A couple of days ago, Yes announced that Alan White would not be joining them on their upcoming tour. They’ve been bringing an understudy drummer out with them for a while now, but this time Alan was going to stay home.
Today they announced that he has passed away. He was 72 years old.
He has been the drummer for Yes since joining in 1972, just a few days before the start of a US tour to support Close to the Edge. Bill Bruford left to join King Crimson at the last minute and White was his replacement. There were stories of Chris Squire threatening to throw him out of a hotel room window if he didn’t accept the offer, but those probably were just jokes. Probably.
The band he was joining played some of the most complicated and difficult music in the business at that time and he only had three (I think) days to learn the set. He pulled it off because he was an absolute kick ass professional, as well as being good enough to handle it all. There were tales of Jon Anderson turning around and more or less conducting him through some of the show, but regardless, White’s accomplishment was beyond legendary.
I only saw him once, back in 1991. It was in that weird time when there were effectively two versions of Yes. Alan White was in the Los Angeles based arena rock band (Yes West). I was much more into the London based proggie rock band (Yes East), but at that time someone waved enough money at them to get them all to tour as one band. I saw them at the Worcester Centrum. They played in The Round with a revolving stage in the middle of the arena. It was one of the most amazing performances I’ve ever seen any band give. I swear that night’s rendition of Awaken is still reverberating around the rafters to this day. It was stunning.
I should also mention that prior to Yes he was in another notable band. A little combo called The Plastic Ono Band. That’s right, he was John Effin’ Lennon’s drummer. He played on a bunch of things include Imagine. He also played on George Harrison’s first record, specifically My Sweet Lord.
Rest in Peace, Alan White.