> > Profiles: Alan White

As probably all drum maniacs out there already know, Yes drummer Alan White passed away last Thursday. The statement posted on the band’s Facebook account reads:

Alan White, our beloved husband, dad, and grandpa, passed away at the age of 72 at his Seattle-area home on May 26, 2022, after a brief illness. Throughout his life and six-decade career, Alan was many things to many people: a certified rock star to fans around the world; band mate to a select few, and gentleman and friend to all who met him. […] He is survived by his wife of forty years […], his children, grandchildren and sister-in-law […].
Gigi, Jesse, and Cassi
Seattle, WA“.

Source: yesworld.com

Alan White was born in Pelton, County Durham, in northern England on June 14th, 1949 to May and Raymond White. At the age of six, he began taking piano lessons and in time it became apparent that his style was very percussive. Noticing this, his Uncle Ken (also a drummer) gave him his first drum kit.

Little Alan took to the drums immediately, and began performing publicly with a local band just three months later, at 13. Throughout the mid to late 1960s, he continued to hone his craft with a variety of bands, including The Downbeats,  The Gamblers, Billy Fury, Alan Price Big Band, Bell and Arc, Terry Reid, Happy Magazine (later called Griffin) and Balls with Trevor Burton and Denny Laine.

In the summer of 1968, Alan White was asked to join Ginger Baker’s Airforce, a new group being put together by the former drummer of Cream and other noted musicians including Steve Winwood, formerly of Traffic.

In 1969, he received a phone call from John Lennon asking him to join the Plastic Ono Band. The next day Alan White was onboard of an airliner en-route to Toronto with Lennon, Yoko Ono, guitarist Eric Clapton and bassist Klaus Voorman. The ensuing album, ‘Live Peace in Toronto‘, sold millions of copies, peaking at number 10 on the charts.

L-R: Alan White, E. Clapton, K. Voorman, J. Lennon, Y. Ono (photo: Mark and Colleen Hayward)

Alan White’s association with Lennon continued, recording such singles as ‘Instant Karma’ and the album ‘Imagine‘ with Alan playing drums on the title track, ‘Jealous Guy’, and ‘How Do You Sleep at Night’. White’s work with Lennon led to an introduction to George Harrison, who asked the drummer to perform on the album ‘All Things Must Pass‘ including the hit single ‘My Sweet Lord’.

In June 1972, while on tour with Joe Cocker, White got a phone call from his manager, who said that Yes wanted him to join the band. He flew back to England for a meeting with Jon Anderson [Yes vocalist] and Chris Squire [Yes bassist], who told him that he was joining the band or “they were going to throw me out the third-story window”, as he recalled.

The first gig with the band was three days later, on June 30th, before 15,000 fans in Dallas, Texas. Alan White and Yes gave each other three months to see if it would work out, and fifty years later, on the day of his passing White was still an integral part of the band, having played on every Yes studio and live album recorded since.

Yes in 1972 r. Top L-R: C. Sguire, R. Wakeman, S. Howe. Bottom L-R: J. Anderson, Alan White (source: https://www.facebook.com/yestheband)

In 2005, the drummer formed a new band, called White, who released their self-titled debut album in January 2006. After that, White would perform regularly in the Seattle-area, whenever time permitted.

In recent years, White performed with a variety of artists, including Spencer Davis, The Ventures, Charlie Daniels and Eddie Money, to name but a few.

Since 2016, a number of health issues had restricted White’s time on stage with YES with Jay Schellen filling in and Alan joining the band towards the end of each set.

Alan White won a Grammy award (with Yes), 7 NME awards (6 with Yes, 1 with John Lennon) and 5 Grammy nominations (each of them with Yes).

In 2017, White was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Yes.

Yes post 2016. L-R: B. Sherwood, J. Davison, S. Howe, Alan White, G. Downes, J. Schellen (source: https://www.facebook.com/yestheband)

After Alan White‘s passing, tributes almost immediately started pouring in. Let us cite his present and past band mates…
It is with deep sadness that YES announce Alan White, their much-loved drummer and friend of 50 years, has passed away, aged 72, after a short illness. The news has shocked and stunned the entire YES family. Alan had been looking forward to the forthcoming UK Tour, to celebrating his 50th Anniversary with YES and their iconic Close To The Edge album, where Alan’s journey with YES began in July 1972. He recently celebrated the 40th Anniversary of his marriage to his loving wife Gigi. Alan passed away, peacefully at home. […] YES will dedicate their 50th Anniversary Close to the Edge UK Tour in June to White.
Steve Howe (Yes guitarist):

It is with great sadness that I join with the other members of Yes to acknowledge the passing of our dearest friend and drummer, Alan White. He gave so many of his best years to the band and was a true believer and determined professional til the very end. Being a kind and loving human being just came naturally to him, with his mellow, non-confrontational personality and abundant generosity, which made him so popular with his friends and everyone he met. With our deep condolences, we send our love and thoughts to his wife Gigi, their children and grandchildren.

Geoff Downes (Yes keyboardist):

It is with the utmost sadness I have received the news of the passing of my dearest friend and bandmate Alan White. He was truly one of the greatest men I have ever met. Honest, loyal, passionate, caring, kind, generous, considerate, charitable, funny – so many superlatives, too many to mention – simply, an all-round top guy and one of the best. And despite living for many years in his adopted hometown of Seattle, he never lost that Geordie wit, irony and charm.

As a musician he was unique in every way, and his powerhouse technique influenced whole generations of drummers and percussionists – an absolute legend in the true sense of the word. He was a joy to share the same stage with, often glancing over at the keyboard riser with a wink and a smile, but still laying down that solid, yet intricate groove as only he could. This was Alan – a genius who never took himself too seriously.

But beyond his skills, beneath was one of the nicest, loveliest people you could ever hope to meet. We spent a lot of time together, particularly on tour with YES over the years. We had some great laughs together, became very close, and always looked after each other to the point where they started referring to us as ‘The Odd Couple’!

Such great times remembered, and I have to say how much I feel privileged and honoured to have been a part of his life. I will miss him enormously. Losing a soul mate is always so tough, and my deepest thoughts and sincerest condolences are with Gigi in particular and Alan’s family at this sad time. I am absolutely devastated for them beyond words.

All I can really say right now is: Thank you Alan for being you and for being such a great friend.

Billy Sherwood (Yes bassist):

I’m devastated with the loss of our beloved AW (as we fondly called him). My heart is breaking for Gigi and the entire White family.

I first met Alan somewhere back in 1988/89. Long before I started playing bass I was a drummer. Alan was my inspirational North Star and remains my favorite drummer. I first saw him playing live with YES in 1977, it was the Going For The One tour. As I watched in awe I took careful notice of his attire. ‘Stan Smith’ tennis shoes, wrist bands, head band etc… the next day I went out and got those same items, in hopes I could channel the magic that came from his playing. That spirit has never left me, it lives in me now and always will.

When I first joined YES in the 90s, I would always be able to confide in Alan, he would be there like a big brother, reassuring me no matter what would happen he and I would have a special unbreakable bond and remain in each other’s lives somehow, from skiing in the Alps together to continuing on with the YES rhythm section after Chris sadly passed, AW was someone I could always turn to when I needed a shoulder to lean on.

I have so many fond memories of my relationship with the man I worshipped, respected and came to love like a brother. I’ve never lost that feeling despite life’s twists and turns, which are many.

Losing Chris was so very hard or me… this is just as difficult to process, perhaps even harder as AW was the first hero in my musical journey. I loved Alan and always will. Rest In Peace my brother. Love you always.”

Jon Davison (Yes vocalist):

Words are near impossible to express accurately my feelings of grief at the loss of my beloved friend and band mate, Alan White. I’m eternally grateful to Alan and his wonderful wife Gigi for the immediate warmth and kindness they showed me when I first joined the band. Top class and genuine people! Alan was not only the beating heart of Yes, but lived and loved straight from his huge heart. I will miss you my brother, my hero. I am so much the better for having known you. God speed on the silent wings of freedom!

Jay Schellen (Yes drummer):

I have always felt a heartfelt kinship with all YES fans, growing up I too experienced that bond with the members and music and Alan White was always my guy, my visceral influence in developing my musicianship.

I was so fortunate to meet Alan early in my career and grateful to become close friends during my years in the YES family performing variously with Tony, Peter, Chris, Geoff and Billy.

Alan, his wry smile and gregarious, adventurous manner was always encouraging, so supportive, fun, and above all inspiring. We shared a lot in common and had lots of laughs.

His call to me in 2016 meant the world to me. I don’t have the words to describe how it’s touched me, changed me. I’ve learned so much by his side, sharing the stage and family that is YES.

Tony Kaye (Yes former keyboardist):

Alan will forever be in my heart, in my hands and feet, in my thoughts and prayers. I love you Alan and I will never forget all of your life lessons. A great guy.. An amazing drummer.. Alan will be missed by all but rock’s greatest rhythm section is now together.”

Jon Anderson (Yes former vocalist):

Dear Alan. My best man at my wedding to Janee in Maui 1997. We love you and will miss you. You were just the best of the best for Yes and wonderful soul… We wrote Turn of the Century together all those years ago, just one of so many wonderful times together… And now you’re in heaven ….resting after the long journey Home to meet your dear Mom…and Chris of course. Blessings brother. We love you so, Alan. Jon&Janee.

Rick Wakeman (Yes former keyboardist):

I was in the studio recording some keyboard parts on the upcoming album when I heard the desperately sad news that we had lost Alan. I stopped work immediately and spent the rest of the day mulling over great recollections of the times we spent together, both musically and socially.

During the ‘Going For The One’ tour, Alan and I were besotted with racquetball and bought the finest racquets we could and before arriving in each city, would organise 2-3 hours at a club to play before heading off, seemingly fitter (but also somewhat knackered) to sound check.

I remember him proudly introducing me to his mum, who adored him and he her. He lived in Seattle for many years with his beautiful wife Gigi, Jesse and Cassie but a large part of him remained in the North East, including his accent, which never faltered!

On our travels we talked football, cars and musicians we had both worked with and Chris Squire’s appalling time-keeping! Alan and Chris arguably formed one of the finest bass and drums pairing in the history of rock ‘n roll, if not the finest.

I thank you Alan for all the great memories you have left me .

Sincere heartfelt condolences to Gigi, Cassie and Jesse who have lost such a great husband and father.

Bill Bruford (Yes former drummer):

Alan was a proper Geordie – steady, powerful, no nonsense, probably didn’t really like the frilly bits. He took over the reins in Yes at short notice after I moved on, and by all accounts, didn’t make a fuss when he had to learn the band’s repertoire in about three days.

As different men from different backgrounds with quite different styles, we had come to drumming from pretty much opposite ends of the spectrum. I quite liked the frilly bits. Geordies don’t like talking about anything very much, so our mutual respect went unspoken. I know he loved the heck out of Close to the Edge as, indeed, did I. Aside from the sadness, there is something extraordinarily poetic that his life should have come to an end exactly 50 years after he picked up the sticks and gave his all to the band he came to love. He’ll be forever remembered through his contribution to drumming inside and outside of Yes.

My heart goes out to Gigi and all Alan’s family.”

Trevor Rabin (Yes former vocalist and guitarist):

I’m infinitely sad. I always loved Alan. Over decades of being close, we never had an argument. A beautiful human. Hard to think of a world without him.”