Seattle Music Insider was founded over twelve years ago in 2010. In 2017, I “retired” from being a quasi-indie music hack to focus on some other things, like my career in creative talent acquisition, my passion for high-performance road cycling, health and documentary film project that I hope to have complete by early next year. Over the course of a few years, I covered and wrote about Alan White and Yes a lot. I am listening to Yes music as I write this piece. It has been an incredible journey for this long-time Yes fan indeed. My journey would not be complete if I did not write and finish this particular chapter.
It has been years since I have written anything for SMI but today, I write, not out of joy, not out of passion or acknowledgement, my heart is heavy. Today, I write to heal from the loss of a friend and to share a few stories and some smiles. I write to pay my respects, to pay tribute to Alan and to our community. It is a community, that Alan and his wife, partner, best friend and soulmate, Gigi created for us to experience together and to make a positive difference in the process.
Alan White had thousands of friends, and touched millions of lives, through his being and through his art. I didn’t know him as deeply as others, but I knew him enough to get the world of who he was, what he meant to the community, his fans and the people who did know him on a deeper level. So many people have Alan White stories. I have a few special ones myself. I will provide some context first.
Like many longtime music fans like me who grew up in the Seventies and FM radio, I was a proud prog rock geek. For me, “The Holy Trilogy” prog rock fiefdom was ELP (Emerson, Lake & Palmer), Genesis and Yes… They still are.
Out of those three, Yes has always held a special place in my heart. I remember exactly what I was doing, where I was in my life’s timeline, the first time I heard the group’s seminal song, “Roundabout.” It is like that song opened a whole musical and mystical universe to me. I devoured everything the group and various members put out, i.e. Rick Wakeman’s “Journey to the Center of The Earth” and “No Earthly Connection,” Chris Squire’s “Fish Out of Water” or Jon Anderson’s “Songs of Seven.” Even though Jon Anderson was not in front of the mic for the 1980 release of “Drama,” I loved that record and vocal stylings of Trevor Horn. That record was the precursor to their smash 1983 release, “90125,” a record that would bring Jon Anderson back into the fold and usher the band into 80’s relevancy. The record was produced by Horn himself.
A year later, I left college because I ran out of money. The recession hit and I joined the military to attend the Defense Information School for the Armed Forces Network. There were very lonely and sad times. It was Yes music that lifted me up and brought me great comfort. I would put my Sony Walkman on and listen to “Tales of Topographic Oceans” to fall asleep. Songs like “Ritual” were the perfect tracks to drift off into dreamland.
Members of Yes came and went. There must be at least sixty members in the “Yes Alumni Association.” Of course, as we already know, founding member and bass-guitar extraordinaire, Chris Squire sadly passed away, June 2015. Per his wishes the band marched on. After all, the name of the band is YES.
For five decades, the band’s mainstay was Alan White and had been since he stepped in with three days’ notice to take over the sticks from Bill Bruford in 1972 for the “Close to the Edge” Tour. Alan’s performance was documented on their first live album “Yessongs” in 1973.
Since joining, Alan has been the heartbeat of Yes, not just the heartbeat but the core to the group’s collective soul. That heartbeat is now silenced but the beat and his life goes on in another dimension. Yes music and Yes universe is an entity unto itself and will endure forever regardless who is performing the music.
If I could choose one word to describe Alan White as a drummer and performer, it would be passion. Or should I say, precise passion. Alan was an accomplished musician at an early age. His friends and fans know that prior to joining Yes, he sat in a room and played drums for this cat named, John Lennon who was previously in a pretty cool band called, The Beatles. I remember Alan telling me that John told him during the Plastic Ono Band sessions, “whatever you are doing, keep doing it,” and Alan did, big time. Songs like “Instant Karma” and “Imagine are more prophetic today than ever. You can Google the man’s resume. Alan’s body of work is impeccable, and his legacy is secure.
Watching Alan behind the drums was like watching a hyper-focused, human hurricane. Alan didn’t play the drums; he was the drums. The drums were simply an extension of who he was. His instrument and music were his medium and his self-expression.
In my view, Alan was an athlete as much as an artist and musician behind that kit. I remember telling Alan that drummers were the real athletes in the band, and he simply smiled back at that statement, he knew it was true – Millions of miles traveled, thousands of shows all over the world for over fifty years – He lived it.
I am here to tell ya that Alan played with the same amount of passion in front of nobody but me and his band in a rehearsal space as he did in front of 18,000 in an arena, amphitheater or stadium – Alan didn’t care about the size of the crowd or space, If he was behind a kit playing with his mates, he was happy.
I know this for a fact because years before I met him, I saw Alan with Yes at the old Seattle Center Coliseum in 1984, during the 90125 Tour. I saw him again with the band in 1991 at Irvine Meadows for the “Union” Tour (Alan would later tell me they called it the “Onion” Tour, because of various follies, that I will not get into). Anyway, I digress, I thought it was a great show, especially when all members launched into “Awaken.” Another highlight was Alan’s drum fierce drum solo, I was mesmerized. Bill Bruford was great as well and has a different approach. I was really drawn to Alan’s feel, power and flair during that show.
One could say that Alan was kind of like the Incredible Hulk. When he was offstage, he was a mild-mannered unassuming chap but once he was behind his drum set, The Hulk was unleashed. Alan didn’t hulk out because he was angry. He hulked out because he was full of joy, doing what he loved.
I met Alan the first time in 2008 at a gig that a former bandmate and T-bone man, Skinny Lynn Cook (Rest In Peace brother) invited me to at a comedy club, then owned by accomplished musician and comedienne, Julie Mains. It was an amazing show and pure display of music prowess by some accomplished music pros flown in just for the fundraising gig.
That year, I was singing with some local bands and was invited to come out and sing some songs for a benefit gig called, “Play it Forward,” at the now defunct Big Daddy’s, to raise money for an organization, that Alan championed called Music Aid Northwest / Music Matters. Alan understood the importance of music education because of what music meant to him, the life it gave him and what he created from that education.
That night, I was given the opportunity to perform onstage with Alan, and some other great luminaries, like former and original Heart members, Roger Fisher, Steve Fossen and Michael Derosier. I remember singing the high part for “Rockin’ Roll Hoochie Koo,” “Imagine” and “Instant Karma.” It was a trip to look back and seeing Alan on the drum kit. Seventeen years prior, I was a fan watching Alan on stage in California and here I was sharing the same stage with one of my musical heroes and authentic rock drumming legend. I had a few of those what I call, “Forrest Gump” moments.
I was also writing a piece for SMI on the event, and I interviewed Alan the first time on video. Once I got past the fact that I was interviewing one of my favorite drummers and composers from one of my favorite bands, I realized that I was speaking with a very humble, kind and generous human being. He shared some amazing stories that many who know Alan have heard.
Thanks to his amazing wife, Gigi who I got to know through various encounters and fundraising events, like Imagine a Cure II, Synergia Northwest, I would go on to interview Alan several times throughout the years, and cover shows he participated in and was even invited to some intimate gatherings.
Gigi also set me up with an interview between past and present Yes keyboardist, Geoff Downes , who Alan was very close to, for my old Podcast, SMI Radio, the day of the 30 year anniversary of MTV. The song that kicked it all off was “Video Killed The Radio Star” by The Buggles. Along with Trevor Horn, Downes first stint with Yes in 1980 for the “Drama” album and tour. Downes has worked with Yes the last 10 years and continues on.
Because of my work as a music journalist and Podcast host, I was blessed to be invited to MC a few shows Alan played. It was truly an honor to introduce Alan to audiences at places, like The Triple Door in Seattle. It was really easy to come up with some great things to say about Alan and remind the audience in attendance what the man what had contributed to the community, what he had accomplished and the people he touched moved and inspired during his storied career.
In 2012, I was contacted to do a podcast interview with the voice of Yes, Jon Anderson. Jon was going to be coming to town to play an acoustic solo set at The Triple Door. Chatting with Jon was pretty special, to say the least. It was also an opportunity to let Jon know how much his voice and music meant to me. I also had the opportunity to cover Jon’s performance of that show in Seattle.
I arrived to my seats and who did I find who would be sitting to the left of me? Alan and Gigi. We had great seats in what is one of my favorite venues. I had seen Yes perform in person, in video many times. I was used to seeing Jon and Alan on stage together. It was different seeing Alan sitting in the audience watching Jon.
Jon chatted with the audience and shared the story of when he and Alan composed one of the most beautiful songs ever written, “Turn of the Century.” Jon looked out into the audience toward Alan and paid a lovely tribute to his former bandmate, friend and musical brother. Jon then performed the song solo with just his acoustic guitar. It was as if he was performing the song just for Alan that night. I turned to my left to briefly look at Alan watching Jon. As Jon sang the beautiful melody of the song they wrote together, I saw a tear in Alan’s eye. Jon had a close brush with death a few years earlier and even though they were not working together, Alan kept in touch with Jon and they remained friends. This made that moment more poignant to me.
After the show Jon and Alan shared some private time with just the two of them. I imagine it was the first time they saw each other in person in some time and they had much to share with each other. Even though Alan and Jon were no longer in Yes together, their friendship endured. It was beautiful to see two musical compatriots who had gone through so much, reunited again, albeit in a different capacity.
In 2016, I had the opportunity to cover Brian Wilson at The Paramount to celebrate one of the greatest records ever made, “Pet Sounds.” Because I had a media pass, I was fortunate to have a great seat for the show. I knew that Alan was a huge fan of Brian. Brian was also a huge fan of Alan, which Alan found surprising and fascinating…That’s Alan! I walked down to my seat which was about ten rows center from the front. As I get to my seat, who do I see sitting to my left again? Alan and Gigi of course!
We sat in awe as we watched Brian, backed by a brilliant 12-piece band, which included former Beach Boy sideman and charter member, Al Jardine and the legendary Blondie Chaplin. The show was perfect. Gigi told me that Alan’s favorite song by Brian was “God Only Knows.” As Brian and band played the number, I turned to my left to see Alan watching Brian perform his favorite song and another tear rolled down his eye as he watched one of HIS musical heroes perform one of his favorite songs. After the show Alan and Brian hung out backstage. Ahh… to be a fly on the wall for that conversation.
In 2017, Alan and Yes were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It was an honor long-time coming. I was invited by Gigi to attend a viewing party with folks from Alan’s community to watch the performance on HBO. A bunch of us, along with Alan and Gigi shared the experience of watching the band, with Jon Anderson on vocals and Geddy Lee filling in for the late and great Chris Squire. It was magic watching Alan and Jon together again on stage.
What made this night special was the fact that what started out to be a viewing party became a fundraising event for a dear friend of Alan’s and ours, Lois Levin. Lois along with her husband Jerry were not only one of the official photographers for Alan and the band. (You can see many of their great Yes photos and more at Jerry & Lois Photography) for Alan and Yes, they were family to them. Lois was diagnosed with cancer about a month prior and was fighting a brave fight. priceless items were auctioned, and money was raised. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame viewing party became the first of many fundraising events Alan and Gigi would hold for Jerry & Lois.
Prior to watching the performance, Alan graciously posed for photos with us and his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame award.
It was also brilliant looking back in the bar and watching Alan watch he and Jon and the rest of the band do their thing once again. Sadly, it would be the last time Jon and Alan would perform together in Yes.
The next time I would see Alan would be again at The Neptune Theater in December 2018. Alan was playing again with the Beatles tribute band, Apple Jam. The band was performing songs from The Beatles’ “White Album.” Again, I was asked to serve as the MC for the show and performed backing vocals on several songs. Alan was in the audience watching and then joined us onstage behind the kit. As I stood onstage singing with the band, I looked back at Alan while he did his trademark, odd time-signature fill during “Instant Karma.” I am smiling inside and out and telling myself, how crazy it was to be performing live with the man who actually played the drums on the recording, which is a rock-radio standard. It was another surreal moment indeed and one to be cherished always.
It was another special night to honor Lois and raise money for her and Jerry to continue the fight. I even persuaded Jerry and Lois to join us on stage so they could really feel the love from the audience and be lifted up that night. Sadly, Lois passed away the following year. The support from Alan and Gigi did not wane and neither does our support and love for Jerry. Lois’s spirit shines on through him and those who love her. Jerry continues to keep his angel’s flame burning bright, through his talent and brilliant creative work.
This was one of many examples of how Gigi and Alan created community. Just from my vantage point, it would take hours to list in detail, the contribution Alan has made to our individual and collective worlds – Everything from helping raise money to help cure cancer, to working with Melodic Caring Project to bring music to children with critical illness, to supporting the restoration a historical boat called the Schooner Adventeress, so kids could sail and learn the value of team work, collaboration, self esteem and more – the same things that music taught Alan via music education.
Alan is one of the top drummers in music history. It didn’t matter who your name was or your social status, if you could play and you were cool, Alan wanted to play with you… at any time in almost any place for just about any cause, that would improve the quality of human life.
Alan’s heart and generous spirit supersedes his musical accomplishments and accolades and that is saying something. After all, he is and will always be a rock and roll Hall of Famer! Alan was blessed with talent and opportunity, the rest he accomplished through focus and hard work. Everything that was given to him and what he earned; he gave back to us.
Our community is a little more lonelier and more quiet today. Our lives are a little less bright because Alan White has moved on to the next leg on his tour of the universe, lighting it up like he lit us up.
Thank you, Alan, for the music and friendship. Thank you, for taking time to make everyone you met feel like they had known you a lifetime. Thank you, for your kindness, generosity and spirt. Thank you, for your wonderous stories and bringing us into your world. You were skillful and powerful because love and passion was your engine. Cya on the other side man.
From Alan’s Facebook Page:
“Alan White, our beloved husband, dad, and grandpa, passed away at the age of 72 at his Seattle-area home on May 26, 2022, after a brief illness.
Throughout his life and six-decade career, Alan was many things to many people: a certified rock star to fans around the world; band mate to a select few, and gentleman and friend to all who met him.
Alan was born in Pelton, County Durham, England on June 14, 1949. He began piano lessons at the age of six, began playing the drums at age twelve, and has been performing publicly since the age of thirteen.
Throughout the 1960s, Alan honed his craft with a variety of bands, including The Downbeats, The Gamblers, Billy Fury, Alan Price Big Band, Bell and Arc, Terry Reid, Happy Magazine (later called Griffin), and Balls with Trevor Burton (The Move) and Denny Laine (Wings).
In 1968, Alan joined Ginger Baker’s Airforce, a new group that was 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 it was 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 headed to Toronto with Lennon, Yoko Ono, Eric Clapton, and Klaus Voormann. The ensuing album, Live Peace in Toronto, sold millions of copies, peaking at number 10 on the 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 single, ‘My Sweet Lord’, released in 1970. Alan subsequently worked with many artists for the Apple label, including Billy Preston, Rosetta Hightower, and Doris Troy.
Alan joined YES on July 27, 1972, and with only three days to learn the music, YES opened their US tour before 15,000 fans in Dallas, Texas on July 30, 1972. Alan has been with YES ever since, and with the passing of founding member, Chris Squire, in June 2015, Alan is the longest continuously serving band member.
Alan is preceded in death by his parents, Raymond and May White (née Thrower), his sister-in-law, Mindi Hall, and many loyal furry companions. He is survived by his wife of forty years (May 15, 1982) Rogena “Gigi” (née Walberg), his children, Jesse (Emily), their two children JJ and Ellie, and Cassi (Kela), and sister-in-law Andrea Holmqvist (Robert).
Gigi, Jesse, and Cassi”