Hall of Fame frontman of Yes releases solo album 30 years in the making

Jon Anderson
Inductee Jon Anderson from the band Yes, left, and Geddy Lee from the band Rush perform at the 2017 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony at the Barclays Center on Friday, April 7, 2017, in New York. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)
WTOP's Jason Fraley highlights Yes frontman Jon Anderson

His progressive rock band Yes entered the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2017, alongside a class of Joan Baez, Electric Light Orchestra, Journey, Pearl Jam and Tupac Shakur.

This Friday, frontman Jon Anderson releases his brand new solo album “1,000 Hands.”

“[It’s] how many people I’ve known in my lifetime that influenced me,” Anderson told WTOP. “When we started finishing the album … producer Michael Franklin said, ‘Why don’t you call it ‘1,000 Hands?’ It means a lot in China.’ I said, ‘That sounds pretty cool.'”

The album is a passion project that has been in the works for nearly 30 years with the help of Brian Chapman, who was in Anderson’s first band The Warriors in the 1960s.

“He just happened to be in L.A. at the same time as me, so I asked him to write some music for me,” Anderson said. “He gave me a cassette of ideas he had, and I went up to Big Bear, which is southeast of L.A., it’s a big ski resort. I went up there just to relax and get away from the world. I had a 16-track recorder, so I started writing these songs.”

Soon, Chapman, Keith Hefner and Gary Barlow joined for a Big Bear recording session.

“We just hung around and did some great tracks,” Anderson said. “Then, I had to go on tour in 1991 … with Kitarō, a famous Japanese composer, and Brian Chapman went on tour with B.B. King, so everybody split up for a long time. We didn’t realize it was going to take 28 years for us to start putting the album back together.”

Thankfully, Franklin reached back out recently to finally finish the album.

“[Franklin] said, ‘I want those tapes that you have from Big Bear,'” Anderson said. “I said, ‘Oh gosh, I have them in my garage. I’ll send them to you.’ These are big, 24-track tapes. You have to put them in the oven and bake them! … I said, ‘Hey, this sounds great. All we need to do is put some really talented people on and it’ll make it really good.'”

The album features a range of styles from acoustic ballads (“Now and Again”) to funk grooves (“Makes Me Happy”) to reggae pop (“First Born Leaders”). The lattermost single is a transcendent piece that speaks to humanity’s next phase of social enlightenment.

“It reminds me of the ’60s when I really was a hippie — still am,” Anderson said. “The world was changing so drastically in the ’60s, just like it is now in 2020. … So, the song ‘First Born Leaders’ are the people that really woke up in the ’60s. … We are the first born leaders of a higher principle of life, a love of life, make love not war, things like that.”

Born in England in 1944, Anderson grew up listening to early precursors of rock ‘n roll.

“When I was a kid growing up, I was listening to big band of the ’40s, then in the ’50s we had this thing called skiffle, which actually was American-born early rock ‘n’ roll. … Me and my brother Tony [would] sing all of the Everly Brothers songs. He would sing Elvis.”

His life-changing moment came when he and Tony rode their motorbike to go see The Beatles in Southport, about 20 miles north of Liverpool, before Beatlemania exploded.

“They just had the single ‘Love Me Do’ on the radio,” Anderson said. “There wasn’t any screaming until the end of each song, so you could actually hear the band. … Months later, we went to see them again in a local town near Manchester and we couldn’t hear them because everybody was screaming. … From that moment, I wanted to be a Beatle.”

Anderson had the natural gift of an above-tenor voice, which he uniquely warms up.

“I have this energy to sing every morning,” Anderson said. “It’s sort of chanting in a way. It comes from a video I saw years ago by these pygmies in West Africa when they go out hunting and foraging, they just sing [and] insects and birds sing along with them.”

Indeed, Anderson had a rare work ethic that wasn’t shared by his early bandmates.

“The Warriors were on tour in Germany and the guys in the band wouldn’t get out of bed to rehearse,” Anderson said. “I had some crazy ideas to do musically, so they kept telling me to go away. ‘Go away, Jon,’ every morning, so I said, ‘OK,’ and I packed up my bags.”

Landing in London, he began working at the Marquee Club, which hosted The Who, The Small Faces and Jimi Hendrix. It’s there that he met future Yes bassist Chris Squire.

“One day, the owner of the bar said, ‘You’ve been looking for a band. There’s a guy over there looking for a singer,'” Anderson said. “It was Chris Squire and he had a band called Mabel Greer’s Toyshop. I said, ‘The name’s a little too long for me. We should be called something short. Eventually we called ourselves Yes.”

Yes also included guitarist Peter Banks, keyboardist Tony Kaye and drummer Bill Bruford.

“We started rehearsing ideas,” Anderson said. “We actually did a couple of songs from ‘West Side Story,’ but we jazzed them up, a rock ‘n’ roll jazz fusion. … So we developed our style over a period of about three years before we really hit the big time with ‘Roundabout,’ which was our third album. … That was the song that really helped us.”

Indeed, “Roundabout” reached No. 13 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1972.

“We were in Scotland [and] the road down to Glasgow was this beautiful ride, just a two-lane roadway,” Anderson said. “There must have been about 25 roundabouts on the way down and it was a 200-mile trip. … That was the idea of the song and we wrote most of it on the way to Glasgow and we recorded it two days later in London. It’s kind of amazing.”

In 1983, the band went all the way to No. 1 with its most iconic hit “Owner of a Lonely Heart,” the demo of which Anderson first heard sitting in Squire’s Rolls-Royce in London.

“He played me these tapes,” Anderson said. “I said, ‘This is a great album, Chris, I gotta go.’ He said, ‘No, no, no. Would you be interested to sing on it?’ I said, ‘Well, yeah, but I think this song ‘Owner of a Lonely Heart,’ the chorus is great, but the song is a bit boring. Why don’t we just do a staccato like, ‘Move yourself! Get on with your life! Come on!'”

His most underrated record is “Hold Onto Love,” featuring the session musicians of Toto and songwriter Lamont Dozier of the famous Motown stable Holland-Dozier-Holland.

“It was a really, really good album,” Anderson said. “We wrote two or three songs one afternoon at his house in the valley in L.A. and one of them was ‘Hold Onto Love.’ I thought, ‘This is a hit record.’ … It never was, except it was a big hit record in Quebec.”

In 2017, the band was finally inducted in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2017.

“It was a lot of fun,” Anderson said. “I did shake a lot of hands. It was incredible.”

Anderson will perform a livestream event this Sunday at 3 p.m. Eastern.

WTOP's Jason Fraley chats with Jon Anderson (Full Interview)

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