Alan White, Drummer for Yes and John Lennon, Dies at 72

by Emily Morgan

Alan White, the longtime drummer of YES who also played with John Lennon, has died after a short illness. The longtime musician passed away on Thursday after a “brief illness,” according to a Facebook post by his family.

“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,” the post began. “The news has shocked and stunned the entire YES family. Alan had been looking forward to the forthcoming UK Tour, to celebrating his 50th Anniversary with YES and their iconic Close To The Edge album, where Alan’s journey with YES began in July 1972. He recently celebrated the 40th Anniversary of his marriage to his loving wife Gigi. Alan passed away, peacefully at home.”

Born in 1949 in the UK, he began playing the drums at 12. Shortly afterward, he joined his first band, the Downbeats, and later played with pop singer Billy Fury. 

In 1969, former Beatle John Lennon saw him performing with a group called Griffin and wanted him as drummer for his Plastic Ono Band. At first, White thought Lennon’s phone call was a joke but soon found himself flying to Toronto with Lennon for the gig, rehearsing songs in mid-flight using a seat cushion. 

The set, performed in front of some 20,000 people at Toronto’s Varsity Stadium on Sept. 13, 1969, was later released as the album “Live Peace in Toronto.” It features the hastily arranged group playing some classic rock covers, Lennon’s singles “Cold Turkey” and “Give Peace a Chance.”

Alan White remembered for raw, immeasurable talent

He would perform eight songs on the former Beatles’ Imagine album, including the famous title track. White also played drums and piano on the Lennon single “Instant Karma.” He also worked with fellow Beatle George Harrison, when White contributed drums on his album All Things Must Pass.

White became a member of the classic rock band, Yes, in 1972 and remained their drummer until his passing. He joined the group for their tour in support of 1972’s Close to the Edge. White also replaced the original drummer Bill Bruford. He made his recording debut with the band when he appeared on 1973’s Tales from Topographic Oceans.

Later, White played on more than 40 studio and live albums throughout his tenure with the band, including their most recent full-length studio effort, 2021’s The Quest. This marked the band’s 22nd studio album. 

White is considered to be one of the greatest rock drummers of an era. In addition to John Lennon, YES, and George Harrison, he also worked with several other musicians over the years, including Ginger Baker’s Air Force, Joe Cocker, Gary Wright, Doris Troy and Billy Preston to name a few. 

In 2017, White was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of YES. Since 2016, White has battled several health setbacks, keeping him from performing with YES. However, his former band will dedicate their 50th Anniversary Close to the Edge UK Tour to White in June.