Yes Drummer Alan White: Going for the Three

By Jeb Wright

Yes has announced that beginning in March of 2013, the band will perform three complete albums, in their entirety, on tour. The three albums are the iconic The Yes Album, Going for the One and Close to the Edge.

Classic Rock Revisited sat down with drummer Alan White to discuss the tour and what it will take to pull off such a complex evening of music. We also discuss the two newest members of Yes, keyboardist Geoff Downes and vocalist Jon Davidson, as well as the time White recorded with some guy named John Lennon.

Jeb: Yes has announced they will tour and play three complete albums, The Yes Album, Going for the One and Close to the Edge, in one concert setting on your upcoming tour. This is great news. Has Yes ever played one complete album before in a show?

Alan: We did Tales of Topographic Oceans in its entirety back in the day.

Jeb: How did the idea come up and are you sure you can pull this off?

Alan: It will be a piece of cake because we are all spry young guys [laughter]. I am looking forward to it. We are reliving the time frame of when we made each album.

Jeb: How did you decide on what albums to play?

Alan: It took a couple of emails, but we all new exactly the right thing to do. The Yes Album, we’ve played a lot of those songs in concert for a while, Going for the One, not so much. Close to the Edge speaks for itself.

Jeb: This is not The Monkees, you are playing Yes music, which is very complex.

Alan: You have to have your wits about you, that is for sure. There is a lot of intricate playing and there are a lot of things to memorize. At the same time, it is kind of like riding a bicycle. It is a difficult task to play all of this stuff on stage, but everybody is involved.

Jeb: You joined the band during Close to the Edge, you didn’t have a lot of time to learn that music.

Alan: It was one of the first things that I learned how to play with the band. I jumped in deep.

Jeb: Have you rehearsed the set yet?

Alan: No, we’re all still doing our homework.

Jeb: I think this is good for the fans, but it is also good for you, as a band.

Alan: It is a test. You’ve got to be able to play it at our ages, number one. Number two, we need to play it with integrity. Yes has always been about that.

Jeb: I would think you are looking forward to doing this. It has to be fun to challenge yourself in this way.

Alan: I think we’re all taking this very seriously and we want to perform at the highest Yes standard that we can.

Jeb: From your viewpoint, behind the drum kit, what is it like to watch this music unfold before you?

Alan: I feel like I am the captain of the ship; I’m at the helm. You know, you’ve got a lot of dynamics within the band, and you have to cater to all of them all, at the same time. There are a lot of different personalities and that makes it a job. It is very rewarding. Everybody in the band knows when they play things exactly right, together, and you just go, “Wow.”

Jeb: Going for the One was not as radio friendly as the other two albums. The casual fan may not recognize some of the songs.

Alan: I don’t know, “Wonderous Stories” got a lot of airplay off that album. Going for the One, to me, is one of the best albums we ever made.

Jeb: Why didn’t you include Fragile?

Alan: Numerous people have asked that. I’m not quite sure if it would work. Fragile has got some things in it that wouldn’t appeal to the whole band. “Five Percent of Nothing” would be difficult to approach because it’s basically just a crazy sound for about four or five minutes. We decided on these three and it really became concrete after just those few emails.

Jeb: Is there one album from the past that you might enjoy playing the most?

Alan: We’ve got lots of them. For me, it is a really difficult question because the band went through so many different kinds of music. I would love to do Relayer.

Jeb: Out of these three is there one that you’re looking more forward to playing?

Alan: You’ve really put me on the spot! I like all of them. Close to the Edge, I enjoy, as that was the first album I began playing on tour when I joined Yes. I’ve been playing those songs for forty years, so it is very close to me. Going for the One, I was involved with and it is also very close to me. I’ve been playing the songs on The Yes Album my entire career with Yes, so I am very close to all of them. It is a very hard question to answer because I like all of them, for what they are.

Jeb: I have been a fan of Geoff Downes since he was in Yes the first time. Since he has been with Asia, I forgot he has such great keyboard chops.

Alan: Geoff is great; he’s a really good friend. We hang out a lot together out on the road. He is an excellent keyboard player. He has a very modern type of approach to how we play things.

Jeb: Talk about Jon Davidson.

Alan: He is a lot of fun to be around. He knows the stuff and he’s really together. He knows this material inside out. He has challenged us and really lit the fire. He is not going through the motions. He has an amazing voice and he does not have to adapt to things, as this is naturally what he does. We’re all very, very happy with him.

Jeb: Rumor has it Yes is recording a new album.

Alan: We are thinking about it, let’s put it that way. I wouldn’t jump the gun too much. It is a possibility. We are all thinking about it and we have some ideas to make a new album. I’ve got ideas about what is should be, as does everyone. It will happen when it happens.

Jeb: Last one: You played with John Lennon on the album Imagine. What was that like?

Alan: I was on “Imagine” and I played on “Instant Karma.” It was great. He was an amazing guy. I was very lucky, as I was a very young guy, I was only twenty. He took me under his wing, as it were. He liked me and he kept saying, “Everything you are doing, Alan, just keep doing it.” I did it quite a few years ago, but everybody that wants to jam with me at a Christmas party, or whatever, always wants to play “Imagine.”