Bill Bruford vs. Alan White – 285

Bill Bruford book
Bill Bruford book

Produced by Preston Frazier, David Gordon, Bill Govier, Wayne Hall and Michel Arsenault.

It was brilliant to be able to welcome Preston Frazier to the podcast this week to talk about Bill Bruford and Alan White. Mark and Kevin join with Preston to review the two drummers’ contribution to the music of Yes over the years.

  • Which drummer is your favourite Yes skinman?
  • Could Bruford have carried on in Yes?
  • What about Union live and ‘those’ Simmons drums?

Listen to the episode then let us know what you think!

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Theme music

The music I use is the last movement of Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite. This has been used as introduction music at many Yes concerts. My theme music is not take from a live concert – I put it together from the following two creative commons sources: thanvannispen and

22 thoughts on “Bill Bruford vs. Alan White – 285”

  1. Very good discussion regarding the two Yes drummers. It is very easy to dismiss poor Alan White as the inferior drummer to Bruford, as is often done, but I am happy to hear you gave Alan White his due. My comments:

    Bruford started his career with Yes, but leaving the band was the best thing he could have done for his career. His best work was remains with King Crimson and Earthworks, and those bands are where his heart always was. Preston Frazier was correct to point to the ABWH live sets for a good idea of what Bruford would have done with his Yes studio tracks. Yes, the electronic drums were completely wrong for the classic Yes songs, but I do not fault him too much for that since the new music he was performing at the time was all electronic, but his playing is what killed me. Interesting observation that he seemed stiff in the studio, but his playing in those songs live was
    even stiffer!! Compare his studio vs live playing of Close to the Edge – Evening of Yes Music Minus contains probably the worst playing of Bruford’s career. I have not played it in years and I still have that machine gun snare rattling in my head.

  2. As far as the electronic drums – I loved Bruford’s experimentation on his Earthworks recordings and still love them (machine gun snare aside!!). But he was correct to quit the electronics while he was ahead. The man who carried them to a completely different level was the 2nd drummer of the Crimson Double Trio – Pat Mastelloto. Bill Bruford never came close to achieving with the electronic drums what Pat did in the late 1990’s. Listen to Pat’s drumming on ProjeKcts Three and Four if you want to hear stunning examples of a band integrated with electronic percussion. No they do not sound like real drums – no they are not supposed to.

    1. Good points, Rosemary. A shame that Bill was a pioneer in electronic percussion – he could have done some amazing things with decent kit.

  3. I am surprised that nobody mentioned Alan’s drumming on Tales from Topographic Oceans. The poor guy is brand new in the band, and he has to play the most experimental music of his career. His performance is very good, but his sound is poor. Muddy, bottom heavy drums throughout – but that would improve significantly by Relayer where he finally started to find his groove. Kevin mentions that Alan has a reputation for only playing music straight, but his playing gives all the instrumentalists some groove. Consider – 1970’s Yes had relatively little rhythm to their playing. Steve, Rick and Chris were all very melodic players and they sometimes got in the way of each other’s playing (think Relayer or Tormato where everybody is constantly trying to out-solo each other!). Alan’s relatively straight drumming was often the only rhythm driving the songs.

    Bottom line: Alan White is technically not as gifted as Bill Bruford, but for the style of music that Yes performs, he is the preferred drummer. With that said, of all the various musicians in Yes, Bill Bruford has had, by far, the most successful career outside of Yes.

    PS – Kevin – if you must announce my name, it is ‘Rosemary’. Thank You.

    1. Thanks for all the comments, Rosemary and very sorry not to get your name right! Your email address is all I was going by… You are correct that Alan’s drumming on Tales is incredible, especially as it was so near to his debut in the band! I agree that Bill in an amazing;y accomplished technical player but you are right, I think, Alan was, in the end, better for what was needed.

  4. For me, it has always been White. I remember when I listened to Yessongs for the first time (before I had truly learned anything about Yes music) and I realized that I liked the drumming on the Alan White tracks better. It was the way he tuned his snare drum, or something… tonk… tonk… tonk… But saying I like White’s playing better than Bruford is like saying I like the number 99 one digit more than I like the number 98. They are both the best damn numbers under 100!

    But what an awesome career Bruford has had! King Crimson, UK, Genesis, ABWH, etc.

    1. Thanks Jamie. Yes, leaving the band didn’t really hold Bill back did it? There’s part of me that wishes Union live could have been done differently – with Bill on an acoustic kit for all ‘his’ songs and Alan doing ‘his’…

  5. Very interesting show for sure I’m very surprised on the thoughts Bill was and is a great drummer hands down, as is Alan. Now lets ask the real question could Yes had been born with Alan ? as was asked could Bill do Tales? Its amazing to me that they both served the band with there very best. Alan is the Yes drummer no doubt in my mind at all he as mentioned in the show its the best of both worlds for Yes with Alan no doubt.
    Great show guys totally enjoyed the show I’m sure this will stir the heart of the true Yes fan!

  6. Great topic and great to hear everyone’s opinion.

    As a fledgling drummer in 1972 I was deeply impressed by Bruford’s playing on Fragile. I had never heard anything like his exquisitely tasteful style of rock drumming, save maybe for Micheal Giles’ on the debut King Crimson album. His brilliant combination of restraint and attack added so much to the power and magic of the music on Fragile (and Close To The Edge.)
    I must say I was disappointed with Alan White’s drumming when I first heard Tales. It sounded a bit clumsy in my opinion. On the other hand, Alan’s drumming on Relayer was absolutely brilliant and still blows me away when I hear it.
    I have since grown to love all of Alan’s music and playing. But try to imagine what Tales would have sounded like had Bruford stayed. He would have changed the whole dynamic of that music and for the better in my opinion. But alas, we will never know!

    1. Thanks, Scott. Tales with Bruford – well it certainly would have been different! I’d love to hear that but I think the band really wanted to change the sound and Alan fitted where they wanted to go – I’m glad they found Alan who has clearly been amazing!

      1. Hi Kevin. Have you ever heard anything on what the other band members were thinking at the time? The only bit I’ve ever come across was Rick’s interview on Yes Years where he describes Bill’s leaving as “the first crack to appear in the wall.” Cheers!

    2. Hey Scott…check out “All Fighters Past” on the Steven Wilson Fragile remix for what a Bruford/Tales album might have sounded like. It was found at the end of a tape (mostly recorded over) so we get just the end of the song (which incorporates several song ideas) but I think it’s enough to get you thinking 🙂

  7. As a fanatic about all things Bruford (Yes, Fish Out of Water, King Crimson, Bruford, Earthworks, ABWH, etc.) it took me about 30 years to not look at Alan White as ‘the new guy”. But now I truly admire his combination of smoothness and power. While not as unique as Bruford’s sound, he brought the drumming required for the symphonic classics such as TFTO, Relayer, and GFTO.
    Great topic.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Paul. Yes it’s odd that you still see and hear people describe Alan as a newcomer after all this time! He takes it all in his stride though – I just hope he can continue to play a part in Yes music.

      1. Living in Seattle, I have said hello to Alan a couple of times at various music events. He is always a gentleman.

  8. Excellent episode. I always preferred BB’s drumming as he was the original and I like his Jazz style. His playing on TAAW and Fragile is in particular, so tight and outstanding.
    Having said that, I agree with Mark, that Alan is a better all round rock drummer. His work on TFTTO, Relayer and Drama is exceptional. I’ve had to reconsider my opinion and now think that AW would get my vote.

  9. Excellent discussion guys! As a devoted member of “team Bruford” your comments made me appreciate Alan’s playing in ways I hadn’t previously considered.

    I have to take issue though with Mark’s comparing And You and I to Awaken. Pretty hard not to find in favor of White with that set up. I suspect the opposite conclusion may have been reached had the comparison been between Close to the Edge and, say, Parallels.

    Regarding your comments that Bruford would have eventually been fired by the band, do you guys have any additional insights on this (i.e., what other band members were thinking at the time)? I find it hard to believe Bruford would have been fired by any band given how renowned he is in the business, especially among drummers.

    PS – I saw Earthworks (acoustic jazz version) in the early 2000’s at a small club in Hollywood and was blown away by Bill’s playing.

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