Alan White is considered by many to be one of the greatest rock drummers of all-time. With forty-plus years of performance experience and appearances on over fifty albums, Alan’s dossier reads like a who’s-who of rock legends. With his consummate professionalism and easy-going nature, Alan continues to be an inspiration to fellow musicians as well as fans.
Born in Pelton, Co. Durham, in northern England on June 14th, 1949, Alan is the only child of May and Raymond White. At the age of six, Alan began taking piano lessons and in time it became apparent that his style was very percussive. Noticing this, he was given his first drum kit by his Uncle Ken, also a drummer.
Alan took to the drums immediately, and began performing publicly with a local band just three months later, at the ripe old age of 13. Throughout the mid to late 1960s, Alan continued to hone his craft in England and Europe with a variety of bands, including The Downbeats, The Gamblers, Billy Fury, Alan Price Big Band, Bell and Arc, Terry Reid, and Happy Magazine (later called Griffin) and Balls with Trevor Burton and Denny Laine.
In the summer of 1968, Alan was asked to join Ginger Baker’s Airforce, a new group being put together by the former drummer of Cream and other noted musicians from England’s music scene including Steve Winwood, formerly of Traffic.
In 1969, Alan received what he thought at the time to be a prank phone call, but was actually John Lennon calling to ask Alan to join the Plastic Ono Band. The next day Alan found himself learning songs in the back of an airliner en-route to Toronto with Lennon, Yoko Ono, Eric Clapton and Klaus Voorman. The ensuing album, Live Peace in Toronto, sold millions of copies, peaking at number 10 on the pop charts.
Alan’s association with Lennon continued, recording singles like ‘Instant Karma’ and the subsequent landmark album, Imagine, with Alan providing drums for the title song, ‘Jealous Guy’, and ‘How Do You Sleep at Night’. Alan’s work with Lennon led to an introduction to George Harrison, who asked Alan to perform on the album All Things Must Pass, including the hit single, ‘My Sweet Lord’, released in 1970.
In July 1972, while on tour with Joe Cocker, Alan got a phone call from his manager, Tony Dimitriades, who said that Yes wanted him to join the band. His current tour was ending so he flew back to England for a meeting with Jon Anderson and Chris Squire, who told him that he was joining Yes or “they were going to throw me out the third-story window,” recalls Alan.
Three days later, on July 30th, Yes, along with their new drummer, opened their US tour before 15,000 fans in Dallas, Texas. Alan and Yes gave each other three months to see if it would work out, and more than thirty years later, Alan is an integral part of the band, having played on every Yes studio and live album recorded since.
His first studio endeavor with Yes, the 1974 release Tales From Topographic Oceans, saw Alan creating massive multi-rhythmic passages for the track ‘Ritual’. When it was performed on Yes’ 2000 ‘Masterworks’ tour, ‘Ritual’, which has nearly the entire band playing percussion together onstage, was a crowd favorite.
Far from just a time-keeper, Alan has written a large part of Yes’ music; from the chord sequences for the beautiful ‘Turn of the Century’, from the album Going for the One (1977), to many of the themes on Tormato (1978) and Drama (1980), to the hypnotic opening to ‘Mind Drive’, from Keys to Ascension 2 (1997).
Never having lost his love for piano, Alan has recorded several keyboard parts for Yes as far back as 1974, when he tracked backing piano for the conclusion to ‘Ritual’, when Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman was unavailable. Alan continues to play piano to this day, and was featured on several tracks on Yes’ 2001 album Magnification, as well as live keyboard performances on the subsequent tour.
Time off from the Yes’ hectic touring and recording schedule allows Alan to pursue other projects as well. With longtime friend and technical guru, Reek Havok, he formed ‘Crash and Bang’, to provide music for the entertainment industry, including video games and television shows. “It also serves as a testing ground for new music hardware and software and new approaches to music and it’s psychological effects on the user and an excuse to plug the wrong things together just to see what happens!”, adds Reek.
In recent years, Alan has performed with a variety of artists, including Spencer Davis, The Ventures, Charlie Daniels and Eddie Money, to name but a few. In 2007, Alan played alongside Keith Emerson, Simon Kirk and Yes bassist Chris Squire at the Ahmet Ertegün memorial show, as part of the opening act for Led Zeppelin. He also conducts numerous drum clinics around the country and around the world to encourage and teach other drummers.
Alan and his wife Gigi are very active in the Seattle arts community, serving on the board of directors for Music Aid Northwest, Northwest Program for the Arts, and the Seattle Theatre Group. Alan is also a member of the Seattle Chapter of The National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences.