Howe performing with Yes in 2013.
8 April 1947 |
Holloway, London, England
Stephen James Howe (born 8 April 1947) is an English musician, songwriter and producer, best known as the guitarist in the rock band Yes across three stints since 1970. Born in Holloway, North London, Howe developed an interest in the guitar and began to learn the instrument himself at age 12. He embarked on a music career in 1964, first playing in several London-based blues, covers, and psychedelic rock bands for six years, including the Syndicats, Tomorrow, and Bodast.
Upon joining Yes in 1970, Howe helped to establish the band's change in sound, a change that led to their commercial and critical success. Many of their best-known songs were co-written by Howe, who remained with the band until they briefly disbanded in 1981. Howe returned to the group in 1990 for two years and has remained a full time member since 1995.
Howe achieved further success in the 1980s and beyond as a member of the rock bands Asia, GTR, and Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe. He also has a prolific solo career, releasing 20 solo albums that reached varied levels of success and collaborated with artists such as Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Martin Taylor, and Queen. He continues to perform with Yes, as a member of his jazz group, the Steve Howe Trio, and as a solo act. In April 2017, Howe was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Yes.
Howe was born on 8 April 1947 in the north London area of Holloway. He grew up in a middle-class family apartment with three older siblings, brothers Phillip and John, and sister Stella. Among Howe's earliest memories is marching around the home to brass band music that he played on the home stereo. He cites several influences from his parents' record collection including Les Paul and Tennessee Ernie Ford, and also listened to classical guitar and jazz, citing Barney Kessel as a primary influence. 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." Howe was also influenced by Bob Dylan, and spoke of his influence: "I think he brought out the rebel in me, and that rebel wasn't somebody who wanted to break things, but the rebel in me wanted to do my thing ... a rebellion against anything other than being me ... he became like a cult hero". Howe attended Holloway School. After he left primary school, he wished to become a guitarist and took up several part-time jobs until he wished to become a full-time musician around 18.
Howe wished to own a guitar at age 10, but his parents did not buy him one until they picked one out with him at a shop in Kings Cross at age 12 for a Christmas present, in 1959. The model was an F-hole acoustic. Howe would stand by a window at home and mime his playing to passers by while music was playing indoors, until he began to teach himself without formal lessons or learning to read musical notation. The only book he read, he claimed, was Dance Band Chords for the Guitar (1946) by Eric Kershaw. After a period of practise which involved listening to records by Bill Haley & The Comets, Howe teamed with school friends and played his first gig at The Swan, a pub in Tottenham, playing a cover of "Frightened City" by The Shadows. He recalled the event as a disaster; the band did not rehearse or tune up, and Howe avoided stage performances for a while as a result. He added: "We were underage. I was painfully shy. I stood on the side of the stage, played my songs, never looked up". At 14, Howe and his friend from Tottenham started a group that played in youth clubs, eventually landing gigs in pubs and ballrooms. At one point, the band secured a short residency at HM Prison Pentonville for two nights a week.
Around 1961, Howe bought a solid body Guyatone, his first electric guitar, which was followed with a Gibson ES-175D in 1964, one of the guitars that he later became most identified with. He spoke about playing the guitar on stage: "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." During Yes's first visit to New York City in 1971, he slept with the guitar as his hotel was situated in a dodgy area and took it to bed "just for safety, I needed to know it was there". Before he became a full-time musician Howe took up work at a piano factory, followed by a job in a music shop. He left the shop when he began to pick up regular gigs.
In 1964, the 17-year-old Howe became a member of his first professional band, the north London-based rhythm and blues group The Syndicats that formed the year prior and were produced by Joe Meek. His first of three studio recordings with the band was a rendition of "Maybellene" by Chuck Berry that was released as a single with "True to Me" on its B-side, a song Howe co-wrote with their singer, Tom Ladd. In 1965, Howe left the band and accepted an invitation to join The In-Crowd, a soul and covers band who often played in Tottenham and released a rendition of "That's How Strong My Love Is" by Otis Redding which went to No. 48 on the UK singles chart in May 1965. The band soon renamed themselves Tomorrow and adopted a psychedelic rock sound, writing more original songs and changing their stage clothes. In 1967, they released two singles: "My White Bicycle" and "Revolution", the latter co-written by Howe. During the recording of a new single with producer Mark Wirtz, Howe was asked by Wirtz to record some guitar as a session musician, which pleased Howe and felt "thrilled to bits" to take part. The session led to Howe recording a selection of singles for EMI, which included his first song "Mothballs", also known as "So Bad", and playing guitar on Keith West's single "Excerpt from A Teenage Opera" which went to No. 2 in the UK. Howe and his Tomorrow bandmates also took part in a pie fight scene in the satirical comedy film Smashing Time (1967), toured the London club circuit, sharing bills with Pink Floyd and playing at the Christmas on Earth concert at Earl's Court.
After Tomorrow split in 1967, Howe went on to play on several songs with their singer Keith West, including playing the bass guitar on West's "The Kid Was a Killer", and tracks with guitarist Ronnie Wood and drummer Aynsley Dunbar but neither recording got finished. In 1968, with Howe's reputation as a guitarist was on the rise, he joined Bodast, a trio who went by the name of Canto for a short period. They signed a recording deal with Tetragrammaton Records and put down a selection of songs in 1969 at Trident Studios for an album with West as producer, but the label went out of business shortly before its release. The label had also promised the group film roles and visits to the US but they never materialised and they disbanded. Howe released the tracks for the proposed album after he obtained the recordings and remixed them himself as The Bodast Tapes (1981). He then played with members of the progressive rock band The Nice as a potential new member, but decided it was not for him, and left the next day.
In April 1970, the rock band Yes sought a new guitarist following the departure of Peter Banks. During early plans for Howe to potentially join Yes, he was invited to a try out session with the band in Fulham, which was a success and landed him the position in June. As Banks had left the band before their second album Time and a Word was set for release outside Europe, Howe was photographed with the group on its cover despite not playing on it. After several gigs with Howe, the band retreated to a farmhouse in Devon to rehearse and write new material for the band's third album, The Yes Album (1971). Howe's electric and acoustic guitars, combined with Jon Anderson's vocals, Chris Squire's bass, Bill Bruford's drums, and Tony Kaye's keyboards, were seen as an essential part of the band's change in musical direction towards progressive and art rock. The album includes a live recording of Howe's solo guitar piece "Clap", recorded on 17 July at the Lyceum Theatre in London. It was a commercial breakthrough for the group.
Kaye left in 1971 and was replaced by Rick Wakeman for the following album, Fragile. This classic Yes line-up of Anderson-Howe-Squire-Bruford-Wakeman is associated with the peak of the band's early achievements. Fragile is one of the most successful Yes works, a milestone album which raised their stature as one of the most prominent progressive rock groups of the time. In the spring of 1971, both Wakeman and Howe had contributed to the recording of Lou Reed's first solo album as session musicians, working together for the first time on this occasion.
To his already-formidable assortment of electric and acoustic guitar sounds, Howe added a unique approach to pedal steel guitar in the next album, Close to the Edge, released in 1972. 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. Following Close to the Edge, Howe played on Tales from Topographic Oceans, Relayer, Going for the One and Tormato, becoming one of the most successful bands of the decade. Two of these five albums achieved platinum certification in the US, and the other three were certified gold.
In 1975, Yes took an extended break for each member to release a solo album. Howe recorded a mixture of solo and group performed tracks for Beginnings at Morgan and Advision Studios with producer Eddie Offord, with performances from Bruford, Alan White, Patrick Moraz, and singer Claire Hamill. The album was released in October 1975 by Atlantic Records and reached No. 22 in the UK and No. 63 in the US. His second solo album, The Steve Howe Album, was released in November 1979.
In early 1980, Anderson and Wakeman left the group and were replaced a few weeks later by Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes. 1980's Drama, saw a stylistic change for Yes, incorporating elements of new wave into their progressive rock blend. Howe continued with the band until Yes officially split up in early 1981. Although the group was back together less than a year later, Howe was not included in the new line-up.
In 1981, Howe teamed with Downes, singer and bassist John Wetton, and drummer Carl Palmer to form the supergroup Asia. Their debut album, Asia (1982), became highest selling album of 1982 in the US with 4 million copies sold there; Howe is credited on five of its nine tracks. When it came to writing their second album Alpha (1982), Howe noticed a sense of staleness and the songs too direct and concise which disrupted the group's creativity and musical direction. After its release, Howe left the group in 1983 citing irreconcilable differences with Wetton. Following his departure, Howe performed an acoustic guitar solo on "Welcome to the Pleasuredome" on the 1984 same titled album by the pop group Frankie Goes to Hollywood that Horn produced. He also played on Industry Standard (1982) by The Dregs.
In 1985, Howe formed another supergroup, GTR, named after an abbreviation of the word "guitar", with guitarist Steve Hackett. The idea came from Howe's manager and former Yes and Asia manager Brian Lane, who brought the two together as both wished to perform in a band after a period of solo work. They were joined by singer Max Bacon, drummer Jonathan Mover, and bassist Phil Spalding. They recorded one studio album, GTR, produced by Downes. Howe noted Hackett and himself made the conscious effort to produce a pop album without "flashy guitar solos" as it was something listeners may not wish to hear and may be classified as self-indulgent. He added: "Musically, we stayed out of each other's way and gave each other space. If egos get in the way, nobody wins."GTR was released in July 1986 on Arista Records, reached No. 11 in the US and was certified gold, and No. 41 in the UK. The lead single, "When the Heart Rules the Mind", went to No. 14 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. GTR supported the album with a concert tour in 1986. At its conclusion, Hackett's interest in pursuing solo projects led to his departure. In 1987, Howe commissioned Robert Berry as Hackett's replacement, and ideas of a new band name included Steve Howe and Friends and Nero and the Trend. After several demos were recorded, the group disbanded.
In 1988, the guitar compilation album Guitar Speak on I.R.S. Records was released which features Howe's track "Sharp on Attack". The label organised a UK tour named Night of the Guitars with Howe in the line-up, performing "Clap", "Wurm", and the all-cast encore. Howe also contributed to Transportation (1988), the first solo album by Billy Currie. Later that year, Jon Anderson invited Howe to take part in a new album he wished to perform with Rick Wakeman and Bill Bruford as a new group, Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe. In 1990, the four joined forces with the 1983-88 line-up of Yes--Chris Squire, Alan White, Trevor Rabin, and Tony Kaye--to contribute songs for the Yes album Union (1991). At the end of its supporting tour in 1992, Howe played the guitar and co-produced Symphonic Music of Yes (1993), an album of orchestral arrangements of Yes tracks. In 1991, he is featured on Polar Shift: A Benefit for Antarctica, a benefit jazz and ambient album to the Cousteau Society. In 1992, Howe left Yes after Bruford, Wakeman and himself were not invited to participate to record the next Yes album, Talk (1994).
During the Union tour Howe released his third solo album, Turbulence, in 1991 on Relativity Records. In a departure from his earlier two albums, Howe focused on rock instrumentals that feature Currie, Bruford, and drummer Nigel Glockler. The tracks were recorded some time before, but Howe had some difficulty in finding a record label who would release the album as the majority wanted it to include hit single. Howe recorded a cover of "Classical Gas" with Bruford, but the track was dropped as Howe thought it did not attain the same standard as the rest of the album, which he described as "very real and original, as opposed to commercial". Howe also contributed a flamenco guitar solo to the 1991 UK number one single "Innuendo" by Queen, something he felt proud to have played on. In 1992, Downes reformed Asia which marked the return of Howe on their album Aqua (1992) playing on six of the album's 13 tracks, as well as playing on the subsequent tour as a special guest.
Howe's fourth solo album, The Grand Scheme of Things, was released in August 1993 on Relativity. Howe described the album as "quite colourful but quite personal ... There's a lot of floaty sort of ideas--spiritual". It is his first album to feature his sons Dylan and Virgil on drums and keyboards and piano, respectively. Dylan was planned to only play on a few tracks, but Howe decided to play on the entire album. Upon release, it reached No. 15 on the Billboard Top New Age Albums chart. Following the album's release, Howe began his first solo tour in 1993 which included dates in the UK and the US, and spawned his first live album, Not Necessarily Acoustic (1994). A second tour took place in late 1994 which was documented on his second live release, Pulling Strings (1998).
Howe rejoined Yes for a third time in 1995 for the recording of Keys to Ascension and Keys to Ascension 2, the two double albums containing both live and studio tracks. Since Keys to Ascension, Howe has appeared on all the albums recorded by Yes. Thereafter, over the following five years, the group released Open Your Eyes in 1997, The Ladder in 1999 and Magnification in 2001, before going on a four-year hiatus between 2004 and 2008. Following their hiatus, Yes released Fly from Here in 2011 and Heaven & Earth in 2014.
On 24 May 1996, Howe received an honorary doctorate in Musical Arts (DMA) from Five Towns College in Dix Hills, New York. Also in 1996 he played with Asia on a song called Ginger meant for Arena, but was left off the album and was released on Archiva Vol. 1 later that year. He also added his guitar to two of the songs from Aura, released in 2001.
In 2001, Howe released Natural Timbre, exclusively with acoustic guitars. His son Dylan played the drums on his 1998 all-instrumental solo release, Quantum Guitar, while Elements, released in 2003, featured both Dylan and Virgil as part of Howe's album Remedy.
In 2007, Howe founded the Steve Howe Trio, a jazz band completed by his son Dylan on drums and Ross Stanley on Hammond organ. The Steve Howe Trio has released two albums: a studio album, The Haunted Melody in 2008 and a live album, Travelling in 2010.
Howe rejoined the other three founding members of Asia in a 25th-anniversary reunion tour in late 2006. Since that time Asia have released a DVD, Fantasia, and 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 March 2015, a two-disc, 33-track collection of Howe's solo material was released as Anthology. Howe supported its release with a solo tour of the UK in April 2015.
Howe has teamed up with his other (multi-instrumentalist) son Virgil Howe for new album Nexus, «an album of cosmic proportions», due to be released on 17 November 2017. The album will be half-posthumous, as Virgil died in early September 2017; his death resulted in Yes suspending their ongoing Yestival tour i.e. cancelling the seven remaining dates.
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.
Howe married his wife Janet in 1968. They have four children: Dylan, Virgil, Georgia and Stephanie. Dylan was a member of The Blockheads, is part of the Steve Howe Trio with his father, and toured alongside him as Yes' second drummer in 2017. Virgil was a member of the rock/R&B band Little Barrie, and died on 12 September 2017.
In 1972, Howe became a vegetarian and avoids taking unnecessary pharmaceutical drugs. He ate his last meat meal during a North American tour with Yes in 1971. Howe spoke about his experience with Transcendental Meditation: "I had been experimenting with different approaches to meditation for some time and then in 1983 I picked transcendental meditation as the one for me. I'm still doing it. I really like it and so do a lot of other people. It's not demanding. It's not about a religion. ... It's had a major, positive effect on me. I know that for sure." Howe completes the practice daily.