Ex-Yes Singer Jon Anderson: Fond Memories of Houston's "Space Dome"
Photo by Deborah Anderson
When Jon Anderson brings his solo show to Houston Monday, the set list will run the gamut of his career honing in on five decades. The most recognizable songs, of course, will come from his lengthy service as the lead vocalist of Yes -- material like "Long Distance Runaround," "Roundabout," "I've Seen All Good People" and "Owner of a Lonely Heart."
And while Anderson is estranged from the group -- he last performed with them a decade ago, and a bad patch of vocal-health problems later led to his dismissal -- he hasn't let it stop his creativity.
"I'm making new music all the time," he says, ticking off a list of projects and collaborations filling his plate these days. A 22-minute suite, Open, was released as a digital download in 2011. Interestingly for one of the leading lights of "progressive rock" music, much of his work is being created with the help of the Internet. It allows him to collaborate with other artists he has never laid eyes on.
"The other day, I was singing on this track from a composer in Italy, and now we've done four songs together. I made another track and sent it to a friend on the internet, and now we're talking about putting a band together this summer," he offers.
"And I was in Iceland two months ago with a guy I've known on the internet for four years. I sang with his band a small orchestra. It was magic! There's so much music, it kind of drives me crazy most of the time!"
Photo by Robin Kauffman/Glass Onyon PR
Anderson also sees the Internet as his preferred way to release music now. "I'm just trying to figure out a better way to get the music out there than making a CD or having a contract," he admits.
"I'm also trying to create an app where fans can have a new song from me every week or two weeks," continues Anderson. "That's a lot quicker than going through a record deal or making a video. We're just living in a different world now. You can work with musicians at their home or on a laptop. The world has become a studio!"
And that's a world where a band like Yes -- prog-rock kings known for long song suites, mystical themes and shifting time signatures -- might not have a chance in hell of success if they appeared today.
"The band was brilliant for five or six years," Anderson recalls. "But then everybody had a life and it became difficult for us to get in the same place at the same time. And we had a [changing lineup]. Sometimes the albums were a little lopsided. But that's music and that's life."
What surprised even the members of Yes was the amazing career resurgence they had with 1983's 90125. The album produced three catchy hit singles -- "Owner of a Lonely Heart," "Leave It," and "It Can Happen," with a smaller success for "Hold On."
While other classic-rock contemporaries were sometimes struggling with adapting to a video age, Yes embraced the medium. And MTV embraced the innovative videos, putting them in heavy rotation, especially the creepy clip for "Owner."
MTV showed the edited clip, but the full-length version with prologue is even more bizarre, featuring a prologue and band members shape-shifting into animals.
"We had a great time touring around the world and being No. 1," Anderson says. "It was a wonderful and unexpected experience."
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Though he adds that while he wanted to take the band back more to its prog-rock sound with follow-up Big Generator, others in the group wanted to continue the more commercial sound blazed by 90125 producer Trevor Horn and guitarist Trevor Rabin.
Creative differences, personnel battles, a lengthy recording process (and producer switching), and shifting musical taste plagued the follow-up. It produced a minor hit in "Rhythm of Love."
As to the term "prog rock" to describe his music, Anderson says that the term is "kind of OK" and it "doesn't bother him," but notes that it's limiting.
"I do creative progressive music, but I've also worked with symphonies and operas and even rap and hip-hop," he says.
Jon Anderson's creative endeavors aren't limited to music. He is also a painter (this is his "Tuscany") and fiction writer.
Of his non-Yes collaborators, he has high praise for the records he's made with Vangelis. Though best known for his frequently used and oft-parodied instrumental theme to the movie Chariots of Fire, the Greek musician has deep-cut classic-rock cred as a creative force behind the late-'60s/early-'70s group Aphrodite's Child. The two have made five albums together to date.
"Vangelis is a very spontaneous artist," Anderson says. "Recording an album with him might take two weeks. With Yes, it took us two weeks just to set up the equipment!"
Having toured all over the world for decades, Anderson can be forgiven if he doesn't have any specific memories of Houston as a city. Though he does recall a memorable gig here -- even if he gets the name of the venue wrong.
"I played Houston in the early '70s with the Mahavishnu Orchestra," he remembers. "It was at this giant dome. What did they call it? 'The Space Dome?' I do remember it was like all peace and love...but very echoey."
Jon Anderson plays Dosey Doe, 25911 I-45 N., 8 p.m. Monday, February 24.
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