By Ray Shasho
YES starship pilot and spiritual voice of reason Jon Anderson spoke with Examiner Ray Shasho in a recent interview. Positivity, exciting new ventures and a rebirth of energy thrusting towards a bright future was the essential message received from the illustrious YES songsmith.
In 2008, Anderson’s reverent role as lead singer, composer and musician for the progressive rock group came to an end. Anderson became very ill with a respiratory ailment. Management wanted the group to continue touring but Anderson asked for a break or perhaps to do a semi acoustic project but the band refused and continued with their plans anyway. In fact they recruited Benoit David a singer from a YES tribute band to replace the legendary singer.
Anderson became so ill that he stopped breathing and had to be resuscitated. He fell into a three- day coma and near death on several occasions. But despite life’s setbacks Jon Anderson remains optimistic. He’s currently on a solo tour playing Yes favorites and his own eclectic works.
So will Jon Anderson ever return as YES frontman? Jon says, “When they wake up.”
On October 19th Anderson will bring back the true magic of early YES music when he begins a new tour with ex-bandmate and keyboardist Rick Wakeman. (Anderson Wakeman Tour 2011) Both collaborated on a phenomenal album in 2010 called The Living Tree.
Jon’s latest solo creation is called Survival & Other Stories. Jon says, “About four years ago I put in an ad on my website: ‘Musicians Wanted’…this is the result” The album features Anderson and many other artists writing songs via the internet while Jon performs them.
John Roy Anderson was born in Accrington, Lancashire, England. Jon is 66 years old and an American citizen living in San Luis Obispo, California.
Not only is Jon Anderson a very special human being but I’ve also learned that he’s a funny guy!
Here’s a very special conversation with the immortal Jon Anderson.
Jon how are you today?
“I’m fine how are you?”
Are you calling from your home in California or on the road today?
“No I’m in California, Central California and it’s a beautiful day.”
How’s the solo tour coming along?
“It’s really wonderful I just get up there and sing with my guitars and acoustic piano you know just have a good time singing classic Yes songs and Vangelis songs some new songs from Survival & Other Stories my new album and tell stories and a lot of people enjoy them.”
You know I really like the reggae twist you put on your songs. I find a lot of performers doing that nowadays.
“Yea reggae is really where it’s at.”
Besides your solo tour, I guess the other big news would be the Anderson-Wakeman Tour launching in October?
“Yea that’s me and Wake we did a concert tour last year in the UK which was very successful so we decided to take it to America. So we’re doing the east coast October and November- mid October to mid November tickets are selling well so it’s a going to be a great show.”
It’s so great to see you with your old YES bandmate. The living Tree is such a wonderful album. Beautiful arrangements, your vocals are better than ever and reminiscent to the very early YES material.
“I love it, I love doing those new songs and especially on stage it’s just so much fun.”
Survival & Other Stories is a terrific project, talk a little about how it was conceived?
“Well you know I put an ad on my website asking for musicians to send me ideas to music and I got lots of them -I get them every week now and my son is sending me music which is really cool we’re working together on some songs. So you know music is very very adventurous out there and a lot of young people and you know any age kind of people just sending me music and you never know what’s going to come along.”
It’s so cool to get the kids involved man, I brought my kids up the right way listening to classic rock music. As a matter of fact my son’s favorite band when he fell asleep at night was YES.
I took them to concerts at early ages too. I think it’s important for them to know.
“Yea, that there’s more music than the ones you here on the radio and basically there’s pop music which is popular music which is great but there’s also music which is a little bit more adventurous and different and that’s something that I’ve always been interested in you know.”
And it’s tougher than ever for new bands to get signed nowadays by record companies.
“Well you know happily they can create their own music and put it on the internet by themselves and it won’t cost them too much money to do that and so there’s a couple of companies like ChinCorp and the company called Stageit you can actually do concerts and sell tickets online from your home and you can just do a half an hour or forty five minutes show just in your home on a little camera that’s on your laptop and people are doing this -really really exciting times you know.”
YES music was a religion to most of us growing up. Those spiritual lyrics sung by one Jon Anderson who we emulated not as an entertainer but more or less as a spiritual advisor or holy man. And then your bandmates replaced you with a YES tribute band singer who I happened to feel is horrible by the way. And everyone I’ve talked with agrees.
“He’s just different you know what I mean. They did it with The Buggles (Geoff Downes and Trevor Horne). Chris and Steve and Alan they just think well that’s where we’re going and good luck to them and I just think well I’ve got a lot of work that I want to do as well a lot of great music that I want to create so I’ll just get on with my life you know. I‘ve left the band a couple of times because of outside influences trying to push the band around and I hate that so that’s when I have to say I’ve got to get out of there quick.”
I guess it may have been different if the new singer had been a member of YES or perhaps another classic rock legend, but a tribute band singer? YES faithful are still scratching their heads.
“It’s kind of disappointing but hey 35 years of YES is not too bad after all. I did a lot of work that I’m very proud of and there were some ups and downs but hey when you look at the depth of music that YES created over those 35 years it’s kind of amazing to me when I think about it in my head and there’s some great music coming and I’m always thinking about the next step of music and I think a lot of people are going to be very surprised in the next couple of years how music is going to really evolve and all that energy from the love of YES music will come through and people will hear it in a different way.”
I guess you’re ex bandmates are stuck in the past while you’re moving forward?
“You know Ray every time I do an interview they say when are you going to get back together with YES and I say, “When they wake up.””
“You know, you’ve got to make light of everything. YES was a tiny miniscule of the music world anyway. People like yourself and other people like me I loved what we’ve done so I’m sort of committed to creating great YES music in a way but I think the next project that I’m going to let go of probably before Christmas people are going to say, “Yea Jon still has that energy to do that kind of music I love it.””
The music was great but it was your inspirational words that kept YES fans focused on a positive outlook of life and hope for the future. I can honestly say that you got me through a very tough stage in my life.How do you stay so positive especially during these difficult times?
“There’s a lot of us out there who are committed to being positive and optimistic. I think in life you have a choice. You can either be optimistic or pessimistic and I go for the optimism you know.”
And you’ve been through a terrible illness too. Your wife actually saved your life when you were sick right Jon?
“Well that was an amazing moment. Basically I got into a coughing fit and there’s a lot of dust around and pollen in this area and I’ve been coughing on and off pretty badly for three years and doctors couldn’t figure it out. So when I had this real bad one I just stopped breathing and my wife held me in her arms while the paramedics came and they just sort of jumped started me and it put me in a coma for three days. So it was pretty dangerous you know? A couple of months later the real infection took over and that’s when I had to have these operations. You know you have a problem and the infection goes into the pancreas and then the liver and you have to be very careful so they had to do these very delicate operations. And I couldn’t sing for six months and couldn’t speak hardly but I just kept thinking I thought of doing all this stuff you know. A lot of people go through it its life; okay better get on with the next thing.”
What got me through my two week stint in the hospital a few years back was my wife staying with me over night for several days and a regular visit from the Pastor.
“It’s amazing, when I finished up my last operation this guy use to come around playing guitar you know and singing and he started singing It’s a Wonderful Life and I just burst out in tears. And it took me all those months to let go and cry you know.”
When the pastor came in to pray with me at the hospital I cried every time.
“It’s good for you ya know.”
I think going through all that does something to your emotions and maybe even brings you closer with God?
“Yea that’s what it is.”
You said in a recent interview that “I live to understand the great mystery, and how we are part of Mother Earth, and ‘why’” That statement reminded me of what the American Indians tell us, as they remind us how important it is for our soul to connect with nature.
“Oh gosh yea. When I first came to live in America and I’m an American now for two years and I was here twenty years ago when I first came here lived here and that’s when I started meeting with you call them Medicine Man Shaman Native Americans. And it’s a beautiful experience to sit and hear what they have to say and I thank the Gods that I was able to be there at that time and wake up you know.”
Unfortunately sometimes it’s difficult to find sincere words of wisdom and hope nowadays in America. It seems like positive or inspirational significances are overshadowed by commercials.
“Everybody wants to be American it seems. I travel enough to know you know I’ve been to China just about 20 years ago and they were just beginning to understand the American energy and I remember seeing at this airport there was a big sign and a big white painted sign and it said peace love tourism and they understood what was the next thing and look at them now they’re the biggest financially based country in the world and they’re feeding off the Americanism but its far- far- far away from spiritual below the mother earth but it’s a good thing in a way because eventually everybody will turn around and understand that if we don’t take care of mother earth we’re not taking care of ourselves.”
You know Jon, God created such a massive universe there just has to be other life out there somewhere. After all there must be a reason for all that space right?
“For sure! for sure! There’s so much going on that we don’t understand. I love that concept anyway and one day it’ll all come clear.”
Do you think after we die it’s all going to come clear?
“I think if you let go of preconceived ideas you’ll find everything in this life. For me my understanding is God is all that is, God is everything all that is and you’re true God is within and that’s the power that you have as a human being. And this life is for us to discover the divine within. And that’s really the key to life in many ways for me. And the thing is it’s not for us to reason why everything is what it is just do it.”
Inspired by The Beatles you played in a band called the Warriors with your brother before YES. And now your brother Tony is a Priest. Jon you would have made a wonderful Priest.
“You know we’re all very spiritual beings and I was always felt happy to sing about the earth and don’t kill the whale and take care of life, the great path, the mystery and everything. I was always happy to sing about it and why not I’m not going to sing about rock and roll Chuck Berry did that, The Beatles did that I’m not even going to get near that so I might as well sing about something different you know.”
What other music besides The Beatles inspired you?
“Oh gosh from Stevie Wonder to… when I think about the list it’s pretty endless. I love the music from the 40’s, 50’s obviously the 60’s and when I watched Michael Jackson what an incredible talent and what an incredible energy you know and Sting and there’s so many great artists out there it’s just extraordinary. I actually saw Ricki Lee Jones a couple of months ago just like being in heaven you know she was amazing. And then about a month later we saw that was on the same bill Randy Newman one of the great composers my God he was so beautiful. Very funny! On stage he’s very funny.”
I think you would have meshed well with George Harrison.
“I met him once but if I‘m around George Harrison I don’t know what I want to say it’s a frightening experience.”
“Because it’s George Harrison. He’s a Beatle.”
That’s funny; I remember seeing Ozzy Osbourne being nervous and excited about meeting Paul McCartney. I thought, come on man you’re Black Sabbath!
“I know the feeling.”
When meditation is done correctly one can actually leave their body. I read somewhere that you’ve entered the fourth dimension while meditating?
“I’ve had three experiences in this lifetime of interdimensional world and it’s a beautiful experience because it wakes you up about life and makes you realize that there’s more to life than we see and understand. And I write about in some music. I’ve written a whole piece of music about that experience and one day it’ll come out timing is everything.”
In 1974 Yes’s seventh studio album called Relayer was released. In my mind the album stands out to be the most creative and inspirational albums on the planet. It’s almost like the five of you were from another galaxy far-far away.Of course Roger Dean had a lot to do with that perception.
“Gates of Delirium I wrote that on piano all the way through. And I took it to the band and I don’t play good piano so it must have sounded terrible but they understood what I was trying to get at you know.”
Was that piece inspired by Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace?
“Yea, it was a combination of the war as we understand it and where would we be can we live beyond war and then I had to jump in the real chaos and savagery of war in order to come out at the other end with soon oh soon the light to wake us up emotionally and spiritually you know."
What’s so great about the lyrics is that it touches people in so many ways. You can take the song and match them with your own trials and tribulations of life and it all makes so much sense. It’s like an explanation of what life is all about.
“It says the reason to be here and the reason to be here is the light.”
Relayer is such a magnificent album and I will always know that it is the best YES album of all time.
“It’s one of those albums that over the years when we performed that on stage it was such a tribute -laser beams happening and then thunder and lightning going on stage and then all of a sudden it calms right down and I’d walk to the front with a guitar and just sing soon oh soon the light and I was on another planet. I use to go through this like an exorcism in the middle of the war I was screaming and shouting and banging and crashing I was doing all sorts on stage trying to evoke something very-very ancient it was a powerful moment. I believed that I was finding the truth.”
What were some of your favorite works?
“I think they all got something in them you know. Fragile, Close to the Edge, Topographic, Gates of Delirium, Awaken that whole period was such an incredible adventure and obviously 90125 was a totally different world and the last album we did Magnification I love very much. But like you say the Relayer was like sort of the kingpin of the 70’s can we stand and keep going yes we can you know.”
Who actually named the band YES?
“The original band was called Mabel Greer’s Toy Shop. Yea Chris’s (Chris Squire) band was called that so I joined with Bill( Bill Bruford original YES drummer) after the drummer left and the keyboard player left in the first week because they had better gigs so I said right to Chris listen we’ve got to shorten the name. So Peter Banks (YES Original guitarist) came up with the name YES. I came up with LIFE and Chris came up with WORLD and then he said, “Why don’t we call ourselves YES?” and we all said, “The Yes?” And he said, No-no just YES.” Then we all said, “YES that’s great!” Yea those were wild and beautiful times.”
Do you have a good story from that wild and beautiful time?
“Aw there’s so many you know. I remember me Howe and Rick getting on the plane but we had a couple of drinks and in those days you could smoke a joint in the airport because nobody cared anyway it was ’71 or ’72 around that time. So we’re happy and on the plane and the captain says we’ll be landing in Chicago in an hour’s time and we said, “Hey wait a minute we’re supposed to be going to Philadelphia.” So Rick stood up and said, “Excuse me can you turn the plane around.”
“And we all looked at him and okay so we got there a quarter of an hour before the show in Philadelphia so we had to get on a different plane when we got to Chicago but that whole moment when Rick stood up and shouted “Can you turn the plane around?” He was serious."
Bands like Yes, Pink Floyd and Jethro Tull never had a string of top 40 hits but were still selling out stadiums. Although YES had Owner of a Lonely Heart and Roundabout as Top 40 radio hits. Were you ever pressured to put out something commercially that would be played on the radio?
“It would happen every so often and that’s when I would leave the situation every eight or ten years or so when it became more of a corporate idea and a record company idea to make an album because we need a hit. And I’d say, “I think I’ve got to get out of here.” I’d go up and do Vangelis or go off and do other things because I don’t want to chase that dream because if it happens great if it doesn’t get on with great music and new ideas.”
Jon I want to close with a statement.I’d like to say for all the YES faithful like myself throughout the ages, Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your inspirational lyrics and soothing voice of calm that reached into our very souls. With messages that remind us that everything is going to be okay.
Jon thank you so much, it’s been a real pleasure.
“Thank you so much.”
Good luck man
I want to thank Billy James of Glass Onyon PR for arranging a very special day with Jon Anderson.
Stay in informed with all the latest Jon Anderson news at http://www.jonanderson.com/
You can purchase Jon and Rick Wakeman's album The Living Tree and Anderson’s latest solo creation Survival & Other Stories at Amazon .com.
And don't forget to order author Ray Shasho’s new book called Check the Gs -The True Story of an Eclectic American Family and Their Wacky Family Business today at http://rayshasho.com/
It’s My Big Fat Greek Wedding MEETS Almost Famous MEETS Seinfeld! You’ll live it!
Contact Ray Shasho at firstname.lastname@example.org
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