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.
Your voice is definitely distinctive and some still think Yes cannot be Yes without your voice. How do you feel about such a notion?
It's always different. I can imagine when Journey went out with different singers that fans got very upset, but they loved the songs and still go see the band. With Yes, it's kinda different in many ways because I was a very integral part of the music as well as the songs that I wrote and the lyrics. So it's a different set of energy when people go see Yes. They'll hear the music, of course, and it's really great music, but it's going to feel different because I think I was this person to the band, leading the band. I had this certain energy, and it's missing. But that's not to say people don't enjoy going to see their show. I can't really fault them for anything other than they carried on doing the music without me, and it is very inspiring music anyway. So, I can see how the fans are upset in a way. I wish them all the best, and I hope that one day we will all get back together and do the tour everybody dreams of.
What have you done to keep your voice in shape after all these years singing live and still recording new music?
The most important thing is that I sing every day. I love singing. I was singing a song earlier this morning, and over the weekend, I was working on one of the longer pieces that I'm working on, and it's just so beautiful to be able to sing, and I don't think about it too much. I don't know what happens, I just think about the melodies and whatever. I'm very lucky working with a lot of musicians from all over the world. I have a lot of Internet friends, and we co-create music on a regular basis, so it's always inspiring. I wake up every morning, and I go to my Internet, and I see some music that has been sent to me this morning, and I'm listening to it and, "Yeah, this is really perfect for today." So music is life, it is a very ever-inspiring sorta thing.
But you don't really have to do any special vocal gymnastics every day to keep it as good as it is.
No. [Laughs] What I sing is my gymnastics this morning. Not really. I just gotta be careful to not over sing, of course. I'm very aware that I gotta take care of my instrument.
I see you'll also be back in Miami next year for a progressive rock cruise, Progressive Nation At Sea 2014.
Yep, that's going to be a lot of fun. I am going to do a couple of my solo shows, and then a sorta question and answers, storytelling, sorta a short show, and then I'm going to sing with Transatlantic, which is going to be one of the main bands that are going to be there on that boat trip. We talked about it the other week, about what songs should we do, and I said, "'Starship Trooper' and 'You And I,' maybe, and 'Revealing,'" and they kind jumped and said, "Are you sure you wanna do 'Revealing'?" and I said, "I'd love to, actually, why not," but we will see what happens.
The whole idea of a progressive rock cruise ... Does this mean progressive rock is irrelevant?
No, I think it just goes into its own field. A lot of young people like progressive music. Progressive rock is part of that. There are always going to be musicians that progress, that push the envelope. Sometimes it sounds wonderful, sometimes it's OK. It's like anything people try. People say, "Well, why did you try Topographic Oceans?" and I said, "Well, let's do something really on a different scale." It's like looking at a mountain and saying we gotta climb that mountain. Like I said, I was very lucky to have musicians that were very interested in the adventure of music rather than record companies. They just want hit records, and I didn't understand. How much more money do you want? How much more money can you make? Why don't we just keep going along this road of musical adventure?
Can you tell me about Tales From Topographic Oceans. There was nothing like that in 1973, a double album with four epic, 20-minute-plus songs.
Well, it was a wonderful experience because at that time I had been really searching for some understanding of what we call God. You look at all the religions, and how they just can't see eye to eye or can't understand each other. They are all rivers to the same ocean, and I think that is what I was getting at when I was talking about Topographic Oceans, the whole idea of the four movements, the revealing of life, the remembering of your life, the ancient. It's things we don't know about. It's just incredible the information we don't know on the ancient times and of course the ritual of life is the dance, and that's what the music was all about.
People say why did you do that? And I say, well, if we had not done Tales of Topographic Oceans, we would have not done "Awaken," and I think musically, as a band for ten years, we came to the end with a beautiful piece of music called "Awaken," and it was worth the trials and tribulations of being a rock band.
I'm just very happy to tour, and my show this weekend, I think it's going to be a lot of fun.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Jon Anderson: The Voice of Yes. With opening set by Fernando Perdomo. Sunday, November 10. Colony Theatre, 1040 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach. The show starts at 6 p.m. and tickets cost $70 plus fees via ticketmaster.com. All ages. Call 305-674-1040 or visit colonytheatremiamibeach.com.
Jon Anderson: The Voice of Yes. With opening set by Top Secret. Sunday, November 10. Colony Theatre, 1040 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach. The show starts at 9:30 p.m. and tickets cost $70 plus fees via ticketmaster.com. All ages. Call 305-674-1040 or visit colonytheatremiamibeach.com.
Follow Hans Morgenstern on Twitter @HansMorgenstern.