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Alan White, drummer for Yes, John Lennon and more has died, aged 72

Alan White, Yes
(Image credit: Michael Putland/Getty Images)

Alan White, who is best known for his work as the drummer for Yes has died aged 72. The news was announced by Alan’s wife Gigi via White’s official Facebook page.

Gigi confirmed that Alan passed away at his home near Seattle today (May 26) after brief, unspecified illness.

As well as his work with Yes, which saw him replace Bill Bruford in the band and totalled over 40 studio and live releases, White also took up the drum stool for John Lennon in the Plastic Ono Band, including the 1971 masterpiece Imagine.

His involvement with former Beatles didn’t stop there, though, with White also tracking drums for George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass and Radha Krsna Temple albums. White’s CV also includes credits for solo albums from Yes’ Rick Wakeman, Steve Howe and Chris Squire, as well as Paul Kossoff, Ginger Baker’s Air Force, Tony Levin and many more.

The statement, accompanied by a short bio of Alan’s career highlights, reads,

"Alan White, our beloved husband, dad, and grandpa, passed away at the age of 72 at his Seattle-area home on May 26, 2022, after a brief illness. 

"Throughout his life and six-decade career, Alan was many things to many people: a certified rock star to fans around the world; band mate to a select few, and gentleman and friend to all who met him.

"Alan was born in Pelton, County Durham, England on June 14, 1949. He began piano lessons at the age of six, began playing the drums at age twelve, and has been performing publicly since the age of thirteen. 

"Throughout the 1960s, Alan honed his craft with a variety of bands, including The Downbeats, The Gamblers, Billy Fury, Alan Price Big Band, Bell and Arc, Terry Reid, Happy Magazine (later called Griffin), and Balls with Trevor Burton (The Move) and Denny Laine (Wings).

"In 1968, Alan joined Ginger Baker’s Airforce, a new group that was put together by the former drummer of Cream and other noted musicians from England’s music scene including Steve Winwood, formerly of Traffic.

"In 1969, Alan received what he thought at the time to be a prank phone call, but it was John Lennon calling to ask Alan to join the Plastic Ono Band.  The next day Alan found himself learning songs in the back of an airliner headed to Toronto with Lennon, Yoko Ono, Eric Clapton, and Klaus Voormann.  The ensuing album, Live Peace in Toronto, sold millions of copies, peaking at number 10 on the charts.

"Alan’s association with Lennon continued, recording singles like ‘Instant Karma’ and the subsequent landmark album, Imagine, with Alan providing drums for the title song, ‘Jealous Guy’, and ‘How Do You Sleep at Night’. 

"Alan’s work with Lennon led to an introduction to George Harrison, who asked Alan to perform on the album All Things Must Pass, including the single, ‘My Sweet Lord’, released in 1970. Alan subsequently worked with many artists for the Apple label, including Billy Preston, Rosetta Hightower, and Doris Troy.

"Alan joined YES on July 27, 1972, and with only three days to learn the music, YES opened their US tour before 15,000 fans in Dallas, Texas on July 30, 1972.  Alan has been with YES ever since, and with the passing of founding member, Chris Squire, in June 2015, Alan is the longest continuously serving band member.

"Alan is preceded in death by his parents, Raymond and May White (née Thrower), his sister-in-law, Mindi Hall, and many loyal furry companions. He is survived by his wife of forty years (May 15, 1982) Rogena “Gigi” (née Walberg), his children, Jesse (Emily), their two children JJ and Ellie, and Cassi (Kela), and sister-in-law Andrea Holmqvist (Robert)."

More recently, Alan White and Gigi were the victims of theft which saw Alan’s Plastic Ono Band silver sparkle Ludwig kit stolen (among other instruments and memorabilia) stolen by thieves who gained access to his storage facility.

Earlier this week, Yes announced that White would sit-out the band’s upcoming 50th anniversary Close to the Edge UK tour, which takes place next month. Long-term Yes dep, Jay Schellen will be filling in with the band, who have confirmed that they will dedicate the tour to Alan White.   

I'm a freelance member of the MusicRadar team, specialising in drum news, interviews and reviews. I formerly edited Rhythm and Total Guitar here in the UK and have been playing drums for more than 25 years (my arms are very tired). When I'm not working on the site, I can be found on my electronic kit at home, or gigging and depping in function bands and the odd original project.