July 15, 2012

Yes Songs

by Jim Newsom

As Alan White celebrates his fortieth anniversary behind the drums for progressive rock legends Yes, he and his bandmates are hitting the road for a tour that will bring them to the nTelos Pavilion in Portsmouth on August 3rd. Besides White, the lineup includes founding member Chris Squire and guitarist Steve Howe from the classic early-mid ‘70s group that produced albums like Fragile, Close to the Edge, Tales from Topographic Oceans and Relayer. Longtime keyboard associate Geoff Downes will be along as well, but the voice of Yes, Jon Anderson, won’t be with them.

“I believe that Jon doesn’t want to do these arduous long tours anymore,” White told me in a call from his home near Seattle. “They get to you after a while. Nowadays they space them out a little more than they used to, but it’s still tough, especially the traveling aspect. You’re either flying or driving in a four-wheel drive; occasionally we’ll take a bus depending on the schedule. The best part of the day is in the evening when you go onstage and play for people.”

Though it is hard to imagine Yes without Anderson’s angelic high notes, White is excited about another Jon, singer Jon Davison, who is filling the lead vocal slot this time around:

“He’s great, he’s a natural. He fit in the band without too much effort at all. He was in a Yes tribute band called Roundabout and was in another band called Sky Cries Mary, a Seattle based band that had some national success. You’ll be surprised how much this band sounds like the original version of Yes.”

Though Alan White’s musical legacy is defined by his long tenure in Yes, he was already a part of rock history prior to joining the band in 1972. It began with a call from John Lennon in 1969.

“He called me when I was making Sunday breakfast,” White explained. “In the house we had a band living together almost like a musical commune. We’d have the occasional gig where we had enough money to just manage to survive. Then I got a call from John Lennon, but I thought it was a friend of mine just messing around with me. He said, ‘I saw you playing last night at the club. Can you do a gig tomorrow?’

“And I said, ‘come on, don’t be silly.’ Then he called back ten minutes later and it was actually him. That’s when I fell off my chair and I said, ‘sure, no problem.’ My band was kind of annoyed that I was going to do it because we had a gig that night.”

That call led to a trip to Canada with Lennon, Yoko Ono, Eric Clapton and Klaus Voorman to perform at a rock festival as the Plastic Ono Band. Their show was captured on the album Live Peace in Toronto 1969 and White began a residency of sorts as one of the on-call musicians for individual Beatles as they found their solo voices.

“It was one thing after another,” he remembered. “I’d get a phone call, usually from Mal Evans, who was The Beatles’ head roadie; he’d call me and say ‘John wants you in the studio…NOW!’ The morning of ‘Instant Karma,’ he said ‘John just wrote this song and he wants to record it at lunchtime.’ I guess I had my drums in the car, drove all the way down there, set up real quickly and all of a sudden we were recording. There was Phil Spector there, and ‘Instant Karma’ came very quickly.”

He also played on “Imagine” and on George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass, including the classic “My Sweet Lord.”

“You know what,” he said, “I was so young that it just seemed natural. Being involved in Beatle camp with George and John, those guys made you feel like you were part of a team, ‘we’re all in this together.’ Once you were accepted into that group of people, it was just a great feeling. Being in a room with one Beatle is scary stuff because the whole room revolves around that one guy. But being in a room with two of them is quite incredible.”

And then came the offer from Chris Squire and Jon Anderson to replace original Yes drummer Bill Bruford:

“I was sharing an apartment with Eddy Offord, who was their producer, and we went out to have a couple of beers one night. He said he had to stop by rehearsals to see the band and asked me to tag along. We went down into this basement of a sewing shop and they were rehearsing in a very tiny room. It was round about the time Bill was having meetings with Robert Fripp, thinking about forming King Crimson, and they were playing ‘Siberian Khatru’ from Close to the Edge. This is before they recorded it. Bill had to leave to go to this dinner, and so they had no drummer. Eddy said I could play that kind of stuff, so I jumped on the drums and did ‘Siberian Khatru.’ I guess I left a first mark.

“I was playing with Joe Cocker a week later and Chris came for the show. Then Bill finally left and Jon and Chris came up and asked me to join the band. It was just being in the right place at the right time and all of a sudden, boom, something happens!”

Procol Harum

nTelos Pavilion
Friday, August 3 – 8:00 pm
Tickets: $20 – 50.00

copyright © 2012 Jim Newsom. All Rights Reserved.