Alan White, longtime drummer of progressive rock band Yes, has died at home aged 72 after a short illness. Announcing the news, the group said they were “shocked and stunned”.
White was one of the oldest members of the band, having joined in 1972, replacing Bill Bruford (who joined King Crimson).
Born in 1949 in County Durham, White started drumming at the age of 12 and joined his first band a year later: the Downbeats, later the Blue Chips. Success went up a notch with a place in Billy Fury’s backing band, and after John Lennon saw a performance by another white band, the progressive rockers Griffin, he was recruited as the drummer for the Plastic Ono Band.
Taken in a limo to an airport and given three days to learn the band’s material, White played the gig that became the live album Live Peace in Toronto 1969, and also played drums on Lennon’s Imagine album. (plus vibraphone on Jealous Guy) as well as Harrison’s George Everything Must Pass. Other live work came in support of fellow drumming legend Ginger Baker in her sprawling band Air Force.
White was invited to join Yes in 1972, and again only had three days to learn repertoire for a US tour. “I was prepared for different time signatures and the way the band was flowing, but I added more of a rock element than Bill [Bruford] done,” he later said.
The first studio album he performed on (and the band’s sixth overall), Tales from Topographic Oceans, was also Yes’s first UK No. 1. Rick Wakeman and then singer Jon Anderson left in the early 1980s. Despite the brief addition of Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes (aka the Buggles) to the band, Yes broke up in 1981.
White played with Yes bassist Chris Squire and Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin in a band called XYZ, whose work was pirated but never officially released; Robert Plant was briefly offered as lead vocalist.
White formed another new band, Cinema, with Squire, Yes keyboardist Tony Kaye and guitarist Trevor Rabin, whose demos brought Jon Anderson home – they quickly revived the Yes name. This began the group’s most commercially successful period in the United States, with the single Owner of a Lonely Heart reaching No. 1 there in 1983.
Anderson returned in 1988 and formed Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe with other former Yes members. “I didn’t necessarily feel betrayed, but at the same time it was something to deal with,” White later said. “But we just put our heads down and kept making Yes music.”
The line-up continued to fluctuate in the years that followed – Anderson and Howe joined in 1995, with a brief stint for Wakeman – and there was another break from 2005 to 2008, but White remained the rhythmic heart of the band. group throughout. “You want to keep the Yes name to keep that high level of musicality and then take it forward,” he said in 2015.
He is a credited songwriter on dozens of songs and has performed on over 40 of their albums. Health issues from 2016 meant his role in the band was reduced, but he continued to play part of every live set, with Jay Schellen playing most of the material.