Classic Rock Corner

Drummer Alan White Will Always Be a Yes Man

Yes today: Billy Sherwood (bass/vocals), Jon Davison (vocals), Steve Howe (guitar), Alan White (drums), and Geoff Downes (keyboard).
Yes today: Billy Sherwood (bass/vocals), Jon Davison (vocals), Steve Howe (guitar), Alan White (drums), and Geoff Downes (keyboard). Photo by Glenn Gottlieb
Earlier this year, one of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's most egregious exclusions was finally remedied when Yes joined the list of inductees. Formed in 1968, the British group is one of the titans of Progressive Rock, mixing classical and symphonic elements, intricate and complex musicianship, and outer-space/fantasy themes across their lengthy catalogue.

Fans were extra thrilled when all of the eight surviving inductees (except keyboardist Tony Kaye) performed several of their biggest hits together at the induction ceremony; Rush bassist Geddy Lee stood in for co-founder Chris Squire, who died in 2015. With a litany of lineup changes over the years of Yes Men — and a bevy of leavings, reunions, and splinter groups whose names read like law firms — Squire was the only constant.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY GLENN GOTTLEIB
Photo by Glenn Gottleib
For drummer Alan White, that made for a bittersweet moment standing on that podium with his trophy. “Well, it’s been anticipated by a lot of people for a long time. And when we actually got nominated that was great, and when we got inducted, it made a lot of difference for us,” he says. “And everyone was thrilled. It’s just sad that Chris Squire never got to see it. He is sorely missed.”

White has been behind the Yes kit since 1972, when original drummer Bill Bruford left to join King Crimson. His percussive work has appeared on plenty of classic Yes albums including Tales from Topographic Oceans, Relayer, Drama, and 90125 – the latter of which brought the band a surprise revival in the ‘80s and made them fixtures on MTV.

Yes, or at least the main version of it (more on that later) is on the road this summer headlining their own “Yestival” with support acts Todd Rundgren and Carl Palmer’s ELP Legacy; the tour reaches Sugar Land's Smart Financial Centre next Wednesday. White has a particularly affinity for fellow skin-thumper Palmer, the last surviving member of Prog’s greatest trio (sorry, Rush fans) after the recent deaths of Keith Emerson and Greg Lake.

“I’ve known Carl since the early ‘70s. ELP and Yes always had a little bit of a competition between the bands, and then between us as drummers,” White says. “But we get on really well now, and have developed a relationship over the years.”

But during his band’s set, White will not be the only drummer onstage, as guitarist Steve Howe’s son, Dylan, will be behind a second kit. It isn’t the first time that Yes has done this, and the pair are still “working out” the parts.

The three acts that make up Yestival, of course, are a Prog Rock lover’s dream. And all figure prominently in Dave Weigel’s recent history of the genre, The Show That Never Ends (the Houston Press got to speak with Weigel about the title earlier this year).

click to enlarge Roger Dean - whose work graces the covers of many Yes albums - is the go-to Prog Rock artist. This is the gatefold cover for "Tales of Topographic Oceans." - ATLANTIC RECORDS COVER
Roger Dean - whose work graces the covers of many Yes albums - is the go-to Prog Rock artist. This is the gatefold cover for "Tales of Topographic Oceans."
Atlantic Records cover
However, White doesn’t particularly care for the label “Prog Rock,” or any other labels for the band’s music, like classic rock or symphonic rock. But, he admits, he does realize its usefulness as a sort of musical shorthand.

Finally, one wrinkle that has come up recently is over the name of Yes itself. Prior to the band’s induction into the RRHOF, previous members Jon Anderson (vocals), Rick Wakeman (keyboards), and Trevor Rabin (guitarist), formed a splinter group called ARW, playing mostly Yes material. In his group, White shares the stage with classic member Steve Howe (guitar) and latter-day member Geoff Downes (keyboards), and even newer members Jon Davison (vocals), and Billy Sherwood (bass/vocals).

It’s been reported that Anderson had a sort of gentlemen’s agreement with his co-founder Chris Squire that the latter would have sole use of the Yes name for touring and recording purposes. Since Squire’s passing, though – and shortly after the induction ceremony – ARW changed their name to legalese-sounding “Yes featuring Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin, Rick Wakeman.” Both bands will be on the road this fall, which has divided Yes fans and even some members themselves.

This won’t confuse Yes’s more ardent followers, but it’s muddier for the ticket-buying fan who only knows that they like “I’ve Seen All Good People,” “Roundabout,” “Long Distance Runaround,” and “Owner of a Lonely Heart” on the radio.

For his part, White is nonplussed and will leave the bickering to his bandmates, current and former, on both lineups. He’s just happy to play.

“I’ve been in the band for 45 years now, and as far as I’m concerned, I’m just carrying on being in Yes. We’re just carrying on doing what we did,” he sums up. “I have no opinion about that…or what [others] do.”

Yestival featuring Yes, Todd Rundgren, and Carl Palmer’s ELP Legacy dazzles Sugar Land's Smart Financial Centre (18111 Lexington) on Wednesday, August 23. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.; tickets are $69.50 to $125.
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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.
Contact: Bob Ruggiero