Alan White, drummer for Yes and John Lennon, dead at 72


Alan White performs at Jonathan Cain and Friends at Rose Bar on Saturday, April, 8, 2017 in New York. (Photo by Michael Zorn/Invision/AP)

Yes, drummer Alan White, who joined the progressive rock band in 1972 and stayed with them for the next 50 years, has died aged 72 after a short illness.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee is best known for his work in Yes, but has also appeared in the Plastic Ono Band with John Lennon — he’s appeared in both Instant Karma and Imagine — and with George Harrison All things must pass.

“Throughout his life and six-decade career, Alan has meant many things to many people,” his family wrote in a statement acknowledging his death. “A certified rock star for fans around the world; Bandmate to a chosen few and gentleman and friend to all who met him.”

White was born on June 14, 1949 in Pelton, County Durham, England. He began playing the drums at age 12 and was performing in London clubs the following year. His life changed forever in 1969 when he received a phone call from John Lennon. “I thought it was a friend trying to joke with me, so I hung up the phone,” White said Rolling Stone in 2019. “Eventually I got a call back and he told me he was doing a gig in Toronto and if I would be available to play drums and if he could send a car to pick me up the next morning.”

Before he knew it, White was on a plane bound for Toronto alongside Eric Clapton, Yoko Ono and Klaus Voormann. Lennon had a rare live performance at the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival and needed a drummer. White performed the show with almost no rehearsal. “All of a sudden, the sticks were thrown into my hand and John counted ‘1, 2, 3,'” White recalled. “And we were in the first number. It was all kind of a flash in the pan.”

Lennon was happy with his impromptu work and invited him to the studio to work on it Introduce. He was one of three drummers on the record alongside Jim Keltner and Jim Gordon, but he was the one chosen to work on the iconic title track. “I remember at one point the song started with the drums at the very beginning of the song and the band playing,” says White Rolling Stone. “John played it so well on his own on the piano that I said, ‘Why don’t you do the first verse like this?’ He said, ‘That’s a good idea.’ He said, “What are you thinking Phil? [Spector]?’ Next thing you know, we tried it that way and John kept it.

The experience on Introduce led to a call to record with George Harrison All things must pass, which was also produced by Spector. White features on several songs, although the sessions were so chaotic that there are no proper credits. White claimed to have acted on My Sweet Lord, but this has been denied. “It was a larger group,” White recalls. “It was the group of Delaney and Bonnie, George and Eric. For about three weeks there were a lot of people in the studio every day. When we all got there, we decided who was playing what. George would say, ‘One of you guys is playing the drums.’ That’s how we cut a lot of these tracks.”

A few years later, Yes parted ways with founding drummer Bill Bruford. White was offered the position because bassist Chris Squire and frontman Jon Anderson had recently seen him play with Joe Cocker and liked his work. The only problem was that they had a gig in Dallas, Texas just three days later and had virtually no time to rehearse. “I just went all weekend and listened to the music and got used to it,” he said, “and then I was in Dallas and I went on stage with Yes with almost no rehearsals.”

Yes saw a small army of musicians come and go over the next few decades, but White remained loyal to the band. His work drives innovative prog albums like Stories from Topographic Oceans and relay and her more poppy work in the ’80s, including the worldwide hit single “Owner Of a Lonely Heart.” White’s most recent studio work with Yes was her 2021 LP The pursuit. He was in the band more years than any other member.

When the band went on hiatus in the early ’80s, White jammed with Squire and Jimmy Page for a project they called XYZ, which stood for Ex Yes and Zeppelin. None of their music was ever officially released, but the tapes eventually leaked.

White maintained an extensive touring schedule with Yes throughout the 2000s, even after Anderson parted ways with the group in 2008. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2017.

Health issues have sidelined him on recent tours, but he came out for the last few songs of the night. when he spoke Rolling Stone Three years ago he hoped he could play full shows with the band in the future.

“I had back surgery a few years ago,” he said. “Since then I’ve been getting better and better and I’m starting to play more and more. It’s pretty good at the moment and I feel good every day. I go forward.”

He last played with the band on July 28, 2019 at The Mountain Winery in Saratoga Springs, California. That evening’s encore brought his career full circle: a cover of John Lennon’s Imagine.

You May Also Like