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Jon Anderson: ‘I’m still Yes in my heart’

Bill DeYoung

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"I could never believe that I would become a musician," Jon Anderson says. "I’m so grateful and so blessed to do what I do – I’m amazed at the life that I’ve led and the people I’ve met, and the music that I’ve created and helped to create." Photo by Deborah Anderson.

Since Yes was created, 51 years ago in London, more than 19 musicians have played as full-time members of the band. Yet for diehard fans of the most commercially successful progressive rock group in history, the “classic” lineup, the version of Yes that made the early ‘70s albums Fragile and Close to the Edge, is the one that matters.

This (with a few significant variations) was the incarnation inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2017, the second (after Genesis) “prog” band to be make the short list.

Jon Anderson, the lad from Lancashire whose high, crystalline vocals were as much a part of the signature Yes sound as Steve Howe’s guitar, Chris Squire’s bass or Rick Wakeman’s keyboard, isn’t in Yes at the moment, although a band with that name is out on the road.

Anderson and a small combo are also touring, promoting his just-released solo album 1,000 Hands. They’ll appear Wednesday at the Capitol Theatre.

Up until last year, the singer was himself performing in a group billed as Yes Featuring Jon Anderson, Rick Wakeman and Trevor Rabin. At the same time as Howe’s group called Yes (including longtime drummer Alan White) was playing cross-country and international dates, too.

Confused? Take a number.

“I think life takes over, you know?” Anderson says in a phone interview. “Steve sees a future with the people that he’s working with, and I see a future with these people I’m working with. Steve has got his own life to live, and that’s great.

Classic Yes (1971), clockwise from left: Bill Bruford, Rick Wakeman, Jon Anderson, Steve Howe and Chris Squire. Atlantic Records.

“I was lucky enough to get him to play on this new album of mine,” he adds. “I started to sing with him, and we hope that might bring about getting together maybe next year, or the year after … you never know in this life.”

Anderson is 74, Howe is 72 and Wakeman is closing in on 70; they’ve fought and made up many times over the name, and the direction of the band, and these days they’re taking a “live and let live” approach. The thought of Dueling Yesses doesn’t seem to bother any of them.

Wakeman, improbably, has launched a late-in-life career as a standup comedian and a TV personality in his homeland. The project with Anderson and Rabin is “on indefinite hiatus.”

Squire is dead; drummer Bill Bruford has retired.

That leaves Jon Anderson and Steve Howe, both of whom have been in Yes, and out of Yes, numerous times. “I’ve never been into the word ‘brand,’ like “the Yes Brand,” and how to commercialize the brand, et cetera,” Anderson explains. “I’ve only been interested in music – and how to make an album.

“My whole definition of what Yes means is my history. I always think of myself as Yes. There’s no question in my heart, my soul, when I go onstage I’m singing for Yes audiences. Even when I’m just playing my guitar and doing a solo concert, I’m still Yes in my heart.

“And I’m true to what I do. I’m a progressive, adventurous musician. And there you go.”

Fair enough – but will Anderson and Howe ever share a stage again?

Clearly tired of this question, Anderson follows a long laugh with a rebuke: “Give me your phone number – you’ll be the first person I speak to, OK? As soon as I know, you will know.” He laughs some more.

Anderson, who resides in Central California, became an American citizen in 2009; he’d already been living in the States full time for 20 years by then. He began recording 1,000 Hands – originally titled Uzlat – in 1989, but his Yes touring commitments meant it had to be shelved.

Life, as it tends to, got in the way. “You start some projects and you never get ‘em finished,” he explains. “I’m working on projects now that I started 10, 12 years ago. I don’t want anybody to hear them unfinished.”

Orlando-based pianist and record producer Michael T. Franklin, a longtime friend, had worked on the album in its embryonic stage. In 2016, at Franklin’s suggestion, the analog tapes were dusted off and work began anew.

Franklin overdubbed more Anderson vocals, and brought in a few great players – Chick Corea, Billy Cobham, Jean-Luc Ponty and Steve Howe among them – to make 1,000 Hands even stronger. “Everyone who was added to the album enhanced the music,” Anderson says, “and that’s why to me it’s one of the best albums I’ve ever made. I’m really proud of it.”

Franklin anchors Anderson’s current touring band; in fact, Anderson says, except for the drummer everyone in the group is from Orlando.

Of the great gaggle of rapidly-aging rock stars, Jon Anderson is one of the very few who can still sing like he used to; he can still hit the high notes and doesn’t phone it in.

When he performed at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony two years ago, alongside Howe, Wakeman, White, Rabin and guest bassist Geddy Lee, it was that old Yes magic all over again.

“It was an amazing feeling to be up there,” he relates. “A bit nervous. You’re up there, you haven’t really rehearsed. You’d done a soundcheck about six hours earlier, and soundchecks are never quite the same as when you get onstage and perform. I just wanted to get up there and sing.

“So by the time we got into ‘Owner of a Lonely Heart’ and ‘Roundabout,’ I felt good. And if you look at the actual video of us performing, we were good. That’s all that matters to me, that we put on a good show for the people that were there.”

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1 Comment

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    Chris Parrish

    May 8, 2019 at 7:38 pm

    An incredible musician. And, a truely great person.

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