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Greg Howe - Hammer-Time

Issue #62

After talking to Greg It’s clear that good Songwriting and Musicianship is much more important to him than the Guitar playing itself.
Jonathan Graham

Greg Howe - Hammer-Time

In a career of over 30 years and counting, Greg Howe has produced, written and arranged nine solo instrumental studio albums (along with two collaboration albums with Richie Kotzen) and contributed to a long list of albums/records by other artists which cemented his reputation as a technical innovator. Famous for his strong utilisation of tapping, unusual time signatures and of course, his "hammer-on from nowhere" legato method, Sam Bell caught up with Greg on the London leg of his current tour to get some insight into the Shrapnel Records alumnus' unique approach to the instrument, as well as to chat about his latest record, 'Wheelhouse.' 

Greg Howe is a staple name in the Guitar community, he has played as a sideman with some of pops biggest stars (Michael Jackson, Justin Timberlake etc), released shred records with Shrapnel Records, but most importantly totally flipped Instrumental Guitar on its head with the release of his 1994 album Introspection. Greg has an incredibly unique guitar style, mixing hard rock with fusion/modern blues, it’s safe to say that he has left an indelible mark on the Guitar world and has been releasing awesome and inspiring music his whole career so far.

I had the pleasure of meeting up with Greg before his solo gig at the Candem Underworld on his tour supporting his new instrumental album ‘Wheelhouse’. He was very kind with his time for the interview, we spoke at length about musical identity, songwriting, musicianship and where guitar playing is now in 2018. The show was, of course, sublime, he was joined on stage by Ernest Tibbs on Bass and Gianluca Palmieri on drums. The trio was incredibly tight, with lots of improvised sections been taken on at high proficiency by all members. Whilst Greg can easily be considered a virtuoso Guitarist, he is clearly a Musician first with the song and band always being at the forefront of his approach to music both in a live and studio situation. At the end of the show, he played an encore in which he came back on stage and played "Proto Cosmos" in tribute to the late and great Allan Holdsworth.

In the interview Greg opened up about his approach to his instrumental songwriting starting without a guitar, focusing on melodies that he hears in his head first rather than having the guitar dictate what he plays. He also approaches the solo sections on the album in a similar and relaxed way, listening carefully to the sections he is going to solo on before picking up the guitar and laying down improvised takes. Stating that he gets a feeling when he knows something is right, he doesn’t spend time cleaning up any slight scuffs, instead focusing on capturing the energy and intent of the improvised parts. This is one of the many reasons why Greg is so great, his playing and expression on the instrument is so honest and exciting that it really does jump out the speakers and grab your ears attention. After talking to Greg It’s clear that good Songwriting and Musicianship is much more important to him than the Guitar playing itself. His focus being on finding and developing simple effective ideas in his writing and his practice which leads me onto one of my next questions. I did have to ask him what he is practising as a musician these days, and he said he doesn’t practice much, especially these days, however his focus in his playing is saying more with less. Which is evident in his music. Whilst his music may feature long melodies with what might seem like lots of notes, he is incredibly rhythmically diverse and dynamically aware, with the focus on these melodies breathing, sitting in the pocket with sophisticated syncopation, each note has a purpose and almost vocal-like quality.

The next subject we got onto was being a guitarist in 2018, I am acutely aware how aged this question may seem in a few years’ time, but I feel it was an important one. With Greg’s diverse career as a solo artist, session player, tutor and songwriter, I felt it was important to hear his perspective advice for new musicians and guitar players looking to take a similar path. His advice when it came to social media (which is vital to any freelance guitarist) was, to be honest, and that in his experience looking outward at the world, it’s the musicians who put out a lot of content regularly that is genuinely of a high musical quality who eventually get the furthest. This all being said, the most important thing he stressed is that the artist loves what they do, they love music and have the passion for it. If they don’t, then they shouldn’t do it as it’s a tough path to walk otherwise.

I asked what was coming up next, Greg mentioned that he is working on a new project with Bass Virtuoso Jeff Berlin, there also might be new solo material, but he is going with the flow of what feels natural to him at the moment. Greg also mentioned that he is hoping to finish of his instructional website where he is going to be offering valuable insight into his approach to guitar playing and musicianship.

Greg Howe's latest release 'Wheelhouse' is out now via Bad Racket records.

TRACK LISTING – Greg Howe 'Wheelhouse'

  1. Tempest Pulse
  2. 2 In 1
  3. Throw Down
  4. Landslide
  5. Key To Open
  6. Push On
  7. Let It Slip
  8. I Wonder
  9. Shady Lane

For more information on Greg Howe, please visit: www.greghowe.com

 

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