Jon Anderson on Yes: "I Hope We Get Back Together and Do the Tour Everybody Dreams Of"
When we here at Crossfade rang up Jon Anderson, the founding member and iconic voice of the pioneering English prog rock band Yes, we thought that we'd reached his secretary.
"It's me," he responds, swinging the words heavenward and high. He confesses that he is grocery shopping near his home in San Luis Obispo, in Central California. "I like to cook," he offers.
His alto-tenor voice (don't call it falsetto) brought special life to such iconic albums as Close to the Edge, the four-song double album Tales From Topographic Oceans and singles like "I've Seen All Good People" and "Owner of a Lonely Heart."
His interest in Eastern philosophy comes out not only in lyrical themes of humanity's interconnections on "And You And I" and many other songs, but also in his understanding when we botch up the recording of our first interview and have to call him back to repeat our chat. "How romantic," he says with a laugh after we ring him up again.
Anderson officially left Yes in 1980, but he still occasionally recorded and toured with the band as it became a revolving door for musicians. In 2008, after falling ill following a severe asthma attack, Anderson had to be hospitalized. Too sick to carry on fronting Yes, the other members continued without him, hiring two younger singers over the years, the current being Jon Davison.
The 69-year-old Anderson has healed up well following a series of operations and still performs the music of Yes with various musicians, including full symphonies on occasion. He also plays the songs stripped down with only him on acoustic guitar, which will be his approach when he plays two shows this Sunday night at the Colony Theater in Miami Beach.
Crossfade: How long have you been performing these solo acoustic shows? You said seven years now?
Jon Anderson: Yeah, I think I started just after I got a little bit better. When I got sick, I did shows with the School of Rock, which is a lot easier than touring. I was having fun, doing some teaching, and I started doing a couple of songs in that show by myself, so I thought maybe I should try and do a solo show because it's so different than being on tour with the band. You don't really have the pressure of touring constantly and so on, and maybe I could just do it, and it would be better for my health. So I think that was the plan, to be able to tour as crazy as with the band, because obviously with the band there's a lot of people you gotta tour with, like crew and everything. You gotta keep up touring to pay for it. But going solo makes it a lot easier, especially when I was going through that illness for a couple years.
Do you ever miss the other members of Yes while performing these songs?
Of course, I miss the beautiful energy that we created as a band, but it's something that I can't dwell on too much because it's something that is not going to happen. It might happen in the next year or two. You never know. I'm never opposed to doing concerts with the guys, as I mentioned I am going to be doing some shows in about ten days in Iceland with a band, a small orchestra doing some classic Yes things. I'm actually doing it now and again, a little bit more than I actually thought, working with groups of musicians. Life is an adventure. I've learned that over the years.
I spoke to [Yes drummer] Alan White a little while ago (read that interview), and he said you and the members of Yes are on good terms.
I speak to Alan because we were friends. He was the best man at my wedding. His mom died earlier this year, so I called him up and obviously wished him well. He left a message the other day for my birthday, so we're in touch. Chris [Squire, bass] and Steve [Howe, guitar] they are doing their own lives. They got their own lives to lead. We're not that in touch, but I could never forget the beautiful music we created together, and I'm very proud of the work we did together, and I'm always thankful for that period of time in my life I was able to work with Chris and Steve and [drummer] Bill Bruford and obviously Alan, and [keyboardist] Rick Wakeman. I'm in touch with Rick Wakeman quite a lot. It's part of our friendship.
You still have plans to work with Rick Wakeman?
We're working on a project, doing a couple of songs in the moment. He's doing a lot of orchestral work next year with Six Wives of Henry VIII and Journey to the Center of the Earth. These are all 40-year-later tours ... We won't tour the next year together, but the year after, I'm sure. We are always in touch.