Yes, Alan White is ready to rock Newcastle Days
September 2, 2010
By Tim Pfarr
What would you think if you found out the guy down the street used to play music with John Lennon?
Start wondering. Drummer Alan White, who spent the past 38 years with the band Yes, has jammed with Lennon, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton and Jimmy Hendrix.
His local band, White, will close this year’s Newcastle Days festival with an hour-and-half set at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 11.
White was born just outside of Newcastle, England, and he moved to Newcastle, Wash., just months before the city incorporated in 1994. His wife, Gigi, is from Kirkland, which initially brought him to the area.
He eventually sold his two other houses in England and California, and settled in his Washington home to raise his children, now adults.
“I love the people here. Every time I go to the grocery store, people say hi,” White said. “It’s just great. It’s like living in a little village in England. Everybody seems to know everybody in the area.”
White’s music career took off when his band at the time, The Blue Chips, won a music competition judged by Starr and Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein. He was just 14.
“When they said we’d won, we didn’t really believe it ourselves,” White said.
In 1969, Lennon called White and asked him to join the Plastic Ono Band. At first, White thought the call was a prank, and he told Lennon to call back later, thinking it was one of his friends. However, he remembered the caller sounding an awful lot like Lennon.
Ten minutes later, Lennon called back, and White said when he realized who it was, he nearly fell out of his chair.
“I spent the day saying, ‘Oh Jesus, what did I get myself into?’” he said with a laugh. “It was the biggest break I ever had. I’ve never really looked back since.”
Less than two days later, he performed with the band on what would become the “Live Peace in Toronto” album. The performance was the band’s first time together onstage, and their only rehearsal was on the plane from England to Toronto; Lennon and Clapton played acoustic guitars, and White drummed on the seats.
When he got on stage, there was only a drum stool, and roadies built a drum set around him in just five minutes.
The entire experience, White said, is his favorite rock ‘n’ roll memory.
White went on to play drums on Lennon’s “Imagine” album and Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass” album. On the track “My Sweet Lord,” which appeared on “All Things Must Pass,” Harrison had Starr play tambourine so White could play drums. Those are just two of the more than 50 albums on which he has played.
In 1972, White joined Yes, and he has performed on each of the band’s albums since. He formed the band White in 2005 with members of the Seattle band MerKaba, and the band’s lineup has since shifted slightly.
Vocalist Robin Dawn and keyboardist Jonathan Sindleman, who were members of the Yes tribute band Parallels, recently joined original members White, guitarist Karl Haug, and bassist and guitarist Steve Boyce.
White went on two, six-week tours with Yes this year: one in the U.S. and one in Europe. When he is at home, he can be found at concerts in the park — either in the audience or on stage jamming — or giving seminars.
But who is White’s favorite musician with whom he has played, one may wonder.
“That’s a loaded question,” he said with a laugh. “They all have been a fantastic part of my life, a very huge part of my life. There are very many people I love playing with. I wouldn’t want to pick out one.”