"The only way forward is to get rid of corruption, greed and suffering!" Jon Anderson on 1000 Hands: Chapter One!

Jon Anderson
(Image credit: Sonic PR)

“[In 2016, producer] Michael Franklin got in touch and suggested that I finish the album,” says Jon Anderson. “I said, ‘Which album?’ and he said, ‘The one that you’ve got in the garage.’”

From time to time we all unexpectedly come across semi-forgotten possessions in cupboards, lofts, sheds and garages. But Anderson unearthed the tapes of an album, 1000 Hands: Chapter One, which he started nearly 30 years ago and which he reckons is one of the best things he’s ever done.

The album grew out of his collaboration with keyboard player Brian Chatton, who had been Anderson’s bandmate in his pre-Yes group, The Warriors. Speaking via Zoom from his home in California, he explains its genesis.

“I said to [Brian], ‘Why don’t you send me some music on cassette: keyboard ideas, chord progressions and things like that. He sent about eight pieces. I have a recording studio, where I’m sitting now, and I wrote songs to his music. And it was magical for me, because it felt natural to sing the songs. I didn’t have to work out the music with a band, I just knew what I wanted to hear.”

Anderson had hoped to get The Beach Boys involved at the start of the project back in 1990. “It never transpired,” he says. “But I’m thinking of asking them to sing on 1000 Hands: Chapter Two, which we are going to do next spring.”

However, the vocalist did manage to get Yes’ then rhythm section of Chris Squire and Alan White to play on some tracks. “I started thinking: ‘Wouldn’t it be great to get everyone I’ve known over the years to play on the music?’” he recalls. But then Chatton went off on tour and Anderson headed out on the road first with Kitaro, and then with Yes, and the album was, quite literally, shelved.

When Franklin resuscitated the project in 2016, he asked Anderson what he wanted to do. “I said. ‘How many people do you know who you can put on the record?'” Anderson recalls. “He said, ‘I toured with Chuck Berry for 10 years, I know everybody in the business!’"

Anderson regrets that he was unable to involve former Weather Report saxophonist Wayne Shorter, but Franklin got in Belgian vocal troupe Zap Mama, the Tower Of Power horn section and big name guests including guitarist Rick Derringer, Ian Anderson on flute, and Carmine Appice on drums. The title is a tongue-in-cheek reference to the number of guest musicians who play on the album.

The lengthy, complex 1000 Hands (Come Up) features a virtual jazz fusion supergroup, which includes the late Larry Coryell on guitar, Chick Corea on piano, violinist Jean-Luc Ponty, and Billy Cobham on drums. Although the musicians weren’t in the same room at the time, “they were on the same planet” says Anderson. “And that’s all that matters.

“The track was there, the vocals sounded pretty good. I was mesmerised by Billy Cobham in the Mahavishnu Orchestra. I remember meeting him and he’s a really sweet guy. Then we got Chick Corea and Jean-Luc [Ponty] was the next one. I said, ‘There’s this track that has a section in the middle that’s dying for you to play on it.’ He said, ‘Send it to me’ and within two days he’d sent it back. They probably just listened to it once and said, ‘Okay, let’s do it.’ These guys don’t think about things too much, they just play.”

In these latter stages, new material was added. Anderson polished up a guitar tune Makes Me Happy, and sent some recordings of his daily vocal exercise – which he notes were inspired by pygmy chants – to Franklin, who arranged them in an electronic setting on Ramalama and WDMCF, the latter also featuring strings and flute. 

The album includes western, classical, country, Caribbean and Bollywood influences, and bursts of prog complexity. Despite its diversity, Anderson and Franklin have produced a coherent, remarkably uncluttered collection in which his sunny vocal melodies are complemented by these very inspired arrangements.

“I initially thought, ‘These are great sounds, but it could be much bigger,’” Anderson concurs. “And thank God it happened that way, as it has got a life of its own and I don’t hear anything wrong with it.”

When interviewed for Prog 91 back in October 2018, keyboard player Patrick Moraz described Anderson as “a musical genius”. When Prog reminds him of this he just laughs and replies, “I paid him handsomely.” 

Although Jon Anderson composes songs on guitar, his main strength is as an ideas man. He explains how this works on a practical level: “It’s what I did with Yes; it’s what I do if I have the right people around at the right time. I was the person who sat and listened as they practised a section of Heart Of The Sunrise. It’s a natural for me to come up with ideas because I’m not practising the riff – while they are doing that I’m thinking about the next section.

“With Close To The Edge, for the introduction I said, ‘What we need to do is start off as if we’re halfway through a solo, with everybody charging away. But you’ve got to stop at some point.’ I’d tape what they were doing and say, ‘After Steve plays this guitar, we all stop and I go: 'Aah!' Then we played it again and they all got it. 

“I remember when we mixed the tracks for 1000 Hands we had Now, which was a three-minute song, but it didn’t seem to work, so we cut it into three separate sections. And at the end of what became Now And Again I said that it needed something else. I had just been in touch with Steve Howe a couple of months earlier and asked him if he would like to play on it. He owes me one because I sang Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands on his Bob Dylan album.”

Howe recorded some beautiful acoustic guitar for the song in December 2018.

“As soon as I heard him play the guitar I thought, ‘I’ve got to sing something here,’” Anderson recalls. “I was sitting in the studio,  where I am now, and I just sang something about me and him. I thought it was a very fitting end to the album. I was really pleased.”

In conversation, Anderson gives off a feeling of mental energy and unquenchable optimism. On the track Makes Me Happy, he uses two phrases that gained popularity in the 60s and 70s: “Make love not war” and a popular slogan on T-shirts and posters that adorned many a teenager’s bedroom wall in that era: “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” Was this an acknowledgement of the hippyish milieu in which he first became active as a lyricist?

“Yeah. And ‘Whoever dreamed that peace would come to every city,’” he says, quoting another line. “And it will happen when the orange man steps down and the right people get involved who believe in the future of this planet. 

“Most of what’s happening now is our disregard for Mother Earth and our destruction of the rainforests without understanding what we are doing. The only way forward is to get rid of corruption and greed and suffering. You’ve got to share the world. We’re all as one on the planet and we have figured that out from the virus. In that song I intertwine the idea that we’re going through some delicate moments, and a lot of the songs pertain to that.”

He adds, “On Twice In A Lifetime, after a lovely violin intro, I sing that there are planes coming in to feed the starving millions while there are planes bringing death and destruction. All these things have interwoven and it’s part of what I’ve been writing about since The Gates Of Delirium.”

Those earlier lyrics were more poetic and impressionistic, so does he feel that he needs to be more direct now? 

“Probably, but there are a lot of metaphors within the framework of everything I’ve done,” he replies. “Like, ‘A seasoned witch could call you from the depths of your disgrace.’ It’s basically that your higher self will pull you out of your despair and wake you up to the spirits that are within you.”

If the three-decade story behind 1000 Hands feels rather bizarre, it’s as Anderson says, “Music generally stays with you forever if you’re a musician and a writer.” He also mentions that he has a large backlog of works-in-progress that he’s working on, including a musical about the artist Marc Chagall.

“I met him when he was 90, so I think that it will be produced when I’m 90. So I’ve got time,” he quips. Another project he’s been working on for 15 years, called Zamran, is about the son of Olias Of Sunhillow, the titular character of his first solo album, which was released in 1976. He explains that he was inspired by the find of musical instruments in a Chinese tomb that dated back 2,500 years and for some pieces he’s tried to imagine what that music might have sounded like. He points out a number of stringed instruments in his studio, including a koto and a harp and plays an extract. “I’ve written 15 pieces and even tried to sing in Chinese – terribly,” he says with a laugh. “It’s really hard.” 

So when is it likely be ready? “I’ll call you,” he replies. “Like if people ask if Yes will ever get back together, I say, ‘I’ll call you.’”

On that topic, in early 2020, Trevor Rabin stated that Anderson, Rabin and Wakeman (ARW) has ceased to exist. Is that official now?

“It was just badly managed,” Anderson explains. “And I can’t keep touring if there’s no new music. I worked with Rick and Trevor under the assumption that there would be new music. I wrote some songs with them but I just couldn’t get it to happen. No matter.

“I had a dream that we all got together with Steve and everybody, just for the enjoyment of it, and that we would do Close To The Edge, Awaken and numerous other tracks that people love. We should all know that music is more important than ego and money.”

In the meantime, Anderson continues to give out positive messages, which feel particularly welcome in these difficult times.

“When I was on tour last year with 1000 Hands, we were playing music from the album and some classic Yes songs, and I said to the audience, ‘Next year, 2020, it’s going to be amazing. You won’t believe what’s going to happen. It will be just like the 60s: peace, love and tourism!’ And here we are in the middle of this quandary.”

Maybe he was just one year out and 2021 will be amazing instead.

“Yes. We can dream that!” 

This article originally appeared in Prog 112.

Mike Barnes

Mike Barnes is the author of Captain Beefheart - The Biography (Omnibus Press, 2011) and A New Day Yesterday: UK Progressive Rock & the 1970s (2020). He was a regular contributor to Select magazine and his work regularly appears in Prog, Mojo and Wire. He also plays the drums.