Alan White, longtime drummer of progressive rock band Yes, dies at 72

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Alan White, the longtime drummer of progressive rock pioneers Yes, who also played on projects with John Lennon and George Harrison, has died. He was 72 years old.

White’s death was announced on his Facebook page by his family. The post said he died Thursday at his Seattle-area home after a brief illness. A few days earlier, Yes had announced that due to health issues, White would not be taking part in the band’s upcoming UK tour to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the iconic ‘Close to the Edge’ album.

White joined Yes in 1972, replacing original drummer Bill Bruford. In a band known for frequent lineup changes, White was a constant and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Yes in 2017.

Although he didn’t perform on “Close to the Edge,” he has performed on every Yes studio album for nearly five decades, including the band’s final album, “The Quest,” released the year last.

Alan White performs at Jonathan Cain and Friends at Rose Bar on April 8, 2017 in New York City.
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Alan White performs at Jonathan Cain and Friends at Rose Bar on April 8, 2017 in New York City.
(Michael Zorn/Invision/AP, File)

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White has remained with the band through its many iterations. The pioneering act in England’s progressive rock scene rose to popularity in the early 1970s alongside bands like Genesis, Pink Floyd and Jethro Tull. Yes was best known for its intricate arrangements and the musical talent of its individual members.

When progressive rock fell into disuse in the late 1970s, many bands associated with the genre struggled.

After another line-up change, Yes, with White still behind the drums, reinvented themselves in the 1980s as a tougher band that appealed to younger listeners more susceptible to heavy metal and visual cues from music videos. In 1983, Yes released the hit album “90125”.

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A longtime resident of the Seattle area, White was born in Pelton, County Durham, England, in 1949. His family said he started piano lessons when he was 6 years old and he started playing the drums at the age of 12.

White played with bands in England throughout the 1960s. In 1969, John Lennon asked him to join his Plastic Ono Band. In a 2021 interview with the Seattle Times, White said he thought the famed Beatle’s appeal was a prank.

“A voice announced, ‘Hello, this is John Lennon,'” White said. “I thought it was a friend pulling my leg, I hung up and went back to the kitchen.”

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White performed a 1969 gig in Toronto with Lennon’s band, which also included guitarist Eric Clapton. White also performed with another Beatle, contributing drums to George Harrison’s 1970 solo album “All Things Must Pass”.

In the statement announcing his death, his family wrote: “Alan was many things to many people: a certified rock star to fans everywhere; a bandmate to a select few, and a gentleman and friend to all those who met him.”

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