Jon Anderson Of Yes
Legendary Progressive Rock band Yes has been eligible for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame since 1994. However, they’ve actually only been on the official ballot for the past three years. In April of 2017, their long-overdue induction will take place where they will finally take their rightful place among Rock’s elite as they will be enshrined into rock music’s hallowed hall situated on the balmy shores of Lake Erie.
Jon Anderson, co-founding member and legendary voice of Yes, recently chatted with us to discuss the upcoming ceremony, his career and future musical endeavors.
Greg Drugan: First, let me congratulate you and your band mates for your long overdue induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, it has been a long time coming.
Jon Anderson: Thank you.
GD: What meaning does the induction have for you?
JA: Actually it’s something I’ve never expected. I feel very proud to be a part of the Hall of Fame. I was there about three years ago doing a lunch-time session. I’ve actually been there a couple of times but that was years and years ago when it first started. To walk around after the show that I did, to walk around and see all these incredible sights of the hero’s of my musical life and now to be a part of it, it’s just an incredible vibe!
GD: It looks like everyone from Yes will be in attendance, now that Rick Wakeman has said that he’s on board; hopefully old friendships will be rekindled. Have you spoken to many of your band mates since the announcement?
JA: Not really, but I’m in contact with Trevor (Rabin) and Rick (Wakeman) because we are working on some new music as we speak and we are going on tour in March for some European shows then to Japan. So we’re going to get very strong about what we’re doing and that’s all we care about really.
GD: Are you going to be playing at the ceremony, and if so, have you thought about which songs you might play?
JA: I believe so. We’ve talked about doing “Roundabout,” “Owner of a Lonely Heart,” “All Good People” and “Rhythm of Love” I think. That’s kinda been the consensus and I think it will be a lot of fun.
GD: Have you kept any memorabilia or stage outfits over the years? If so, what pieces would you like to see displayed in the new exhibit at the Rock Hall?
JA: I’ve always had my harp that I’ve toured with for “Awaken” that I’ve had ready for induction if it ever it happened. I have a guitar that I wrote a few songs on, it’s a 10-string Portuguese sort of guitar. I have some clothes that I wore at some gigs many years ago. I have various things like tambourines and all sorts of stuff that I’ve kept in a box somewhere in my garage.
GD: Let’s take a look back on your career; who were some of your musical influences growing up?
JA: Oh gosh! There’s a list as long as my arm that could go on forever! My earliest recollection of music was (Sir Edward) Elgar which was classical music when I was a kid. Then I started listening to “Rebel Rouser” by Duane Eddy which was the first record that I bought. Buddy Holly, Little Richard and then Elvis Presley. My brother loved Elvis. I love the music of the ‘50s which I always have on Sirius radio in my car. That brings back so many memories of being a young teenager. Of course, me and my brother had a band in 1963 called The Warriors and we went and saw The Beatles when they just released “Love Me Do” and life changed for everybody! The ‘60s were an amazing time. You had R&B and Motown.
To walk around and see all of those people in the Hall of Fame and then to feel that you are a part of it. It’s funny because I walk around here and go shopping and people never say hello but maybe once or twice a month; now people are waving! Now I’m in the Hall of Fame, I must be important. (laughs).
GD: Well you’re very important! Growing up, what was the one album that had a big impact on you?
JA: There’s a couple. When my brother bought Elvis Presley’s first album Elvis Presley that was a big moment. The Everly Brothers album, we used to sing all of those songs when we were working on the farm. The next big album was Sgt. Pepper’s. All of The Beatles songs were perfect for that time and thank god for George Martin! What an extraordinary leap of faith musically. It was very progressive music. It had nothing to do with music of the past or even pop music of the past, it was about modern progressive music. Then of course you had Frank Zappa and the Beach Boys and all of the R&B people.
When I think about the story behind What’s Going On?, that album was put on the shelf for 18 months. Marvin Gaye must have been going crazy because the record company said “I don’t hear any hit records.” So for eighteen months it wasn’t released. That would drive anyone crazy! What an important album. Then of course Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life. These kind of things kinda happen every five years. It’s still happening now, I was mesmerized by Beyonce’s “Lemonade.” It’s unbelievable. I thought the best U2 album was the one that came out for free on iTunes, unbelievable songs, unbelievable! So there’s still good music coming out!
GD: I read that you are a self-taught musician; how did that come about and how many instruments do you play?
JA: Yeah, I can play anything but not that good! I can play well enough to compose. I’m actually composing right now on my computer, some piano concerto’s. I’m being helped by a young 21-year old guy who can actually score for an orchestra. He comes over here once a week so I’m working on that. I’m working on some new music with ARW. I’m keeping busy and keeping myself out of trouble!
GD: Was music something that you thought you would be doing for the rest of your life?
JA: No, you think that you start a band and you actually don’t think about the future, you are so in the moment. When Yes released Close to the Edge people would come up to me and say “This will still be around in ten years time” and I used to say “I don’t think so!” (laughs) You never know what’s going to happen next.
GD: You’ve been a pretty prolific writer throughout your career; from where have you drawn your inspiration?
JA: Well I think the idea is that the adventure of music is constant if you are very open. Working with Yes was an amazing experience. When I actually started working with Vangelis which was the opposite of Yes musically because we could write songs, two or three a day. We could write a song, play it, record it and be done. With Yes, it could take two or three days just to write a piece of music.
I work with different musicians for the adventure. Thankfully with the internet, the door is wide open. I work with people all over the world with different kinds of music. I’m downloading music right now from a friend who lives in L.A.
GD: If you were to introduce Yes to a younger generation of fans, to which album or albums would you have them listen?
JA: Definitely Fragile and Close to the Edge. Then Going for the One, 90125, Talk and the last one we did which was Magnification. Not too many people know about it but it is still a beautiful album. The interesting thing is, you don’t make music and say “It’s not very good but I think we’ll release it.” You always think you are doing great work. You make everything as best as you can do. You make music and you say “I hope somebody likes it.”
I just released an album this (past) year called Invention of Knowledge. I don’t know if you’ve heard it. It’s a beautiful album and it has classic Yes music. I wrote it with a guy out of Sweden called Roine Stolt. It’s worth listening to, it’s a beautiful album!
GD: I will check it out for sure! Do you have any other memories of Cleveland; did you ever stay at Swingo’s?
JA: Yes, I have so many memories! My favorite memory of Cleveland was that we just played in Pittsburgh and we had a private plane that flew into Cleveland. We got to the hotel and I got into the elevator with a group of musicians that were older than me.
I said, “Do you got a gig?”
They said, “Yeah, we’re playing with Elvis tomorrow.”
I said, “Elvis Presley?”
They said, “Yeah, we’re his band. He’s staying on the 13th floor.”
I said, “Elvis is in the hotel?”
It freaked me out! I got into my room and there was a knock at my door and there was this strange kinda hippy guy with glasses that said, “Hey man, I’m Elvis’ step-brother and he wants to meet you.”
I said, “It’s half past twelve, I’m tired and I have to go to bed.”
He said, “No, Elvis wants to meet you.”
I thought no, that’s bullshit, he doesn’t want to meet me, he’s Elvis Presley!
There was a knock an hour later and it’s the same guy and he said, “Elvis wants to meet you.”
It turns out to be true. It wasn’t that I was scared, but I would walk in and I wouldn't know what to say, I would just be standing there.
So I said, “Please send him my love, but I have to get back to bed.”
So I wake up the next morning and there was something under the door and it was a ledger from Elvis. It was a beautiful letter about being spiritual in his life and God and that music is a way to connect with God. It was written in such a lovely, childlike way. That’s my favorite memory of Cleveland.
GD: That's a great story! It would have been amazing if you would have got to meet him, but you did get something from him.
JA: I wouldn’t have been able to say anything! I would have just been standing there like an idiot! (laughs)
GD: Last fall you reunited with Trevor Rabin and Rick Wakeman for the ARW tour and you played an incredible show at the Goodyear Theater in Akron. Can we expect a tour this year in the States?
JA: I’m going on tour with Rick and Trevor. We have a great band and we’re having so much fun! Playing music that we wrote together and Yes music that we enjoy playing and new music. Musicians never sort of retire, except Bill Buford! I don’t know why he retired, I guess he just got bored with it all. But he should be there for the Hall of Fame. We’ll give him a tambourine and say “You play the tambourine Bill!” (laughs)
Yeah, we should be (playing the States). There’s talk of playing more dates in the summer time. There’s talk of playing festivals and we’re like “oh, ok.” At the moment we’re excited to do anything!
GD: I know that there has been talk of a 50th Anniversary tour with Yes in 2019. I say why wait? Let’s celebrate the music of Yes and launch a huge tour maybe this year or next year. Is that something that might happen?
JA: Well, I think it’s logical to do it. I think it’s a question of timing. You don’t want to do something just for the sake of doing it. If there is any chance for the principal people coming together and doing it for the right reason, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t happen.
GD: Jon, it's been a pleasure speaking with you and I look forward to seeing your induction into the Hall of Fame this April. I wish you nothing but the best!
JA: Thank you so much and take care of yourself!
Interview and photos by Greg Drugan
This interview first appeared in January, 2017 at NEO Music Scene.