The White Stuff: Yes Drummer Talks about how the New Line-Up Handles the Old Tunes

Since forming in England in the late '60s, prog-rock act Yes has gone through countless line-up changes. Original singer Jon Anderson is the latest guy to part ways with the band. He left in 2012 and has since been replaced by Jon Davison. And yet, the band continues to play material that Anderson originally performed. For its current tour, it's playing three albums (1971's The Yes Album, 1972's Close to the Edge and 1977's Going for the One) in their entirety. Drummer Alan White, who has been a constant in the group, recently spoke about all the line-up changes during a phone interview from a tour stop. The band appears at the Rock Hall on Tuesday for a question and answer session and then plays at Cain Park on Wednesday.

You're playing three albums in their entirety. How long is the show? Five hours?

No. We do Close to the Edge and then Going for the One and then we do The Yes Album at the end, which was the breakthrough album for the band so it has all the hits on it. It's over two hours but we usually take an intermission.

Talk about the decision to include 1977's Going for the One.

We all like playing that album and it's one we haven't played that often. We played the songs many times over the years but never in its entirety. Songs like "Turn of the Century" and "Wonderous Stories." It was a No. 1 hit in England and it was pretty high on the charts over here too. There are identifiable songs on it. Close to the Edge is a landmark kind of album in progressive rock. We're covering all the bases.

I think you played on all the albums. But how is Jon Davison handling the material?

He's handling everything really, really well. His voice is really strong. Doing the three albums every night, he has to take care of his voice. He has a long warm-up before he goes on stage, so he doesn't do any damage. He's doing a great job.

Jon Anderson had a strong spiritual side. Does Jon Davison?

Jon's very spiritual, too. He's a really, really great guy and mixes well with the band. He's really easy to get along with. He's totally easy to work with. It makes it a pleasure, really.

He's got great hair. Was that a factor in asking him to join the band?

Yeah, he's got nice hair, I guess. I don't look at those factors.

When Trevor Rabin was in the band in the '80s, the group enjoyed terrific commercial success. What was that time period like?

It was a wonderful time. He is still a really good friend. He's a friend of mine and Chris' [Squire]. We still keep really close with him. We see each other all the time. My son got married about a month ago and he came to the wedding because he's my son's godfather. There is a possibility we may do something with him in the future. We made some great albums during that time with 90125 and Big Generator and Talk. All of that was super great to play.

In the early '90s, you and drummer Bill Bruford both played in the band. What was that experience like?

Yeah, it was fine, really. Everybody got along really well for that whole tour. We put a good show together doing a mixture of songs and everybody was on stage. Playing with the two drummers was fine with me. Bill did some hallmark numbers that he did in the early years. It was a mixture of things that happened during the show. I played on quite a bit of the set and he played electronic drums, and we worked it out. It was fine. I really enjoyed it.

Who's the better drummer?

What a question. We have different styles. I can't say. He's a great player in his own right. He's more jazz-oriented, but I have a jazz background as well as a history of playing with people like John Lennon and R&B music. I mix the two together. It's a hard question. I can't entirely answer it. That's the down-the-middle answer. I'm on the inside looking out.

Bands tend to churn through drummers but that hasn't been the case with Yes. Why?

There's been two drummers. Actually, three drummers because before Bill Bruford there was a drummer who only lasted for one gig. People just want to do different things. Rick Wakeman had a solo career that was very successful, and he took off and did his own thing. And then Jon Anderson did the same thing and Steve Howe did the same thing with Asia. Yes always kept rolling along and doing it in different formats. We just kept the ball rolling basically.

If the band gets inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, which line-up should be inducted?

Well, I'm afraid, we'd have to perform at the ceremony, and it would be a helluva lot of people on stage. Let's put it that way. In all, it's about 20 people or something like that. We'd have to be selective about who had the most commitment.

What about Jon Anderson?

We haven't ruled out the fact that we might do something with him in the future. We don't know when. We have a good formula for right now. We're playing great and getting great reaction and great reviews from concerts. We're going to roll like this at the moment and we're enjoying it.