I first met Alan in person about 25 years ago. But I first saw him in concert 44 years ago.
I had been a Yes fan since high school. I saw them in the round on September 3rd or 4th of 1978 in New Haven Coliseum in Connecticut. Jon Anderson, Steve Howe, Chris Squire, Alan White & Rick Wakeman.
I did not pull that out of my feeble brain. I can’t remember my kids phone numbers, let alone a show I saw when I was 22. But Yes fans are so passionate that there’s actually a website you can look up every show they’ve played for the last half a century plus.
And there’s also a photography page when I searched for that show loaded with pictures from that venue. That’s a testament to the power of this band. And it blew my mind to see those photos now. There weren’t a lot of smartphones taking shots in 78.
If you get Yes, it’s such a higher level of the art, that it’s almost a religion. And the deeper you go, the more you get it.
Now I’m not trying to pass myself off as a musicologist, and I can’t even name all of the album cuts I love. I just put the bands playlist on shuffle a lot. When I’m hiking. Or driving. And it lifts my spirit in a way no other act can. And I don’t skip songs.
Back in 1997 my radio producer cohost Joe Bryant surprised me one day by telling me that Alan White was his neighbor. And they both hung out at the same neighborhood watering hole, The Mustard Seed in Renton. I remember thinking I’d love to meet him, but I don’t like to bug artists and celebrities. They need their space, and I never know what to say as a fan that doesn’t sound cliche anyways. Unless I’m interviewing them on the radio. But that’s a working professional relationship.
Around that time, we were writing and recording a new Christmas parody album. I had found a wonderful way to express my love of recording and great musicians by writing Twisted Tunes and making them sound as close to the original as possible. This would be our 3rd album on Atlantic Records.
I guess over a beer or two, Joe had mentioned that we were working on the album. Alan said, “Do you think Bob would let me play on one of his parody songs?” Joe, in his typical down home understated fashion, said “We’ll, I don’t know, I’ll ask him”.
I don’t know I’ll ask him???? How about YES!
Now I don’t get nervous meeting celebrities as a radio host, because I know they want to be there, and we have a gig to do together. But in private life at home it’s a different story. I’m actually socially awkward, pretty insecure. I was so excited that Alan was coming over to record. I wanted to make sure he had a good time.
We were doing a parody of Jimi Hendrix “Purple Haze”, called “Holidaze”. Think “‘S’cuze me, I’ve got gifts to Buy”, and you’ve got the gist of it. Randy Hansen played guitar. Spike O’Neill and Michael Rain split vocal duties. I wish I could remember who played bass.
We exchange pleasantries, Alan sets up his kit, he asks me if I want him to play it true to the way Mitch Mitchell played. I said yes, that would be great. Of course Alan knew Mitch, and I even got the feeling he’d done some listening to get ready for recording.
When the tape rolled for take one, our collective jaws dropped. Power. Authenticity. Groove. The sound coming from those drums was already perfect. There had been no rehearsal.
And selfish me was a little disappointed. All that anticipation, and in one three minute and ten second take we were done. Oh no! I want to hear Alan play more. So I said something about let’s get another take as a safety. But we didn’t need it.
The Rock Star I had watched in the round with Yes in ’78 had just set up his kit in my basement and belted out a Twisted Christmas tune. Pinch me. I don’t do drugs anymore, but I was high.
And that would be the beginning of a friendship lasting through many years, culminating in a trip to New York in 2017 to celebrate his induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
I would like to say I was lucky to be his friend. But it wasn’t luck. Alan and his amazing wife Gigi were both intentionally kind to everyone they met. Always. He was so generous with his time and talent that there are thousands of stories like mine. I know, I’ve been reading them for days. While listening to Yes albums.