Interview: Steve Howe on Asia's "Omega," Touring With Yes, and the Steve Howe Trio
Howe discusses his hectic touring schedule, getting jazzy with his trio, the gear for each gig, and his distaste for blues
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Your trio record, Travelling sounds like New York bebop cats playing Yes songs. [Laughs]
[Laughs] It does. Funnily enough, the trio seems to have rubbed off because I got a very good review when Yes played in Philadelphia about two weeks ago. The guy actually said that I was playing like an amazing jazz guitarist. [Laughs] That’s the first time anybody ever said that when I wasn’t playing with the trio. Maybe the whole thing kinda rubs off and I improvise better now. The trio is a vehicle for improvisation, so of course we take something like “Siberian Khatru” and there are about three bits we never touch, but we riff out on some of the parts. Then, we open up other parts you wouldn’t expect to open up. That’s what’s so good about improv. It takes everybody by surprise, even the player. It goes to places he didn’t know he was going to go to.
I remember reading somewhere about your lack of interest in blues guitar because it created legions generic sameness in many players. Care to comment?
I’d like to fix that statement. What I’ve always said is that in the late ‘60s when I was still carrying on playing psychedelic rock, every lead guitarist always played in the blues style. I found that so disappointing and so annoying! The originality of all the other inspired guitarists like Scotty Moore and James Burton…They both had more of a country influence and they brought that to rock, and you had Elvis Presley and Ricky Nelson. Loads of guitarists did that. Frank Zappa did that. He came in and had a strange style. He was determined to be that. Yet, so many people just went, “da, da, da , da, da.” [Sings main riff from “Hoochie Coochie Man.”]
I find that really annoying, but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate great guitarists like the early work of Buddy Guy and B.B. King. I’m really a country blues fan. I like Big Bill Broonzy. For me Big Bill Broonzy is really inspirational. He’s a blues guitarist. So that contradicts what my general output is about blues. It’s just that it got to be overkill in every kind of bracket and racket you can think of. The important thing about rock is originality, and I think it’s all very well enjoying Eric Clapton. He’s a model guitarist. He’s been successful in ways that many of us admire and attempt not to envy. He’s been so hard working and deserving of his success. He’s a thoroughbred blues guitarist.
I guess I’m talking retrospectively really. That was all what was going on in the beginning of the ‘70s. There was a sort of inner battle. I had to keep my originality and not just become a regular blues player.
There’s all kinds of blues guitar playing, and it’s not all electric or from Chicago.
That’s exactly right! I think that’s a fixation that people have got. When they’re playing in that style, very few of them are aware that there are other styles. Some of them are very valid and very exciting.
Any upcoming Yes releases we can look forward to?
We’re planning to start recording some music in October together. We hope to finish up by early next year, then we would think there would be something out next summer. No guarantees, but there’s a feeling that we’re going to move on to it. We’ve been writing material, we’ve been talking to producers, and basically we think we’ve got something happening.
Will this include Jon Anderson?
It won’t include Jon Anderson. Benoit David is our new vocalist from Canada. Basically, it works, it’s practical, it’s friendly. It’s very constructive and it’s working. We can’t keep going thinking we’re going to go back to something. Back is old. Back is problem. Back is baggage. Forward is adventurous and revealing. We say to people that this is the Yes that’s working. This is the working Yes. You can have all the other lineups you like in your mind, but this is the line up that actually goes out and does the work. We’re the perpetuation, the continuation, and the saga of Yes.