Jon Anderson (born October 25, 1944) is an English musician, best known as the lead singer of the progressive rock band Yes. He is also an accomplished solo artist, and has collaborated for over 20 years with the Greek musician Vangelis, creating the duo Jon & Vangelis.
He was born as John Roy Anderson in the town of Accrington, Lancashire, England, in a family of Irish ancestry, his parents being Albert and Kathleen Anderson. He was later to drop the “h” from his first name in about 1971, as he had a dream where he was given the name “Jonathan”. Thus, on The Yes Album he is still credited as “John”, and on the next album Fragile, credited as “Jon”.
He attended St. John’s Infants School in Accrington, and made a tentative start to his musical career at an early age by playing the washboard in Little John’s Skiffle Group, which played songs by Lonnie Donegan among others.
Anderson left school at the age of fifteen, and went through a series of jobs including working as a farm hand, a lorry driver, and a milkman.
In 1962, Anderson joined The Warriors (also known as The Electric Warriors), where he and his brother Tony shared the role of lead vocalist. He quit this band in 1967, released two solo singles in 1968 under the pseudonym Hans Christian Anderson, and then briefly sang for the bands The Gun and The Open Mind.
In the summer of 1968, Anderson met bassist Chris Squire and joined him in a group called Mabel Greer’s Toyshop, which had previously included guitarist Peter Banks. Anderson fronted this band, but ended up leaving again before the summer was over. He remarks on his website that his time with the band consisted of “too many drugs, not enough fun!”
Anderson, Squire, and Banks went on to form Yes, with drummer Bill Bruford and keyboardist Tony Kaye. Their debut album was released in 1969. He stayed with the group until 1979, and this period is now known as the classic period of Yes. Jon was a major creative force and band leader throughout the period (describing himself as the ‘team captain’) and is recognized as the main instigator of the series of epics produced by Yes at the time. His role in creating such complex pieces as “Close to the Edge”, “Awaken” and especially “The Gates Of Delirium” is central, despite his limited instrumental abilities.
He rejoined a reformed Yes in 1983 which produced their most commercially successful album 90125 with newcomer Trevor Rabin, and departed again in 1988 over the band’s continued pursuit of major commercial success and mainstream radio play. In 1989, Anderson and other former Yes members formed the group Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, Howe (ABWH), augmented by bassist Tony Levin who had played with drummer Bill Bruford in King Crimson. After the successful first ABWH album, a bizarre series of business deals caused ABWH to reunite with the then-current members of Yes, who had been out of the public eye while searching for a new lead singer. The resulting eight-man band assumed the name Yes, and the album Union was assembled from various pieces of an in-progress second ABWH album as well as recordings that “Yes proper” had been working on without Anderson. A spectacular tour followed, but the eight-man lineup of Yes never recorded a complete album together before splintering in 1992. Many more personnel changes followed, but Anderson has been with the band ever since. He appears on all Yes albums except their 1980 album, Drama.
Nicknamed “Napoleon” by his bandmates for his diminutive stature and leadership of Yes, Anderson was fond of experimenting within the band, also adding to the conflict. He originally wanted to record the album Tales From Topographic Oceans in the middle of the woods, and instead decided to put hay and animal cut-outs all over the recording studio, causing lice to infest one of Rick Wakeman’s keyboards. In another incident, Anderson had tiles installed in the studio, to simulate the echo effect of one’s vocals in a bathroom.
Anderson’s voice is often described as angelic. Though he considers himself an alto tenor vocalist, Jon’s performance on “Owner of a Lonely Heart” is an example of what is known by singers as “the blend voice”: a technique where the head voice, falsetto and chest voice (speaking voice) are gradually blended allowing a smooth breakless transition to the male countertenor register. The higher the voice gets, the more falsetto and less chest and head voice are used. The lower the voice gets, the reverse occurs. At the highest limit, (the high “yeeows” before the guitar solo) full falsetto is used.
Other practitioners of blended singing include Steven Tyler (Aerosmith), Sting (The Police) and Hugh Wilson (Vertigo).
Anderson is also responsible for most of the mystically-themed lyrics and concepts which are part of many Yes releases. These elements are crucial components of the classic Yes sound, but have occasionally alienated some members of the band (most notably Bruford and Rick Wakeman), contributing to their leaving the group. The lyrics are frequently inspired by various books Anderson has enjoyed, from Tolstoy’s War and Peace to Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha. A footnote in Paramahansa Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi inspired one Yes album. Recurring themes include environmentalism, pacifism and sun-worship.
Survival and Other Stories (2011) is a collaborative affair featuring Jon and many other artists writing songs via the Internet while Jon performs them. The album as a performance is, however, a solo album and features that unique Jon Anderson stamp. It began life as an advert on Jon Anderson’s website. Jon states, “About four years ago I just put in an ad on my website: ‘Musicians Wanted’... this is the result.”