Stephen James Howe (born 8 April 1947) is an English musician, songwriter and producer, best known as the guitarist in the progressive 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.
|Birth name||Stephen James Howe|
|Born||8 April 1947|
Holloway, London, England
Upon joining Yes in 1970, Howe helped to change the band's musical direction, leading to more commercial and critical success. His blend of acoustic and electric guitar helped shape the sound of the band. 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, remarking: "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.
Howe wished to own a guitar at age 10, but his parents did not buy him one until they selected one with him in 1959 at a shop in Kings Cross, London at age 12 for a Christmas present. The model was an F-hole acoustic. Howe would stand by a window at home and mime his playing to passersby 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 practice 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". 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. At age 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.
1964–1970: Early bandsEdit
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 on the rise, he joined Bodast, a trio which also used 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).
After Bodast split, Howe auditioned with the progressive rock band The Nice as a potential new member, but decided it was not for him, and left the next day. An audition with Jethro Tull followed, but Howe failed to turn up when he learned the guitarist they wanted would not contribute to the songwriting. Howe also had a try out with Atomic Rooster while Carl Palmer was a member but said, "it didn't quite gel." In 1970, Howe toured as a member of American soul singer P. P. Arnold's backing band, with future members of Ashton, Gardner and Dyke, which also involved American duo Delaney & Bonnie. The tour made him believe he was set "to really go somewhere in music."
1970–1981: Joining Yes and start of solo careerEdit
In April 1970, the rock band Yes sought a new guitarist following the departure of Peter Banks. Howe was invited to a try out session with the group in Fulham, which consisted of Jon Anderson, Chris Squire, Bill Bruford, and Tony Kaye; he was successful and became a member in June. By this time, Yes had recorded their second album Time and a Word (1970) but it was not yet released. A photograph of Howe with the band was used on its cover despite not playing on it. After several gigs, Yes retreated to Devon to rehearse and develop new material for The Yes Album (1971). Howe went on to buy Langley Farm, where the group had stayed. Howe's proficiency with a wide range of guitars, and his strong contributions to the songwriting, made him a prolific member who was an essential part of the band's change in musical direction towards progressive rock. The Yes Album and Fragile (1971) include his solo acoustic pieces "Clap" and "Mood for a Day", and writing credits for the popular tracks "Yours Is No Disgrace", "Starship Trooper", and "Roundabout". The latter earned Howe and Anderson a BMI Award for writing the song.
In 1971, Wakeman and Howe had contributed to the recording of Lou Reed's self-titled debut album as session musicians, working together for the first time on this occasion. In the summer of 1972, Howe performed one gig with Stone the Crows at the Great Western Festival in Lincoln while they sought a replacement following the death of Leslie Harvey.
To his already-formidable assortment of electric and acoustic guitar sounds, Howe added a unique approach to lap steel guitar in the next album, Close to the Edge, released in 1972. 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, with Yes 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 and performances from Bruford, Alan White and Patrick Moraz. 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 and included a performance by singer Claire Hamill.
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.
1981–1995: Asia, GTR, ABWH, and second Yes runEdit
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), was the highest selling album of 1982 in the US, with 4 million copies sold there. Howe is credited as composer on five of its nine tracks. When it came to writing their second album Alpha (1982), Howe noticed a sense of staleness and that the songs were too direct and concise which disrupted the group's creativity and musical direction. In 1983, after the album's release, Howe left the group, citing irreconcilable differences with Wetton. Subsequently, 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. It reached No. 11 in the US and was certified gold, and it peaked at 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). In 1991, he is featured on Polar Shift: A Benefit for Antarctica, a benefit jazz and ambient album to the Cousteau Society. At the end of Yes's supporting tour for Union in 1992, Howe played the guitar and co-produced Symphonic Music of Yes (1993), an album of orchestral arrangements of Yes tracks. Howe, Bruford, and Wakeman were not invited to participate in 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).
1995–present: Third Yes run, Steve Howe Trio, and final Asia runEdit
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 left off the album and released on Archiva Vol. 1 later that year. He also added his guitar to two of the songs from Aura, released in 2001.
Howe's solo album Quantum Guitar features his son Dylan on drums. In July 1999, Howe released his Bob Dylan covers album Portraits of Bob Dylan that features a variety of lead vocalists. This was followed by Homebrew 2 (2000) as a sequel to his first. When Eagle Records suggested that Howe produce an acoustic guitar album, Howe accepted and recorded Natural Timbre (2001) which contains arrangements of three Yes tracks. He considered it a breakthrough in regard to his solo output due to the time required to write and arrange strong solos.
In 2006, Howe rejoined Asia when the original line-up reunited for a 25th anniversary tour. They released Phoenix (2008), Omega (2010), and XXX (2012). In January 2013, Howe announced his decision to leave the band and concentrate on Yes and solo endeavours. He was replaced by Sam Coulson.
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.
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 teamed up with his son Virgil for new album Nexus, released on 17 November 2017. The album was released by Steve Howe after the death of Virgil Howe in early September 2017; Virgil's 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 received a Prog God award at the 2018 Progressive Music Awards in September.
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.
- Studio albums
- Beginnings (1975)
- The Steve Howe Album (1979)
- Turbulence (1991)
- The Grand Scheme of Things (1993)
- Mothballs (1994)
- Homebrew (1996)
- Masterpiece Guitars with Martin Taylor (1996)
- Quantum Guitar (1998)
- Portraits of Bob Dylan (1999)
- Homebrew 2 (2000)
- Natural Timbre (2001)
- Skyline (2002)
- Elements (2003)
- Spectrum (2005)
- Homebrew 3 (2005)
- Motif (2008)
- Homebrew 4 (2010)
- Time (2011)
- Homebrew 5 (2013)
- Homebrew 6 (2016)
- Love Is (2020)
- Homebrew 7 (2021)
- The Steve Howe Guitar Collection, Steve Howe with Tony Bacon (Photography: Miki Slingsby). First British Edition published by Balafon 1994 (ISBN 978-1-871547-64-1). A book detailing with photographs Steve Howe's collection of guitars, lutes, lyres, mandolins and pedal steel guitars.
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- Munro, John Neil (2011). The Sensational Alex Harvey. Birlinn. ISBN 978-0-857-90152-1.
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- Roger Dean (30 April 2012). Yessongs: 40th Anniversary Special Edition - Yessongs: 40 Years On documentary (Blu-ray). Odeon Entertainment. ODNBM002.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Steve Howe.|
- Official website at Steve Howe.com