In his 40-plus years of sitting on the drum stool for classic-rock legends Yes, Alan White has thumped skins in locations all over the world and under all kinds of conditions. But it was a show on the high seas a couple of years back, part of the prog-rock-themed "Cruise to the Edge" that bordered on the absurd.
"The weather was rough, and it was the roughest when we played our set. And the stage was at the front of the boat, which was the roughest place to be!" White laughs today.
"We were playing and hit some bad turbulence, and Chris [Squire, bassist] went to sing in the mike and missed it by a foot. Steve [Howe, guitar] had his steel guitar sliding all over its track, and I was aiming at cymbals just hoping I hit them! And at the end of the show when we went to take a bow together, we hit another wave and all stumbled to the side!"
Thankfully for the band, there will be no such rough seas as they embark on a 35-date U.S. summer tour that coincides with the release of a new record, Heaven and Earth (Frontiers Records). The album is the first that longtime members White, Squire, Howe and Geoff Downes (keyboards) have recorded with new vocalist Jon Davison, who replaced Benoit David, who in turn replaced original/classic singer Jon Anderson amid some controversy a decade ago.
"He's great to work with and plays bass and keyboards in addition to singing," White says of Davison. "And he had a lot to do with the writing. The songs on this one came from different members of the band, and the whole thing is very song-based."
Indeed, while there is some traditional proggy technical playing on the record, much of the eight tracks are more straight-ahead rock and sonic dreamscapes. And while the tour will feature many of the band's hits in addition to songs from the new record, longtime fans will probably be most excited that they will be playing two seminal records Fragile (1971) and Close to the Edge (1972) in their entirety, a practice which more and more classic rocks bands are taking on the road.
The albums contain familiar radio favorites like "Roundabout" and "Long Distance Runaround," but a number of the tracks -- some no more than brief instrumentals -- have either rarely been performed or will be making their live debut.
"We've been practicing, so it will be interesting!" White laughs. "There are things that really are just snippets, like 'Cans and Brahms,' which is a Rick Wakeman keyboard thing. And 'We Have Heaven' is purely vocal, then 'Five Percent for Nothing,' this five-second weird intro to 'Long Distance Runaround.' And then 'The Fish,' which is Chris' bass solo."
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Yes issued their debut record in 1969, and as rich as their legacy is, they and Deep Purple are perhaps the two most glaring omissions from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And though they've been on the final ballot, actual induction has eluded them. But White is patient.
"I know four of the board members, and they don't know why we aren't in! But I think [Hall of Fame co-founder/Rolling Stone creator Jan Wenner] is just not into prog-rock," White offers. "But we're close. KISS just got in, and they've been on the ballot many times. Genesis got in. I was told that we only missed getting in last year by 20 votes."
In Rocks Off's interview with Jon Anderson earlier this year, the former Yes vocalist expressed a desire to reunite with the band -- which fans would surely want. But he assumes it won't happen until any Hall of Fame induction. Asked if there was any thought given to bringing Anderson, who seems to have recovered from the health issues that led to his original ouster, back after Benoit David left, White is circumspect.
"Ahhh...I think Jon would like to come back, but he doesn't want to do these long, arduous tours that we do," he says. "If it happened, he would partake in the performance, but doing a cameo role of five or six numbers in the set."
Locally, White remember Houston as being "very humid," but has enjoyed coming to the city, especially during the time he had a girlfriend who lived here in the '70s.
"She worked for the promoter, and I think was the heiress to the Woolworth's fortune," he reflects. "Also, you have great malls in Houston!"
Still, for all his years with Yes, White also has a place in rock history as a member of the one-off initial lineup of the Plastic Ono Band. The ad hoc supergroup of John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Eric Clapton, and Klaus Voorman made their sole live performance at the 1969 Toronto Rock and Roll Revival concert. Lennon led the band through songs by the Beatles, his solo material and early rock standards as well as, er, some performance screaming by Ono.
The charming if shambolic performance was captured on the Live Peace in Toronto record and subsequent concert film. And the hastily assembled band literally had their first rehearsal on the plane flight to Canada -- with Lennon and Clapton on acoustic guitars -- and has become part of rock and roll lore.
"That's the truth, actually! John even says on the record we never played together," White laughs. "I was drumming on the back of the seat on the plane with drumsticks! And when I got onstage, I was sitting on a stool. They literally built the drum kit around me. Then John counted off 'one, two, three, four!' and that was it! We were off!"
Yes and special guest Syd Arthur perform Tuesday night at Bayou Music Center, 520 Texas. Doors open at 8 p.m.
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