Alan White: Yes drummer dies age 72 - career of musician including work on John Lennon Plastic Ono Band

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The death of Yes drummer Alan White comes at the same time of that as Depeche Mode keyboardist Andy Fletcher and Hollywood star Ray Liotta

Progressive rock titans Yes have announced the death of drummer Alan White at the age of 72.

The star, who was born in 1949 in County Durham, died peacefully at home after a short illness.

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The news of White’s death comes at the same time as that of Depeche Mode keyboardist Andy Fletcher, who has died aged 60, and Goodfellas actor Ray Liotta, who has died aged 67.

Who was Alan White?

White was an English musician, best known as the drummer for the band Yes, which he initially joined in 1972 as a replacement for original drummer Bill Bruford.

White, born 14 June 1949, took up music lessons at an early age - at six, he started piano lessons and when he was 12 he began learning the drums after his Uncle Ken gave him his first kit.

Musician Alan White of Yes appears at the Rock ‘N’ Roll Fantasy Camp at AMP Rehearsal Studios on November 6, 2015 in North Hollywood, California.  (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)Musician Alan White of Yes appears at the Rock ‘N’ Roll Fantasy Camp at AMP Rehearsal Studios on November 6, 2015 in North Hollywood, California.  (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
Musician Alan White of Yes appears at the Rock ‘N’ Roll Fantasy Camp at AMP Rehearsal Studios on November 6, 2015 in North Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images) | Getty Images

According to White’s official website, he started performing with a local band just three months later at the age of 13 and, throughout the mid to late 1990s, “continued to hone his craft in England and Europe with a variety of bands, including The Downbeats, The Gamblers, Billy Fury, Alan Price Big Band, Bell and Arc, Terry Reid, and Happy Magazine (later called Griffin) and Balls with Trevor Burton and Denny Laine”.

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In 1969, after playing a gig with Griffin, White received a phone call from John Lennon asking him to join Plastic Ono Band at the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival Festival.

Talking to Music Radar in 2009, White said: “I was sure somebody was playing a joke, so I hung up.

“A minute later the phone rang again, and sure enough, it really was John Lennon. He said he’d seen me play the night before in a club - I was gigging with a local band - he liked what I did, and he wanted me to play in Toronto for this peace event.

“I didn’t have time to think, but of course I said, “Sure”. You don’t say no to John Lennon.”

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Alan White from Yes performs at Radio City Music Hall on July 9, 2014 in New York City.  (Photo by Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images)Alan White from Yes performs at Radio City Music Hall on July 9, 2014 in New York City.  (Photo by Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images)
Alan White from Yes performs at Radio City Music Hall on July 9, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images) | Getty Images

From there, White played the drums for Lennon on a number of other projects, including the album Imagine and song Instant Karma!, as well as the album All Things Must Pass by George Harrison.

White joined Yes in 1972 after their original drummer, Bill Bruford, left to join the band King Crimson. With their tour less than a week away, White said that Yes told him he was joining the band or “they were going to throw me out the third-story window”.

Yes and White gave each other, initially, three months to see if it would work out, with White eventually becoming an integral part of the band, staying with the group for more than 30 years, playing on every Yes studio and live album recorded since and going on to write a large part of the Yes discography.

When did he die?

White passed away on Thursday 26 May at his home in the Seattle-area, following a brief illness.

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A statement, released by White’s family on his social media and official website, said: “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 White, Yes drummer, has passed away at the age of 72 (Photo: PA/Jerry and Lois Photography)Alan White, Yes drummer, has passed away at the age of 72 (Photo: PA/Jerry and Lois Photography)
Alan White, Yes drummer, has passed away at the age of 72 (Photo: PA/Jerry and Lois Photography) | PA/Jerry and Lois Photography

It continued on to outline details of White’s life, including learning the drums at age 12, playing with a variety of bands, such as Ginger Baker’s Air Force, Plastic Ono Band and, of course, Yes.

The family statement ends by saying: “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.

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“He is survived by his wife of 40 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).”

Tributes for Alan White

Fans and fellow musicians have taken to social media to post tributes for White, including his band Yes, which wrote: “It is with deep sadness that YES announce Alan White, their much-loved drummer and friend of 50 years, has passed away, aged 72, after a short illness.”

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