Personalities | Steve Howe | The Yes Man | Guitar Heroes
As the guitarist in Yes throughout their heyday in the 1970s, Steve Howe’s tasteful, eclectic playing helped to define a new style of rock music.
Despite occasional absences during Yes’s convoluted history during the 1980s and 1990s, Howe remained a pivotal member of the group and has been a permanent member since 1996. He was also a founding member of progressive supergroup Asia in the 1980s and has released more than a dozen solo albums.
Howe was born in 1947 in North London and started playing guitar at the age of 12, incorporating a wide variety of interests including classical, jazz, pop and rhythm and blues. He joined his first professional band, the Syndicate, aged 16, and during the latter half of the 1960s, played with Tomorrow (who were popular on the London underground scene with their hippy anthem, ‘My White Bicycle’) and Bodast before he was contacted by Yes bassist Chris Squire in 1970 and agreed to join the band.
Yes were redefining their style for their third album, The Yes Album (1971), and Howe made an immediate impact with his jangling, jazzy/country playing, adding an atmospheric dimension to tracks like ‘Starship Trooper’ and ‘I’ve Seen All Good People’, and contributing his virtuoso acoustic piece, ‘The Clap’.
Fragile (1972) brought together the classic Yes line-up with keyboard player Rick Wakeman joining Howe, Squire, vocalist Jon Anderson and drummer Bill Bruford. The album marked their commercial breakthrough, as the group’s combined chemistry brought a new dynamic to their furious riffs, tight harmonies and anthemic refrains on lengthy tracks like ‘Roundabout’ and ‘Long Distance Runaround’. Close To The Edge later the same year spread the same verve across even longer songs, and Yessongs (1973) demonstrated their live prowess with Howe revealing himself as more of a rock guitarist than he had in the studio.
By the release of Tales From Topographic Oceans (1974), Bruford had departed. (He was replaced by Alan White.) Howe and Anderson constructed a double-album concept (based on an Indian philosophy) that succeeded musically but lacked the band’s earlier discipline. Wakeman left before Relayer (1974), was replaced by Patrick Moraz, and the music became more dissonant, enhanced by frequent tempo changes. Howe released his first solo album, Beginnings, in 1975, showcasing a broader range of instruments as well as his own vocals.
The return of Wakeman for Going For The One (1977) revived his fruitful partnership with Howe, but it was getting harder to maintain the cohesion within the band and, after another spate of line-up changes, Yes split in 1981. Howe, who had released his second solo album, The Steve Howe Album, in 1979, teamed up with ex-King Crimson bassist/vocalist John Wetton, ex-ELP drummer Carl Palmer and keyboardist Geoff Downes (who had been in the final Yes line-up) to form Asia. Their self-titled debut, released in 1982, repackaged the progressive rock sound for the 1980s and became a worldwide hit.
Soon after the follow-up, Alpha (1983), Asia was beset by personnel...
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