Jon Anderson Remembers Yes’ ‘Remarkable’ Drummer Alan White
New drummer Alan White had just three days to learn the repertoire before Yes hit the road for their Close to the Edge tour. Five decades later, it's the first thing former bandmate Jon Anderson cited when remembering White, who passed away in late May.
"It was a remarkable feat," Anderson tells UCR. "He was a very dedicated guy." As Anderson adds, however, White had already cemented his legacy during an earlier stint with John Lennon. "He played on Imagine," Anderson says. "That was a ticket to freedom forever."
Anderson is currently touring and performing the Close to the Edge album in full with the Paul Green Rock Academy. In the first part of our conversation, he discussed how the album's iconic title track developed. We conclude our discussion with a couple of additional anecdotes from the sessions, along with memories of his prog-rock peers.
You mentioned Rick Wakeman's organ parts on "Close to the Edge." Were you there for the moment when that was recorded?
Yeah, because one of the things that happened with Rick was he was very spontaneous at the right time. You're never quite sure what he was going to do. It's just that all of a sudden, he was going to come out of this thing. We started saying Bach, Beethoven, anything, you know – and he started doing this rumble of a thing. [Sings the riff.] And then the Moog came in and everything, because it was very rare to have a Moog sound that really worked and all of a sudden it built and built and built, and then the band started kicking away with this standard that we'd sang over.
And now the solo was there, and he just did it. I think he just did it in the second take, because the band knew what they were playing. It was just a question of, "Okay, let's try one," and you'd try it – and one more. There's always a sort of slight argument from Chris [Squire] about, "Well, I thought the version we did on the fifth time 'round was the best." We'd be saying, "We've just done the ninth one. Why didn't you say this sounds good five times ago?" – because we're just waiting here, you know. But it was such a great camaraderie, musically speaking.
The process of making the Close to the Edge album seemed to be what drove Bill Bruford to leave. How much could you feel that in the moment? What you guys were doing was a very intense process, musically.
Oh, God, yeah. Well, the strangest thing is that we'd finished the album and I was in musical heaven, of course, and I was so proud of everything. I don't know why. There was something magical about what we'd done, to me. Then I got a phone call from Bill saying he was gonna leave the band. The first thing I thought was, "Well, what's wrong with us?" [Laughs.] "What's wrong with our music, Bill? Please tell me, I don't understand."
Listen to 'Puzzle' by Jon Anderson
You told me prior to the pandemic that you had eight songs you wanted to see wind up on a Yes album. Where are things with that idea presently?
I've just finished five hours of music, about two weeks ago, and it's completely, I would say, completely off-the-wall stuff. I don't know what it is or why it is. It's going to be called Zamran: Son of Olias. Now, Zamran is the word I came up with 10 years ago, when my son Damian said to me, "Why don't you do Son of Olias? He said, "Jon, you're doing this; you're doing that. Why don't you do Son of Olias. Come on." And I thought "Zamran," and I wrote it down.
For years, I've used it over and over again, as an idea. I've worked with a dozen people around the world, musically speaking, to help to put it all together and it all came together over the past two years – because like most people, you know, you were home. You stayed home; you had to stay away from the COVID and everything. I just worked 20 hours a day on it. I don't know what it is yet. I'm still trying to figure out why it is and all that. I know ... from any standpoint, I know why I've done it and I know what it's about, but putting it into words that make sense is another story.
And as Olias was a kind of a freeform story about the beginning of music on this planet, the music came from the Pleiades. That's what it was all about in my mind. And "Zamran" – I Googled it two weeks ago – and it's amazing what Zamran means. It's kind of variations on the theme of it: Leadership of energy, a center of all that is, sort of thing. I thought, "Well that's a perfect name." So now I've got to find a perfect way of putting it out into the world. That's the puzzle. I put "Puzzle" [a song from the forthcoming project] on my Facebook. There's a tricon there from Zamran. It's called the puzzle. And that's life, you know?
Is Zamran going to be that proper follow-up to Olias of Sunhillow that you've long envisioned?
It's in sight then. It exists.
It exists – and it's four hours long. It's four and a half hours long. It's getting to be five hours. [Laughs.] But the interesting thing is that I'm actually mixing in surround sound, and not many people have surround sound at home. So it's a shame really, because ... you know, a lot of people have it on their television. So every song, every second of the music is visualized by a friend of mine in Ireland called Micky Byrne, who's done videos for everything. To me, it's just a trip – a very crazy, wonderful, long trip. I'm just trying to decide how to put it into sections.
Two final random things for you: As the big singers of the two biggest progressive rock bands, have you ever had a chance to spend time with Peter Gabriel?
No, actually, I remember seeing him in Vegas one time. I was performing with an orchestra, and he'd just been performing with his band. It was a special event for NAMM. I remember him looking at me and pointing to his throat as in: "Why aren't you singing?" Because it was an orchestral piece of music, aAnd I just remember him looking at me saying [whispers] "You should be singing." You know, in life, I love that guy very much, in his work, his songwriting is through the roof.
Listen to King Crimson's "Lizard"
You worked at one point on King Crimson's Lizard. What sort of memories do you have of that time?
Well, Bob Fripp had come to see Yes – and Bob Fripp, he's a character. So he said, would I be interested in singing a song on his next album? Me and Chris actually saw the first show of King Crimson in a club in London called the Speakeasy. And they played the whole [first] album. [Takes a deep breath.] I never get over that, because it was quite unbelievably good. And I just turned to Chris, and said, "We got to rehearse more – because these guys are brilliant."
And so [Fripp] asked me and I said, yeah, I would do that. He sent me a demo cassette of the song. So me, you know, very typical, I started listening to the song and said, "Yeah, I could sing that, and I'd sing it a little bit like this more." It was a little too simple at times. So I'd warble a bit, you know. I went in the studio and I started singing it the way I thought it would sound good, you know? And he stopped the tape and said "Jon, Jon, can you not sing it like the recording, like the demo?" "Okay, then Bob. If that's what you want." [Laughs.] And that's what I did.