Alan White

Alan White (1949–2022) was an English drummer and percussionist, best known as a member of Yes from 1972 onward. During their 1975–76 break for solo activity, he recorded Ramshackled with members of his pre-Yes psychedelic band Griffin.


Early Life, The Blue Chips

White was born on June 14, 1949, in the village of Pelton, County Durham in north east England. His father, a jack of all trades, worked as a pub pianist (a skill passed down from his father). At age six, White took his first piano lessons. His uncle, a drummer, noticed White’s percussive style of piano playing and notified his parents. When he was 12, they bought him an Ajax drum kit as a Christmas gift. He initially took lessons but soon developed his own mode of drumming. His parents eventually bought him a metallic silver Ludwig kit.

At age 13, White joined Tyneside beatsters The Downbeats, which played the hits of popular Merseyside acts (The Beatles, The Searchers, Gerry and the Pacemakers). In 1964, they changed their named to The Blue Chips and moved to London to compete in a talent contest sponsored by Melody Maker. They won a contract with Pye and issued three 1965/66 singles, including the organ-driven sides “I Know a Boy” and “I’m On the Right Side” (b/w “You’re Good to Me”).


The Happy Magazine / Griffin

After the Blue Chips folded, White briefly considered a career in architecture. However, he soon joined Billy Fury’s backing band The Gamblers on a German tour. He then joined soul-rockers The Happy Magazine, which issued two 1968/69 singles on Polydor, both produced by ex-Animals keyboardist Alan Price. Concurrently, White moonlighted in the Alan Price Set.

In 1969, three-fifths of Happy Magazine — White, guitarist Peter Kirtley, and multi-instrumentalist Kenny Craddock — teamed with singer Graham Bell and bassist Colin Gibson (both ex-Skip Bifferty) in psych-rockers Griffin, which issued the Bell Records single “I Am the Noise in Your Head” (b/w “Don’t You Know”), produced by Price. When Bell departed for Brian Davison’s Every Which Way, the remaining four added reedist Bud Beadle and continued as Simpson’s Pure Oxygen, a project left unsigned.


Work with The Beatles

Later in 1969, John Lennon drafted White for a live performance with the Plastic Ono Band at the Toronto Rock and Roll Festival at Varsity Stadium. The September 13 event, which drew 20,000 attendees, is documented on Live Peace in Toronto 1969, released that December.

During 1970, White played drums and percussion on the triple album All Things Must Pass by George Harrison, plus one track on The Radha Krsna Temple, an album of Vedic devotional songs produced by Harrison. His association with Lennon continued on the 1970 single “Instant Karma” and 1971 release Imagine.


Session Work, Joins Yes

White moved from his Sussex communal house, shared with his Pure Oxygen bandmates, to an apartment in London with ELP/Yes engineer Eddie Offord. This made him more readily available to gigs with everyone from Steve Winwood and Ginger Baker to Terry Reid and Joe Cocker. During 1970/71, White played on albums by Jesse Davis, Steve Gibbons, Brian Short, and the first two solo albums by Gary Wright (between his stints in Spooky Tooth). Along with Craddock, White reteamed with Bell on the 1971 Charisma release Bell + Arc.

In early 1972, White dropped by Advision Studios during a session by Yes, who were recording a promo for their cover of the Simon & Garfunkel song “America.” Soon after, he showed up for one of their rehearsals for the album Close to the Edge. Their drummer, Bill Bruford, left early that day, so White sat in on the rehearsal. As soon as the band finished recording the album, Bruford jumped ship to King Crimson.

White got picked as Bruford’s replacement in Yes just as similar offers poured in from Jethro Tull and America. He learned their set within three days in preparation for their Close to the Edge tour, which kicked off in Dallas, Texas, on July 20, 1972.


Discography:

  • Ramshackled (1976)

Sources:

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