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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

25 replies on “Bill Bruford vs. Alan White – 285”

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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’…

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!

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!

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!

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!

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 🙂

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.

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.

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

Good to hear. I said hello to him before the 2014 Birmingham concert. He looked a bit startled 😉

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.

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.

Ugh I have to step in here and write something. I’m a ex drummer. So I’m going to be honest from a drummer point of view.

You have no idea what Bill Bruford did for the WORLD. Five albums ok. 1969 to 1972. That’s not the point. What he did with those albums was GENIUS UNIQUE INNOVATIVE AMAZING INTERESTING INTRICATE UNPREDICTABLE EXCITING I can on and on with these types of words to infinity. There would be no YES without Bill Bruford. Everything that I heard was wrong. But then I like what Alan White did with Tales and everything after that. BUT man Bill was my influence I played like him when I played. Because I was able to feel it. Alan does not do anything for me as a drummer and probably most. He’s just great at what he does but is not influential and a innovator . And you know that. Yes Songs and Progeny oh man . Alan to this day could never understand how to play any of the songs on those performances. His playing was slimy and just rocked those songs it’s unbearable it’s unforgiving. He can’t for his life understand Heart of the sunrise LOL and Close to the edge or Roundabout how to REALLY play those songs maybe intricate drummers can which they do. He fakes it by playing on the off beat as a way to get through the part. In the Union show in 1991 where Bill actually for once on DVD he actually plays Heart of the Sunrise and KILLS IT. Alan sits there in shame playing the ride cymbal and he knows it. Squire is pumped Trevor Rabin is excited Howe doesn’t know what to do. Jon knows !!! Rick is loving it even Kaye is like yeah Bill. That moment on that DVD is all you need to know. And yes I’m defending Bill because I was pulling out my hair during this broadcast. Alan plays And you and I better ?.. Look he can’t play anything that Bill played on all 5 albums. Nothing not Yes Time and a word The Yes Album Fragile Close To The Edge. Nothing and still playing those songs 45 years later and still … nothing. That’s how awesome Bill Bruford was and just out there alone changing music and the style and what you can do with it you don’t know. I laughed my head off when they had to play the Fragile album and Alan had to play 5 percent of nothing I laughed my ass off it was so bad. I’m not going to talk about Alan he is great in everything HE did with the band. Yes absolutely. I love Tales to even the last album imo the Return Trip without that Benoit idiot. That’s Drama 38 years later the second album by that line up. But he can’t play the songs Bill played on nor plays any of them correctly. I seen teenager drummers get Bill’s playing with a cover band and makes the band sound like the albums. Alan tortured that stuff and played them wrong and didn’t anything good to them by making them rock … No way that’s sacrilege.

Thanks so much for the very thoughtful and detailed message. Honest opinions is what the Yes Music Podcast has always been about so I greatly appreciate your contribution to the debate. Both drummers are unique and special for their own contributions and I enjoyed reading your assessments. If we could have Bill playing his own parts today in concert, I would be overjoyed!

Thanks whew I really thought my longggg view points weren’t going to make it here. But Bill Bruford’s sound ( even that snare drum which I love because even that’s different Bill even said it in those days it was all about every band being different from the next band … how true that was ) his technique the ideas he came up with for every song he played in. BEAUTIFULLY EXECUTED no one ever did that before him he wasn’t stiff in the studio. He played like that to perfection and to perfect what’s on those albums even when he play sparse parts they were extremely thought out brilliantly all of it was intentional and he had amazing ideas and a lovely feel when he played … he did have a groove fantastic elements of jazz he played with funk and rocked you just have to listen closely. Chris Squire and him were a perfect union tightest rhythm section he made Chris want to play like that from the get go they inspired each other that even Bruford was heartbroken when he passed which I didn’t think I would even hear or see cause he was hard on him with the Union tour almost sad actually but that was simply one LONG tour. Bill’s personality is like his playing which is also interesting. See I wrote that madness above cause I was angry well furious listening to the broadcast. He was so criticized it made no sense. Alan White yeah is perfect on Tales Relayer Going Tormado Drama ( sounds like Gradually Going Tornado if you get the joke ) all the rest of the ” studio ” albums. And honestly those songs in a way were tailored for Alan cause I can’t hear Bill playing on any of them I already mentioned Alan couldn’t of made the first five possible no way. The original first five albums sound nothing like the rest of them. They could never write in that style again cause they were far more intricate tighter and arranged in a way around Bill’s playing style when left shocked the hell out of the band. I could never see Alan playing on those albums. He couldn’t he is incapable of that style completely and was all Bill’s own he was a inventor. And honestly the one mad thing I am about Bill is not staying long enough just a little bit more to play on the Close To The Edge tour in 1972 that was madness. That has been bothering me everyday of my life since I heard Yes Songs like in 1983 Cause Bill should of ended his tenure with that live album inexcusable MR. FRIPP ( who I dearly love ) could of waited a few stinking months . The Progeny box set would of been so fantastic if Bill was actually aboard for those recordings and then left to do Larks Tongues in Aspic. Yeah one stinking month you know. Makes a masterpiece doesn’t want to do the tour. He like ran to get out of that band after the album was completed lol. I know again I’m writing another long essay on this subject. But this is not me being raving mad and dissing Alan all over the place. Because I do love the other 1970’s albums also they are amazing and magically. I consider Drama a 70’s album because it’s awesome a radical change but still very progressive ( what was going through Jon’s mind in Paris 1979 he just lost it there ) They are as important as the first five.
But 90125 to the present they are good but if you put them in a list. Well it just gets kind of weird. The last album to me is not Fly From Here but thank God Trevor did it the Return Trip redo ( I disliked Benoit and even more so the singer they have now sorry but terrible and that last album is all him also terrible not even Yes I don’t know what it is. No more studio albums ) When I saw and heard that it was like the album after Magnification it was thrilling for me. Granted the 1990’s albums up to 2000 ( I kind of consider that a 1990’s album ) the last one with Jon Anderson were hmmm well they were made but it was more like solo albums. I was hearing like Open Your Eyes that was Chris’s/Sherwood’s thing maybe with Jon in there. The Ladder was Jon Anderson’s thing And Magnification I think was a mesh of both or more of Jon again. Keys Studio and Talk were good I guess. Union I like it but still confused about it the ABWH tracks ugh not going there that was hack job by the producer a last minute tour promoting tool. There was a focus and at the same time it was more of desperation not as focused but putting a new album out there the ideas just didn’t flow as magically as they used to. But back to Bruford and White. I really I think tried to explain that in the 1970’s w Drama lol was the real years of Yes after that in 1996 to 2004 was simply closing the chapter with 8 more final years not nearly as inventive but still a excellent live band. ( the 1980’s that band actually to me is still Cinema hopefully you get my point that was not Yes and there’s only three ( include Talk I suppose they really need to remix that somehow ) albums ABWH also not a Yes album it’s a extension of what Jon really wanted to do but couldn’t working with Trevor. Jon should of realized he was in a band called Cinema not Yes. ) 2008 to however long 10 bitter years for me and the shocking passing of Chris Squire that I will never get over and the great Peter Banks. In closing I hope they remix the rest of the albums that haven’t been done yet. From 1969 to 1980. Done by hopefully Wilson or someone as good. And more live audio and VIDEO with Bruford and White during the 1970’s.There isn’t enough. I’m glad some fantastic stuff has surfaced with Bill in it but it’s all video. Where are the multitracks or board recordings from his 5 years. The BBC stuff was great. More more more. Thanks for reading. Hope it had some clarity to many situations. Also Fish Out Of Water is so brilliant it actually is the missing Yes album. Chris and Bill and Patrick I mean that alone ………………………………………

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