Alan White, who has died aged 72, provided the beat on John Lennon's Imagine and Instant Karma! and George Harrison's All Things Must Pass, though he became best known as the man behind the drum kit for the prog-rock band Yes.
Formed in 1968, Yes became famous in the 1970s and 1980s for their symphonic style of rock, long tracks, mystical lyrics and sci-fi record sleeves, having first found success in 1971 with their studio albums The Yes Album and Fragile.
White joined the band the following year, replacing their original drummer Bill Bruford, who had defected to King Crimson.
"I said I'd give it three months," White recalled. In fact, he remained the band's drummer until earlier this year.
He made his debut on their live triple album Yessongs (1973) and played on all their subsequent albums including their first No 1, the double album Tales from Topographic Oceans (1973) as well as their biggest hits Wonderous Stories (1977) and Owner of a Lonely Heart (1983).
In 2017, with other band members, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Alan White was born on June 14 1949 in Pelton, near Chester-le-Street, Co Durham to Ray White and May, nee Thrower. The family moved 20 miles away to Ferryhill when he was 7 and he was educated at the town's Broom Secondary School.
His father, who worked in various jobs, played the piano in local pubs, while his uncle Kenny was a drummer in local dance bands. Alan was sent for piano lessons aged 6 but struck the notes with such percussive force that Uncle Kenny suggested the drums might be a more suitable instrument. His parents bought him an Ajax drum kit for Christmas when he was 12.
Aged 13 he joined a local band called the Downbeats with whom he was soon performing covers of songs by The Beatles, the Searchers and Gerry and the Pacemakers in working men's clubs and dance halls: "I used to deliver The Northern Echo every morning, come home, mum'd make my breakfast, and then after school I'd be going out to play in the clubs."
After a change of name to the Blue Chips in 1964, White and his fellow band members set off for London after entering a talent contest for amateur bands run by Melody Maker.
The Blue Chips won the contest and White, who had just embarked on training to be an architectural draughtsman at Bishop Auckland technical school, decided to concentrate on a career in music.
He had his first break when he was invited to accompany the Gamblers, a Newcastle band backing Billy Fury, on a three-month tour of Germany, after the drummer's wife was taken ill. "I grew up very quickly," White recalled.
It led to work with Alan Price, and in September 1969 he was spotted in a London club by John Lennon.
"The next day he rang me up to ask me to come and play on TV in Toronto with Eric Clapton and Yoko." At first White thought it was a friend pulling his leg: "Then he rang back two minutes later and said, 'I saw you playing in a club the other night. Do you want to do a gig?' It actually was John Lennon."
The Toronto gig, on September 13 1969, the first live concert by Lennon's new Plastic Ono Band, was an extraordinary occasion. Performing in front of a 20,000-strong stadium audience was a lavishly bearded Lennon, dressed in a white suit, backed by White, along with the guitarist Eric Clapton and former Manfred Mann bassist Klaus Voormann. They were accompanied by Lennon's wife, the avant garde artist Yoko Ono who, as the band played, twisted and writhed inside a white sack before emerging to perform two numbers in her distinctive high-pitched wail.
Lennon himself said that the performance, immortalised on an album called Live Peace in Toronto 1969 (including the track Give Peace a Chance), was "half rock and half madness". For White it marked the start of a three-year working relationship. This included the recording of the Imagine album (1971) which, as well as the hit title track, contained the song Jealous Guy, on which White played vibraphone, leading Lennon to write on the sleeve notes: "Good vibes – Alan White".
The previous year he had played on the single Instant Karma!, credited to "Lennon/Ono with the Plastic Ono Band" which reached the top five in the British and American charts. When the song featured on Top of the Pops, Yoko Ono sat on stage knitting, with a sanitary towel taped across her eyes, "taking a stand against female oppression".
White stayed in Lennon's house in New York and got to know him and Yoko Ono well: "We would all sit round on his king-sized bed and watch TV," he recalled.
"John took me under his wing and became a sort of mentor. He was great, a really cool person. He was a man with a very clear idea of what he wanted to say to the world and what he wanted to do in life."
One of the main things he remembered about the former Beatle was that he made band members read the lyrics to every song before they played it: "He said, 'Look, this is what you are going to say to the world – you don't have to do it, if you don't agree to it.' "
It was through Lennon that he got to know George Harrison and played on his 1970 album All Things Must Pass (1971). with its well-known spin-off single My Sweet Lord.
Around the same time, White toured America supporting The Who, whose drummer Keith Moon presented him with a snare drum that he had had specially made. Then in 1972, while touring with Joe Cocker, he got a call asking him to join Yes.
The band's line-up changed over the years but White remained a constant, becoming Yes's longest-serving band member after the death of bassist Chris Squire in 2015. He played on Yes's most recent studio album, The Quest (2021). The great thing about the band, he told an interviewer, "is that there are no boundaries. We don't stick to a style and the band doesn't conform."
White also had a solo career, releasing one album, Ramshackled, in 1976.
In recent years White, who lived in Seattle, had been suffering poor health, and three days before his death fellow band members announced that he would not be part of the 2022 tour which would have marked his 50th anniversary with Yes.
In 1982 White married Rogena "Gigi" Walberg, who survives him with their son and daughter.
Alan White, born June 14, 1949, died May 26, 2022.