INTERVIEW WITH LEGENDARY DRUMMER ALAN WHITE
Catch him playing with Yes at The Greek on Sunday!
September 3rd, 2015
Many rock legends have, obviously, lived the dream of being rock legends. It takes an enormous amount of work, practice, networking, hunger, and climbing of the musical ladder to get there, and those who have reached the top will tell you how difficult the journey was. They’ll say stuff like, “Bro, we slept in a van for two years before getting our first big gig.” I know this because I’m currently on that journey. I’ve been trying to be an official rocker for some time now, but I’m also happy as the amateur rocker that I currently am.
On my own journey to the top, I’ve had the opportunity to talk to many men who have reached rock stardom about their experiences assimilating into the industry. None of those people, though, are quite like Alan White, drummer for Yes, John Lennon, George Harrison, Joe Cocker, and many others. What sets him apart is the fact that he literally has never been on an audition. He’s never had a “real” job. He never even tried to be a rock legend.
By the ripe ol’ age of 18, White was being approached by already successful bands and artists. This guy’s life is so ridiculous that John Lennon randomly called him to offer a spot in The Plastic Ono Band. Alan hung up on Lennon, assuming it was a prank call. Lennon called back with a determined tone, so Alan obliged. Are you kidding? No one hangs up on John Lennon. No one except for Mr. White.
Besides being the drummer for ex-Beatles, Alan also has been with the prog-rock band Yes since very early in the group’s success. He co-wrote many tunes and contributed as much as any player in the band. I had a chance to interview him last week to talk about his career, the current Yes tour, life on the road with Toto, and more. What a gracious fella. Make sure to check out Yes and Toto at The Greek this Sunday. You won’t be sorry. The whole time you’ll be going “Yes!” That’s how good that show will be.
How ya feeling, Alan? How’s the tour?
Feeling good, mate! I’m enjoying this here cup of coffee. The tour is going well. You know, every tour takes a few weeks to ramp up and get the vibes going good until it’s smooth sailing, and that’s where we’re at now. Love playing with the guys.
Have you toured with Toto before?
No, actually, we haven’t. But I’ve known them since the ’70s. They were fans of us! It’s funny to tour with them now, knowing that we were influences. [Laughs] I was actually with Steve Lukather last night having a beer and a laugh. Great man, that Steve lad.
Steve Lukather plays with Ringo Starr’s All Star Band. Would you ever join that group?
Well, back in the day I was playing with John Lennon [Plastic Ono Band] and George Harrison, so Ringo never made it to the top of my list. I guess I’m satisfied with what I’ve done. Love Ringo, though. I know Steve is going back on the road with the All Star Band, and I’m looking to make it out to one of the shows.
That’s so cool that you played with John and George.
Yeah, John reached out to me and we became rather close quite quickly. Anything he did, he liked me around, so because of that I was able to drum on the majority of his tracks, including “Imagine.” When we were doing sessions, George would come out and smoke with us. He then asked me to play on his albums. It all worked out smooth. After that, Joe Cocker reached out to me. I was a hardworking man!
What a story. So, let’s talk about Yes. You’ve been with the band since almost the beginning, right?
I took over in 1972 and have been playing with them since.
A lot of musicians, as they age, change their style of playing to accomodate the age factor. Does this affect your playing in the band?
Well, you know, the band has a high standard of performance, and the songs aren’t as basic as many others. The time signatures and ever-changing progressions keep me on my toes. It’s not an easy task, but we are well-oiled.
I was sorry to hear about Chris Squire, who passed away this last month. He was the bassist/lead writer/founding member of the band. How is it playing with Billy Sherwood as the replacement?
Thanks, man. It was hard to experience. I loved Chris, but the band is playing tight and continuing to roll in the light of his legacy.
I think what’s great about Yes is that the music is truly timeless. Do you feel the same? Or are there changes?
I mean, I love that we sometimes notice that we’re playing to three generations of fans. Sometimes, 13 year olds come up to me and ask questions about the music. I love it and think that even with some of the changes, the music is there.
Do you still keep in touch with Yoko Ono and others you worked with in the ’70s?
I see them around at different events but not often. We are all family, though, and you can feel it when we’re all together. You know, I wrote “Gimme Some Truth” with John and Yoko. She still talks about it every time we catch up!
How great! Love that tune. Do you have any advice for starving musicians like myself trying to make it in Los Angeles?
Keep on doing it, man. If you like creating music, that’s all you need. You will always find satisfaction. Do it for yourself. But more importantly, believe in the music you write.
What’s one of your favorite memories?
In the late-70s, a fan fell asleep under the stage and pulled a few important plugs. Long story short, there was an explosion under the stage and everything went dark. No power in the entire venue, including for us! Too funny.
Well Mr. White, it was very fun talking with you.
You’re not too shabby yourself, Mr. Marks.
When he called me Mr. Marks, I blushed. It was an honor to speak with Alan. He was very forthcoming and chill. Can’t wait for the show this weekend!
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