‘I’ve only got myself to argue with now’: Jon Anderson is at peace, even as Yes begins latest tour without him

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As Yes prepares to kick off a new tour featuring performances of three classic albums, departed co-founding frontman Jon Anderson wonders what might have been. See, he was the one who first floated the concept.

“It’s a good idea,” Anderson tells us, in an exclusive SER Sitdown. “I actually talked about doing that, a couple of times before.”

Yes begins this new tour, featuring complete readings of 1977’s Going for the One, 1972’s Close to the Edge and 1971’s The Yes Album, on Friday, March 1, 2013, with dates continuing through May across the U.S. and into South America. Anderson co-wrote and sang on all three albums.

“I put forward that idea about 10 years ago, that we should do something very special,” Anderson said. “I wanted to call it The Yes Festival. We would stay in one area, and Friday, Saturday and Sunday we’d play an album or two per night. We’d play over a period of time, and invite people to come — sort of like a Yes camp. I’d do the barbeque! (Laughs.) They thought I was out of my brain! But fans could spend that time with the band. We could do solo performances, then do a big concert. We could create a festival atmosphere. But you talk about stuff like that, because you are itching to do something different.”

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: Jon Anderson talked to us earlier this year about his remarkable creative resurgence since leaving Yes, and what’s ahead for him musically in 2013.]

By 2007, Anderson had begun to suffer some respiratory problems, and split with Yes after 18 studio albums. He’d last performed live with the band in 2004.

“They’re carrying on,” Anderson says. “Fans have lost interest in the whole concept, anyway. It’s what it is. It’s going to go the way it’s going to go — that’s really all I can say. I think a lot of people are just disappointed, like I was, that it’s lost that impetus that made Yes music so beautiful and different.”

Canadian singer Benoit David initially succeeded Anderson in Yes, but he too was felled by respiratory issues. David has since been replaced by Jon Davison, who also fronts the American progressive-rock band Glass Hammer.

“I haven’t heard him singing,” Anderson says of Davison. “I heard Benoit when someone sent me a link on YouTube, and he was singing pretty good. He’s a good singer, but he was having a tough time after a year on the road. Singers, it’s a very physical thing, and they are the most affected by long touring. It happened to me two or three times, where I got pretty ill. Of course, Benoit didn’t last too long. This guy Jon, who’s in the band now, he obviously likes Yes, too. Both of them like the singing, and the songs that I wrote. They say that when someone copies you, it’s the sincerest form of flattery.”

Anderson says he’s made overtures about joining the Yes fold again, since getting his health back. His only condition, Anderson says, was that classic-era keyboardist Rick Wakeman return as well. Bassist Chris Squire and guitarist Steve Howe, Anderson adds, weren’t interested.

“Chris and Steve like to have control of things. That’s what they want to do,” Anderson says. “I’ve said two or three times, I’d love to get back together — as long as Rick is back in the band. They don’t seem to be hearing that, at the moment. Maybe, one day it will happen. We’ll see.”

Anderson remains close with Wakeman, who was part of both the original Close to the Edge and Going for the One sessions. The duo has issued two albums together since 2010, one a studio effort and the other a live release. More combined concert dates with Wakeman could be in the offing, perhaps as early as this spring.

“He’s going to be in Australia two weeks before I go to Australia, in April, so we’re talking about maybe linking up, and doing some shows in that area,” Anderson says. “We’re also talking about some new music we want to do together. It’s just finding the right time, as always.”

Ultimately, Anderson has found peace as a solo artist, something that’s borne out in the flurry of activity that’s followed his departure from Yes.

“I’ve only got myself to argue with now, so I’m happy,” Anderson says, laughing.

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Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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