Stephen James "Steve" Howe (born 8 April 1947 in Holloway, North London, England) is an English musician and songwriter, best known as the guitarist and backing vocalist of the progressive rock group Yes. He has also been a member of The Syndicats, Bodast, Tomorrow, Asia, and GTR, as well as having released 19 solo albums as of 2010.
Howe was the youngest of four children who grew up in a musical household listening to brass band music on 78 rpm records. He cites several influences from his parents' record collection including Les Paul and the singer Tennessee Ernie Ford who had Speedy West and Jimmy Bryant playing guitar. In addition, Howe listened to classical guitar and jazz, citing Barney Kessel as a primary influence, "his playing was a remarkable mixture of 'single line' and 'chords', ya know, which inspired me to believe that any guitarist who doesn't understand chords won't be able to play much in the single line because they relate so much". Howe also credited Wes Montgomery and Chet Atkins, whom he first heard in 1959, as a major inspiration. Howe said he took from Atkins, "the idea that one guitarist could play any kind of guitar style."
He received his first guitar, an f-hole acoustic, as a Christmas present from his parents at age 12 and eventually began playing in local halls. He bought his first electric guitar, a solid body Guyatone, around 1961, and one of the guitars he is most identified with, a Gibson ES-175D, in 1964. About this guitar, Howe said: "No one was playing archtop, hollowbody guitars in a rock band. People laughed at me and thought I was really snooty. To me, it was an object of art, it wasn't just a guitar." He made his first recording, Chuck Berry's "Maybellene", in 1964 with The Syndicats, who were produced by Joe Meek. He and other members of Tomorrow took part in a pie fight in the 1967 comedy about Mods in London, Smashing Time, starring Rita Tushingham, Lynn Redgrave, and Michael York. In 1968, he recorded albums with both Tomorrow (initially called The In Crowd) and Bodast.
Howe declined offers from both The Nice and Jethro Tull while waiting for a record deal to materialise for Bodast, but the group's prospective label went bankrupt. He was then approached by the members of Yes as a possible replacement for Peter Banks, who had appeared on the group's first two albums.
Changing Yes Lineup
In June 1970, Howe joined Yes and after a few gigs, including the Lyceum Theatre, London (where the version of "Clap" on The Yes Album was recorded), the band retreated to a farm in Devon to rehearse and write new material. Howe was pictured with the group on the non-Europe jacket of their second album, Time and a Word, which was released in August, although it was Banks who had actually played on the recording.
Beginning with The Yes Album, Howe's electric and acoustic guitars, combined with Jon Anderson's vocals, Chris Squire's bass, and Tony Kaye's keyboards were seen as an essential part of the band's early sound. The addition of Rick Wakeman after the departure of Tony Kaye for the following album, Fragile, created the classic Yes sound of Anderson-Howe-Squire-Bruford-Wakeman associated with the peak of the band's early achievements. Both Wakeman and Howe had contributed to the recording of Lou Reed's first solo album as session musicians in the spring of 1971, working together for the first time on this occasion. To his already-formidable assortment of electric and acoustic guitar sounds, Howe added a unique prog-rock approach to pedal steel guitar in the next album, Close to the Edge. His classical training along with his penchant for ongoing experimentation, helped produce a playing style unique among rock musicians, while the group as a whole took a position as a leading progressive rock band.
Although the band underwent some personnel changes in the 1970s, Howe, Anderson, and Squire were the constant elements for the entire decade. In early 1980, however, Anderson and Wakeman left the group and were replaced a few weeks later by Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes. This second departure of Rick Wakeman was particularly difficult for Howe, who believed the two produced their best work while they were together. Howe continued with the band until Yes officially split up on 18 April 1981, only to see the band re-form in 1983 with Trevor Rabin on guitar. Over the next few years, Howe contributed to several albums produced by Horn for other artists (including Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Propaganda).
In 1988, Jon Anderson asked Howe, Wakeman, and Bill Bruford if they could take part in his next project. Howe contributed several song ideas to the eventual Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe album. The new quartet was virtually the Close to the Edge Yes line-up reformed, leading to minor legal battles over ownership of the name "Yes". Eventually, under pressure from both management and label, they all joined forces with the members of the "official" Yes (which still included Anderson, plus Tony Kaye, Trevor Rabin, Chris Squire and Alan White) as a "mega-Yes" lineup to record the album, Union, which was released in 1991. In 1993, Howe performed guitar parts on and co-produced the Symphonic Music of Yes album of orchestral arrangements of classic Yes tracks, and then left the band after the Victory Music label left him out of an invitation to participate in the studio sessions that would lead to their next album. In 1991, he contributed a flamenco-inspired guitar solo to the epic Queen song "Innuendo", which would be featured on the album of the same name.
Howe rejoined Yes in 1995. Since Keys to Ascension, Howe has again appeared on all the albums recorded by Yes.
Yes Career (1970–1981, 1990–1992, 1995–2004, 2008–present)
The first album Howe played on was The Yes Album, which was released in 1971 and was a commercial breakthrough for the group. Later that year, the group released one of their most successful works, Fragile, which raised their stature as one of the most prominent progressive rock groups of the time. Their following 5 studio albums saw them become one of the most successful bands of the decade, consistently releasing popular albums. These 5 albums were Close to the Edge, Tales from Topographic Oceans, Relayer, Going for the One and Tormato, two of which achieved platinum certification in the US, and the other three certified gold. 1980's Drama, saw a stylistic change for the group, incorporating elements of new wave into their progressive rock blend. However, this was the first album since 1970's Time and a Word not to earn at least a gold certification in the US, and subsequently the band broke up the following year. However the group was back together less than a year later, but Howe was not included in the new line-up. The band released two albums without Howe, 90125 and Big Generator, both of which affirmed the group's new direction, leaning more towards the pop rock and new wave genres. Howe briefly returned to record Union in 1991, and although it was quite successful, he left the group for a second time the following year. Howe returned for a second time, three years later, and recorded Keys to Ascension and Keys to Ascension 2, both double albums containing both live and studio tracks. The group then released Open Your Eyes, The Ladder and Magnification over the following 5 years, before going on a four-year hiatus between 2004 and 2008. Following their hiatus the band has released Fly from Here in 2011 and Heaven & Earth in 2014. Overall the group has released 21 studio albums, 16 of which have been recorded with Steve Howe as lead guitarist.
"Best Overall Guitarist"
Despite the troubles Yes was experiencing at the time, Howe was voted "Best Overall Guitarist" in Guitar Player magazine five years in a row (1977–1981) and in 1981 was the first rock guitar player inducted into the Guitar Player Hall of Fame. The only other two guitarists to win the "Best Overall Guitarist" category for the "Gallery Of Greats" are Steve Morse and Eric Johnson.
Gibson Guitar Corporation, the maker of Howe's second electric guitar (which he was still playing forty years later), said that Howe "elevated rock guitar into an art form" and "helped define a new style of music known as art rock." In a tribute to Howe and his personal favourite ES-175 guitar, Gibson produced a Steve Howe Signature ES-175 in 2002.
The early years of Yes provided two of his best known solo songs - both on early Yes albums. The Yes Album had the first live version of "Clap", a heavily syncopated guitar rondo with roots in ragtime and country blues. "Clap" is a song that mutated with subsequent live performances while always retaining some of the distinctive themes. Mood for a Day first appeared as a studio performance on Fragile and later on the triple live album Yessongs. "Mood for a Day" has its roots in flamenco and classical guitar music.
In 1981, Howe, John Wetton (King Crimson, UK), Carl Palmer (Atomic Rooster, Emerson, Lake & Palmer), and Geoff Downes (The Buggles, Yes) formed the band Asia, but after two popular albums and a few hit singles, Howe left the band over differences with Wetton.
When Geoff Downes reformed Asia in 1992, Steve returned to play guitar on Aqua playing on 6 of the album's 13 tracks, as well as playing on their Aqua Club tour as a special guest. In 1996 he played on a song called Ginger meant for Arena, which was released on Archiva Vol. 1 later that year. He also played on two of the songs from Aura, released in 2001.
Some disagreements have since been reconciled as Wetton embraced sobriety and a new-found appreciation for life, and Howe rejoined the other three founding members in a 25th-anniversary reunion tour in late 2006. Since that time Asia have released a DVD called Fantasia and also released a new CD of music called Phoenix in April 2008. In early 2010 the band released their second reunion CD, Omega. The band's third reunion album entitled XXX was released in July 2012.
On 10 January 2013, Howe left the band for the third time, to focus on Yes, his solo work and his trio. The three remaining founding members decided to carry on without him. He was replaced by Sam Coulson.
In 1985, Howe formed the supergroup GTR with ex-Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett. Their only album, GTR, reached number 11 in the US, and was certified gold. The album's lead single was also successful, reaching number 14 on the Hot 100. However, Hackett's interest in pursuing solo projects spelled the end of the group. The group also disagreed about how the band's revenues should be split.
In October, 1975, Howe released Beginnings, his first solo album. It featured Yes band members Alan White, Bill Bruford and Patrick Moraz and reached number 63 in the US and number 22 in the UK charts.
His second album as a soloist, The Steve Howe Album, was released in November, 1979. Howe played alone on half of the tracks, while others again feature White, Bruford and Moraz, along with vocalist Claire Hamill. Since 1991, Howe has released a solo recording almost every year, ranging from acoustic to progressive to a Bob Dylan tribute. In 2001, Howe released Natural Timbre, exclusively with acoustic guitars. His son Dylan, now a respected jazz musician, played the drums on his 1998 all-instrumental solo release, Quantum Guitar, while Elements, released in 2003, featured both Dylan and Howe's younger son Virgil (keyboards and vocals), as part of a project called Remedy.
Howe's personal web site, Guitar Rondo, was launched in May, 1996. The guitarist takes an active role in the site by conducting auctions for gold albums and selected guitars, and answering questions from fans.
On 24 May 1996, Howe received an honorary Doctorate in Musical Arts (DMA) from Five Towns College in Dix Hills, New York.
In 2007, Howe founded the Steve Howe Trio, a jazz band completed by his son Dylan on drums and Ross Stanley on Hammond organ.
Howe's influences are a mix of classical, jazz, country, pop and rock. Some of them are Wes Montgomery, Chet Atkins, Kenny Burrell, George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Les Paul, Speedy West, Chuck Berry and Jimmy Bryant.
- The Steve Howe Guitar Collection, Steve Howe with Tony Bacon (Photography: Miki Slingsby). First British Edition published by Balafon 1994 (ISBN 978-1-87154-764-1). A book detailing with photographs Steve Howe's collection of guitars, lutes, lyres, mandolins and pedal steel guitars.
- Steve Howe Guitar Pieces, Steve Howe tablatures, 1980, Wise Publications; rééd. éd. International Music Publications, avril 2000.