Jon Anderson Dreams of a Reunion With Yes

Frank Mastropolo
Blue Elan Records

As a founding member of Yes, Jon Anderson co-wrote many of the prog rock group’s classic songs, including "Owner Of A Lonely Heart," "Roundabout," "Your Move" and "I’ve Seen All Good People." Anderson has remained busy with solo albums and re-issues from his vast library of work.

The original tracks of 1000 Hands: Chapter One, Anderson's 2020 solo album, were recorded in 1990 but forgotten after Anderson stored the master tapes in his garage. An all-star lineup of friends that include Steve Howe, Ian Anderson, Carmine Appice, Chick Corea, Jean-Luc Ponty and the Tower of Power horn section contributed to the album.

We talked with Anderson, who was inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2017, from his home in California.

How has your solo work evolved from the music of Yes?

Jon Anderson: It really gave me a wonderful respect for everyone I worked with in Yes, the way they would be happy to try many of my ideas, some good, some not so good, but at least we were very inventive in the '70s.

The origins of 1000 Hands go back nearly 30 years. How did the album come to be?

I got together with an old friend of mine, Brian Chatton, who was in my first band, the Warriors. He joined them in 1966, so we became constant friends. He just happened to be in Los Angeles when I was there in 1990. I was going up to Big Bear, which is the ski resort southeast of LA, and I said, "Let's go up there and write some music."

We had two or three friends with us and had a 16-track TEAC machine to record everybody. It was a wonderful experience because I was away from a lot of energy of being with Yes on tour and managers and all that rubbish. I was just in a very free-thinking space musically and we wrote about eight or nine really good songs. And at the end of a couple of months I had to go on tour with Kitaro, a Japanese composer, around the world one time.

Brian had a gig with B. B. King and he ran away with this lovely girl, as he would do. He was a damn funny guy, Brian, so funny.

So I just put the 24-track tapes in my garage and forgot about that and got on with life. And 26 years later, I got a phone call from the producer, Michael Franklin, who knew Brian Chatton and had worked on a couple of the songs some time in the '90s but it didn't work out. And he said, "I've got some more money to finish the album" and I said, "Which album?" And he said, "The one we did in Big Bear." I said, "Oh yeah, the tapes are in my garage, I'll send them to you."

And he put them in the oven, baked them because 24-track tapes, 2-inch tapes, you can only play them really once and then they'll just shatter. So he played them once and saved them to the computer and within a week he sent me mixes of the tracks. He'd already put on Ian Anderson's flute on one of them, "Activate," and I said, "Michael, that's exactly what I wanted to do, was to add musicians that I've known throughout the years onto the record."

He'd been on tour with his brother Tim with Chuck Berry for 15 years so he knew so many musicians. Slowly but surely he started adding Billy Cobham to a track and then Chick Corea, then the Tower of Power brass section on another track, some singers on another track and in a couple of months we'd actually finished the album at the end of 2018.

So it was kind of remarkable that it actually manifested exactly as I'd heard it in Big Bear.

"1000 Hands (Come Up)" by Jon Anderson

How did the musicians' different styles work with yours?

I think they just naturally played who they are, I don't think anybody adjusted at all. You listen to Chick Corea, it's brilliant, brilliant. Everybody who played on it was quite brilliant anyway and they added to the song, they didn't just sit in on the song, they added to the song, whatever song they played on. Every other day, Michael Franklin said, "I've got somebody else to play on the record, he's a guitar player…" I said, "Yeah, just put him on, and see what it sounds like."

It was a natural event and what you finish up with is, from any standpoint, a very musical album on many levels.

How many of the original tracks were used in the final product?

All of them. There were seven original tracks and then a couple of things that I did were vocalizations, which I do almost every day. I sent him some vocalization tracks, which were "Ramalama" and "Where Does Music Come From." And they had no music on them, it was just me vocalizing. He actually added the music when he was on a trip to China, on his laptop.

You just realize the potential of music isn't limited to everybody being in the same room at the same time these days.

Do you have anything else stashed in your garage?

It's an amazing thing, we've got four more tracks. We've done five more for the Chapter Two, if it ever comes together. I've got up to about seven or eight hours of music that I've been working on for the past 20 years. Everything's MP3s.

I used one of the first recording systems on a computer to make an album called Earth Mother Earth when I was in Maui in 1997. I've always been very interested in modern technology and equipment. I'm surrounded by my keyboards and my computer and I'm rewriting music that I wrote in 1981. So it's a constant growing experience musically.

You've said in an interview that the Yes 90125 tour was like Spinal Tap. How so?

Being on tour when you're No. 1 around the world is really crazy because everything's first class, everybody treats you like royalty and some people feed on that. I didn't, I was too busy studying music and listening to Sibelius a lot and staying away from parties. I didn't want to get involved with the party atmosphere. I was a very, kind of loner throughout the 90125 tour and I'd seen Spinal Tap before we started touring. And I thought This Is Spinal Tap is every band I've ever known. Every band. Everybody goes out and does their crazy stuff and I just stayed on the straight and narrow line of being sober.

You've said you had a dream about a show that would reunite the past and present members of Yes.

It's a very simple dream. I was standing there backstage with a guitar and I was going to go onstage and introduce myself to 5,000 people and sing a couple of songs they know. And then Steve [Howe] would come on with his band and start playing their version of some songs they've done as Yes and then I joined in with them. Rick [Wakeman] and Trevor [Rabin] came on with their band, our ARW band, and did two or three songs of Trevor's.

And then we all got together onstage, I think there was about 20 of us on stage, performing "Close to the Edge" and "Awaken." So I though it was cool idea.

"I've Seen All Good People" by Yes

I'd like to ask about the origins of two classics you co-wrote. First, "I've Seen All Good People."

I wrote the song "Your Move" and I went to the studio and started playing it and everybody started joining in and I suggested that we make it very, very empty. It's just a simple song. So why don't we just keep it just a heartbeat. Very strong on bass. And Steve had this beautiful Portuguese guitar, 10-string, and he started playing that. I said, "That's the sound."

And then Rick was there and you know, you work with people, and it's always a question of listening to everybody performing something and then suggesting ideas which then other people suggest to each other and then you get into that place where the song takes on a life of itself.

And then we got to the end of the chorus, it was the refrain that I was singing high [Dit dit dit dit…] and it was all that blend of sound and the church organ sound from Rick and I said, "Why don't we all sing 'Give Peace a Chance' in the background?" There were some people there in the studio, so I get them all together, the cleaning lady and some people outside, and we all sang "Give Peace a Chance" in the distance because I had sang a lyric saying, "Send an instant karma to me" at the start of the song, which is a John Lennon line.

And then, OK, we've ended it now, what happens now? Well, Chris [Squire] and Bill [Bruford] were playing this riff and Steve joined in. I said, "OK, keep playing it" and then I shout, "Modulate!" — they all went to different keys — and I started singing "I've seen all good people turn… "

We start doing it and that was the basis of the second half of the song. And it became such a classic idea that I said, "Well, why don't we start with vocals, just vocals." And then Steve comes in with the Portuguese guitar. Over the period of an hour we knew what we had to do and then we start fine-tuning everything and within a day we recorded it.

And "Roundabout."

We were driving from Aberdeen to Glasgow and on the way down, in those days it was just one road, there wasn't a highway, it was just one road, two lanes, one way or the other. And every three, four or five miles there was a roundabout. I think we'd seen about 10 roundabouts. Steve started playing guitar and I started singing, "I'll be a roundabout." There were about 25 roundabouts by the time we got to Glasgow.

Out on the little road on the left and right outside a certain point the mountains would come way down to where the road was. We were going down this incredibly tight valley and I looked up to the top of the mountains and you couldn't see the top because the clouds were so low. And I wrote down, "Mountains come out of the sky and they stand there."

To get to Glasgow you went around four or five lakes, they're called lochs, Loch Lomond and other lakes, "in and around the lake." You scribble down stuff in the back of the van. And I think it was about three days later, we were in London and in the studio and we started recording it.

Chris had a great bass line that really captured the energy of the song, and Bill Bruford, of course, and yeah, we played the hell out of that song.

It was about an eight-minute song because by then everything we did, we thought about what it's going to sound like onstage, how the audience would enjoy the middle section, is it different, and then somebody at the record company got scissors out and cut it in half and made it into a hit record.

Let's do a lightning round. Favorite Yes album.

The next one.

Other than Yes, favorite prog rock band.

Mahavishnu Orchestra.

Dead or alive, a musician you would like to have played with that you haven't.

Nina Simone.

Favorite Beatles song.

Wow [laughs]. I just recorded one with the great Jake Shimabukuro. We just did "A Day in the Life." "A Day in the Life" is magic.

This story appeared in Rock Cellar Feb. 11. 2021.

Mastropolo is the author of Fillmore East: The Venue That Changed Rock Music Forever and the What's Your Rock IQ? Trivia Quiz Book series.

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Frank Mastropolo is the author of Fillmore East: The Venue That Changed Rock Music Forever, one of Best Classic Bands' Best Music Books of 2021; New York Groove: An Inside Look at the Stars, Shows, and Songs That Make NYC Rock; the What's Your Rock IQ? Trivia Quiz Book series; Ghost Signs: Clues to Downtown New York's Past, winner of the 2021 Independent Publishers Book Award; and Ghost Signs 2: Clues to Uptown New York's Past. Mastropolo is a journalist, photographer, and former ABC News 20/20 producer, winner of the Alfred I. DuPont–Columbia University silver baton. His photography is featured in the Bill Graham Rock & Roll Revolution exhibition.

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