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This article was originally published in issue #6
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If there has ever been someone who has embraced the guitar in all its depths it has to be Steve Howe.
Steve Howe is a guitarist's guitarist, with a formidable technique. Both as part of the pioneering Yes and as a solo artist, he holds a unique position among his contemporaries. Jamie Humphries met-up with Steve shortly after the debut of Yes's new album Fly From Here for our video interview. Here Jamie presents a brief profile of the great man to go with an exclusive style analysis in our Tech Sessions.
If there has ever been someone who has embraced the guitar in all its depths it has to be Steve Howe. His technical prowess, understanding of a multitude of styles and genres, plus his unorthodox equipment choices, have helped him explore the guitar sounds in his head for nearly four decades. He has won countless awards from both the record industry and the guitar industry for his contributions to guitar and modern rock music. As Yes embarked on yet another tour, I was lucky enough to spend some time with Steve and chat with him, for this issue's video interview.
Born in North London in 1947, as a young boy Steve was drawn towards the music of Bill Haley and the Comets, Les Paul, Jimmy Byant, Chet Atkins, and Speedy West, all of whom fuelled the 12 year old’s passion for guitar. His first instrument was an f-holed acoustic, which inspired his later choice of hallmark guitar, the Gibson ES175. Steve began playing pubs and dance halls and joined the Syndicats in the early '60s releasing three singles and working with legendary producer, Joe Meek. Later, Steve began working as a session guitarist, both in the studio and touring with a number of different artists.
1970 was the turning point in this long career, when Howe joined the newly formed band, Yes. He had been approached by two other major fledgling Prog Rock bands, the Nice and Jethro Tull, but it was in Yes that he found the perfect vehicle and partnerships to push his musical boundaries and experiment with odd time signatures, extended arrangements that didn’t conform to regular three minute popular music arrangements still being demanded by most record labels. The music composed by Howe and Yes took on the form of pieces more like classical compositions than Pop. Steve even had the chance to embrace his love of acoustic fingerstyle guitar, with his solo piece “Clap” being recorded live and included on The Yes Album.
Yes have gone through many line-up change and legal battles over the years, but the period with Steve Howe during the '70s is seen by most commenters as the band's classic period, producing unmatched progressive Rock albums like The Yes Album, Fragile, Close to the Edge and Going for the One. Howe has had an on-off relationship with the band as an entity down the years and has performed under the banner of Yes, Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman and Howe and, later, as the ultimate Yes line up, including both Steve Howe and Trevor Rabin on guitar for the Union album.
But Yes was very far from Steve Howe's only internationally successful mega-band. Asia, formed in the early 80’s by Howe, Carl Palmer, John Wetton and Geoff Downes, was also a huge influence, though after only a couple of albums Howe left the band. He has worked with Asia on few occasions since, including contributing guitar for the 2001 release Aura, which features a number of other high profile guitarists, and also for a 25th Anniversary tour, in 2006.
Other Steve Howe projects have included GTR with Steve Hackett from fellow UK Prog giants Genesis (featured in Guitar Interactive issue 5). The short-lived band split after just one album, although their debut went gold. Steve also performed a classical guitar solo on the title track of Queen’s album Innudendo, released in 1991.
And then there has been a very successful solo career, starting with his first album Beginnings, released in 1975.Solo albums have continued to flow ever since, culminating in his latest solo offering Time.
Oh, and did I forget to mention his Steve Howe Trio, and also his work with UK acoustic jazz fingerstyle legend Martin Taylor? As I said, Steve is one of those guitarists you struggle to categorise and few of his contemporaries can match his breadth of stylistic reach, let alone equal his prodigious technique. Listen to the lovely acoustic track, Solitaire, from the latest Yes album, Fly From Here, to hear the work of a guitarist at the peak of his powers!
Gearwise, Steve Howe has his own signature models from Gibson, including a Steve Howe signature ES-175, as well as a Martin acoustic guitar. For the current Yes tour, however, Steve has broken the mould again, adopting high-tech in the form of a POD HD and Line 6 Tyler Variax guitars and the latest Line 6 amps - both of which we've reviewed in this issue.