“I have so many things that I want to explore over the next 30 years,” says Jon Anderson, with an enthusiasm infectious enough to warrant alerting the CDC. “I’m gonna go when I’m 103, I decided. I think I’ll be ready,” he laughs. He’ll be 75 this year, so his math is off a bit, but what spoilsport would want to corrupt the Yes frontman’s microcosm of positivity with such prosaic concerns?
The latest project stoking Anderson’s irrepressible excitement is 1000 Hands, his first solo album since he started flying the Yes flag again with old comrades Rick Wakeman and Trevor Rabin in 2016. But the record, out on March 31, actually began nearly three decades ago.
“Twenty-eight years ago I was up in Big Bear near L.A. with some friends,” relates the prog godfather, “I had an eight-track recording system, and I started writing songs, and I really enjoyed them. Then for different reasons — I actually went on tour with Kitaro, and I had other things happen over a period of six months — we never really got ’round to finishing it. So I just put the tapes in my garage. Not that I forgot about it, but life takes over when you least expect.”
Today, Billboard is premiering the “Ramalama” video from 1000 Hands exclusively below.
The recordings, which included contributions from Yes rhythm section Chris Squire and Alan White, popped up again a couple of years ago when one of the production’s original investors broached the idea of revisiting them. Anderson began working with producer Michael Franklin on finishing the record at last. Soon Franklin rocketed things to another level by drafting a jaw-dropping assemblage of guests.
Imagine Ian Anderson, Steve Howe, Jean-Luc Ponty, Billy Cobham, Chick Corea, Pat Travers, Zap Mama, Steve Morse, Rick Derringer, Larry Coryell and Tower of Power’s horn section (not to mention Squire and White) appearing together on one album. Then rouse yourself from your reverie, because what would have seemed like a record geek’s fever dream has become a reality with 1000 Hands.
The album’s regal roll call was assembled by a gloriously overachieving Franklin with some artists enlisted at Anderson’s behest and some on his own initiative. “When he put these really marvelous musicians on,” rhapsodizes Anderson, “the whole thing sort of opened up. You get something you could never believe. I suggested Billy Cobham because I remember Billy with the Mahavishnu Orchestra, and we became friends many years ago. I’m a big fan of Chick Corea like a million other people. Ian Anderson, of course, we started off together. Our first [Yes] tour in America was with Jethro Tull, and I learned so much from Ian. And Jean-Luc Ponty, who I worked with a couple of years ago [in the Anderson Ponty Band], is like another musical brother from a different mother.”
When Corea, Ponty, Cobham and Coryell join in on the track “Come Up,” the fusion giants mix their jazzy licks with Anderson’s prog-rock sensibilities for an eight-and-a-half minute tour de force. Corea’s sunshower of a piano solo opens the tune. “The guy just walks in and plays that,” marvels Anderson unabashedly, “and my head just went [imitates explosion] you know, wow. The same with Billy…you’ve got a master of drums playing, and it just opens it up. And then Jean-Luc Ponty plays in the middle, and it just makes it really shine. Chick Corea, he just came in and played, I don’t think he knew anything about [the track], he just said, ‘Okay, run the tape,’ and he just played. He’s a natural maestro of the piano.”
Steve Howe adds lyrical classical-guitar filigrees to the album’s closing cut, the delicate, acoustic ballad “Now and Again.” The track marks the first time Anderson and his former bandmate have recorded together since the great schism that ultimately resulted in two versions of Yes: Howe’s band and the Anderson/Rabin/Wakeman model. “It was very refreshing to sing with him again,” says Anderson. “We went through so much together, we wrote a lot of great music together.” The singer is characteristically philosophical about his fractious relationship with the “other” Yes. “In life sometimes you’re very close with somebody and sometimes you’re not,” he muses, “like a brother. Sometimes you know each other so well, you live with each other musically, and then sometimes it’s just not working.”
Despite his current spate of solo activity, Anderson seems enthusiastic when queried about picking up the Yes banner with Wakeman and Rabin again at some point. “I think so,” he ventures. “Working with them was like rejuvenation. I’m 75 this year and I keep saying, ‘Hey, you only live once in this lifetime.’ Yeah, more than likely, maybe next year, the year after. I’ve always said it would be nice to do a Yestival and get everybody together on stage, that’s like a magic wand [required] to make that happen, but you never know in this life.”
While Anderson has blown the minds of multiple generations with metaphysical lyrics encompassing all manner of cosmic commentary, some of 1000 Hands finds the veteran starship trooper processing both the personal and the political into his worldview. On “Activate,” Anderson repeatedly invokes the numbers of fictional propositions because “I kept seeing these posters in people’s gardens, ‘Proposition 23, vote now,’ proposition this, proposition that… so I started writing along the principle that Proposition 35-42 is to realize that everything begins and ends with you, which is very true. Because you have your own vision of the world, you are unique. We’re all connected of course, because we all have a soul, and the soul is a very musical energy. So ‘Come Up’ is about coming up to your higher being, your higher self. We all strive for that anyway… Then you look at the world stage and you wonder, ‘Why the hell can’t grownup people learn to understand each other?'”
Of course, Anderson has been advocating Aquarian ideals of peace, love and higher consciousness since Yes started in the late ’60s. But in 2019’s sociopolitical landscape, his unflagging adherence to those values just makes you want to give the guy a hug. Remembering the less ethereal beginnings of his journey towards enlightenment, he confesses, “I went through the ’60s maybe taking too many drugs and wanting to be a Beatle like a million other singers. And then I had a sort of awakening right before I went to London. Then I started the band with Chris [Squire]. I had a sort of mental awakening in Munich, and I started hearing so much music, a sort of door opened to the vast potential of music. I had so many ideas it used to drive everybody crazy. But we made some beautiful music.”
Today, the septuagenarian singer feels he’s in “Exactly the same place, it’s bizarre, music is really timeless anyway. I still feel the same way about my music, my lyrical content in my head, about striving for a better understanding of life and the spirituality of the world, connected to the earth mother and everything like that. I’m still there in the same place really.”
Anderson must be living right, because his airy Accrington tenor, which has inspired countless prog disciples to overdose on helium in futile imitation, seems as unaffected by time as his spiritual sensibilities.
“Just generally waking up wanting to sing helps,” assesses Anderson of his ongoing vocal strength. “Keeping myself as fit as I can. At the moment I’ve got so many projects in the mix, and that keeps me youthful, because I realize there’s so much to be done. To me that’s the great work, and that’s what I’m investing my whole energy into, as well as my love for my family of course — my children and grandchildren and my wife Jane. And these kinds of things keep everything going.”
Anderson, who did overcome some major health problems affecting his voice several years ago, readily admits modern science is part of the equation as well. “When you get to my age,” he says, “you get a lot of vitamin pills. I have about eight in the morning, six in the afternoon.”
Many would be satisfied to lounge comfortably atop their back catalog if it contained as many classics as Anderson’s oeuvre, but after more than 50 years of record making, he seems almost pathologically compelled to keep pushing forward. “I always say — I know it sounds crazy — all the great stuff is happening now,” he insists. “In my mind I have to think that, because you don’t go into a studio saying, ‘Oh I’m gonna make an album, it’s not gonna be half as good as any album I’ve done.’ You’ve always gotta think you’re gonna do something very spectacular now.”
3/29/2019 – Lynn, MA – Lynn Auditorium
3/31/2019 – Cleveland, OH – Hard Rock Rocksino
4/1/2019 – Annapolis, MD – Maryland Creative Arts Center
4/3/2019 – Ridgefield, CT – Ridgefield Playhouse
4/4/2019 – Englewood, NJ – Bergen PAC
4/6/2019 – Collingswood, NJ – Scottish Rite Auditorium
4/7/2019 – Derry, NH – Tupelo Music Hall
4/9/2019 – Reading, PA – Santander PAC
4/11/2019 – St. Charles, IL – Arcada Theatre
4/12/2019 – Waukegan, IL – Genesee Theatre
4/14/2019 – Munhall, PA – Carnegie of Homestead Music Hall
4/15/2019 – Wilkes-Barre, PA – F.M. Kirby Center
4/19/2019 – Milwaukee, WI – Marcus Center for the Performing Arts
4/20/2019 – St. Paul, MN – Fitzgerald Theatre
4/23/2019 – Tucson, AZ – Fox Tucson Theatre
4/24/2019 – San Diego, CA – Humphreys Concerts by the Bay
4/26/2019 – Beverly Hills, CA – Saban Theatre
4/27/2019 – Las Vegas, NV – Cannery Casino
4/30/2019 – Phoenix, AZ – Van Buren
5/6/2019 – Nashville, TN – Ryman Auditorium
5/8/2019 – Clearwater, FL – Capitol Theatre
5/10/2019 – Orlando, FL – Dr. Phillips Center
5/11/2019 – Biloxi, MS – Beau Rivage Casino
5/12/2019 – Arlington, TX – Kaboo Dallas