Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee 'Yes' coming Wednesday to Casino Ballroom

New Hampshire Union Leader
July 03. 2018 2:32PM
YES, IT'S TRUE: Signature prog-rock tunes headed to Hampton Beach. 

Owner of a Lonely Heart” was a bigger hit, but “Roundabout” is the signature song by Yes, an apt theme for an ever-changing band.

Eight members of Yes were included when the band was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame last year, including two drummers, two keyboard players and two guitarists. That still excluded more than half of the remaining alumni (including original guitarist Peter Banks).

For most of its history, the only thing that didn’t change in Yes other than its prog-rock sense of adventure was the rhythm section, anchored by founding bass player Chris Squire and drummer Alan White, who replaced Bill Bruford in the early ’70s.

The death of Squire in 2015 left White with the seat of seniority — the only remaining member who’s played with nearly every incarnation of the band. White will be behind the drum kit Wednesday when Yes comes to the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom with a lineup that features Steve Howe on guitar, Geoff Downes on keyboards, Jon Davison on lead vocals and Billy Sherwood on bass.

This version of the group, with Sherwood helping in the mixing booth and Squire on bass, recorded 2014’s “Heaven & Earth,” Squire’s swan song and the first to feature Davison on vocals. Produced by Roy Thomas Baker, best known for his work with Queen and the Cars, the album moved the band in a more pop direction.

“This band is very successful, and we’re doing really good business,” White said. “Basically, I’ve been in the band for the last 47 years in July, and I’m just carrying on where I started. I joined Yes in ’72. I’m still in that same band. People have come and gone and done additional things in different bands. But I’m still in the same one. Unfortunately Chris Squire passed away, but at the same time I’m just keeping going with the same band.”

Also touring this year is a version of Yes featuring founding lead singer Jon Anderson, keyboardist Rick Wakeman and guitarist Trevor Rabin. This kind of schism is hardly new to Yes, which combined rival versions of the band for the “Union” album in 1991 and a tour that featured eight members.

For now, White is focused on the band he’s in.

“We’re almost half-way through the tour so we’ve got the show well down now. It’s a great show,” White said while riding to the airport between shows. “It’s a great visual experience as well as sound. And everybody’s playing exceptionally well at the moment. It’s a show that’s kind of diverse in a way as well (with) different shades and moods. You’ll enjoy it.”

The band’s induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame was a long time coming. Blame that on the snubs the progressive rock band suffered over the years, despite a rabid fan base.

“It shows that we didn’t do all of this for nothing,” said White, 69. “Of course, a lot of people said for many years, ‘Why aren’t you guys in there?’ There was no answer. It was a very political kind of decision-making.”

Before joining Yes, White enjoyed a high-profile reputation as a recording and touring drummer. His resume includes playing on both John Lennon’s “Imagine” and George Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass” — watermark albums for the newly solo ex-Beatles.

“It was a great learning experience in my career. I learned a lot from both of those guys, John Lennon and George Harrison, whom I admire greatly,” White said. “I was only about 20 when I played with John. It was a great stepping stone in my career.”

White had just three days to prepare for a tour when he joined Yes shortly after the release of “Close to the Edge.” While White had experience playing complex music, he also had toured with rock artists like Joe Cocker.

“It was obviously more difficult because there’s a lot more work involved in the arrangements (of Yes) and how pieces of music shape together,” White said. “Playing with Joe, you just play standard rock ’n’ roll in most of his songs. But still I was with a great band when I was playing with Joe Cocker.”

In the early ’80s, prompted by the commercial success of Asia — a supergroup that featured former and now current Yes members Howe and Downes — Yes retooled its sound. The triple-platinum album “90125” featured mainstream rock songs, including the chart toppper “Owner of a Lonely Heart” and the radio hits “Leave It,” “Changes” and “Hold On.”

“It was just one step in the band’s career. We were just playing different things then. But it still sounded like Yes,” White said. “It was just a little bit of a diversion from our more complicated works. But there were a lot of complex songs also in those arrangements in ‘90125.’”

White’s first appearance on a Yes album was “Tales from Topographic Oceans,” a double-LP released in 1974 featuring six sprawling tracks that has long been considered one of the band’s most ambitious works. The drummer counts it among his favorites.

“‘Topographic’ was fun to make. It took a long time and was quite adventurous,” White said. “‘Relayer’ was memorable; ‘Going for the One;’ ‘Drama’ was a great album. They all have a place in the different eras of Yes. All of them are pretty special.”

The Yes lineup headed to Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom next week features, from left, bassist Billy Sherwood, singer Jon Davison, guitarist Steve Howe, drummer Alan White and keyboardist Geoff Downes.

White says the band is too busy touring right now to work on a new music, but he expects Yes will begin planning a successor to “Heaven & Earth” next year.

Meanwhile, Warner Bros. Records will be releasing a two-CD (or three-LP) anthology of Yes classics next month. It was compiled by Jon Anderson — the lead singer in that other version of Yes.

Expect plenty of tracks featuring White on drums.


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