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

Alan White, longtime drummer of progressive-rock titans Yes who also played with John Lennon and George Harrison, died Thursday at his Seattle home after a short illness, his family and the band reported on social media. No further details were immediately announced; he was 72.

While best known for his decades-long stint with Yes, White began working with the former Beatles at an early age, appearing with Lennon at his famous “Live Peace in Toronto” concert in 1969 (in a backing band that also included Eric Clapton, Klaus Voorman and Yoko Ono) as well as several of Lennon’s albums and singles at the time, most notably the 1970 song “Instant Karma!,” where his whipcrack drumming is front and center. He also played on Lennon’s “Imagine” album as well as George Harrison’s 1970 masterpiece “All Things Must Pass.”

The group had announced on Sunday that “due to current health issues” White would not be taking part in next month’s British tour and would be replaced on drums by his friend Jay Schellen.

White’s career took a turn into progressive territory when he joined Yes in 1972, replacing founding drummer Bill Bruford, who’d left to join King Crimson. White joined the group for its “Close to the Edge” album and also appeared on much of the live triple album “Yessongs.” He remained with the group for most of its many incarnations over the years, including its 1983 comeback album “90215” and the smash single “Owner of a Lonely Heart.” Over the years he also performed with Joe Cocker, Terry Reid and Ginger Baker.

He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Yes in 2017.

White was born in 1949 in England’s County Durham and began playing the drums aged 12. He joined his first band, the Downbeats, shortly afterward, and later played with pop singer Billy Fury. Lennon saw him performing with a group called Griffin in 1969 and recruited him as drummer for his Plastic Ono Band. White initially thought Lennon’s phone call was a prank but soon found himself flying to Toronto with Lennon, Ono, Clapton and Voorman for the hastily arranged gig, rehearsing songs in mid-flight by banging on 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 ad-hoc group playing some rock and roll covers, Lennon’s singles “Cold Turkey” and “Give Peace a Chance,” and two rough rave-ups with Ono on vocals.

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