gridiron Gang, Hot Rod, The Guardian, National Treasure: Book of Secrets, and Get Smart.

Along with several Grammy nominations and one Grammy win, Trevor Rabin also has received eight BMI film score awards, and has received a lifetime achievement award from the Temecula Film Festival. His composition ‘Titans Spirit’ from Remember the Titans was played following United States President-Elect Barack Obama’s speech upon winning the 2008 U.S. Presidential Election, and served as the backdrop for the ensuing celebration. He has been married for two decades to Shelley Rabin. They have one son, Ryan Rabin, who recently began his own career as a rock drummer in the band The Outline, signed to Fearless Records in Los Angeles.

Solo discography

Solo albums

* Trevor Rabin (1978) also known as Beginnings (2003)
* Face to Face (1979)
* Wolf (1981)
* Can’t Look Away (1989)
* Live in LA (2003)
* 90124 (2003)

Film scores

Only including CDs available where all tracks are credited to Rabin

All the scores listed are available on full orchestra sheet music except National Treasure, Recorded by Hollywood Symphony Orchestra on Walt Disney Records, whose music was never released.

* Con Air (1997) (With Mark Mancina)
* Armageddon (1998) (With Harry Gregson-Williams)
* Enemy of the State (1999) (With Harry Gregson-Williams)
* Deep Blue Sea (1999)
* Gone in 60 Seconds (2000)
* The 6th Day (2000)
* Remember the Titans (2000)
* American Outlaws (2001)
* The One (2001)
* Rock Star (2001)
* National Treasure (2004)
* Exorcist: The Beginning (2004)
* The Great Raid (2005)
* Coach Carter (2005) (With Ashanti)
* Flyboys (2006)
* The Guardian (2006)
* Snakes on a Plane (2006)
* Hot Rod (2007)
* National Treasure: Book of Secrets (2007)
* Get Smart (2008)
* G-Force (2009)
* Race to Witch Mountain (2009)

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