Unlike some of his early contemporaries, Howe was able to channel his talents into making a successful living as session guitarist, putting his solo career on hold whilst working with a wide variety of mainstream pop artists.
Greg Howe's latest project, the long-awaited Maragold', is a surprisingly commercial take on hard rock. Tom Quayle meets the shred pioneer, while Tim Slater profiles a guitarist whose CV covers everything from Shrapnel Records to Michael Jackson, Rhianna and Justin Timberlake!
New York City native Greg Howe first exploded onto the international scene in 1988 when he released his eponymous solo album on Mike Varney's legendary Shrapnel label. As GI has detailed before, Shrapnel was launched in 1980 with the express intention of the label becoming the major hub catering for an emerging generation of high-tech Rock and metal guitarists, but even among the illustrious company he was in at Shrapnel, Howe stood out by virtue of his extraordinary abilities as both a guitarist and composer.
While his early work was strongly rooted in the then popular neo-classical/shred style, (ably demonstrated by the tour de force, Bad Racket - seriously rivaling his label-mate Yngwie Malmsteen for sheer bravado) Howe's subsequent recordings were markedly more fusion-influenced, which unfortunately alienated some fans of his earlier more metal-focused material.
Howe's debut album still stands out as one of the most outstanding records of the early Shrapnel era. Yes, it largely functions as a self-serving platform for Howe's lead work but it nevertheless does carry a certain panache and swagger - a groove, if you like - and also a sense of fun that is lacking from some of its hyper-intense contemporaries.
Unlike some of his early contemporaries, Howe was able to channel his talents into making a successful living as session guitarist, putting his solo career on hold whilst working with a wide variety of mainstream pop artists. The call to work with Michael Jackson is the type of opportunity that only comes once in a lifetime, and Howe's reputation as a versatile and accomplished player who could quickly process and memorise complex material, led him to audition for the superstar's 1996 HisStory world tour. Replacing Jennifer Batten as Jackson's lead guitarist, Howe was occasionally obliged to go onstage wearing an enormous white peroxide wig as a kind of in-joke relating to Batten's trademark hairstyle!
Howe appears on the posthumous Michael Jackson album remix Immortal' (2012), which features Howe's guitar work on imaginative re-workings of Dancing machine and Beat it. Subsequent stints with N'Sync (Justin Timberlake's former band) and Enrique Iglesias may have helped Howe to gain a better insight into how to operate a more commercially viable setup outside the confines of instrumental Rock fusion and Howe's current project, the four-piece rock band Maragold, presents his music in distinctly radio friendly form.
Maragold's debut album was released on Howe's own GH label in April 2013. The band features Howe alongside longtime collaborators bassist Kevin Vecchione, drummer Gianluca Palmeri and the previously unknown female vocalist Meghan Krauss, whom Vecchione had discovered working on the local LA club circuit.
A vocal album is something of a departure for an avowed instrumentalist like Howe but the 49 year-old guitarist seems surprisingly at home with the role of simply being a guitarist in a Rock band, as opposed to fronting a muscle flexing collective of virtuoso musicians.
For me (this album) is really refreshing.