By Rock Chicago Magazine 10 March 2013
Yes will be performing at the Venue at the Horseshoe Casino in Hammond, Indiana, Saturday evening March 16, 2013 at 8:00 PM. The band consists of Chris Squire (bass), Steve Howe (guitar), Alan White (drums), Geoffrey Downes (keyboards), and Jon Davison (vocals).
Rock Chicago was able to secure an interview with Alan White, the long-time drummer (forty years) with Yes. The interview was conducted by staff writer Peter S Sakas. Alan White was a pleasure to interview as he was pleasant, engaging, interesting, and forthcoming during the entire interview process. We sincerely thank him for his willingness to take part in the interview.
RC: You have always been one of my rock idols. I am a 60 year old prog rocker from the good old days.
AW: There you go.
RC: Actually my real profession is that of a veterinarian, believe it or not.
AW: You are? I’ve got three Jack Russells (terriers).
RC: You must like to keep busy. Those dogs are hyperkinetic. They are great dogs, I love them.
AW: They run the household. They are too smart for their own britches.
RC: I write for Rock Chicago online magazine as a side job. I will be at the concert Saturday with my wife and also be attending the “Meet and Greet” event, so we will get to meet you in person. I am very excited about that.
AW: Yeah, that’s cool.
RC: I have a series of questions for you. Hopefully they are not like the ones you usually hear and will find them interesting. The first question is that I know you started playing the drums at an early age and played with a number of local bands. So could you tell me how it came about that John Lennon called you asking you to join the Plastic Ono Band?
AW: Yeah, that’s going back a long ways. I was with my band and we were trying to play new music, we were a bunch of adventurous young guys. It was pretty much out of the blue. We were doing gigs around London, we lived in Wembly, London. We had a gig to do that night. We played a gig the night before, and I guess he came into the club with Yoko and I didn’t even know he was there. Everything seemed to go pretty well and he obviously saw me playing, then he kind of left. Somebody later told me that John Lennon had popped through. I must have left some kind of impression upon him because I got a call the next day saying, “Can you do a gig with me, I have a gig lined up. I saw you play last night and you are a great drummer. I’d like you to play with me if you want.” I was only twenty years old at the time, young and naïve, gunner musician. He said he was John Lennon and I put the phone down on him. He called back in ten minutes, I had thought it was a friend of mine. He said, “No man, this is John Lennon,” and I nearly fell off my chair. Saying, “Oh, oh my God”. He said, “I got this gig and I will send a car for you in the morning and pick you up.” I said, “Sure, no problem.” The only problem was my band had a gig that night and needed the money. They got annoyed with me because I was going to do a show with John Lennon and not them.
RC: I think you made the right move, that’s for sure.
AW: Well, yeah. I said, “Sorry guys it’s John Lennon. Listen I will call the guy and change the date.” I managed to do that. Then I took off and went to the VIP Lounge in the London airport, met Yoko and John, and Klaus Voorman. While I was waiting he said, “By the way, I forgot to tell you, Eric Clapton will be playing guitar.” I thought like wow, this is like the big time. But I was pretty naïve as I was twenty at the time. I didn’t really realize what was going on, I just kind of kept my head down and said see you after the show kind of thing.
RC: You played with him (John Lennon) for a while?
AW: Yes, for a period of about a year and a half, I think. He called me back and I played on “Imagine,” spent the whole time in the studio for ten days. He just liked what I did. He would turn around to me and say, “Alan, whatever you are doing, keep doing it.”
RC: Well, I liked what you did and do, and that is from a humble veterinarian.
AW: Thank you.
RC: How did you originally hook up with Yes?
AW: I was still working in London, doing a lot of sessions around town. I was getting the reputation of being a session guy, but I was playing in bands too. I ended up eventually playing with Joe Cocker, stuff like that. I was doing a tour with Joe Cocker and I was living in London with Eddie Offord; he had an apartment and we were friends. It was his father’s apartment and I paid him rent. It was one of those things. We hung out together, we were having fun. I went down to see Yes when they were rehearsing “Siberian Khatru.” Bill Bruford (the current drummer at the time) had played with King Crimson then left one day and I said, “I can play this kind of stuff.” My band had been playing all kinds of stuff, different time signatures and jazz, all kinds of influences, so I was kind of set up for this kind of music. I sat in, played “Siberian Khatru.” When Bill left the band they then came and asked me to join. I must have left a good impression.
RC: Obviously so. An interesting question I have is, England was the hotbed of progressive rock in the seventies, Yes, ELP, King Crimson, Genesis, Camel. My favorite bands were these English prog rock bands. What was the reason that this type of music flourished in England then? In my opinion the English prog rock bands were the best in the world.
AW: I think everyone was tired of playing the regular old, mundane kind of rock and roll. Not twelve bar so much but the same chords. Everyone wanted to experiment not so much only with chords, but time signatures and lots of different things in that area. It was kind of like, anything to be different. All these bands did seem to come up with a thing that was different, which was an identity in of itself which was associated with that band. You don’t really hear many bands that sound like Yes or Crimson or that kind of stuff. They all had their own particular stamp. It was pretty difficult to play, quite a lot of it. You don’t get many of those tribute bands, unless somebody is so dedicated as a musician.
RC: That music holds up today. I tell people that music took great musicianship and it was so unbelievable that music that came out of that era. You guys are still holding up great.
AW: It is pretty amazing. Last night, after the show, we sign autographs for that VIP thing, take photographs; we had a large numbers of teenagers in the line and some ten year olds. They must have come with their parents and been brainwashed over the years. We have three generations of people now.
RC: I have always say, good music endures. They said punk music killed prog rock in the late seventies, but what is your opinion as to why it happened and why did Yes endure through that era and for all these years?
AW: (Laughing) I guess the band is just pretty stubborn. We enjoyed what we were doing and we were still selling out concerts. So the interest was still there, even though the punk rock thing still existed. There were a certain amount of people who got involved in that but there was a group of people who were diehard kind of music fans who liked that progressive rock type thing.
RC: I was always buying your albums. I did not go over to the dark side with that punk music. I had seen Yes on the thirty fifth anniversary tour and you still looked great and played the drums with boundless energy. How do you keep your enthusiasm up for the touring after all these years?
AW: The best part of the day is going on stage and playing. It is so very satisfying, seeing so many people with smiles on their faces and happy. The thing that gets harder is the traveling. Traveling everyday. We’re almost in the middle of our tour; we have four more gigs to get to our halfway point. But the people themselves keep you going. I have toured America and the world, I have friends in a lot of big cities and some smaller cities. They come to the gig, I get to see them and it is quite satisfying.
RC: Well, you have a veterinarian in Chicago who is a huge fan.
AW: Chicago has always stayed in my heart because I have spent a lot of time there because of my association with Ludwig drums. In fact, Will Ludwig is coming to the show tomorrow.
RC: Oh, wow. That’s terrific. Do you have any special training regimen or secrets that help keep you in such good shape?
AW: Not really. Playing the drums along, because the show is touching on two to three hours. We just move a lot and we are traveling all day. I am not exactly sitting around and keeping my feet up. I am not a couch potato. Even when I am not on the road I am very active. As I told you, I have three Jack Russells; they keep me going.
RC: Now with this tour, I am really excited because you will be doing three whole albums on the tour. Why were the three particular albums chosen? “The Yes Album” “Close to the Edge” and “Going for the One.”
AW: I don’t know, it seems like those albums just popped up before our eyes, and it became pretty obvious those are the ones we should be doing. They are all successful albums in a kind of way.
RC: I thought you would be doing “Fragile” as one of the albums.
AW: That could be in a future tour, who knows. “Fragile” is a little bit more of a fragmented album. It has a lot of iconic songs, but it has a lot of little solo type things on it, too. It is kind of different somewhat in that kind of way. It’s got the little “Five Per Cent for Nothing,” Bill’s (Bruford) thing, a little Jon thing, material which was very identifiable with the person who was in the band at that time. A little bit harder to vary, I guess. And the iconic songs, obviously.
RC: I met Geoffrey Downes when Asia was touring Chicago last fall. I was really impressed with his keyboard work and seems like a great guy, as we met him at a “Meet and Greet.” What type of dynamic does he bring to the band?
AW: Geoff is great. I hang out a lot with Geoff on the road. We are good friends. I think Geoff has a modern sound to him, he doesn’t exactly rest on his laurels. He plays all the parts Rick Wakeman played but he plays it with a bit more of a modern flair. It generates from his time with the Buggles.
RC: When we went through the Asia “Meet and Greet” he was one of the most engaging people, my wife adored him. He was so nice and friendly and gave her a big hug. Ok, Another question here. Replacing an iconic lead singer is difficult. How did you decide upon Jon Davison and make him a member of the band?
AW: Benoit David was not satisfied with his voice with the band because singing the Yes songs, a lot of them are very, very high. He could make the notes but they were in rapid succession so it but a strain on him. Benoit was good with what he did but he just said, “I can’t do this anymore.” He went back to his family life in Montreal. Jon Davison…I actually live in Seattle…Jon Davison lived in Seattle for quite awhile. He was with a band called “Sky Cries Mary.” He moved to LA and his name came up when we were looking for a singer and ended up with Benoit. Jon had left a message on my machine, but left no number so there was no way to get in touch with him. So things might have been different earlier. Taylor (Hawkins), from the Foo Fighters, a friend of Chris’ (Squire), said if you ever need a singer, contact Jon Davison. He pretty much knew all the material and had a voice very similar to Jon Anderson’s. We tried him out and it was written in stone he was the one.
RC: What is the greatest influence of the Yes experience on your life?
AW: Last summer was forty years since I joined the band, so it was a big part of it. I do a lot of other things, I have my own band in Seattle, do a lot of charity work, but it has been basically non-stop all the time. There have been some times where Jon went off and did his thing and Steve went off and did his thing, but we always seemed to surface in a different form again, like a chameleon.
RC: Do you like Seattle, because it is kind of like England with the rainy weather?
AW: We only tell people that to keep them away. I like all the seasons and have had a house there for about thirty years.
RC: I was out there years ago and loved it. It was eighty five degrees and sunny. The locals were complaining.
AW: Oh yeah, you can get a good summer in Seattle.
RC: When you are not touring or recording, what do you like to do with your spare time? Spend time with your dogs? Any other things you like to do?
AW: I pretty much walk the dogs. I have a forty foot boat and a twenty eight foot boat, and will take the dogs out with me.
RC: Well thank you very much. There was a great deal of interesting information. I am looking forward to seeing you and the band at the show at the Venue at the Horseshoe Casino Saturday night.
AW: Come and saw hi.
RC: I will definitely do that.