To Be Continued
2017 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees Yes look back on two classic albums

By Lee Valentine Smith

Formed in 1968, the influential English rock band Yes is finally headed to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. As a part of the Class of 2017, the band will gather in New York this April for the honor. In the meantime the current line-up is back on the road offering selections from two of their very different records. 1973’s ponderous and sprawling Tales From Topographic Oceans and 1980’s heady, synth-driven Drama.

Nearly two dozen musicians have served tours of duty in Yes and for the past few years the group features guitarist and co-founder Steve Howe, drummer Alan White, keyboardist Geoff Downes, singer Jon Davison and bassist Billy Sherwood. The band and some of their like-minded prog-rock peers will float to Mexico on their fourth Cruise To The Edge ( before they return to Symphony Hall this month. Insite spoke with veteran musician Alan White at his home near Seattle.

Since the last time we talked, you’ve had a few health issues. How are you feeling now?

Yeah, I’ve had a bit of a back problem. Turns out it was a herniated disc. It started in Europe but I didn’t know it and I finished the tour. They had to shoot me with steroids every night, but I managed. It takes a long time to get over it. But you have to keep drumming. It keeps you kind of fit. Once you stop for a month or so, oh God. So now before I go on stage, I do a lot of stretching so I don’t pull anything!

Did the death of co-founder/bassist/songwriter Chris Squire [in 2015] change the dynamic of the band?

Oh yeah. It’s got to change it. He was one of a kind. But at the same time [current bassist] Billy Sherwood’s done a good job replacing him because Chris was his mentor. He’s studied what he did, including his vocals. You know, Billy and Chris and I had a band together called Conspiracy and it was kinda cool. But we’ve managed to go on as Yes because I think music is what keeps the whole thing together. When you’ve got really great music to play - I think there’s been about 21 studio albums now - we have a lot of music to pick from over the years.

For this tour you’re revisiting two very different albums and two crossroad periods of the band.

Yeah for this tour, it’s Topographic and Drama with some very iconic Yes songs around those. Right, they’re totally different eras. Tales was ‘73-‘74 and the other, what was it, maybe ’80?

Right, late summer of ’80.

Yeah and that was with [vocalist] Trevor Horn and [keyboardist] Geoff Downes, who is in the band right now. Trevor has been to a few shows over the last couple of years where he’s been on-stage and sang a couple of songs with us.

Topographic was your first album with Yes; four sides of long and very complex compositions. Was it a challenge for you as the new member at the time?

Yeah, absolutely. But we were rehearing that album for over three months before we ever went into the studio to come up with it. I remember side one had to be edited down so much. It was 27 minutes long and it wouldn’t fit on the record! We had to cut about six minutes out of it.

What do you remember most about that project?

Oh, working in the studio was even crazier than in the rehearsals. [Keyboardist] Rick Wakeman was in a very jovial mood and in the control room, he set up a couple of cut-out palm trees and brought in a couple of cardboard cows. He was decoratin’ the whole studio and throwing peanuts all around the room. I’d be taking an overdub on a drumtrack and he’d be in the room throwing peanuts on the cymbals so there’s extra beats. Lots of funny stories from back then, it’ll all be in the book, don’t worry.

You’re writing a memoir of your time in Yes?

A few people are wanting to do a book, but one guy in particular has some good ideas, so we’ll see. I’ll go back through the John Lennon days [with the Plastic Ono Band] and Joe Cocker and all kinds of stuff.

Just the history of your time in Yes would be a massive edition.

Yeah. Well, there’s lots of shapes and forms to this band, but musically I think it’s still carrying on the same quality.

Do you think there’ll ever be a Yes tour with no original members?

(Laughs) Well I don’t know! You know, I think maybe a lot of things, like stuff from Topographic for example, are pieces like Mozart, that’ll live forever in the rock and roll industry. Some other bands that are around today, nobody from “the band” is there anymore, but management is still keepin’ ‘em going.

Are you planning a follow-up to 2014’s Heaven and Earth album anytime soon?

Yeah. I think we’ll see this year’s touring cycle out and then we’ll regroup later on this year and put our heads together. We have a lot of ideas for another album, we just have to pull them all together. The band still keeps on churning out songs and it’s still really fun to be a part of it. I think it’ll continue.

Yes plays Tuesday, February 14 at Symphony Hall.



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