Apologies for all the Yes related articles at the moment. I just couldn`t pass this one up. Here is an article with well-known Yes man Alan White, conducted 8 or 9 months before he joined the band that would be his home in between solo work and session work for a lot of artists. Thought this would be interesting for a whole lot of people as he has played with a bunch of very famous people in his career.
Alan the thump and funk man
By Danny Holloway
Since his appearance with John Lennon in Toronto as part of the Plastic Ono Band, Alan White has had a hectic and enjoyable career over these last two years. He`s also become one of the most successful session drummers around and until now, Alan has been almost totally ignored by the press and public. (He wasn`t mentioned in the recent pop polls). His only recognition has come from fellow musicians, especially drummers, who are knocked out by his ability to literally “drive” the music with loads of punch and funk. His Geordie mumble was a bit difficult for my Californian ears to decipher at first, but once I got the hang of it, we settled into a long in-depth conversation covering the whole of his professional career.
When did you first start playing?
My first professional chance was when I was thirteen. I started in the workmen`s club circuit up North in a local group. We played six or seven nights a week. It was good experience I guess. All the miners would go to drink at night after work. We used to play other peoples` songs on stage. I`ll always remember, this guy came up to me after we finished playin` one night and he said, “You`ll be playing with the Beatles someday”. I always think about that. It was seven or eight years ago.
What made you choose to play drums?
I played the piano for eight years, before I played the drums. My uncle was a drummer and he got killed just after I started fooling around with some drums that my parents had bought us for Christmas. He played with dance bands and things and was really good at it. He could feel it. I just gradually built up from there. I really wanted to do something after his death because he was one of my favourite people. I still did piano lessons and that, but the piano started to fade out and the drums started to fade in. Especially since I was making money playin` drums while I was still at school.
What happened after that?
I played in that group for two and a half years or something like that and after that I left school. I then went to technical school for about two weeks and this new band I was in won a competition, down in London, at the Prince of Wales where Ringo, Cilla Black, Brian Epstein and some other person judged it. That was the first time I got involved with that scene. (The Beatles). It keeps coming into it at certain points in my life. The group was called the Downbeats and there was a lot of good groups and we just happened to win it. We did one single with Pye, but it was pretty ordinary.
After that I got asked to join a group called the Gamblers who were going to Germany and I joined because I wanted to go. They were from Newcastle. I spent about three months with them in Germany. We played seven and three quarter hours a night, six nights a week. Actually, they were Billy Fury`s backing group. It was when I was about 16 or 17 I played with them backing him for about two weeks in carbaret up north. It was really funny. He kept movin` his hands around.
The Gamblers broke up in Germany and I came back to join a group some friends of mine were starting called Happy Magazine. It`s a terrible name but two of the guys are still with me in a new group we`ve started called Alva Sefan. We did a lot of gigs in London and did all the club scene before I got asked to join Alan Price. He was the manager of Happy Magazine and he pulled me out of the band. I played with him for about a year. That band got me into playing with a big band. It had eight pieces, I really enjoyed it.
What happened to the Alan Price set?
Alan Price left and Paul Williams, now with Juicy Lucy, took it over as the Paul Williams Set which didn`t last long. Then this friend of mine called Peter and I started a band called Griffin. From then on I went into the whole thing with Balls and the Peace in Toronto happened.
How did you meet John Lennon?
I think he`d seen me play at a club or something. Terry Dornan, he`s a really good friend of mine, he was George`s right hand man. I came back and the gig had been cancelled for the weekend and we hadn`t very much money and we were all feeling down about a drag week-end with no food. I got a phone call from Apple, it was Terry Dornan and he said “Do you want to go to Canada tomorrow?” And I thought all my birthdays had come at once. And he said:
“John wants to do a gig and he wants you to do it. Eric Clapton is doing it too and Klaus Voorman, yourself and John.” It took a lot of guts to say “Yes, I`ll do it”, because I`d never played with any of them before, which is really frightening. So anyway I said “Yeah, man, I`ll do it. Better than a drag week-end at home”. (Sarcastically).
Were you confident?
This is like a different matter. We didn`t even have any rehearsal before we went on stage. We were all so nervous we were nearly sick. It was the first gig John had done in almost four years and we hadn`t rehearsed with the band, and I just met them eight hours before. In the back of the plane we ran through a basic idea of what we were going to do. I just had some sticks on the back of the seat. It was an incredible scene though. We had a convoy and had to be guarded by the police.
It must have been like becoming a Beatle?
Right. Like Beatle for a day. Nobody believed, when we got to the gig, that the Plastic Ono Band were actually going to play. We were hidden in this dressing room where they had a couple of amps and still no drums. When we were thrust out on stage, all the lights were out and the drums weren`t mine. I had to rush and see if I could get them into place and feel comfortable.
When they hit the first chord of the number, all the lights in the stadium went on. I didn`t play really incredible, nobody did on the album, because it was a “let`s have a blow” sort of thing. But there must have been sixty or seventy thousand people there.
Did you know it was being recorded?
No, not at the time. I thought the mikes were just for the P.A. system. And then, all of a sudden, it was all over. John went and freaked out with all them noises and feed-back. The atmosphere in the stadium was really strange. I don`t know how he created it, but just being him and doing something like that. Lennon, he was swinging guitars around and yelling out.
Was it all spontaneous?
Oh yeah! It was freaking me out man. I was thinkin`, “What do I do to that?” Do I kick all of my drums over or what? But, I just started freaking around a bit. Then, they left all the guitars on the floor and we all went to the back of the stage and lit a cigarette up. We just stood there and everyone stood there watching this noise. John banged the drums a bit and then we walked off and left the noise. Everyone thought we were going to come back on, but we had gone back to the dressing room, and it was ages before anybody had the nerve to turn the amps off.
What happened after that gig?
I came back with Griffin and things were a bit dodgy there. I think we all knew what was going to happen because I started getting a lot of publicity from the Plastic Ono Band thing. I got asked to do an album with Rick Grech and Denny (Laine) and Trevor (Burton). And after the album was finished, Denny and Trevor asked me if I`d fancy teaming together with them, which turned out to be an unfortunate mistake. We came together, and I started doing a lot of work with George (I did an album with Doris Troy) and a few sessions here and there with George and Ringo. The first time I met Ringo, there was some really strange vibes but after a while he`s a really nice person.
What was the situation that led you to join Air Force?
Denny was in Air Force first, and I was in Balls by then, and I got a phone call at the studio saying, “Ginger wants you and Trevor and a couple of horn players to join Air Force. Do you know any horn players?” I thought, “Yeah, I know a couple of horn players.” A couple of friends of mine named Beddy and Steve, who are now with me in Alva Sefan, and I got them into Air Force. And Trevor and I drifted into Air Force. And that lasted for about five or six gigs I think. The original Air Force band had some incredible looners in it. When I was in the band there was Graham Bond, Ginger Baker, Phil Seaman, Denny, Trevor, Rick Grech, Janette Jacobs, and Jenny, the two chick singers, and Harold McNair. All together there were thirteen pieces. In between numbers there was a mad dash for your next instrument and people all crashing into each other on stage. It was far too big a band. Me and Trevor quit the band because it was all too hectic. And we just continued on with the Balls thing. I couldn`t see eye to eye with Denny at all. I played one gig with Balls. And I just can`t play bad music on stage. I feel guilty doing it for money.
You must have been offered a mass of session work after Lennon?
Yeah, I couldn`t do all of them. I did George Harrison`s solo album. That was really great. Did Johnny Almond`s solo album. I also did Gary Wright`s album called “Extraction”. And did a couple of sessions with Derek and the Dominos. I`ve done about eighteen or twenty albums in the two years since the Toronto thing. I`ve always done one main thing and lots of other things on the side with other people.
When did you get your band together?
Well, it was about a year ago.
When did you start playing with Terry?
It was around the same time I started my band. Before last Christmas I joined on a temporary basis because they had eight gigs to do. And I enjoyed it and they still needed a drummer, so I worked on a gig-to-gig basis just like a session guy.
Have you ever played in the States?
I`ve never actually played there. I`ve been offered to be flown over for sessions. Lots of work in L.A. I`ll go over soon, but I`m an Englishman at heart.
Do you prefer session work or playing live?
I prefer playing live actually. You get a lot of money for session work, but everything`s dragged out. I love doing it live. I get loads of feeling off that. Just get it all out of my system.
What type of bass player do you enjoy playing with?
Lee Miles (Terry Reid`s bassist) is very good. But, Colin, who`s playing with me in Alva Sefan, has got a rolling style, very clicky and he rolls through it all. I like that because I can stick the funk around it. Lee`s different, he plays funk rolls, in and out of the things I`m doing.
You have a hell of a thumping bass foot.
My right leg, yeah, everybody says that. It`s amazing that I don`t break any skins. I go through a bass drum skin about once every six or eight months. There`s a tremendous amount of feeling behind it. I don`t believe in playing unless you`re peaking all the time. There`s nothing worse than a drummer that sits back and rests on the rest of the band. You gotta be up there kicking them up the arse. That`s what they want. That`s what they need.
Do you like working with Klaus Voorman?
Yeah. He`s really tasty. He picks a lot of really nice notes. A really nice bass player. It`s a great atmosphere that surrounds the whole of that scene. John`s a very clever man.
How much were you on “Imagine”?
I was on about seven tracks. His material`s fantastic. He`s a really good person to be around.
How did “Instant Karma” come about?
Again, I just got a phone call, saying, “John wants to do a session at E.M.I.” I turned up, and Phil Spector was producing. He got incredible drum sounds on “Instant Karma”. We spent about a half an hour to an hour to get the drum sound right. I did the whole thing on the bass tom-tom with a cloth over the rhythm. And then we did those drum breaks in a completely different time which gave it a whole other thing. It was a tremendous atmosphere in the studio as well. There`s four of us playing piano on that. There`s two grand pianos with George down on one end and me up here and John on the other grand piano and Klaus playing an electric one. This is Phil Spector for you man! Phil Spector records the whole thing with tape echo.
Does he listen to the song and then paint his own picture of what it`s going to sound like?
Yeah, that`s his way of producing, but he`s a musician as well. He`s a great technician and he can appreciate sounds. Sometimes a hundred musicians play on a session.
What do you see in store for you in the future?
Alva Sefan is where I`ve always been at, this type of music with these people that I`m playing with. If it`s the last thing I do I`ll get it off the ground. We`ve been rehearsin` for a year. To me, they`re really top class musicians. I really dig them all. I`ll still do sessions but it`s just a matter of fittin` it all in. I like doin` things with the Beatles. They`re good people.
I have personally transcribed this from the original paper. Any errors in the text from the original magazine may not have been corrected for the sake of accuracy. If you have a music-related web-page where this fits – please make a link to the article. With credits to the original writer of the article from all of us music fans!
This number of Sounds also contains articles/interviews with these people: Lindisfarne, Buffy Sainte Marie, Savoy Brown, Kris Kristofferson, Thelonious Monk, It`s A Beautiful Day, John Morris, Judy Collins, Mike Pinder, Sam Mitchell, Bitter Withy.
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