Drummer Alan White Reflects on the History of Yes
Alan White has been the drummer for Yes since 1972 and recently has been reflecting on his time with them.
When drummer Bill Bruford left, right before the “Close to the Edge” tour in 1972, the band was scrambling to find someone to sit on the throne.
The story goes that White had only one full rehearsal to learn the album.
“Not true,” White said. “I had three days to learn the ENTIRE repertoire of the band,” he said. “It was basically a lot of hard work – reading the music, listening. I don’t think I had one full rehearsal with the band until I went onstage with them.
“It scares me to think about it now,” he said, chuckling.
But really, the British-born White was prepared for the intricacies of progressive rock, even if he didn’t know it at the time.
“It was kind of a little bit natural for me,” White said. “Prior to being in Yes, I had my own band in England, and we were going in prog-style music anyway. But we were a little more jazzy-oriented. We had a horn section.”
That “jazzy-oriented” style prepared him for the unique time signatures that dominate prog-rock. His first instrument – the piano – also helped, because he played it “very percussively,” probably influenced by an uncle who was a drummer and his own father, who was a piano player.
As you might expect, White has heard all the debate and argument about whether Yes is a better band with original vocalist Jon Anderson or current singer Jon Davison. Quite frankly, it gets a little tiresome, but he’s patient in answering questions about it.
“Jon [Anderson’s] was the original vocal for many years, that was the stamp of the band,” White said. “But working with Jon Davison is a pure pleasure. He’s a tremendously talented guy, with a voice that sounds somewhat like [Anderson].”
To that end, White is convinced that the current lineup of Yes – Chris Squire on bass, Steve Howe on guitar, Geoff Downes on keys, Davison on vocals and White on drums – is among best in the history of the band that first formed in 1968.
“We’re all very happy right now,” White said. “Quite frankly, Jon Davison is like a breath of fresh air. Everybody is stepping up to the plate.”
Davison is in his early 40s; the rest of the band are in their early to late 60s. And because Yes was his favourite band as a kid, he has not just an appreciation for what his predecessor did, but a love for the music itself.
“Davison helps keep them new,” White said of the venerable band’s songs. “He sings them in his own way, but he sings them as they should be sung. I feel like he’s been accepted in both Europe and America.”
What hasn’t been accepted in at least some circles of America, despite the induction of Rush in 2013, is that prog-rock has a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
“One would have thought so,” White said when asked if he felt the enshrinement of Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart had opened the door for other prog-rock bands.
“I went to the awards ceremony for that,” he said. “Heart was getting inducted, and they’re all friends of mine. They all live up here in Seattle.”
Lifeson’s acceptance speech – several minutes of nothing but the word “blah,” was a statement, at least in White’s mind.
“You heard the guitarist,” White said. “I think he was making excuses: ‘I don’t know why we’re getting into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Yes isn’t. We modelled our music on Yes music, and they’re not in yet.”