His first band were called Moonstone.
They toured the UK in the late seventies, opening for well-known groups such as Argent.
Back in England, he and keyboardist Andy Nye (from the Michael Schenker Group) formed The Passion, enlisting the services of drummer Clive Burr (Iron Maiden), bassist Mel Gabbitas and the ex-Mike Oldfield guitarist Ant Glynne.
Payne was considered for a position in ELO Part II on guitar and vocals. For a year prior to joining Asia in 1991, he was chosen to replace Jeff Lynne as the lead vocalist in ELO, later to be named ELO Part II, but left because of protracted negotiations over the name.
After the departure of John Wetton, Geoff Downes invited Payne to join the band as lead singer,bassist, co-writer and co-producer. Payne and Geoff Downes continued together as Asia for 15 years, with several line-ups around them, until they stuck with Guthrie Govan (guitar) and Chris Slade (drums) in 1999. This line-up persisted through 2005, when Slade departed to be replaced by Jay Schellen.
Asia featuring John Payne
In 2009, Govan was replaced by Mitch Perry and North American touring has continued through 2010. Work began on a studio album, originally called Architect of Time, but this would eventually be released under the new band name of Dukes of the Orient. A live album Extended Versions by Asia featuring John Payne, was released in fall 2007, drawn from a December 2005 live show in Sweden with Downes, Schellen, Payne and Govan.
An EP entitled Military Man was released with re-recordings of Payne-era Asia tracks: „Military Man“ and „Long Way from Home“, plus an Erik Norlander solo composition, „Neurosaur“. Tracks were performed by Govan, Payne, Norlander and Schellen.
In 2014, a CD entitled Recollections was released, a cover album of UK progressive rock songs. As well as producer, vocalist and bassist, Payne played most of the keyboards and some guitars. He was joined by Moni Scaria, Jeff Kollman and Jay Schellen. The video for the first single „Eye in the Sky“ was shot in Vegas and includes an appearance from Alan Parsons.
Dukes of the Orient
Around 2017, Payne and Norlander reunited to form the group Dukes of the Orient as a new band name for the material that had been 10 years in the making as an Asia Featuring John Payne project. Their self-titled debut was released in February 2018 via Frontier Records, featuring Scaria and Kollman on guitars from Asia Featuring John Payne, plus former members Bouillet, Govan (guitar) and Schellen (drums). The album features the former single, „Seasons Will Change,“ originally released by Asia Featuring John Payne in 2012. Following the death of singer John Wetton and for clarity with the Downes-led Asia, Payne and Norlander decided these recordings should be as a new band.
Their second album, ‘Freakshow’, is about to be released in August 2020.
TV, film and stage
In 2007, Payne played the part of Parson Nathaniel in the touring production of Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds.
In 2016, Payne began composition of original work for Steve Gustafson. This work is in support to Gustafson’s creation, via his Experience Based Learning zipline business, of an independent Reality TV show surrounding the zip line adventure tourism market entitled Zip Away!
The Rock Pack
In January 2014, Payne created the touring show „The Rock Pack“. In this show Payne interviews iconic rock singers from major classic rock bands and performs their hits with them. It included vocalists past and present from such bands as Foreigner, Cheap Trick, Journey, Santana, Toto, Kansas and The Tubes.