By Jeb Wright
The Today Show is a very informative television show. So much so that it is apparently the place that drummers learn they are officially inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame! At least this seems to be the case for Yes drummer Alan White. Truth be told, a little bird may have told him a few days before… and Alan does not so much care where he heard the news as much as he is honored to finally be honored.
In the interview that follows, Alan discusses the Today Show news, his sadness on the passing of band mate Chris Squire and him not being a part of the festivities, as well as wondering if he will have to buy tickets to the event or if he will be comped! White also talks about the importance of the album 90125.
The band Yes and I have been both been around 50 years. The Rock Hall took their time on this one. As much as rock fans like to bash the Hall, this year they added a few bands that should have been in decades ago in Yes, Journey and ELO. Maybe they are starting to hear what we’ve been hearing -and saying- all along. Let’s hope so.
As the first Prog Rock band in the Hall, Yes may be the most deserving. White realized that without their fans they may not have ever made it, though, he is quite aware that Yes music had legs… oh…he knew it was good.
Congratulations to Alan White and the other Yes members for being selected… it truly is better late than never.
Jeb: From this day forth I shall have to refer to you as Mr. Alan White, member of the Hall of Fame.
Alan: There you go! I guess it is overdue but I am still trying to get used to it myself.
Jeb: I thought maybe Yes would make it to the Hall this year, but then again…
Alan: That’s what we thought, you know. I did see a news item that said everyone that was nominated had been nominated four times before they got in, other than Yes. We were only nominated three times. So, that’s a little bit of a feather in our caps.
Jeb: How I wish Chris Squire was still alive to enjoy this!
Alan: My only sad reflection is that Chris is not here. I worked with him for 43 years keeping this band going. It’s a little bit bittersweet. At the same time, I accept the award on behalf of him as well.
Jeb: Billy Sherwood does a smash up job as a bassist and vocalist in Yes, but Chris was every bit as important as Steve Howe or Jon Anderson in the Yes history.
Alan: Chris was Billy’s mentor and he does everything like Chris, but it is still not Chris.
Jeb: Would Chris have had that big smile on his face when he got the news about the Hall of Fame?
Alan: [chuckles] Yeah… Chris always wanted to do things to the utmost. I remember one of his statements was that we should just have everybody who has ever been in Yes on one stage. I was like, “Hello! I don’t think there is a stage big enough for that, Chris.” He was that kind of guy who thought he could make that work—and he probably would have made that work.
Unfortunately, only the nominated people will be the ones onstage. How we put that together… we are pulling strings to get everyone together to get onstage and play a couple of songs.
Jeb: I hope you do as so many bands have not done that. Yes could do that. There are disagreements and hard feelings but it does not seem anyone hates anyone. It’s been 50 years…
Alan: Tell me about it! They shoot horses, don’t they? You know… I mean… everyone is active and is working on what we do. Steve and myself are still going strong with what we do in Yes. It is just a question of us all getting a common denominator and getting up on stage and reliving what created this band and the energy behind it for a couple of songs.
Jeb: How does one find out they are in the Hall of Fame?
Alan: We got a hint from management that it was probably going to happen a day or two before, but it wasn’t definite until I watched it on the Today Show. They came on and said, “Yes, it is official they are going into the Hall of Fame.”
Jeb: You really found out on the Today Show?
Alan: Yeah… one of the hosts said he was so glad that Yes got in as they were one of his favorite bands. I was like, “That’s very cool. I like that.”
Jeb: I am very happy Trevor Rabin is being inducted.
Alan: Absolutely, he is a brilliant talent. He is an incredible musician. He has done so many things in his life. He has achieved a lot and he never got that much credit. Well, he has been recognized through Yes but he’s done a bunch of movies and other great stuff. He is such a talented guy.
Jeb: I’ve purchased almost every album Yes has ever recorded. I am 50 years old, just like Yes. I have to admit I really love the Prog stuff but as I get older 90125 and Big Generator I appreciate so much.
Alan: You’re one that has been brainwashed! I’m just kidding. I have a lot of people these days come up to me and say, “My father loves you guys.” I say, “Well, that is a great thing to start with but…” I love all eras of Yes and all of the fans. You’re just another brainwashed character that loves the band [laughter].
When we do concerts nowadays we get three generations of people and we will soon get four generations of people. For a band, that is huge. It is amazing.
Jeb: Trevor came onboard for 90125. That album brought greater commercial success for Yes. Without the success of that album, do you feel Yes may not have been chosen for the Hall of Fame? Without that era would the possibility exist where the Hall of Fame may still be overlooking you guys?
Alan: Umm… of course, yeah... I think so. “Roundabout” and “All Good People” have been on the radio for almost 50 years so there must be something in that as well.
Jeb: There is, and those are amazing songs… but “Owner of a Lonely Heart” and “Leave It” really made the band much more excessive to the masses with songs like that.
Alan: It was a great album—that’s why. There was a lot of great music on that album. Actually, the band was initially called ‘Cinema’ and not ‘Yes.’ It was just Chris and Trevor and myself. We pulled in Tony Kaye next. We did almost nine months of rehearsal working up that material. Trevor Horn got involved and then Jon heard some of the music and he came in and sang on some of it. The only thing we could call the band at that point was Yes.
Jeb: I forgot to ask how your back is doing. You had surgery.
Alan: I’m okay. When you have back surgery it takes a while to get over it. It has steadily gone away. I just came back from Japan and I was playing in Japan and now we are going to start a tour in February. It is getting there. Playing the drums is no problem. It is just that walking hurts a little bit, occasionally.
Jeb: So sitting helps.
Alan: Totally. When I sit at the drum kit it doesn’t seem to affect me at all.
Jeb: Do you ever pinch yourself that Yes is at a huge level of success five decades later?
Alan: Quiet frankly that is a very hard question. I always thought the music… the longer pieces that we did in the early days would hang in there. They are like classical pieces of music to the younger public. I am thinking to myself that maybe I did think that we had longevity.
Jeb: That is interesting. Most artists don’t admit that they think they were going to stay relevant.
Alan: We just came back from Japan and we are doing a pretty extreme set which is all of the Drama album and side one and side four of Tales of Topographic Oceans, which is a lot of music to take in. The Japanese people were singing along to the songs and they knew the music so well. It really opened my eyes a bit that this stuff did work. It is like playing a piece of a Mozart symphony or something like that.
Jeb: I don’t know if I like calling Yes ‘prog rock’ as it is much more than that. It is progressive and it is rock and it is classical, but it is more than any of those genres. It is just Yes music.
Alan: Yes created what we created as a band. The more we came up with stuff, we called it Yes music. When people label that, I find it a little bit… you can’t label it. It is prog and it is rock and it is classical. There are many genres that would fit to Yes music. We drew from lots of influences between us.
Jeb: That must bring huge challenges to any drummer. In a standard rock band, the rhythm is much easier in approach.
Alan: I was never satisfied with 4/4. I remember one time Chris saying to me, “I’ve forgotten how to play in four. We do everything in five and seven and nine. How do we play in four? I’ve forgot that.” I said, “Let me show you.”
Jeb: Do you have a favorite era of Yes music?
Alan: Oh my God, that is so hard to pick. The ‘70s was great. Most of the time I was playing a lot of stuff that Bill Bruford did, but then I got to have a hand in creating Topographic and Relayer. Relayer was off the wall as far as rhythm sections go. We’ve always been adventurous and wanted to create something new. The industry always said to us, “You guys are crazy. Nobody is going to buy this album.” You turn around today and everybody is buying Topographic Oceans and stuff like that. I guess it worked.
Jeb: What is not to love about Topographic? I love that, but I love The Yes Album, Fragile, 90125, Big Generator. I love newer material like The Ladder.
Alan: The Ladder… oh man, there are some great songs on that one. Sometimes I get up in the morning and I play, “It Will Be a Good Day.” That is such a great song and the lyrics are just fantastic. It all relates to yesterday… getting nominated to the Hall of Fame, I guess!
Jeb: Will you vote on what to play, or does the Hall tell you, or do you even have any idea?
Alan: Listen… they don’t let us know [laughter]. We are going, “What do we do? Do we have to buy tickets or do you give them to us? Where do we sit? What do you want us to play?” We are waiting to find out just like you are.
Jeb: What a thrill.
Alan: I’ve had tons of emails and calls from lots of people. We will build on it and we will make sure that we will be there. We will get the job done. The problem is when you do a gig and you get introduced now as a ‘hall of famer.’ I think that means I am old!
Jeb: Well… I think you can charge more now!
Alan: [laugher] Ohhhhh… there you go. I forgot about that aspect!
Jeb: It can’t hurt.
Alan: No, of course it can’t. We are very honored.
Jeb: As a Yes fan, I can tell you we have been wanting to get this band in the Hall for decades. Do you realize the efforts your fans have made to never give up and to push for Yes to get in? Do you appreciate what they have done?
Alan: Absolutely, and we love what they’ve done to death. We have some of the most dedicated fans in the world. They are incredible. I just want to thank them all. They played a substantial part in this. Our gratitude goes out to them.
Jeb: Last one: After you heard the news on the Today Show… who did you tell first?
Alan: Look… that was the official moment, but I kind of knew a couple of days before, but they made us all swear to secrecy. In fact, my son and daughter got annoyed at me because I didn’t even tell them. Anyhow, it is official now. I was on a local TV station here yesterday afternoon, and quite frankly from all of the interviews I did in the morning and the day before, my voice was totally shot. I am just trying to handle it and take it all in my stride.
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