#askYES – Q&A with Steve Howe – March 2017
On Facebook.. You asked… and he answered.
In this lengthy Q&A, Steve covers a huge variety of subjects from YES to his favourite guitars and everything inbetween.
Chris Squire played on every YES album. How did he keep driving the band forward while he was alive, and what were his wishes for the band in continuing the legacy after his passing?
Steve Howe: Chris was a driven man. He had a considerable amount of energy to always keep the group going. He did very few side projects and was always very pro YES. In the latter days of his life, we hoped that he was going to come back after the treatment – his hope was quite clearly placed on a group that continues going forward. He elected Billy Sherwood, his friend, and we thought that was a great idea too. So in a way when he thought he was going to come back, he handed over to Billy. He wouldn’t have changed his mind. His legacy carries on with ours and also for his family.
What are your feelings on the successful ‘Album Series’ tours? Who suggested that ‘Topographic’ and ‘Relayer’ should be brought to the stage in this context? Are there any more albums we can expect in future?
Steve Howe: I don’t wish to take all the credit but I did push for albums and we certainly want to cover as many of them as we can. We felt that we were already in touch with ‘Fragile’, ‘Close To The Edge’, ‘Going For The One’ and ‘Drama’. After we’d done all of those which, is five of course, there was still this idea – and I’d said all along that we could do ‘Tales’ in a 1 and 4 situation, because 2 and 3 are a lot of work we’re not very in touch with them, but there has been contact with 1 and 4 over the years from the band. So, in a way, that’s what made that slightly easier, we could bring those on board.
Doing ‘Drama’ of course was just something, you know with Geoff coming back, our love for that album and the excitement of playing just ‘Machine Messiah’ on it’s own is for me, tremendous. And the whole album had never been played like that, so once again, we felt that that was quite a nice marriage: ‘Drama’ and ‘Tales’ 1 and 4, which then we added Jon, Billy and I doing ‘Leaves of Green’. So in fact ‘Tales’ got a fair airing and so did ‘Drama’, so we’re delighted.
Although we’re not doing an album in this summer tour in the USA, we’re doing a selection set. But soon enough we will be turning round and next year we’re going to carry on with some album series.
The current line-up of YES seem to get on very well. You all look sharper. You are all playing incredibly well together and seem to be really enjoying it and growing with greater confidence. How is the camaraderie on tour onstage and offstage?
Steve Howe: Over the years we’ve seen all these changes. People come and go – different members, different tour managers and different technicians. At the moment we’ve really hit a nice spot. There’s a balance in the band and as you said: the chemistry. There’s a friendliness. There’s a warmth to it. And there’s a contentment as well, because if people aren’t satisfied all the time, obviously you have to get that margin right very, very high to get us satisfied. And somehow the idea of doing all the homework before the tour is great.
Tony Levin was responsible for this attitude. He was the first guy that ever walked in and said “I know the parts.” This was with ABWH. He’d played on some of the album. But he arrived knowing all the material he was going to play.
And that’s become such a fastidious and useful goal for all of us when it comes to saying “We’ll play this song”.
For example, take ‘Into The Lens’. Never played it before. Nobody’s played that for years, but everybody puts their homework together and says, “but it starts like this, right? okay?” And then everybody starts to feel their parts.
So really, the happiness comes from not only a good balance of people, and the right attitude, but the biggest word is respect. And when a band has that respect for each other and creates the love; then you deliver. And if people don’t deliver then obviously there’s a problem. And the way we’ve delivered together has been really exciting.
Are there any plans for a YES studio album in the pipeline, Steve?
Steve Howe: This is asked quite often. We like the fact that people anticipate and enjoy new music. Much of our focus admittedly is on the great pieces from the 70s and around that era. So we take it slow.
I tried to slow down ‘Heaven & Earth’, because I thought maybe we could refine it. But we’ve gotta get some material that we think is really worthy of doing this, first of all, and that’s gonna take a bit more writing and a bit more collaboration.
And there’s every chance that Jon Davison and I will do some more writing like we did on ‘Heaven & Earth’. YES albums are all about collaboration. Not only in the writing, but also in the arrangements because the skill of the great records in the 70s was definitely that we arranged the hell out of something that was really quite innocent. We’d drum it up to be something. And I think that allowed the musicianship and the ideas to flow.
Very glad YES finally made it to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, should have been there years ago! Congratulations! I guess all of my votes finally counted.
Steve Howe: Thanks for your support. I think this is really for the fans just as much as it is for us. This is an acknowledgement really, and it’s very nice. It’s a shame it’s taken so long. But we’re not the first band to suffer at the slowness of the realisation, that a band past the 20 year mark has gone on to do marvellous things, so of course we’re quite pleased too. And I think the evening will be full of surprises.
Is there any chance YES can reunite for another reunion tour? I am a huge fan of YES and will always be. To see you, Jon, Rick, Trevor, Geoff, Alan and Billy together would be most wonderful for all your YES fans around the world. I’m sure Chris would agree in spirit! Steve, please consider, ok?
Steve Howe: This topic has gone round the houses a little bit. Before we can take on board ideas, there has to be a good line of communication. And as far as I understand ARW aren’t really interested in doing this and we’re most probably not really interested in doing this either.
Now that sounds like a big shut down, but in another way, one’s gotta understand that things aren’t always what they appear. Reinventing the ‘Union Tour’ is not really a concept that anyone from either of the lineups of YES or ARW have endorsed.
So basically, I would say, it’s not foreseeable. I think there’s ways that we can celebrate YES’s 50th year and most probably they want to as well. I think the complexity is unmeasurable by the fans. Those things aren’t easy. It’s not any one person that’s particularly making it difficult, but people can make it difficult and then it’s gotta be done in the right spirit. I’d say don’t hold your breath.
Paul Michael Moon Rogers
Any major plans for YES’ 50th anniversary in 2018?
Steve Howe: We will be making an announcement sometime quite soon, about what our plans are. And I hope it keeps your anticipation high.
Steve, It seems like you never take a long break from tours. This is great for us fans. How do you keep up the energy? It must be exhausting. How have you avoided Tinnitus, Arthritis, other stuff that has stopped other legends?
Steve Howe: (Laughs) Yeah, well, I’m laughing. I’ve only just started realising that I’m coming up to 70. So all I’m really saying to myself at the moment is “yeah, less is more”, not being so busy. But the captivating thing about performing is that it’s very enjoyable and it’s a passion. I try to bring a lot of help in making the decisions – to make plans very carefully – ‘cos I’m more of a person that preempts things rather than finding myself in a “oh, I didn’t think this was gonna happen” situation.
I preempt them by saying “This might happen. You might, after 6 weeks, not feel like doing this.” So there’s a lot of… I hope it’s wisdom, but I’m not saying that to say I’m clever. Whatever wisdom I have, I do try to steer it so I’m not running around.
That’s partly why I had to leave Asia. I don’t know how I did that, looking back. I was running around from one project to another, and straight into another one.
So now I put a month between projects. If I finish something, then I’ve gotta have that month off to get ready for the next one, to attend to my actual life, and to other projects that I’m doing.
I’m with you, Kevin. I’m gonna take it a little bit easier, but I’m certainly not gonna stop. I have found ways of keeping a balance. With good food, good mental attitude, respect for myself, my body, and everybody else’s. And not driving people too hard and driving everybody crazy.
‘Cos when it’s fun – going back to the earlier question, when the band feels like it is quite fun, it’s a much lighter load. I think as you get older you want to do things that you can enjoy, because you know it’s a lighter load than things that aren’t so enjoyable. So, I’m picking very carefully.
There are two main things that have really helped me. One is maintaining a vegetarian diet, which I have done since 1972. And the second is using altered state meditation, which I have done since 1983. Not only to my life but to my music as well. Those have really helped me to de-stress and to keep things in perspective.
Just like the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame event. YES fans and YES members can talk it up, but you know, there’s 9 other acts on there. It’s not a YES night. So I keep that kind of perspective on things and it helps me a lot mentally.
Loved ones are also so important. You can’t take out some of your life and say “That’s not important.” It’s all important.
What were your thoughts on the union of The Buggles and YES during the ‘Drama’ years?
Steve Howe: It was seamless. I couldn’t believe how it felt, internally. Once again it was marvellous that we found instant chemistry with the guys and constructing that album was intense. We were at Townhouse Studios. We were rocking away and we had so much energy, there was so much focus. We had Hugh Padgham and incredible engineers. And Trevor was the producer of course… Becoming a producer so much as that period went across. So it was a great team. Lovely music.
Roger Dean came back and of course did the sleeve after a couple of sleeves that he hadn’t done. So that made a lot of sense. It was a lovely experience.
It was a lot easier to pull off in America. We just went over there and we played our music. We got the the UK and people were a bit nerdy with us and people shouted out nonsense and things. But basically, when you listen to that record, you can see why we brought it out as part of the album series, because it has such a lovely atmosphere to it.
When is the next solo album?
Steve Howe: I’ve got one in progress, and it’s gonna be quite exciting. I’m looking forward to announcing it. But other than that I’m not saying much about it until it’s finished. Watch this space. And other projects with Dylan of course, we’ve been having several years working on a trio album that’s absolutely great. And also I’ve done a record with Virgil which is fantastic… A duo record. And so, I’ve been busy. Pleasantly, musically, interestingly busy, with Dylan and Virgil on and off. So, as I said earlier, that’s why I had to make more space in 2012.
Hi Steve! Do you plan to do any solo touring in the States with your sons any time in the future? I’ve seen you on a few acoustic tours, and several and a bunch of times with YES. Always wanted to see your solo material performed with a full band.
Steve Howe: Well yeah, that’s a proposition that does appeal to me, but also I can’t really see being able to do that in much of the year that I have left if I’m touring with YES. So there has to be some give and take. If I had even more energy and I could fit in another tour, I would be hard pressed to decide which way to do it.
I have a solution but it’s just that I’ve been close to doing some things and then realised that it was a bit too much. Because a solo tour, like I have done 4 years running in the UK now, last time was in October last year… I can get up and move out of my house and go and play in the UK, it’s kind of easy. When I do that in other countries it takes a lot more organising and you’ve gotta get the CWA and IRS involved you know, everybody wants to know, of course. But I would say that I’ve missed not doing either really. The solo tours I’ve done in America, the last one I think was way back in 2010, maybe 2008. So I’ve missed doing that in America. I’ve kept in touch by doing it over here. But doing a full band tour would be wonderful too. And like I say, I think I’ve got a vehicle for the future that will make that work. So, hold your breath on that one.
Many years ago Steve was good enough to sign my copy of ‘The Steve Howe Album‘, as well as signing it, he wrote what was originally going to be the album title, ‘All’s a Chord’. Steve put a question mark next to the body in the water and he said to me, “Who is the man in the water”. So Steve, who is or what does the body in the water represent on ‘The Steve Howe Album’?
Steve Howe: Well way back then, Roger Dean and I were working quite closely on that and, somehow all of our communication was really great except for the time when Roger said “Oh I’ve been thinking about adding a guy swimming in the pond.”
I said, “Oh, okay, try it.” So we tried it and he thought I liked it and I thought he liked it, so we kind of came to an agreement we’d keep it. But both of us actually started to look forward to versions of the sleeve that don’t have the swimmer.
I can’t remember why we put it in there. It was supposed to demonstrate some sort of, or add to the sense of movement in the picture. But actually we rather like it without. So, I can’t remember why we put it in. But as I said, it was put in and never really clarified whether to keep it and before we knew it, we’d kept it.
Dustin Shane Mitchell
Steve, as a guitarist and multi instrumentalist, when not touring how often do you play? Do you put the guitar down for extended periods of time? Personally, I tend to take a week’s break only occasionally and come back with a refreshed playing ability and new approach each time.
Steve Howe: Well, I think you’re right on. After a long tour, say a 6 week tour with a week rehearsal before it, I come back from that and can leave it a week, just about a week, before I play. But there’s no set thing about that because as Dustin said, it’s a good thing to go back to the guitar and really feel enthusiastic about it. But I rarely don’t.
After a tour your guitar can rest for a while without you. And after a while when you come back, you really do hear the sounds and you love it and you wanna play some things and have fun again… And warm up.
But I would say in principle the best thing to do is to keep your playing technique at the top end all the time. Because that way you’ve never gotta crawl back from something really gruesome. I did hear about a guitarist, really famous guitarist, I can’t remember who it was actually, completely stopped playing, you know, for a year or so… What were you thinking?! So it can be a long crawl back then.
I love it! At the end of a tour I’m usually blistering away on the guitar and I don’t wanna lose all of it, but I have to lose a bit because I’m not gonna play that intensely, you know?
But the good thing about not overplaying, certainly I’ve been playing so long that I enjoy these breaks, but I also come back quite rapidly to find a good level. But that’s practise, and there is some practise needed. I practise playing songs, but I don’t practise playing the guitar. Obviously. But I never did… I always played the guitar, because I never liked in my mind that I was practising. I don’t like that kind of studiousness. Although I have a side of me that can really study hard on getting something ready. But that’s usually when I know I’ve gotta play it.
So in the day-to-day sense, improvising was always the sort of thing I do on the guitar, I pick something out and I play it. I might play a tune I’ve written or think “Oh that’s nice, I’ll play this.” But in the most part I’m just goofing around and seeing if there’s anything there that kind of comes my way.
So that’s a form of practising, but it’s actually not intensive about saying “I’ve got to use these scales!” I’ve got a little practise scale that I use occasionally, but very occasionally. Sometimes it does kind of loosen me up a little bit but, I like to keep in touch.
I love your unique technique when playing the steel guitar. You have combined it with the volume pedal and other effects to create what I call the Steve Howe sound. As far as I know, you are the first guitarist to play it that way. That instrument is mainly known for twangy country music or Hawaiian music. What was your inspiration to revolutionise that instrument?
Steve Howe: Before I played the guitar, I heard a lot of steel guitar, from Steve West and Santo and Johnny and I was always amazed and I had to realise that it was actually not a guitar and you couldn’t really play like that on a guitar. It was a pedal steel or a steel guitar. So I loved the Santo & Johnny ‘Sleepwalk’ and ‘Venus’… That sound that he gets is exceptionally good.
Then when we were making Bodast in ’69, the first thing I did when I got to America was buy a Gibson lapsteel. So I was well into getting a real one. Before that, I did it on a bottle neck on one track on the Bodast album. Nothing very substantial about that at all.
With ‘And You And I’ on ‘Fragile’ I wasn’t doing the chords so much that I play on stage, or the actual powerful melodies that I’m known to do. What I was doing was kind of tearing away at notes so they kind of drifted away. So it’s really just creating a strange kind of ambience. Slippery and sliding and ascending.
By the time I’d moved on and got to ‘Relayer’, boy I was now a determined steel player. I knew when the sound was needed. I could tell, because I really don’t play guitar like I play the steel, you know, they give me different opportunities, which I love very much.
So by the time I got to ‘Going For the One’, I wanted to not play the guitar, but play a steel through the whole song. So that’s what that song symbolises to me. It’s the freedom that I had to just move into another realm of guitar work.
That continued in ‘Awaken’. I had pedal steel, and that was some of the first pedal steel I’d played on ‘Awaken’ and ‘To Be Over’ was the first pedal steel I recorded on a YES record.
So yeah, thank you for asking about the steel, because it’s really a true contender for not only a whole album of steel, or a whole year of steel you know. And a friend of mine in Toronto introduced me to his teacher. And I’ve still got a dream to go out and have a few more lessons. Just watching this guy play a few times, I picked up a lot of tips. I’m like that, I like picking up stuff.
The outro solo on ‘Starship Trooper’ on the YES album is one of my all time favorites. Please comment on what you can recall on the recording of that solo and guitar, amp and effects used.
Steve Howe: Well it was done with two guitar solos and instead of panning left and right, we had one on the left and one on the right and fortunately they alternated extremely well. We had to work out some of the changes, how we’d get from one guitar to another, but in the most part it was a round of G, Eb, C, then we’d switch to the other guitar on the other side.
The actual effects, I don’t think I really had any effects, I just turned the amp up. I may have had a Gibson Fuzz Tone I think… the first fuzz box I ever knew about was made by Gibson, and it was called a Fuzz Tone. The idea of it wasn’t necessarily to distort the hell out of your guitar. It was that you could imitate an instrument like wind instruments and stuff like that (Laughs). There’s a great record I’ve got by Gibson that demonstrates the settings that you have to play… if you just play appropriately on it. But if you just rock out on a fuzz box that might be what it sounds like. So I might have boosted the sound a little bit with one of those sort of devices. It’s not a Marshall fuzz box and it’s not a Marshall amp. It’s a 175 Gibson through a Dual Showman and just turned it up.
Now Eddy Offord right up until ‘Relayer’ was a very important person in our sound and he did a great job. He knew how to compress the guitars so that they sounded great. Very often we recorded one clean and then worked on the sound afterwards, but you didn’t have too many options like that. You could put it through a flanger which Starship Trooper actually is. It’s a clean guitar that I recorded and then we put it though a flanger. Or an Eventide phaser. So those solos, there were 2 guitars, we switched them, we lucked out, those guitars alternated quite well. So that’s all I can say.
The song ‘The Grand Scheme Of Things’… Could you comment on what guitar-amp combination was used to get the tone on the solo section… One of my favorite guitar tones and solos of all time! Thank you.
Steve Howe: Well believe it or not it may be a Rockman actually. Because at the time I was crazy about the Rockman. And bless the guy from Boston for inventing it: Tom Scholz. From the 80’s onwards I could really play my best guitar through the Rockman, and I was really inspiring, exciting. I can’t guarantee it was the Rockman. But I hear something in my head right now, it’s a kind of meandering powerful solo, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the Rockman.
Steve, you said in an interview once that you weren’t into playing the blues that much, why exactly is that?
Steve Howe: (Laughs) I suppose in a commercial sense, in a visual sense, of what I do, I don’t really compete with anybody and maybe I alway felt that blues had this sort of ‘legend’ about blues. It kind of exists with jazz as well. All music that’s sort of out of somebody’s reach in a certain respect, it’s a bit of a deal.
Now blues is a very unique and simple kind of music. And I love the way that Big Bill Broonzy played. So I’m more of a country blues player than city blues, you know, Chicago electric blues.
But it’s a total contradiction because every now and again, things escape by me that are definitely bluesy and I’ve done that on my album ‘Elements‘, there the occasional bit of Cajan blues into it.
And I do actually have some recordings that I’ve put aside that lean quite a bit towards the blues. So what I’d say is that commercially, career wise, it’s not a thing that I’m just suddenly gonna do, a blues album. Not very likely. Although part of what I have is similar to that.
I think what I would be after is more something unexpected which is a sort of twist on my writing. Strangely enough, I can think of one song which is a good example – ‘Where I belong’ from ‘Elements’. It’s quite a bluesy song but with a country tinge, and that’s maybe an indicator of maybe where this side project might be going.
I would like to say that I have immense respect for it. The early Buddy Guy stuff I’ve got is unbelievable. Of course Eric Clapton. The great players of the world do wonderful things, and I’ve got utmost respect for them.
I play the blues slightly differently. And maybe that’s what I’m doing is avoiding… Because I did that, let’s just make this perfectly clear, one of the bands I was in, one phase of the Syndicats went from playing Chuck Berry 14 titles in one show; we became a blues band, because that was more of a fashion at the time you know, Long John Baldry and Blues Syndicate. We were influenced by that too and we did our own kid of brand of blues, and that was straight ahead blues.
So after leaving that, going on to the other bands like Tomorrow and YES… The reason I said that was because I didn’t allow myself to expect the music I was gonna be part of to actually render or require a blues guitar. It very rarely does.
I’ll give you an example from ‘Drama’, which is ‘Run Through The Light’. So I’m not shy to go to a bit of blues but I like to bring something to it as well.
Hi Steve, any chance that you might do more guitar lessons for us guitarists with more up to date songs. i.e. ‘Laughing With Larry’, which I think is an awesome composition.
Steve Howe: Well thanks for mentioning ‘Laughing With Larry’, yeah, that’s a kind of complex piece, when you asked me earlier about complexity. Of course I’m looking for a methodology to jump right into that, and the other day I did do something on Skype with a school in the States as a special favour for somebody.
So I see that there is a future in this and I would like to, because I think it really helps me when I see Chet playing. It puts my mind at rest that he’s not got magic fingers, he’s just understanding very well.
But when you can see people playing you can learn something… Not from Wes Montgomery but most other people you can kind of understand how they’re doing what their doing, so to speak. So yeah I would like to have a role in there and I think when I get the style of it right, I’ll move into that. I really like it.
How do you become a better guitar player and songwriter? Thank you Steve, for all the wonderful music you’ve brought to us over the years!
Steve Howe: Well it’s gonna take time, isn’t it? Time’s the thing. They say the 10,000 hours – that’s your first 10 years – and then multiply that by several numbers. I guess practise, but being comfortable with what you’re playing is the best way to play better and finding a way of playing that you’ll enjoy is gonna enhance your sense of purposefulness.
I thought George Harrison was a great example for parts. He had the help of Paul and George Martin and everybody else around them but there is a point to something and it’s gotta be found – the purposefulness of playing. But this question is about playing well isn’t it?
I think you’ve got have a goals. You don’t have to write them down, but in your mind when you hear people, I remember hearing Tal Farlow and thinking “I wanna understand what he’s done…” – I still don’t know exactly! – but he did show me something on the guitar one day.
Before he passed away I was at his place in New Jersey. And he put his fingers on the board and went: (Sings triad) “That’s jazz, that’s all you need to know…” (Laughs) I said “Great, that’s the best piece of information I’ve ever had.” I’m still working on understanding it, but it’s true. There’s not really a big mystery.
Also, I guess what really comes out of it is that idea of your goals. You manifest that into the sort of player you wanna be, hopefully, and if that can service you, even if you’re a part timer, semi-pro, but if you’re a professional musician… obviously you’ve gotta think of your living sometimes so you have to do things that are gonna make you pay the bills.
There’s a point at which technique is kind of tedious really, you should be able to play what you want. You don’t have to meet some industrial standard of technique. There isn’t a goal. Because some people make the greatest noises but they don’t have the broadest techniques, you know.
So I would come back to almost fishing out this thing… You’ve gotta find sound, you’ve gotta think sound. You can’t just think technique, because technique is the means to you having the ingredients to make things possible, it’s not in itself the goal. Technique is so that you can find a voice, so you can find sound, find some of your own music to explore or exploit even.
Although that step that we’ve just gone up where we did talk about technique, but we’ve gone rapidly into sound and up into really what you wanna do. Because I know that somewhere along the way I felt that I’d reached a point where I was enjoying music but I didn’t really have to think about technique.
It wasn’t because I was so good, it was just that I didn’t need any more technique. I have somewhat adequate techniques, but that’s not to say that I don’t learn tricks. That’s not to say I don’t watch things – like with that steel guitar teacher. I watch things and I can learn new things there’s no doubt about that.
I played with Martin Taylor. He’s one of the most brilliant guitarists you could ever hear. He’s pulled off some tricks… He plays a tune with some bits of cardboard under the strings and you kind of think “what’s happening?” …and it was marvellous because none of us have the whole story. None of us have everything. You can’t have everything.
I’m Steve Howe, so I play guitar how Steve Howe has developed into playing. But of course running into other players has taken on board so many other opportunities that I didn’t, it’s just amazing. So there’s no end to where you might go, and I guess you should really think about sound. I guess in the end that’s all we really are. We are sound merchants.
Do you think that once you found your own kind of sound and style that it then comes a lot easier because you’re finding your own path and the way your fingers work and the way you like to play?
Steve Howe: Well, I can only say that I didn’t know I had a sound, you know, maybe even in 1967 when these people used to come up to me after I played with the Mole and say “That was amazing!” And I went “Yeah? Oh good…”
But then all the way through the 70s I was looking for a sound. That’s why I changed guitars on every album, to see if I could judge the sound. I got through that and thought after 10 years “I know which guitar I like best: This one.” (Laughs) But I didn’t exclusively use that one because I got so used to moving around guitars that I enjoy it too much. So my favourite guitar doesn’t get every sound, but it’s the guitar that I need to keep returning to.
What I’ve done with a lot of records since realising that is, even though there might be other textures I enjoy playing the Telecaster on this… when it comes to the guitar break, I always used to play on whatever. But I’ve gotta play on this, and that’s because I play so freely on the 175 that it’s usually the best way to get ideas out of me. But not the structure so much. But when you wanna get stuff out of me that’s top line break, solo… It’s gotta be a guitar that really feels nice. That’s part of the story.
But looking for your sound, it’s not something that anybody can… Well they might say “I like your sound” and that’s a good indication. But I think when you hear it, you’ve gotta know. It’s like you’ve got to learn what your sound is as much as you’ve got to get the world to like your sound.
One thing’s for sure, you have started on an instrument that does offer the opportunity, quite a considerable opportunity to get your style across. And when you think between like Mark Knopfler and Frank Zappa and you know Eric Clapton. You could go on for about half an hour and maybe list 500 guitarists, and you’d most probably be trying to list the guys that have their own sound.
So there’s a good chance you can get it. You’ve gotta choose your equipment well. I suppose you’ve gotta buy some equipment – that’s a cost. But you gotta find equipment that helps you make the sound you want. And that’s what happened when I found the steel I thought, that’s another voice. I was worried when we brought out ‘Roundabout’ because it’s an acoustic guitar and I thought “will they know who it is?” But of course that’s what I took the adventure with and I made that work because I am actually a multi guitarist, more than just a guy that plays a 175.
I can just spot guitarists from 50 yards you know. Sometimes it’s one note, usually it’s about 3 notes. Hear a couple of notes and think “Oh that’s George Benson.” Hear a few more and think “Yeah that’s George Benson.” And I’m right you know, very often. But obviously if you don’t know the player you won’t recognise the sound, you might think it’s somebody else that you might know. But you’ll be sure about the ones you’re sure of.
Do you have a favorite guitar you play when you’re by yourself and just want to jam?
Steve Howe: (Laughs) I love the simplicity of the question… Yes well of course my Gibson ES 175 1964 is the all time greatest guitar I’ve got.
I’ve got many others that compete with it, but that one is yards out. It’s a very special guitar. It’s a deal, when I get that out of the case, I’ve usually got something in mind that I’m gonna do with it. Because it is my sound. That is my closest, the most level, straightened out, sorted out sound that I’ve got.
But I make my own sound with a lot of other guitars as well. If I’m just jamming there’s a Martin – I mean usually I play acoustic guitar, much, much more at home. I love recording it. Once I have to record electric as well, I’m away. They all happen in 10 minutes. But to get that far, usually I’ve got to get something down, and an acoustic guitar is what I work on.
Now there’s a guitar I got in 1980 or 1982 called an MC28 by Martin and I did an advert for it. It was one of the early revitalised cut away guitars. Because I always liked to use the top frets but could never get up there. So we brought out a cut away guitar, and it wasn’t an O and it wasn’t a D, it was this MC, and that’s what my current guitar is, the MC38 Steve Howe.
The MC28 is a plainer guitar, but because I’ve had it all those years, and because I’ve written a lot on it… I’ll always record it with a mic. Acoustic guitars are much better with mics on recordings. But then again it’s the guitar I turn to, it’s usually out. And of course I love delving into my collection and there’s no end of pleasure I can find in, when I get the time to wander about within it.
But, there are certain things I know I can pick up, and that would be one of them. But then again, electric wise, if I’ve got a few tracks to add guitar to the, the Steinberger I think it’s a GMT 40, my blue one. I mean, it’s a whizz, I could sit there playing it all day. So it’s good to have a small armoury of guitars that you can feel happy with.
What kind of strings do you use for your acoustic and classical guitars.
Steve Howe: Well that’s a slightly ever changing landscape. Every now and again I go back to a make and I find some strings. That’s not a question I can answer very well, just because, it does shift. I mean between me and you, we get our strings from the people that make everybody’s strings, and they don’t have a name, they just have “The Great American Guitar String Company”. (Laughs) But of course, there are the credible makes. Usually, when I’m not sure, if I want a Martin to sound good I’ll put Martin light gauge on it. And that usually does it. I’ll heavy out the top a bit more if I’m doing a lot of picking. I’ll lighten up some strings if I feel it’s a little bit tense, and I’ll go to the extra light variation. So, Martin are really good strings that’s all I can say.
But I think strings are like cars now. They’re all good. Skoda, Kia, no wonder people buy them. They work. If you want to drive a Rolls Royce, I personally don’t. So, there are good and there’s very good. I don’t think there’s anything bad. I think you’re fairly safe with strings. I don’t know about gimmicky strings, like coated strings and that. They sound a bit duller and then they never change. They always just sound a little bit duller. Sometimes I like it when you strum it and it’s got that brightness.
Always the 175, whatever 175 I’m using, I always have new strings on it, because arch top guitars really need new strings for the performance. So keep using them is what I’m saying. You can never do without new strings. Obviously on a jazz guitar, or on a bass I might leave the strings for 5 years. But there’s so many makes. Just enjoy the ones you’ve got.
Daniel Timothy Lindenbaum
Steve Howe, what was the best memory you had working with Asia and/or last memories with John Wetton?
Steve Howe: Some of those tours… The last album we made actually. ‘XXX‘, I mean it wasn’t the greatest title, and I think it may have obscured it, really. There’s a lot of fine work on there and John and I and Geoff were getting really close. I mean there’s 2 collaborative, 3 or 4 collaborative songs on there that aren’t written down, you know, where I’m involved. So we certainly, even recently found a real niche for our music.
And I love John’s songs so much, right from things like ‘Heat Of The Moment’ and things like that. The songs we wrote together in the early years like ‘Without You’ and what he wrote on ‘One Step Closer’ was great, so basically, I love John’s writing and singing and bass playing. What I value with people is when you get the chance to do one-to-one, you know. Because I think I’m a pretty one-to-one guy really.
There was a time we were in Durham or Berkeley-on-Trent or somewhere – we were staying in this hotel and it was bloody awful. It was ancient, like a palatial mausoleum. And we went out in the garden a lot. We were there for a day, and I went to a model fair… I quite like them, sports cars. And John and I had some time. So I’ll always treasure those moments, I can pinpoint it. I can think what he was saying. We were talking about how problems get resolved, how people help, love… We had a lot in common. Like John, I was fairly wild in the early days, you know. Not as wild as John maybe, but in my way I pushed a few envelopes a bit far. But, something held me back and it was a good thing. But to know John all the way through that, the period before he really got kind of mixed up. And then, 2006 Geoff said John’s in good shape, we could do some playing, I was delighted. So you know, he was a very emotional person. Such a soulful singer, his performances were very, very consistant. He loved to deliver, you know and be that big voice as well. I loved Jon very much.
I understand that when you meet fans you don’t shake hands. May I ask why?
Steve Howe: Sure. I’m perfectly happy to answer that because I can’t tell everybody every time they ask me “Why don’t you shake hands?” It’s really about playing the guitar. It’s very important to me that my hands don’t get anybody’s clench or anybody’s tight handshake because I can feel that, sometimes 2 or 3 hours later. I can still feel something. And I don’t mean it’s a big thing, but my hands are my vehicle for music. And they’re so important that I don’t shake hands and I rarely do.
There are people who if I’ve known them a while, they know it’s a very gentle handshake, but I can’t. Even if I say to somebody “Oh it’s gentle…” It doesn’t come that way. They forget and shake my hand and they crush it. So it’s been a while and I do that all the time and I can’t really. There isn’t an option. There isn’t an option B on that one. (Laughs) Or there’s like knocking knuckles… Nothing, not with my hands!
Hi Steve- Any favorite new band(s)?
Steve Howe: I’ve hardly had time to think about new bands. the last band I really liked and I’m still into big time are The Libertines, Babyshambles, and, in a totally different world of course, Alison Krauss & Union Station.
Hi Steve! What’s your favourite Book?
Steve Howe: The book I’ve been reading recently is called ‘The Sound Of Silence’ and it’s about Paul Simon. And it’s fascinating. We were talking about ‘America’ earlier and I loved it when in the book they were just taking about American songs and America and all this.
For about 20 years I didn’t read books, I didn’t read many when I was a child. And then I thought that I was fairly illiterate for not reading books, and then gradually I just got into them. So over the last 30 years health books were bigs.
I like to think about reality. I don’t read novels very often. I can’t seem to find that place. But certainly books that are about music, books about science, particularly Brian Greene’s book called ‘The Fabric of The Cosmos‘. But also ‘The Art and Science of Healing‘. It’s all about, surprisingly, homeopathy. Which of course is science’s most stupid put-down, that science keeps not accepting homeopathy. There’s lots of great books. My wife has most probably read more books than anybody I know.
Actually there is one. It’s called ‘Reinventing Bach‘, and it’s the story I told you about how Bach has lived through our lives because of the performances that, countless more and future coming, performers say “I know how to play Bach really well.” And that’s the new recording, and that’s what sky rockets him on. But the book isn’t only about Bach. ‘Reinventing Bach’ is a book about the progress of music and how it’s been reinvented by recording techniques.
David Andrew Baird
Hey, Steve, what’s your favourite cheese?
Linda Wagner Mueller
No question but a huge THANK YOU for all the great music. If I’m having a bad day I just put on one of my YES CD’s and it brings me to a better place.
Thank you for all the years of inspirational and magnificent guitar playing, Steve.
Steve Howe: Well that’s very kind, thanks very much both of you.