That Time George Jefferson Made a Prog-Rock Album With Yes
George Jefferson, the 1970s sitcom icon played by Sherman Hemsley, was known for his quick temper, his undying love for Weezy and his serious dance moves. But while you might expect the dry-cleaning mogul to get down to some classic 1970s funk in the style of the show’s theme song, both the character and Hemsley himself preferred… prog-rock?
That’s George being drawn from his deluxe-apartment-in-the-sky bedroom by the sounds of English prog-rock group Nektar, an odd tune to be pulsing from son Lionel’s radio. Hemsley most likely asked for the song behind the scenes, even complaining when Lionel pulls the plug: “Great music! What’d you turn it off for?”
Hemsley, a wannabe musician with some proficiency in jazz piano, was a huge fan of 1970s prog-rockers like Nektar, Gong and Emerson Lake and Palmer (Tarkus was his fave album). On talk-show appearances, he’d tell Dinah Shore that she really had to check out Gentle Giant. Before he played a New Jersey comedy club set in 2011, he was telling local reporters, “I can't wait for the new Yes album. I love music of all kinds, but, yes, I love prog-rock.”
In the late 1970s, superfan Hemsley contacted Daevid Allen from Gong, proposing a billboard campaign to revitalize interest in the group’s 1973 album, Flying Teapot. “He called me from Hollywood saying, ‘I’m one of your biggest fans, and I’m going to fly you here and put flying teapots all up and down the Sunset Strip,’” Allen told Magnet Magazine. “I thought, ‘This guy is a lunatic.’”
Allen by all accounts was a complete weirdo himself — and the fact that Hemsley weirded him out is saying something. The Jeffersons star flew Allen out to talk about the project, and the Gong star was blown away. “We caught the plane across to L.A. We had heard Sherman was a big star, but we didn’t know the details. Coming down the corridor from the plane, I see this Black guy with a whole bunch of people running after him trying to get autographs,” Allen told Magnet. “Anyway, we get into this stretch limousine with Sherman, and immediately there’s a big joint being passed around. I say, ‘Sorry man, I don’t smoke.’ Sherman says, ‘You don’t smoke and you’re from Gong?’”
While nothing came of that particular collab, Hemsley wasn’t done infiltrating the world of prog rock. He reached out to Yes’ webmaster to get in touch with the group’s Jon Anderson. The two hit it off and began collaborating on a far-out musical called “Festival of Dreams,” with lyrics written by Yes’ Anderson and music by Hemsley. The album was recorded but never released before Hemsley’s death in 2012. An apparent link to some of that sweet, sweet music has been disabled on YouTube.
Jon Anderson, if you’re out there, we wouldn’t mind getting a piece of that prog-rock pie. We bet it would blow our minds.