Alan White of Yes Talks Fifty Years of Prog Rock | Westword

Alan White of Yes Talks Fifty Years of Prog Rock

Two versions of Yes are touring the country, and that's just fine.
Yes celebrates fifty years at the Paramount Theatre on Monday, June 11.
Yes celebrates fifty years at the Paramount Theatre on Monday, June 11. Glenn Gottlieb
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Drummer Alan White says he first met the members of the British prog-rock group Yes during the rehearsals for the 1972 album Close to the Edge. White had been introduced to the band by his roommate, Eddy Offord, who had worked as a producer and engineer on the band’s previous three albums.

“I just sat in and I played one number, because Bill Buford left early that night to go have dinner with Robert Fripp or somebody like that, because he was in the process of joining King Crimson,” White says.

It felt natural to White when he first sat in with Yes, which was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame last year. He’d been part of John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band, which he says was a little more basic for a drummer, but he’d also been in a band around the same time in England that had a horn section.

“We played a complex kind of fusion jazz stuff and all kinds of stuff like Frank Zappa,” White says. “I was used to playing odd time signatures. It was fine when I joined. I just got used to playing it.”

When Yes finished recording Close to the Edge, Bruford left the band to join King Crimson, and White was tapped to fill the drum spot with only a week before a tour was to begin.

“I had three days to learn the whole repertoire,” White says. “It was pretty crazy. Here I am, still in the band 46 years later.”

That’s been nearly the entire life of the band’s fifty-year career, which it’s celebrating with a 35-date North American tour this summer that stops at the Paramount Theatre on Monday, June 11. Also on board for this tour are guitarist Steve Howe, who joined Yes in 1970, keyboardist Geoff Downes, who first joined in 1980, Singer Jon Davison, who joined in 2011 and Billy Sherwood, who was late bassist Chris Squire’s choice to take over bass and vocals in 2015.

“Billy’s done a really good job in replacing Chris,” White says. “Of course, it will never be the same. I played with him for 43 years. We had a special kind of relationship.”

Yes founding member Tony Kaye, who played keyboards with the group from 1968 to 1973 and from 1983 to 1995, is joining Yes as a special guest on this Golden Anniversary tour.  White says the set list for the tour includes old favorites and material the band hasn’t played in a while. The shows, which run a bit over two hours, are a “good mixture of pretty much everything,” he says.

About three months after Yes headlines the Paramount Theatre, another version of Yes (named Yes featuring ARW) will be at Levitt Pavilion Denver that includes original singer and co-founder Jon Anderson, guitarist Trevor Rabin and keyboardist Rick Wakeman, who have been working together since 2010, two years after Anderson left Yes because of health reasons and was replaced by the singer of a Canadian Yes tribute band.

It might seem odd that the two bands are touring as Yes this year, celebrating the band’s five-decade-long history. White acknowledges that there’s been some controversy around the two groups. But when it comes down to it, he says, “It’s a lot of business stuff. We own the name. They own the name. Jon Anderson and I own it, but the logo we own, because Steve Howe owns most of the logo.”

White says one of his best memories of playing in Yes was when the group played the Kremlin in Moscow when the power went out. But as White says, a lot of things happen during 46 years in a band — some of which will end up in a memoir he’s writing.

“I usually try to tell people to get the book. It will be out soon,” he says. "Just read it.”

#Yes50: Celebrating 50 Years of YES, 8 p.m. Monday, June 11, Paramount Theatre, 1621 Glenarm Place, 303-623-0106.
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