With his legendary singing voice, former Yes bandleader Jon Anderson hasn’t had difficulty attracting guest performers to his inventive solo catalog.
It began with 1975’s “Olias of Sunhillow” and continues through “1000 Hands,” his most recent 15th album, which features stellar sidemen Chick Corea, Billy Cobham, Jonathan Cain, Jean-Luc Ponty, Steve Morse, plus Yes vets Alan White, Steve Howe and the late Chris Squire
The current delightful, reggae-infused single “Makes Me Happy” boasts guitarist Rick Derringer alongside the Tower of Power horns, with a home-shot DIY video of the spry 75-year-old strolling across computer-generated backdrops, strumming his ukulele. His wife Janee and daughter Deborah helped compile it from their lockdown retreat.
“Which is up in the hills, away from the village, in Central California,” he says. “So all is good. I’m in my studio every day, just working on projects and keeping busy.”
But no contract was required from Anderson’s favorite recent cameos: various species of wild songbirds that flutter around his house, whose numbers seem to have increased, the more vocal males’ trills reverberating stronger without manmade noises to squelch them.
The warblers didn’t make it onto “Hands,” he adds. They’re part of his next project after that album, which began in 1990 with tentative recordings with White and Squire, and finally wrapped last year in Orlando by producer Michael T. Franklin, who suggested many of the collaborators.
“The birds are actually part of something that I just put out on the internet, and it’s called ‘Jon Anderson — Joyfulness.’ It’s just these four 20-minute works of me just playing music with the birds singing. I got some recordings of streams and rivers, and then just recorded the birds right outside here in my room, my studio. And it all worked out, you know?”
The bucolic films are a pandemic panacea. Anderson plans on padding them with colorful flourishes of orchestra and a chorale group next year.
But his feathered friends, like Anderson himself for over 50 years in Yes, keep singing their hearts out in “Opus 1-4.”
The world health crisis has brought out the latent ornithologist in him.
“We have a lot of finches around here, and my wife and I have actually given our birds names,” he says. “There’s a couple called John and Josefina, and they’re juncos, and then we have some really beautiful bluebirds. They’re everywhere. I love it! It’s like the music of God.”
He adds, “People think bird songs are just repetition, but no — there are nuances in their vocabulary, so I imitate three beautiful bird songs in this project, to indicate the differences in the way they sing.”
Ultimately, bird song — while it lasts — is a metaphor for the horrific, self-obsessed way humanity has treated nature, wiping out species that obstructed it over the centuries.
And the coronavirus might be Earth’s last warning. Everybody swears they love nature, Anderson laments. “But collectively, the people that are in power have no concept of what they’re doing to the planet. They’re just liars and thieves and crooks now, so humanity has to wake up, and that’s all there is to it.”
Anderson, who calls Donald Trump “the orange man who brought chaos” to the environment, sees the president as a necessary evil whose time has officially passed. “So it’s very important that he did what he did, and he is who he is, just to wake up people’s consciousness and state of mind to see that there is a better world, and it can’t be run by people like him.”
Meanwhile, the Rock and Roll Hall-of-Famer has plenty to keep him busy as the entertainment world is forced to reconfigure.
Fresh off a Sirius XM radio assignment on the history of music, he’s juggling concept pieces on Marc Chagall, one based in virtual reality, plus ARW, his supergroup with Rick Wakeman and Trevor Rabin, and a hush-hush 2021 work he’s been toying with for 15 years.
He adds, “Then again, ‘1,000 Hands’ took 30 years to make,” noting its clue-dropping subtitle of “Chapter One.”
“If any of those other things happen, hey, they’ll happen when they happen.” Until then, Anderson says, “The world is going through a strange, crazy turmoil, which I think is ultimately going to be very healthy, because we need change. We are the guardians of the Earth. We have to take notice of it and take care of business.”