Yes vocalist Jon Anderson was in a creative place nearly 30 years ago, holed up in an A-frame house in Big Bear, California, writing and recording songs. He readily admits that his beautiful surroundings, provided a lot of musical inspiration.
“Every morning I went up to the ski resort and skied at nine o’clock in the morning. I got to know the people that ran the ski resort,” Anderson recalls in a recent phone call. “They played in this bar where I went the first night that I was there, and they were singing Eagles songs.”
Sharing a drink with the musicians, he conversed with them and invited them back to the A-frame to write some songs.
“I said to them, ‘Is this what you do? You gig?’ They said, ‘Oh no, we run the ski resort,’” he says with a laugh. “They were just having fun on stage.”
Making good on his invitation, Anderson and the band members did wind up going back to the house and their time together was productive.
“We actually made a record. But I can’t release it yet,” he chuckles. “It’s a little bit sort of left field. It’s mountain music. It’s happy crazy stuff. But we’ve kept up our friendship throughout the years. It’s amazing.”
While those songs remain in Anderson’s vault presently, fans can finally hear a full album of other music that emerged during that same time period.
The prolific songwriter put down a lot of material to tape, working at times with his Yes bandmates Chris Squire and Alan White on bass and drums respectively, along with other guests. The album, initially titled Uzlot
(which means “a lot of us”), went unfinished at the time.
Anderson moved onto other projects and the session tapes sat in a corner of his garage until the past few years when producer Michael Franklin reached out and floated the idea of finishing off the tracks.
“He just nailed it when he started bringing people in to perform on the tracks,” Anderson says. “Within six months, we had some people that I couldn’t believe that he’d found like Zap Mama, Billy Cobham, Jean-Luc Ponty and then to cap it off a couple months ago, it was Chick Corea. I said, ‘This could go on forever.’ [Laughs] It’s magical how people are very connected throughout life and then realize that we can still want to work for each other. The last thing was Steve Howe playing on the last track [“Now and Again”] and then me being able to sing with him, which I haven’t done for 20-some years. Life is like that sometimes. You know, what goes around, swings around and goes around.”
Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson, Deep Purple’s Steve Morse, the Tower of Power horn section, Journey keyboardist Jonathan Cain, guitarists Rick Derringer and Pat Travers, and bassist Stu Hamm are just a few of the many musicians who stepped in to help [Michael] Franklin and Anderson complete the album, which is being released this week with the title 1,000 Hands: Chapter One
“I always thought about the idea of 1,000 Hands
[as one] that represents all of the musicians who have made me who I am,” Anderson explains. “You know, the great musicians that I’ve worked with, some that I’ve dreamed of working with, some that created some of the greatest music in my life. Rodgers and Hammerstein, Sibelius, Stravinsky and so on.”
The songs themselves evolved in different ways. “Now,” which opens the album, unfolds progressively in several movements.
“We had 'Now' as a song and as a song, it didn’t really go too well. I said, 'Why don’t we just use the first verse in the beginning, the second verse in the middle [of the album] and make it more orchestrated?'” Anderson remembers. “And then maybe at the end, we could...and Michael [Franklin] said, ‘Ask Steve to play on it.’ I said, ‘Oh, okay.’ So, I emailed Steve and I said, ‘Would you mind playing on a piece of music?’ And he said, ‘I’d love to.’ He did and as soon as I heard him, I wanted to sing. So I just sang it one afternoon and sent it back to Michael Franklin, and I said, 'That’s going to be the end of the album.'”
“1000 Hands (Come Up)” stretches out close to nine minutes in length, a massive epic that spiritually brings to mind “Awaken” from Anderson’s historic body of work with Yes. The vocalist is joined by a slew of players on the track, including his late Yes bandmate Chris Squire on bass and the jazz fusion dream team of Billy Cobham on drums, Larry Coryell on guitar, Chick Corea on piano and Jean-Luc Ponty on violin with added vocals from Zap Mama and additional choral support on top of that.
Even though the initial songs began to take shape in 1990, the material and the lyrical themes sound fresh, with what Anderson terms as a “timeless” feeling that runs throughout the songs.
“At that time, I was just interested in making good music," says Anderson. "I realized that’s what I’ve always done. I make an album of music. I don’t make three radio songs and then fill it out with other stuff. I make albums of music. It’s just my experience of dreaming and listening to the Beatles. You know, the '60s changed my musical life, and it was because you could go and get an album of music, and it was full of experimental, adventurous stuff.”
In discussing the fresh collaboration with Howe, Anderson notes that, “It’s the end of the album and maybe the start to something big,” laughing softly.
During a conversation with Scene
in 2018, he said, “I’m planning something for 2020, which I keep dreaming about — that perfect Yes album, you know? But you never know.” When asked what that perfect Yes album would look like, he commented, “The top of the mountain.”
“True,” Anderson says now. “I’m still looking at it.”
He’s starting to take action on the idea and recently wrote eight songs with Yes in mind.
“To me, it was obvious when I spoke to a friend of mine, he just talked and said, ‘If you want me to help produce this Yes album, what would the songs be like?’ I said, ‘Well, I just happen to have a bunch of songs that I’ve sort of been messing around with.’ Some were done with Trevor [Rabin]; others were done with Rick [Wakeman]. But I was thinking [beyond that]. I was thinking, ‘All I need to do is get with Steve and who knows.’ It was very open ended. I just sent these seven or eight songs to my friend and he said, ‘These would make a great Yes album.’ So, I said, ‘Well, it will happen when it happens.’ I think my mantra has been like that for a year now. It will happen when it happens.”
For the moment, he’ll bring the songs from 1,000 Hands
to life on his current tour, which arrives at Hard Rock Live
on Sunday. Anderson and an eight-piece band led by producer Franklin will perform a career-spanning set that will mix songs from the new album with older solo tracks and Yes favorites.
Once Anderson and his band hit a break in the tour, he and Franklin have plans to continue working on additional material from the 1,000 Hands
“We’ve got virtually enough for the second chapter. That will be done this year sometime when we stop touring,” he says. “But it doesn’t matter, because if this album does what we hope it will do, people will wait another year before [the second volume] comes out, so we’re okay.”
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