Alan White, who manned the drum kit for English progressive rock legends Yes for 50 years following the band’s original drummer Bill Bruford’s departure to join fellow prog-rockers King Crimson, died Thursday, May 26th, after a brief illness. White was 72.
Before joining Yes, White had made a name for himself as drummer for rock royalty, including Steve Winwood, Ginger Baker, and John Lennon. White played live with Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band and in the studio on Lennon’s “Instant Karma” and “Imagine.” White also played on George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass album.
White joined Yes in 1972. He faced the daunting task of learning the band’s highly complex and lengthy live repertoire in three days as the band was about to embark on a U.S. tour. White pulled it off, as evidenced by his stellar work on the live album Yessongs recorded during the tour. He also contributed to the songwriting process throughout his lengthy tenure with the band.
Yes’ popularity in the 1970s waned somewhat after White joined. However, this can safely be assigned to the band both becoming too intricate for even its most devoted followers and a stream of high-profile personnel changes — keyboardist Rick Wakeman leaving to be replaced on one album by Patrick Moraz, then returning, then leaving again along with vocalist Jon Anderson, the two replaced for one album by Geoff Downes and Trevor Horn from The Buggles. Yes briefly disbanded at the decade’s end, then came back in 1983 behind guitarist Trevor Rabin as a modern mainstream-ish rock ensemble, scoring a massive hit with “Owner of A Lonely Heart.”
Following this burst of commercial success, Yes moved back toward its prog roots, occasionally recording and regularly touring for the faithful. The lineup remained fluid, but it was the Tales from Topographic Oceans quintet of White, Anderson, Wakeman, bassist Chris Squire, and guitarist Steve Howe that burned brightest in the fanbase’s heart.
Yes, along with Emerson Lake & Palmer, Gentle Giant, King Crimson, Jethro Tull, Genesis, and others, created a musical genre entirely unto themselves. Although steeped in British R&B, these bands quickly brought in influences ranging from avant-garde classical to jazz to traditional English folk, fusing these to make rock’n’roll as much a virtuoso art form as dance music. The fans adored them, the critics despised them, and the genre’s late 1960s/early 1970s ascent to commercial success lasted but a few short years. Nevertheless, buried deep in every classic rock fan’s collection, one will find copies of The Yes Album, Fragile, and Close to The Edge. Prog may long be out of favor, but it remains in the heart of those seeking something pushing the envelope.
White leaves behind his wife of over 40 years and the couple’s son and daughter.
Godspeed, Alan White.