Happy Birthday, Steve Howe

Tuesday, April 8, 2014
Happy Birthday, Steve Howe

67 years ago today, one of the greatest guitarists in prog-rock history made his debut: Steve Howe, best known – though certainly not strictly known – for his work with the band Yes.

Born in London, England in 1947, Howe grew up listening to a wide variety of music, including classical, country and western, jazz, and even big brass bands, and in past interviews has said that his playing owes as much to Wes Montgomery as Chet Atkins, with the latter teaching him through his work that a guitarist didn’t have to limit himself to just one style. After getting his first acoustic guitar as a Christmas present at the age of 12, Howe upgraded to an electric a few years later, but it was in 1964 that he picked up his first Gibson ES-175D, a style which has served him decidedly well over the decades.

After doing time as a member of the Syndicats, Tomorrow, and Bodast while reportedly passing on opportunities to join the Nice and Jethro Tull, Howe joined Yes in April 1970, a career move which would change his life immeasurably. With all due respect to the band’s debut and sophomore albums, few fans would likely disagree with the suggestion that Howe’s addition to the lineup served to cement that which would quickly become viewed as the definitive Yes sound. Not coincidentally, 1971’s The Yes Album also proved to be the band’s commercial breakthrough, rocketing them into the UK top five and the US top 40. (It would take until the band’s follow-up album, Fragile, released at the end of ’71, for Yes to enter the US top five.)

Howe stuck with Yes through the release of the band’s 1980 album, Drama, and while the band disbanded the following year, Howe clearly remained on good terms with fellow member Trevor Horn, as his guitar work can be heard somewhere in the mix of the title track of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s Welcome to the Pleasuredome, which Horn helmed. When Yes got back together for the 90215 album, however, Howe was nowhere to be found, as he was already busy with a new endeavor: a little band called Asia.

Looking over Howe’s career since then, he’s continued to play with Asia a fair amount, but he’s also rejoined Yes for several albums, and if there’s perhaps not quite as much to say about his stints with GTR or Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe, then let’s scurry past them and instead note that he’s released well over a dozen solo efforts over the years, including the ongoing Homebrew series. In short, the man’s prolific as all get out, and his skill as a musician continues to inspire new guitarists year after year.

To celebrate the beginning of another of those years, we’ve put together a playlist which touches on his Tomorrow stuff, features a few guest spots on his friends’ albums, spotlights his first two solo efforts, and, of course, contains a whole lot of Yes.