He was born 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 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.
He also tried to pursue a football career in the club he is still a fan of, Accrington Stanley F.C., but he was eventually turned down because of his frail constitution.
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 1980, 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 successful 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 what were at times conflicted relationships within the band and with management. 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.
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 less falsetto and more chest voice come to bear. 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.
In 1970, Anderson sang as a session singer on King Crimson's "Lizard" album, on the track "Prince Rupert Awakes", as it was outside the range of the then Crimson vocalist, Gordon Haskell.
In 1985 Anderson's song "This Time It Was Really Right" was featured on the soundtrack for the movie "St. Elmo's Fire".
Also in 1985, along with Tangerine Dream he recorded the song "Loved by the Sun" for the film "Legend" directed by Ridley Scott.
The song "Cage Of Freedom" was also featured on the 1984 soundtrack for the re-release of the classic black and white movie "Metropolis".
In 1982 Jon worked as vocalist for Mike Oldfield's release of "In high places" from the album Crises, and the song "Shine". He has also guested with Bela Fleck and the Flecktones.
In 2004, Anderson appeared with the Contemporary Youth Orchestra of Cleveland. The concert was recorded and released for the orchestra members, but was never publicly released, to the dismay of many concert attendees.
In 2006 Animation was finally released on CD.
In a 2006 tour, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra (East Coast Troupe) got Anderson to appear in 2 concerts on December 16 in Philadelphia, PA to play "Roundabout".
In 2007, Anderson toured with The Paul Green School of Rock Music, finishing the tour with two sold out shows at B.B. Kings Bar and Grill in New York City.
Currently Jon is on tour for a second time with The Paul Green School of Rock
Jon appears on the new Dream Theater album "Systematic Chaos", as part of a vocal ensemble on the fifth track "Repentance". The album was released on June 5th, 2007.
Anderson's children include daughter Deborah Anderson (who has done work singing for the French electronica band Télépopmusik on the album Angel Milk, released in summer 2005), Jade Anderson (who has released a solo album in Japan) and Damion Anderson (also a musician).
Anderson was a smoker in the 1960s and 70s. To this day, before live performances he often meditates in a tent with crystals and dreamcatchers-- a practice he started in the 1980s. Anderson was also a vegetarian, as were most members of Yes during the mid-seventies. In an 16 August 2006 interview on The Howard Stern Show Jon said he eats meat, mostly fish on occasion. In the interview he also stated he had a spiritual adviser that "helped him see into the fourth dimension". He considers himself to be part of the "elf culture" and this revelation occurred during a trip on mushrooms, which he experimented with once a year until recent years. Jon attributes certain abilities, including being able to play the piano, to a back injury. Anderson now refers to the reason for Yes' breakup(s) to be from over-touring. His current projects include a rock fantasy camp. Anderson's religious beliefs are syncretic and varied, including respect for the Divine Mother Audrey Kitagawa. He has worked with Contemporary Christian music band 4HIM: in 1999, his vocal was featured on the song "The Only Thing I Need", which appeared on a various artists CD entitled Streams.
One of Jon's biggest passions is his painting and uses his art as yet another channel for his creativity and self expression. His artwork is available to view on his official website
Solo Discography Edit
Studio Albums Edit
- Olias Of Sunhillow - 1976
- Song Of Seven - 1980
- Animation - 1982
- 3 Ships - 1985
- In The City Of Angels - 1988
- The Power Of Silence - 1992
- The Best Of South America - 1993
- Deseo - 1994
- Change We Must - 1994
- The Deseo Remixes - 1995
- Angels Embrace - 1995
- Toltec - 1996
- Lost Tapes Of Opio - 1996
- The Promise Ring - 1997
- EarthMotherEarth - 1997
- The More You Know - 1998
- SoloShowSongs - 2005
- The Lost Tapes - 2006
Singles & EPs Edit
- Olias Of Sunhillow - 1976
- Some Are Born - 1980
- Surrender - 1982
- Cage Of Freedom - 1984
- Hold On To Love - 1988
- Candle Song - 1994
- Change We Must - 1994
- State Of Independence - 2005
Videos & DVDs Edit
- Tour Of The Universe - 2005
Jon & Vangelis Discography Edit
- Short Stories - 1980
- The Friends Of Mr. Cairo - 1981
- Private Collection - 1984
- The Best Of Jon And Vangelis - 1984
- Page Of Life - 1991
- Vangelis: Portraits (So Far Away So Clear) - 1996