May 26, 2022: YES Drummer Alan White Dies at 72

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Alan White (Photo: Gottlieb Bros; used with permission)

Alan White, the longtime drummer for YES, who also performed on numerous recordings with John Lennon as part of the Plastic Ono Band, died May 26, 2022, at age 72, after a brief illness. The news was announced by his family, just four days after YES’ management revealed that White would not be participating on the band’s 50th anniversary “Close To the Edge” tour “due to current health issues.”

YES’ May 22 announcement had noted that White “was really looking forward to playing live again preparing to celebrate 50 years with Yes, having joined the band for the July 1972 Close to the Edge Tour, coming full circle in 2022. White’s close friend, Jay Schellen, will be taking on drumming duties in his place.” The latter had done so before. In 2016, White underwent a successful surgery to repair an injured disc in his lower back and missed the band’s summer tour.

YES co-founder Jon Anderson posted a tribute to his friend:

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🙏🙏🙏💕💕

YES keyboardist Rick Wakeman wrote, in part: “Alan and Chris [Squire] 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 the great memories you have left me.”

From former YES drummer, Bill Bruford, whom White replaced in 1972: “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.”

YES guitarist Steve Howe wrote, “He gave so many of his best years to the band and was a true believer and determined professional until 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.”

Fellow drummer Carl Palmer, of Emerson, Lake and Palmer, wrote, “Alan was a good friend and he will be missed by us all. I have been on many tours with Alan over the years. I will miss our chats and most of all I will miss him. My thoughts and love go out to all his family.”

The Moody Blues’ John Lodge wrote, “[Alan] was an incredible drummer, and he played an influential part in rock n roll history. We had such a fantastic summer together on the Royal Affair Tour….being on stage to sing ‘Imagine’ with YES and with Alan on drums was a very special moment I will always remember.”

Yes (L-R): Steve Howe, Jon Davison, Billy Sherwood, Alan White, Geoff Downes (Photo © Gottlieb Bros; used with permission)

White was born in Pelton, England on June 14, 1949. He began piano lessons at the age of six, began playing the drums at age twelve, and began performing publicly at age thirteen.

Throughout the 1960s, White honed 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 (The Move) and Denny Laine (Wings).

In 1968, he joined Ginger Baker’s Airforce, a new group that was put together by the former drummer of Cream and other noted musicians from England’s music scene including Steve Winwood.

In 1969, he received what he thought at the time to be a prank phone call, but it was John Lennon calling to ask him to join the Plastic Ono Band. The next day White found himself learning songs in the back of an airliner headed to Toronto with Lennon, Yoko Ono, Eric Clapton, and Klaus Voormann. The ensuing album, Live Peace in Toronto, sold millions of copies.

His association with Lennon continued, recording singles like “‘Instant Karma” and the subsequent landmark album, Imagine, with White providing drums for the title song, “Jealous Guy,” and “How Do You Sleep at Night.”

His work with Lennon led to an introduction to George Harrison, who asked him to perform on the album All Things Must Pass. He subsequently worked with many artists for the Apple label, including Billy Preston, Rosetta Hightower, and Doris Troy.

White joined YES on July 27, 1972, and with only three days to learn the music, the group opened their U.S. tour before 15,000 fans in Dallas, Tex. He was with YES ever since, and with the passing of founding member, Chris Squire, in June 2015, was the longest continuously serving band member. White was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with the band in 2017.

Related: An interview with White on the eve of Yes’ 2017 Rock Hall induction

Watch White and Squire perform a song from YES’ album, Tales From Topographic Oceans

Related: Musicians and other celebrities we lost in 2022

Best Classic Bands Staff

14 Comments so far

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  1. Batchman
    #1 Batchman 22 May, 2022, 20:48

    Why couldn’t they get Bruford to do it? He was the one on the original album anyhow.

    Reply this comment
  2. Jamie Reno
    #2 Jamie Reno 23 May, 2022, 00:36

    With all respect, without Jon Anderson, Yes is No!

    Reply this comment
    • Pel2112
      Pel2112 25 May, 2022, 14:04

      Yes is not Yes without Steve Howe. His work rate live was ways insane

      Reply this comment
      • DRAIDEZ1
        DRAIDEZ1 27 May, 2022, 07:26

        Close to edge down the river, seasons will pass you by, I get up, I get down! All my musicians are dying, where did all the years go? R.I.P. Alan Godspeed and will see you on the other side

        Reply this comment
      • Batchman
        Batchman 27 May, 2022, 11:43

        So the first two Yes albums weren’t really Yes albums?

        Reply this comment
      • kts4yes
        kts4yes 4 June, 2022, 09:02

        I agree 100% w/ Jamie Reno – Yes’s music & lyrics were b/c of Anderson & Squire – co founders. Both are gone! The magic is gone just like Jon Wetton’s death disrupted Asia & Wetton/Downes future contributions.

        Reply this comment
  3. v2787
    #3 v2787 23 May, 2022, 12:08

    It’s so, so sad that, just like the Eagles, the surviving members of Yes can’t reconcile and make music together again. There must be some really bad blood there between Howe, Wakeman, and Anderson. What a pity, and what a loss for fans of their music.

    Reply this comment
    • Greg Brodsky
      Greg Brodsky 23 May, 2022, 12:18

      I know that Howe and Wakeman dined together earlier this year. And Jon spoke very highly of Steve when I interviewed him a few years ago.

      Hard to know why they won’t share a stage.

      Reply this comment
    • YesIamMark
      YesIamMark 23 May, 2022, 13:13

      I think it is Steve who needs to bury the hatchet. It’s past time to move on. Invite Jon and Rick to play a few shows, share the stage and have a final Yes reunion show or shows. Not necessarily a tour.

      Reply this comment
    • kts4yes
      kts4yes 4 June, 2022, 08:59

      Wakeman & Anderson toured around 2017 w/ Rabin – no bad blood there. Anderson never returned after early 2006? tour went on w/ him due to pulmonary concerns. Howe apparently has probs taking direction/being 2nd best w/ YES & ASIA, as he’s left both of them. W/ Anderson gone, Howe remains! Hmmmmmm!

      Reply this comment
  4. Rama
    #4 Rama 23 May, 2022, 13:26

    Because Steve won’t play with Jon. No Jon and No Chris, current YES is a cover band in my humble opinion. Jon Davison is a great singer and does a good imitation but No he does not replace Jon Anderson!

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