YesWeek: A Look at the Jon Davison YesYears

A few years ago I was at my day job at SiriusXM and I was chatting with the great Lawrence Gowan. A true Canadian icon thanks to classic songs like “Criminal Mind,” “(You’re A) Strange Animal,” and “Moonlight Desires,” Gowan has also been the lead singer for Styx for over twenty years. Gowan had the unenviable task of stepping into the shoes of Dennis DeYoung, one of rock’s great singers and a huge part of the success Styx had.

During that conversation, we talked about legacy bands who have new members come in. I recall suggesting to Gowan that to an entire generation of fans, he is Styx’s singer. Much like how the current roster of KISS, with drummer Eric Singer and guitarist Tommy Thayer, is thee version for a large group of fans who likely never saw the original line-up of Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley, and Peter Criss, Gowan is thee voice of Styx.

When fans go to concerts, I can’t imagine anyone who’s into the music sitting there thinking, “I wish Dennis DeYoung was here…” or in the case of Yes, “I wish Jon Anderson was here.” Certainly not while someone as talented as Jon Davison is on stage.

Davison has been the frontman for Yes since 2012, when he took over the role from French-Canadian vocalist Benoit David, who in turn had stepped into Jon Anderson’s shoes in 2008. David was a capable singer who asserted himself well on the band’s 2010 studio album, Fly From Here. As his years in Yes continued, maintaining his voice became difficult, which ultimately led to his departure. In his place came Jon Davison who, more than a decade later, has proved he has the voice, the manner, and the creativity to help guide Yes further.

Davison’s first studio album with the band, 2014’s Heaven & Earth, is definitely a mixed bag for many Yes fans, due in large part to the band’s hurried schedule and the lack of real production by Roy Thomas Baker. There are some lovely moments, though, including “Believe Again,” “Light of the Ages,” and the album closer, “Subway Walls,” which gave fans a longer Yes piece that we always crave for.

Jon Davison was on point lyrically and vocally with Heaven & Earth, but fans felt that the album itself was too light and not fully baked (though the vocal harmonies are gorgeous, thanks to Billy Sherwood, who stepped in to assist recording in that department). The album floated off into the heavens, as it were, while the band focused instead on their live performances where they concentrated on performing classic albums The Yes Album, Fragile, Close To The Edge, and Going For The One in their entirety. These shows were fantastic, and Davison continued to grow in his frontman role. We’re lucky that Frontiers put out two albums capturing various shows on CD and DVD, as they would also be the final official footage we’d have of Chris Squire and Alan White together playing some certifiably brilliant albums.

With the passing of Chris Squire and the arrival of Billy Sherwood in 2015, Yes continued to focus on live performances, touring at a fairly consistent pace. The band, with drummer Jay Schellen working alongside an ailing Alan White, wound up releasing yet another live album in 2017. Topographic Drama, captured the band performing their 1980 masterpiece Drama in its entirety, along with selections from 1974’s Tale From Topographic Oceans. Produced by Billy Sherwood, the album is a corker, no doubt because of the rocking nature of the Drama material, but you can also hear a band that is firing on all cylinders. At this point, Jon Davison had been in the band for five years and was clearly comfortable singing any and all Yesmusic, a point further proven on Yes 50, the band’s 2019 live album that found original member Tony Kaye guesting on a number of tracks. For that historic tour, Yes pulled out music from their entire history, and the new guys delivered it with passion and accuracy.

It was around this time that I had the chance to talk to Jon Davison for an interview that delved deep into his history with Yes. It was clear to me from that conversation why he was and continues to be the right man to sing and create with the band. Davison understands Yesmusic, from both the point of view of a fan, and as a musician himself.

“I figured from the moment I joined Yes that as long as I kept performance quality as my primary focal point, my ultimate goal, I’d know soon enough whether or not I was cut out for the role,” Davison said at the time. “So far, I feel I’ve met with success. Obviously the vast majority of Yes fans feel the same. That is really the only criteria I’ve allowed to define me as the singer of Yes. Otherwise, I don’t need to be the singer of Yes to have fame, recognition, or for any other egotistical motivation.”

While the pandemic ground touring to a halt, it did allow Yes to finally work on new material following the lack of love for Heaven & Earth. The usually reluctant to record Steve Howe took the reigns for new music, as he served as the producer for The Quest, which was released in 2021. It was the first Yes album to not have Chris Squire on it and the last to include Alan White on drums. Billy Sherwood’s bass and vocals were a highlight, and he and Davison would cook up one of the album’s highlights, “Minus The Man”.

For me, though, the standout track off The Quest was and continues to be the magnificent “The Ice Bridge,” a co-write between Jon Davison, Geoff Downes, and the late Francis Monkman of Curved Air. The lyrics are environmentally concerned, a regular theme in Davison’s work, while the interplay between musicians, specifically Steve Howe and Geoff Downes, is the definition of Yes.

Which brings us to the here and now and the imminent release of Mirror To The Sky, Yes’s 23rd studio album, and the first to feature the line-up of Steve Howe, Geoff Downes, Jon Davison, Billy Sherwood, and Jay Schellen (the latter three who also make up the spin-off band, Arc of Life.) You can read our review here, but the short version is that Mirror To The Sky is fantastic, the strongest Yes album since 2010’s Fly From Here, and definitely the band’s proggiest since perhaps Keystudio.

Along the way to this great new album, and with more than a decade under his belt, Jon Davison has proven time and time again that he’s the right guy for the job of singing in Yes. Go to a Yesshow and you’ll see multiple generations taking in the music, and for the younger fans, I truly believe that they’ll look back on Davison and this iteration of Yes as their band.

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