Interview: Alan White (Yes, John Lennon, George Harrison)

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HIT CHANNEL EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: September 2012. We had the great honour to talk with a great drummer: Alan White. He is member of Yes since 1972 and has also played with John Lennon (“Imagine”, “Live Peace in Toronto”), George Harrison (“All Things Must Pass”), Joe Cocker and others. The latest Yes album is called “Fly From Here” and every progressive rock fan should listen to it. Read below the very interesting thing he told us:


Are you satisfied with the feedback you got from fans and press for the latest Yes album “Fly From Here”?

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Yeah, the feedback was very good. Ofcourse, in every Yes album it takes a while to get people into the system and they get used to it. It’s quite a long time since it was released in the USA and Europe, so everybody knows the album now and everybody loves the album. I think it’s one of the greatest albums we ‘ve done since the period of time I joined Yes.


Are you doing any recordings or songwriting this period?

Not currently, but we are going to do some writing with Chris (ed: Squire, Yes bassist) between now and Christmas with the view to recording something next year.


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Would you like to play again with Jon Anderson (original Yes vocalist) in Yes?

Well, people repeatedly ask me that question. The answer is: It would be great to play with Jon again but you know, he’s doing his own thing. Now, we have a new singer in Yes (ed: Jon Davison). I see the reason of playing with Jon again in a special concert or in a special occasion. In very special gigs around the world like New York, L.A.. That kind of things.


Do you like today the “Tales from Topographic Oceans” album (probably the most controversial rock album ever) ?

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Yes, it was my first studio album with Yes. I wanted to have some input in the work material, but I didn’t. It wasn’t the kind of music that I was playing before. I know that it remains good.


Did you enjoy the making of “Levin/ Torn/ White” album with Tony Levin (King Crimson, Peter Gabriel) and David Torn?

Yeah, the album was great, the project was great. I was a while ago..


Would you like to do a second album with them?

Yeah, we’re talking about it, right now. I ‘m not sure when and where but we’re talking about not doing something similar, but just move on. Probably we’ll not do it until early next year.


Was it more liberating for you that on “Ramshackled” (his only solo album, released in 1975) you had the total control of the music without being in a band and compromising?

(Laughs) Yeah!! I enjoyed that. I mean, we didn’t compromise with the music. We all lived in a home, a mansion, as big as we could play music every day with a very free form. A lot of bands were doing that at that time.


Do you think the phone call you got from John Lennon in 1969 changed your life?

Oh, yes!! Absolutely!! It was a stepping stone in my career. The funny thing is that I was 20 years old and I didn’t really realise what was happening to me at that time. I just thought the music industry was a foreign thing.


What do you remember the most from the live show that eventually became “Live Peace In Toronto”?

Not much, sure! One day I was cooking in the kitchen in London, the next day I was in a limousine and we were flying, the next morning I was on stage in front of 25-30.000 people and then we left the next morning and stayed back home. It was like a flash!! I thought that I was dreaming for a while, but I wasn’t. I also met Gene Vincent and Little Richard in Toronto. It was fine!


You played on “Imagine” album and single. During these sessions had you realised the impact that would have?

Yes!! I thought “Imagine” was a really-really fantastic song. It only took three recording takes for this song and one of those three takes was used in the album. It was very natural and everybody of us walked around and said “I think it sounds great”. There was a fantastic atmosphere during the recordings and everybody knows that we did a great song, a great thing.


How much comfortable did you feel recording “How Do you Sleep?” (John Lennon’s song about Paul McCartney)? 

(Laughs) Well, before we did the song, John gave us a paper with the lyrics. He said: “Read the lyrics of the song and tell me whether you want to play in it or not. That’s the subject of the song”. I said “No, I don’t have any problem. I want to play in this song”. I thought it sounded great. This shows the musicianship John Lennon had at the time. He was the top of the top.


You played on George Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass” triple-album. There were many great musicians playing there. Who impressed you the most?

I think everybody was really great on this album. Ofcourse Eric Clapton was fantastic, who plays a great deal in this album. You know, Bobby Keys (Rolling Stones), the sax player, Carl Radle (Eric Clapton, Derek and the Dominos-deceased), the bass player, they were very-very good. Generally, everybody in the whole album really had a star quality.


Gary Wright (George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Spooky Tooth keyboardist) told me that George impressed him the most.

Have you talked to Gary Wright?


Yes. And to Dave Mason (Traffic, Jimi Hendrix) and Bobby Whitlock (Derek and the Dominos) from these sessions!

Ahhh, that’s right!!!  Great!


Dave Mason told me “Everybody”, as you did.

It was always great to play with someone from The Beatles.


Some musicians like Phil Collins (Genesis) and Peter Frampton (solo, Humble Pie) remained uncredited for their participation in this album. Do you know the reason?

I don’t remember actually seeing them. Ah, now I do remember I saw Peter Frampton one day, but I never saw Phil Collins playing.


How was working with Phil Spector (the inventor of “Wall of Sound” production technique) as producer?

Well, you know he was very extreme in the ways of recordings. He had his own way of doing things. For example, if he wanted me to put a tambourine in a track to give a more intensive feel, he made me put 15 tambourines instead of one (laughs).


That’s the “Wall of Sound”!

Yeah, that’s the “Wall of Sound”, exactly.


Do you have happy memories playing in Ginger Baker’s Air Force with Ginger Baker (Cream, Blind Faith drummer) and Steve Winwood (Traffic, Blind Faith singer and keyboardist)?

Yeah, absolutely. Pretty crazy band, though!


Ginger -I talked with him in May– is a strange person. He isn’t a very easy one.

You know, I like Ginger (ed: me too). I got on really-really well with Ginger. He’s very hard to get to know him. Once you know him, he’s a really good friend.


You tried to form a new band, XYZ, with Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin guitarist) and Chris Squire. Why it finally didn’t happen?

We wrote a bunch of songs, Chris and myself and we showed them to Jimmy. We went an evening to Jimmy’s house and jamming some stuff and it sounded really good. Then everybody started seeing seriously XYZ, which means eX-Yes & Zeppelin. Once people started seeing us seriously, several managements got involved in. Robert Plant came and listened to our music, he thought it was complicated. Then the managers wanted an audience and we all made second thoughts.


Who managers? Peter Grant (the legendary manager of Led Zeppelin)?

Peter Grant and Brian Lane from the Yes management. Some of the music that Chris Squire and myself wrote ended up in the next Yes album (ed: “90125”).


You have played with many great musicians in your career. Is there anyone you’d would you like to play with and it hasn’t happened yet?

I live here in Seattle and yesterday I went for a walk to the Jimi Hendrix Memorial. His grave is 2kms from my house. There is a big monument there, they had a site commemorating him and I know his brother, his sister and the whole family. He was a really amazing guitarist. He was one of those people, I jammed with in a club, years and years ago. He was fan-ta-stic!! You know, in a club you have a beer, then a few drinks, and then other few drinks for you guys, and you can’t remember anything about it.


How strange is for a great progressive rock drummer to live in Seattle, the capital of grunge?

(Laughs) Not any more. There are many great progressive bands in that area, right now. There are also two very good Yes tribute bands here.


You are the favourite drummer of Danny Carey from Tool. Are you flattered when younger musicians admire your work?

Ofcourse I am, because he’s a great drummer. All these people are also great drummers on their own right. I have met him. You know, a lot of younger guys look up to some other guys from my era. They look for your rhythms, your things from your music. I lot of people do that.


Have you ever rejected a work offer and then regretted for it?

No, I have a lot of work to do with Yes and I also have my own band (ed: White) here is Seattle, with which I have a fantastic time. I don’t have much time for the process of writing a new album. My work with Yes, has offered me enormous things. I just finished a world tour with Yes and I have enough things to do.


Is it true that Yes came to Greece in the ‘70s for a concert but it was cancelled because there were only two hundred fans in the stadium?

No, no, no. That wasn’t the reason for the cancel.


Which was the reason?

That’s what they thought then. We came to Athens for a show and then a war broke out..  in Belgrade and then he had to cancel the whole tour. But we actually stayed in Athens for almost two weeks.


In the ‘70s (ed: I don’t think there was a war in Belgrade in the ‘70s)?



 I didn’t know it. How do you see the collapse of the major recording labels? Do you see this as a kind of justice for their corporate greed all these years?

This is a bad thing which ’s happening also to other things like DVDs. Everybody downloads everything nowadays. This costs to the companies an ocean of money. This is really effective to them, but on the other hand, there are many vinyl shops which earn a lot of money. People go and buy vinyl records.


It’s better.

Yeah, it has more character. It’s bigger, you can see the cover clearly, it’s warmer.


I ‘ve read that you almost met Elvis Presley one day before his death. It is true?

Oh, yeah! We were staying at the same hotel but Jon Anderson actually met him. He was invited by his (ed: Elvis’) band TCB, Take Care of Business, and nobody else got invited to see…  the whole floor of the hotel, that people could never go there.


Which of the band of your era, did you like the most? Jon Anderson told me without hesitation Mahavishnu Orchestra.

Jon and myself used to love Mahavishnu a lot, Weather Report and that kind of fusion bands.


Return To Forever.

Yes Return To Forever, who I saw them a few months ago! They were great. Chick Corea!


Hope to see you soon in Greece.

Hopefully. I think we won’t tour in Europe until next year. I hope to come to Greece during our next European tour. I’d love to come.


A huge “THANK YOU” to Mr Alan White for his time and to his webmaster, Paul, for his valuable help.

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