An Interview with Alan White, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Drummer for Yes

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Alan White being interviewed by Elliot Gould
Photo courtesy of Carl Moore.
Alan White and Elliot Gould
Alan signing my photo of him from August 1977 when Yes played Madison Square Garden. Photo courtesy of Carl Moore.

Alan White, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame drummer for Yes, talks about his favorite Yes songs to play, which are the most difficult, and his time with George Harrison recording the “All Things Must Pass” album.

I’ve been a life-long fan of Yes. I still remember listening to the Yes album for the first time and being in awe. How many guitars did Steve Howe use to record “The Clap?” [Ed. Note – See comments below for a discussion of how the name of this song has changed over the years.] Every song was full of tremendous dynamics. Between the time changes, soft melodies and great rock and roll, the music engulfed me and has never left.

Being a drummer, I spent hours upon hours learning to play all their songs as exactly as I could and loving every bit of it. So, it was a tremendous thrill to get the chance to speak with their drummer, Alan White, before a recent Yes concert at the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom in Hampton, NH.

Alan’s history in rock and roll is well documented. From playing on John Lennon’s iconic Imagine album (including the song Imagine itself), and George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass, including the hit single, My Sweet Lord, Alan was also inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Yes in 2017

“Chris (Squire’s) dying wish was for me to keep this going and that’s what I’m doing.”

Alan is the longest continuous member of Yes anchoring the drums since Bill Bruford left in 1972. I asked Alan how hard it was to learn the material in a mere three days before going on tour and which songs were the most difficult.

“How about I start with all of them. Maybe Close to the Edge. I was the first guy to play it live. I adapted parts of it with my style. It’s still little unfair (referring to the live recordings on Yessongs). I really hadn’t worked myself into the music fully.”

Check out other episodes in the Rock Music Series, including Roger Fisher talking about “Magic Man,” “Crazy on You,” and “Barracuda

Although Alan walks gingerly, his gate belies the energy he brought later that evening while behind the drum kit, pounding out Yours Is No Disgrace and Roundabout.

Alan White, Drummer of Yes
Alan White, drummer for Yes, at the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom, Hampton, NH on July 11, 2018.
Alan White, Drummber of Yes at Madison Square Garden, August 7, 1977
Alan White, drummer for Yes, playing at Madison Square Garden in New York City on August 7, 1977.

Asked why he continues to tour, Alan boasts “We love touring! The backbone of the band is touring, and music keeps everything going. And Chris (Squire’s) dying wish was for me to keep this going, and that’s what I’m doing.” What a wonderful sentiment and tribute to his life-long friend.

Alan White and Jon Davison of Yes
Showing 8 comments
  • Nick Sudbury

    Ok – you’re a drummer….but your very first paragraph doesn’t inspire confidence that you really do know much about Yes: I’ll tell you how many guitars Steve Howe used to record “The Clap” (sic) – exactly one. It’s an acoustic piece, and the version on The Yes Album was recorded live. Oh, and it’s actually called just “Clap”, as any serious Yes fan knows.

    • admin

      Hi Nick. You’re absolutely right. I got the name of the song wrong (“Clap” vs “The Clap”), so thanks for pointing that out (I’ve fixed the post).

      The point I was trying to make in the post – and perhaps not very well – was that when my friends and I first heard the song, we were blown away with what Steve was able to produce sonically. To our untrained, young ears is sounded like it was more than one guitar. I remember us distinctly bringing up the album to check how it was recorded after hearing the track for the first time. That was all I was trying to communicate. It was an attempt to maybe state the obvious – that Steve Howe is an exceptional guitar player – via a whimsical observation. Sorry if that fell flat.

      • Barry

        As a young guitarist back in the 70’s, when I first heard Mood for a Day I thought it was two guitars double-tracked. What did I know – I was just starting out? So, I learned the melody part and played it for my buddy and his band mates, who were a little older than me. After I finished, they said, “Well that’s fine, but what about the bass notes? I was more astonished than embarrassed and set out to relearn it. Really, don’t be a condescending putz – no one is perfect.

    • Elliot Gould

      Ah Nick. It turns out my original vinyl copy of “The Yes Album” has Steve Howe’s track listed as “The Clap.” I’m not sure when the change was made, but perhaps that does qualify me as a “serious” fan since I knew to refer to the song as it was originally published. 🙂 Fun to learn about!

  • CSM

    Actually, it was “The Clap” on the early YES albums.

    • Elliot Gould

      Ah, I wonder if my original vinyl album had that title and that’s what stuck with me. I’ll have to dig it up and see…thanks Carl!

      • Elliot Gould

        I dug up my vinyl copy of “The Yes Album,” and, indeed, Carl is correct. The original title was “The Clap,” so I am amending the post to indicate that as well as include a photo of the back cover of the album.

        • Elliot Gould

          ANOTHER “THE CLAP” UPDATE. A friend just pointed out to me that Jon Anderson introduces the song as “The Clap” on the track. So, of course we would have referred to it as that name. Wonder why he changed it…

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