Yes, Alan White was ‘remarkable’

New drummer Alan White only had three days to learn the repertoire before Yes went on tour for them Close to the edge Trip. Five decades later, it’s the first thing former bandmate Jon Anderson cites as he remembers White, who died in late May.

“It was a remarkable achievement,” Anderson tells UCR. “He was a very dedicated guy.” As Anderson adds, however, White had already cemented his legacy during a previous stint with John Lennon. “He kept playing Introduce,” Says Anderson. “That was a ticket to freedom forever.”

Anderson is currently touring and performing Close to the edge Album complete with the Paul Green Rock Academy. In the first part of our conversation, he talked about how the album’s iconic title track came about. We end our discussion with a few additional anecdotes from the sessions, along with reminiscences of his fellow prog rockers.

You mentioned Rick Wakeman’s organ parts on Close to the Edge. Were you there when this was recorded?
Yes, because one of the things that happened with Rick was that he was very spontaneous at the right time. You’re never quite sure what he would do. It’s just that he would suddenly come out of this thing. We started saying Bach, Beethoven, anything, you know – and he started making this rumble. [Sings the riff.] And then along came the Moog and all because it was very rare for a Moog sound to really work and suddenly it was building and building and building and then the band started going by this standard that we were singing about.

And now the solo was there and he just did it. I think he just did it on the second take because the band knew what they were playing. It was just a matter of, “okay, let’s try one,” and you would try—and another. There’s always some kind of little argument from Chris [Squire] like, “Well, I thought the version we did the fifth time was the best.” We’d say, “We just did the ninth. Why didn’t you say that sounded good five times ago?” – because we’re just waiting here, you know. But it was such a great camaraderie musically.

The manufacturing process of Close to the edge album seemed to have made Bill Bruford leave. How much could you feel that at that moment? Musically, what you did was a very intensive process.
Oh god yes. Well the strangest thing is that we finished the album and of course I was in musical heaven and I was so proud of everything. I do not know why. For me there was something magical about what we had done. Then I got a call from Bill saying he was leaving the band. The first thing I thought was, “Well, what’s the matter 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 before the pandemic that you wanted to see eight songs on a Yes album. Where are things with this idea currently?
I just finished five hours of music about two weeks ago and it’s totally, I would say totally crazy stuff. I don’t know what it is or why it is. It will be called Zamran: son of Olias. Well Zamran is the word that came to my mind 10 years ago when my son Damian said to me ‘why don’t you son of Olias? He said, “Jon, you do this; you do it. Why don’t you do it? son of Olias. Come on.” And I thought “Zamran” and wrote it down.

I’ve used it as an idea over and over for years. I’ve worked with a dozen people around the world musically to help put it all together and over the past two years it’s all come together – because like most people you’ve been at home. you stayed at home; They had to stay away from COVID and all. I’ve just been working on this 20 hours a day. I don’t know what it is yet. I’m still trying to figure out why it is like this and like that. I know… from every point of view I know why I did it and I know what the point is, but putting it into meaningful words is another story.

And how Olias was a kind of free form story about the beginnings of music on this planet, the music came from the Pleiades. That’s what my head was about. And “Zamran” – I googled it two weeks ago – and it’s amazing what Zamran means. It’s variations on the theme: guidance of energy, a center of all that is, sort of. I thought, “Well, that’s a perfect name.” So now I have to find a perfect way to take it out into the world. That’s the riddle. I have “puzzle” [a song from the forthcoming project] on my Facebook. There is a Tricon from Zamran. It’s called the jigsaw puzzle. And that’s life, you know?

is Zamran will be the right follow-up Olias of Sun Hill that you have long imagined?
Yes.

There it is in sight. It exists.
It exists – and it’s four hours long. It’s four and a half hours long. It’ll be five hours. [Laughs.] But the interesting thing is that I actually mix in surround sound, and not many people have surround sound in their homes. It’s a real shame because… you know, a lot of people have it on their TV. So every song, every second of the music is visualized by a friend of mine in Ireland called Micky Byrne who made videos for everything. For me it’s just a journey – a very crazy, wonderful, long journey. I’m just trying to decide how to break it down into sections.

Two last random things for you: As the main singers of the two biggest progressive rock bands, have you ever had the chance to spend time with Peter Gabriel?
No, actually I remember seeing him once in Vegas. I was performing with an orchestra and he had just performed with his band. It was a special event for NAMM. I remember him looking at me and pointing to his throat, “Why don’t you sing?” Because it was an orchestral piece of music, and I just remember him looking at me and saying [whispers] “You should sing.” You know, in life I love this guy a lot, in his work his songwriting is through the roof.

Listen to King Crimson’s “Lizard”

You once worked on King Crimson’s lizard. What memories do you have of that time?
Well, Bob Fripp came to see Yes – and Bob Fripp, he’s a character. So he said if I would be interested in singing a song on his next album? Chris and I actually saw King Crimson’s first show at a London club called the Speakeasy. And they played the whole thing [first] Album. [Takes a deep breath.] I’ll never get over it because it was incredibly good. And I just turned to Chris and said, “We need to rehearse more – because these guys are brilliant.”

And so [Fripp] asked me and I said yes I would do that. He sent me a demo cassette of the song. So I, you know, very typically, I started listening to the song and I said, “Yeah, I could sing that, and I’d sing it a little bit more like that.” It was sometimes too easy. So I would trill a little, you know. I went into the studio and started singing it like I thought it would sound good, you know? And he stopped the tape and said, “Jon, Jon, can’t you sing it like the recording, like the demo?” “Okay, then Bob. If you want.” [Laughs.] And I did.

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