5 Questions with former Yes singer Jon Anderson, who is Touring Solo
Anderson brings an artistic solo show to the Rio Theatre June 21.
By Brad Kava
With the band Yes, singer Jon Anderson has sold more than 50 million discs since the late 1960s and his band’s following has been so passionate, it has been written about as a religion.
Along with Pink Floyd and King Crimson, Yes is one of the cornerstones of progressive rock, a genre that infused classical and operatic sensibilities with rock. It told stories in long, elegaic songs miles and light years away from the three-minute singles that were the mainstay of popular radio, but not that far from what bands such as the Beatles tried in concept albums like Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
For Yes fans it’s tragic that the band hasn’t been recognized by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which seems as predictable and slavish to fashion as the earlier stone-walled museums it tried not to be.
Anderson has left the band he co-founded and plays a rare Santa Cruz show June 21 at the Rio Theatre. Yes, meanwhile, goes on without him, using a singer from a Yes tribute band when it appears in San Jose August 14.
Anderson’s show includes classic Yes material, new songs and stories told from five decades on the road. He’s still working and constantly recording; he most recently released a beautiful single called Limitless Lives with Italian composter Marco Sabiu.
Anderson took some questions by phone from his home near San Luis Obispo, a place he fell in love with on a car trip.
Why aren’t you touring with Yes?
I got very sick, as you know (he suffered acute respiratory failure) and they wanted to go off and keep making money and keep touring. They got a young Canadian singer who looked and sang like me. Then that didn’t work and they got another one. After a year and a half they are just out there. It’s not the best thing in the world for the legacy.
They are doing their thing. They love being on the road, but there’s more to life than that kind of work. It’s not really very healthy.
Why are you playing solo?
I still believe in the music, Yes music. Bands split up. The Beatles split up and that really pissed me off. It’s disappointing as a real fan. I feel a bit of a heartache, but you get on with your life.
I’m 67 this year. I’ve toured and toured and toured and toured with Yes. This solo tour is more like a holiday. It’s fun just putting on a good show. I play guitar, ukelele, dulcimer and I’ll be selling a small amount of open painted jeweled cases, six per show. I love creating art work.
Are you still living in San Luis Obispo?
I live south of there. I’ve been living here nearly 15 years. I’m an American citizen now. I’m always in my studio working. I finished a dozen songs with a friend in L.A. I’m working on an album with Rick (Wakeman, Yes’s keyboardist, who has also left the band).
What about your new song, Open, a symphonic-style piece with orchestral instruments that reminds me of Tales from Topographic Oceans?
It’s a 20-minute piece of music that I started last spring and wanted to put out on my birthday (Oct. 24). People like it. Music is more than just having a hit record or being on TV. Music is more powerful than everything. I’ll play some of it in concert. I wrote it on acoustic guitar. (You can get it here, or on iTunes.)
Why isn’t Yes in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?
I just don’t think the people in charge – I was there last year doing a show and I got on very well with them – they just don’t recognize Yes as being very important. Maybe in 10 years time they will and we’ll all get together.