Jon Anderson on His New Solo Album, Why He’s Ready for a Yes Reunion
Twenty-nine years ago, Yes lead singer Jon Anderson abandoned a half-finished solo album called Uzlot that he’d been been recording in Big Bear, California, with his bandmates Chris Squire and Alan White. Yes were gearing up for a massive reunion tour and he simply put the master tapes in his garage and gave them very little thought as the years started racing by. But just a couple of years ago, producer Michael Franklin reached out to Anderson to see if he’d let him take the tapes and finish the album. “I told him, ‘OK,'” says Anderson. “‘Go for it.'”
The final product is 1,000 Hands, which comes out March 31st. As the new title suggests, the album was created with a stunning array of guest performers, including Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson, Journey keyboardist Jonathan Cain, Vanilla Fudge drummer Carmine Appice, Rick Derringer, the Tower of Power horn section, violinist Jean-Luc Ponty and pianist Chick Corea. Franklin blended their contributions into the original 1990 recordings with Anderson, Squire and White to create a seamless album that sounds like it was all recorded at the same time. “He did all of it behind my back,” says Anderson. “When he told me he was getting Chick Corea, I couldn’t believe it. But then it was like, boom! He came in and made me sound better. The whole thing was like, ‘Surprise! Surprise!'”
The most intriguing guest musician on 1,000 Hands is Yes guitarist Steve Howe, who plays on the track “Now and Again.” The former bandmates played two songs together when they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2017, but haven’t come together for anything else since Yes began touring with a new frontman in 2008. “I just called him up and he said he’d love to play on it,” says Anderson. “I haven’t sang with him in many, many years. It felt really comfortable and cathartic to do that. We’re brothers. Sometimes you don’t understand or misunderstand your brother and want to do different things. I think that is called a family.”
The tensions between the two former bandmates may be reduced now that Anderson’s offshoot band Yes Featuring Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin and Rick Wakeman is on indefinite hiatus. They began touring in 2016 and caused great confusion in the marketplace since there were essentially two lineups of the band on the road at once, but Anderson’s version of Yes hasn’t played since September and have no future plans to tour or record.
When pressed, Anderson is a little vague on what exactly happened. “We had a good couple of years,” he says. “Onstage we were just in it, killing it every show. It was magic. But there was, dare I say it, mismanagement of the situation. I love the guys. We’re musical brothers. I just thought, ‘I need to breathe.’ I couldn’t breathe towards the end. It felt like too much weight on me. Also, there was too much of, ‘Should we do an album?’ We couldn’t agree on that. As soon as I said I didn’t want to tour this year and just make my own album, I could finally breathe again.”
Right now, Anderson’s energies are on his upcoming solo tour. It kicks off March 29th in Lynn, Massachusetts, and will keep him on the road through the end of the summer. That band will include producer Michael Franklin as the keyboardist and musical director, his brother Tim Franklin on bass, drummer Matt Brown, guitarist Tommy Carlton, violinist Jocelyn Hsu, percussionist Steady Joseph, keyboardist Antonio Esposito and saxophonist Chris Charles.
They’re still working on the set list, but Anderson says it will be roughly a third songs from 1,000 Hands, a third Yes classics and a third material from other parts of his long history. As far as the Yes songs, he says they will likely do “Owner of a Lonely Heart,” “Yours Is No Disgrace,” “Roundabout” and “Sweet Dreams.” “We rehearsed ‘Yours Is No Disgrace’ recently and it was just padding along,” says Anderson. “I said to the keyboard player, ‘You’ve got that trombone there. Why don’t you play that? And some saxophone! C’mon!’ And they got into it. We’ve got a big-band thing going. I think the best band in the world is the Saturday Night Live band and that’s what we started sounding like. ‘Roundabout’ has this wailing sax on it now.”
But now that Yes Featuring ARW is on indefinite hiatus and there’s been a detente between Anderson and Howe, might they team up for some sort of reunion once his solo tour ends? “I’m very open to it,” says Anderson. “It’s been 50 years now. You think something has got to happen. To me, a great album has to be made. That’s what I think. I don’t know how it’s going to be made, but the final Yes event should happen. I’ve talked to a couple of people about it and they get it. I really want to do this. I’ve even written eight songs for the record that I’m thinking would work with a full orchestra and a choir.”
Is Steve Howe into this idea? “I don’t know,” says Anderson with a sigh. “Maybe he’ll read this article and say ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’ I don’t know.” Steve, the ball is in your court.