Kevin Cooper - UK Music Reviews
Monday, February 20, 2023 11:23 AM
INTERVIEW: STEVE HOWE
May 13, 2022
By: Kevin Cooper
Steve Howe, an English musician, songwriter, producer and best known for being the guitarist in the progressive rock band Yes, chats with Kevin Cooper about Bill Bruford leaving the band, working with Jon Anderson, being signed to Atlantic Records and Yes’ Close To The Edge 50th Anniversary UK Tour 2022.
Steve Howe is an English musician, songwriter and producer, best known for being the guitarist in the progressive rock band Yes that was formed in 1964.
Initially Howe first played in several London based blues, covers, and psychedelic rock bands for six years, including the Syndicats, Tomorrow and Bodast. When he joined Yes in 1970, he 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.
The band briefly disbanded in 1981 but Howe returned to the group in 1990 and has remained a full time member since. He has also had a prolific solo career, releasing a large number of solo albums which have achieved various levels of success.
In 1981 Howe teamed up with Geoff Downes (who was also a member of Yes), singer and bassist John Wetton and drummer Carl Palmer, to form the super group, Asia. Howe left in 1983 but rejoined them in 2006 when the original line up reunited for a 25th anniversary tour. After releasing three albums Howe announced his decision to leave the band and concentrate on Yes and his solo career.
In 2007 he founded the Steve Howe Trio, a jazz band with his son Dylan on drums and Ross Stanley on Hammond organ. They released both a studio and live album in 2010. He continues to perform with Yes, the Steve Howe Trio and as a solo artist.
In April 2017 Howe was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Yes.
Whilst busy rehearsing for their Close To The Edge 50th Anniversary UK Tour, Steve Howe took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.
Steve, good afternoon, how are you?
I’m alright thanks Kevin, how are you?
I’m very well thank you and before we move on, let me firstly thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.
Not at all, it’s my pleasure.
And the most important question of the day is, just how is life treating you at this moment in time?
Well, what can I say, life at the moment is treating me the same as it is treating everybody (laughter). Joking aside, life at the moment really is okay. We are all learning just how to get through things in a different sort of way but yes, we are all moving on.
We have to speak about the 50th anniversary of the Yes album, Close To The Edge.
Well, I have to say that would be nice but only if you really want to (laughter).
Looking back, does it really feel like it was fifty years ago?
No, to be totally honest with you it really doesn’t. If I am honest with you, then it really is a bit of a shocker especially when you get those types of anniversaries come around, not that I go out of my way to celebrate that many anniversaries, but, having said that, some are important. The fact that this album is still resonating in its own sweet way, really is quite remarkable and quite enjoyable. We all love playing the album on stage, and we have most probably never gone on stage without playing one of the songs from the album. Now, as you know, we are about to get back out on the road and play the whole of the Close To The Edge album. That is also a delight because playing songs is just playing songs but playing an album really does give you the chance to settle into that time warp of 1972 (laughter).
I assume that you will be playing the album in strict chronological order.
Oh yes, it has to be. That is the only way that we want to play it, and hopefully, that is how we will present it, in a totally strict chronological order.
It is reported that it took you some five months to record the album. Was that the normal speed of recording for Yes at that time?
(Laughter) to be totally honest with you, that is a very misleading statement.
Really? In that case, please do tell me more (laughter).
Recording the album may very well have taken us over the period of five months, but that was three days here, two days there and a week there. It most definitely wasn’t a continuous period of time, unlike some of the other records that we recorded back in the 80s and 90s. They were all three months and more of continuous time spent in the recording studio. So, with Closer To The Edge, it was all about us going in and out, recording the music, then returning to it a week later after we had played a few more shows. You have to remember that Yes were a working band, so it was impossible for us to take time off to record an album. It simply had to be incorporated into our touring schedule.
You played a ninety five date promotional tour of the album. Unfortunately, as you were about to start the tour, Bill Bruford left the band to join King Crimson which meant that you had to set off on the tour with brand-new drummer, Alan White. Were there any nerves or worries at that point?
(Laughter) well, what can I say. It was a situation which Bill (Bruford) had created, and of course we all loved and respected Bill immensely for what it was that he wanted to do, but it most certainly was not the best of timings (laughter). Alan (White) got thrown in at the deep end and was immediately put under the spotlight. Alan was, and is, a very talented drummer who we believed would rise to the occasion, and that is exactly what he did. He simply got on with learning the album, and basically, throughout those early shows, the rest of us kind of dragged him through the songs, because there were four people who knew exactly what could happen, whilst Alan was the new guy who was thinking, ‘I think this is what should happen’ (laughter).
We were all doing our very best to help him, but he also helped us tremendously by stepping into Bill’s shoes and coming through it all with flying colours. Don’t forget, Alan was a big-name drummer; it wasn’t like we got Joe Bloggs in to play the drums. This was a well-known drummer, and basically, he bought something to the band that only he could bring because he had the style, the adaptability, maybe more than Bill, to be able to go with us when we went on to record Tales From Topographic Oceans, or when we went somewhere else. I personally feel that Bill may have got restless with us wanting to do other projects that weren’t even as commercial as Close To The Edge because he didn’t like commercialism in any way. I think that is fairly true to say. Bill created the situation where we needed Alan, but we just took that onboard and simply got on with it.
The album was actually released three months after the promotional tour had started. Was that planned?
(Laughter) what can I say except that was the sort of usual nonsense that we, as a band, had to put up with. The tour had obviously been booked sometime before we had finished the album, which was, in our opinion, absolutely stupid. It was partly based on people being a little greedy; wanting us to get out there and start earning the big bucks once again, because Yes was a big band. Another problem with the album’s release and the tour is that the album was actually released in different places at different times (laughter). Its release really wasn’t an international moment; it was firstly released here in the UK, then in Europe, then it was released in America, so that can formulate a funny stop start sort of thing.
But, in all honesty, we really should have gone out on tour when the album was out there. The more times that we were caught out by this booked tour before we had finished the album, the more we put our foot down and said “we just can’t really do this”, but it kept happening time after time after time. In all honesty, it was a product of the momentum, the desire, the booking agents, the bands manager and the record label; all of those people saying, “let’s get on with this” to which we replied “well we haven’t quite finished the album yet” (laughter).
Life in different times.
Indeed, yes very much so.
The album has been re-released on no fewer than three separate occasions; is there anything special planned with the album to celebrate its 50th Anniversary?
No, nothing at all; only the fact that we are going out on the road and playing it (laughter). I would have to say that at times, there have been marginally different versions of the album released. One version that stands out in memory is where you finally get to the fabulous church organ section; it has been recorded 10db too loud (laughter). I think that is because either they used the wrong master, or they didn’t adjust the master copy when they were pressing the records and CDs. So, there are a few glitches in it if you like, but fundamentally, they couldn’t destroy it too much with that even though 10db is an awful lot of level to be too hot (laughter).
To be honest, I find that a little disappointing as Atlantic Records once released a version of And You And I with a pre-vinyl ending (laughter). I have always found that to be quite ridiculous. Having said that, it just goes to highlight the rush to get on with things. There were glitches like I said, and it is a very adventurous record when you think of it in 1972 terms. Yes was a band that was wanting to be symphonic; they wanted to expand the music, and we were never going to be trapped with the three minute song concept where you got an introduction, verse one, and then the chorus.
We all totally hated that. So, we basically threw it out of the window and got on with inventing our own imaginative arrangements, which involved many songs, together with many instrumentals. One thing that we must never forget is although we talk about songs, and the title Close To The Edge is a song, but of course Yes were not shy of instrumental work and that’s one of the things that balanced if you like, the song element was the instrumental.
You co-wrote the album with Jon (Anderson). What was he like to work with?
Jon and I first started writing together on Roundabout which is the opening track on our fourth studio album, Fragile. There always had been a lot of shared ideas whenever Yes were writing for a new album. I was thrilled when I played the rest of the guy’s Mood For A Day and they insisted that I put it on the album. I was never going to turn that down (laughter). By the time that we were on tour, and we hadn’t as yet written the Fragile album, Jon and I wrote Roundabout together, which I have to say is a pretty good piece. So basically, Jon and I started a style of writing; we would use Jon’s lyrics together with my melodies and all of these things would morph together.
When we came to Close To The Edge, we worked on it, quite often on tour, and I don’t know how we did it but, after shows, on days off, in gaps and things, we would get together and basically mess around on two guitars and a cassette recorder (laughter). Those tapes are in fact the blueprint to Close To The Edge, together with many other things that Yes did. All the way through the 70s Jon and I didn’t really sit in our own houses writing together; we were most probably writing much more when we were on tour. That was definitely true with Close To The Edge. Obviously, later on everyone got their own studios; I even got my own which I would mess around in (laughter).
Also, another strength that Yes had was having the patience to arrange the music prior to actually going into the studio. We would get the ideas from everyone involved and arrange them prior to stepping into the studio. Every guy in the band had something to add to the arrangement. If someone didn’t like something, then they would put something in which they did like. Having said all of that, I have to say that it would take Chris (Squire) a while to decide what his bass part was going to be, but once it was there, it truly was amazing. We had the strength to allow me to arrange my guitars as overdubs, and that was something that I really did enjoy. I started doing that petty early on in my relationship with Mark Wirtz who produced the Tomorrow album.
I’m so glad that you have mentioned Mark. Just how did you come to play the guitar on the Mark Wirtz Orchestra’s single, Theme From “A Teenage Opera”?
(Laughter) just who the hell have you been speaking to (laughter). Well, here we go. One day, way back in 1967, I turned up at EMI expecting to join in a session, and there was nobody there. So I said to Mark “where is everybody” to which he replied “no, it’s just you” (laughter). I looked at Mark and thought ‘oh my God this is what I have been waiting for’ (laughter). Mark said, “get yourself into the studio, set up and this is what I want you to do”. So, we double tracked a guitar, on a tune which you rightly know as being The Theme From A “Teenage Opera” and that was it, I was sold on overdubbing on tracks that I didn’t even know what they were until I walked into the room. That really was exciting.
After that I became a really keen session guitarist, not that I did a lot of big sessions, but I did sessions for Mark Wirtz and other people. But that initial session on that particular tune really did inspire me because we were only talking about a guitar. For the whole three hour’s it was ‘this guitar this’ ‘the guitar that’ and ‘can you play that again’ (laughter). So, basically that was my introduction to just how we were able to change things after the event. Once you had put a rhythm guitar on, you could then add a lead guitar or textural guitars.
Whenever I think of a Yes album cover, I automatically think of Roger Dean’s artwork as I believe that the two go hand in hand.
Good. Yes, they do, very much so.
Just how did that marriage come to fruition?
To be totally honest with you, the Yes album was a bit of a blot really. Don’t get me wrong, we got it together and it wasn’t bad, but it really was kind of weird and spooky looking and we all agreed that 1971s Fragile album needed something a bit more stylistic. So our relationship with Roger began with the Fragile album. We all could see and knew that Roger’s work was really going to be pretty exciting. When he did Close To The Edge of course, we went from almost nothing on the outside, just the terrific logo work that he had developed by then. It was at that point that the well-known Yes logo came into play, really on Close To The Edge. The Fragile album is more of a mock-up of the word Fragile and Yes.
So basically, Close To the Edge set the bar. There were big, lavish landscapes inside the sleeve, complete with an almost personal, handwritten approach to the way that the type set was done. The photographs on the rear of the sleeve also included a photograph of our co-producer Eddy Offord who really, along with Roger Dean deserve as much credit as anybody else because he was the only guy who knew how to put us all together and get the sound to work with us all playing lots of notes and not in a very conventional sort of way (laughter). It wasn’t as though the guy just didn’t have to think about the bass because all that it was doing was dumb dumb (laughter). In actual fact, the bass was going nine to the dozen (laughter).
The guitar parts were flying in and out, the keyboards were going from synth to church organ. The saving grace was that the remarkable Bill Bruford was actually a very minimalistic kind of drummer; he never wanted to take up a whole lot of space. Bill never had four Roto Toms, four Tom Tom’s and six Cymbals. He basically had a very basic kit. But, going back to Roger who is going to be on tour with us, he really did play a major part in the exclusive visual design of Yes for all of these years. I have to be totally honest with you and openly admit that the albums that we did without him due to unforeseen and very stupid reasons, really were quite disastrous when compared to the beauty which he had created before and what he has created since. He really does draw his imaginative areas in the world; he often draws them from places that do exist, but he always manages to make them even more surreal. And I think it’s that which is the key to his success with us.
I have to tell you that I am an old soulie at heart and I first became aware of Rogers work when he designed the cover to the 1971 Motown Chartbusters Vol Six album which depicted a scarab type space vehicle. It truly was amazing.
Really, I will have to look that up. Roger has done many other things so that really doesn’t surprise me.
On the subject of soul, how did Yes find themselves signed to Atlantic Records which was, at that time, predominately a Soul and black artists label, being home to the likes of Aretha Franklin, Milt Jackson, Tyrone Davis, Clarence Carter and Otis Redding to name but a few?
Atlantic Records is a label that I am extremely proud to have been associated with, and that is why my first two solo albums were on Atlantic. I didn’t want them to be released on any other label. It is really great being signed to Atlantic. Now you have to remember that this story started long before I came along because Yes were signed to Atlantic around the same time that they signed Led Zeppelin together with a lot of other bands back in the late 60s. Just after I joined Yes, I heard this rumour that if the third album, which as you know is the Yes album, and the first one with me on it, was not a hit then they were going to drop us (laughter).
I have to say that I found that to be a little bit scary but, fortunately, we delivered the Yes album, and it was a very successful album. They didn’t tell us to piss off (laughter). So, basically, Atlantic really was very much a personal label because if you rubbed shoulders with the late Ahmet Ertegun, who as you know was the founder of Atlantic Records, and he liked you, well let me put it another way, if Ahmet didn’t like you then he wouldn’t sign you (laughter). Not only did he have to like the music, but he also had to believe that the people who he was working with were real players. After all, you have to remember that Atlantic signed the likes of Ray Charles. This really is a phenomenal label to be a part of and is really something to be proud of.
Basically, they really were just a great bunch of guys, all working towards the same goals and aims, especially Ahmet. There were times when he would come to me and ask me what I thought about things, and I have to say that I was very flattered that someone like Ahmet would care about what I thought. But he wanted the bottom line; he always wanted the truth. He would often ask me, “is it all as good as this” or “what are you going to do”’ and even “why haven’t I signed this record” he said to me one day when we were working on our Keys To Ascension album. There was a real relationship there between the two of us, and I personally think that the story of Atlantic Records is a wonderful indemnification if you like, about the greatness of the Ertegun’s really.
You have been referred to many times as being the pioneers of progressive rock. Would you agree with that?
Well, to be totally honest and open with you, I don’t know if pioneers is the right word when you consider King Crimson and Pink Floyd were around at the same time as Yes (laughter). You have to remember that psychedelia started all of this, and therefore what happened during the 70s was that the musicians who were hot to trot in the psychedelia era, like me, were then moving onto a new platform and they had to get more sophisticated, a bit more real, but certainly not commercial. Basically, Yes became an album band because of the musicality that we offered together with the length of the songs.
But basically, we were developing just what was going on in a lot of other people’s minds, with the likes of ELP (Emerson Lake & Palmer), Genesis and a lot of the other bands. Basically, there was suddenly a freedom, and that has always been my first requirement, as a musician, to be free to do as I like. Although I do take ideas from other people, I will take hints and I will take comments such as “will you play this”’ and “why don’t you play that” which I will always take on board, but in the end, I have got to feel that it is me who is making the choices, as far as what the guitar is going to do. That has always been a beautiful thing which has a lot to do with my rejection of my school education, which was a bit rough, a bit bumpy, it certainly wasn’t creative in any way, but music was, and I found that place myself.
So, I went to music, and I found that to be the most stabilising thing. I got out of school as fast as I could; I was fifteen, and I said “good riddance” to school (laughter). I didn’t need school anymore as I was going to be a musician. And that was the dream that I had, and that is the dream that I’ve still got (laughter).
You have released 22 solo albums together with your work with Yes. Are you always writing and working?
(Laughter) well, let’s just clarify that, I have recorded thirteen solo studio albums, from Beginnings to Love Is, then there are seven Home Brews which is a session of quirky tapes recorded in my home studio, and then there are a couple of live albums, and obviously a hell of a lot of guesting. So, 22 is a slight exaggeration but I will take your idea on board (laughter). Basically, that started really early when in the mid-70s when Yes were going to take a break, when we asked Atlantic, here’s Atlantic again, here’s another Atlantic story for you (laughter). Who would have thought that a label, any label hearing that all of the members of a group were all wanting to leave the group and record solo albums. The label would have been terrified and most probably would have dropped the band. The thinking from the labels point of view was once one of them has a hit they will simply split up.
But no, Ahmet said “okay no problem, we will give you all a deal; it is all the same deal, you do one record, you give us the record and we will put it out”. So Yes had a sort of break before we recorded Going For The One. And basically, that was a relief because although I had given five years to the idea of what Yes was, I had written more songs as is evident on the Beginnings album, and for me that was not only a way of exploring that music on my own, together with directing, producing, and all of those things, I gradually did it with more confidence, strength and expertise gathering all of the knowledge that I had gleaned from all of the producers who I had worked with up to that point, and from who I continue to work with to this day.
I still continue to do that to this day. I once worked with the late Sir George Martin on a project, and that for me was a real learning curve. George really did put me under immense pressure because he gave me some music and I had to say to him, “actually that means nothing to me, absolutely nothing at all” (laughter). He may as well have handed me a sheet of blank paper (laughter). The only thing that I needed to know was what all of these terms were that he was using such as ‘going back to this part, playing that part’ and ‘returning to that part’. I honestly didn’t have a clue (laughter). Having said all of that, basically he was good enough as well as the other players on that particular record who were kind enough to me. So, learning from other people really is, for me, the key and also collaborating is the key. As I have mentioned earlier about the organisation within Yes; none of Close To The Edge would have sounded the same if we hadn’t have been those five people.
Writing for Yes and writing for your solo albums, do the two require a different headspace?
To be totally honest with you, not really. Initially I just write, and I am not even thinking where it goes. I like to not have any idea as to where it is going. I simply follow the course of what this music says to me. However, as the time has gone by, and particularly with our last album The Quest, when we started preparing that, I did actually write six that I was thinking about Yes. That wasn’t because I needed to or it was something that I had committed to on a publishing deal, it was just something that I thought ‘I could just see if I could get some of these songs into Yes’ (laughter). And that is what happened with Dare To Know, Music To My Ears, and numerous other songs, in particular Leave Well Alone.
So, basically, I wrote those particular songs with Yes in mind but if Yes didn’t want to record them then that’s fine. It’s no skin off my nose, as I will put them onto another record (laughter). There can be, and there was at times, like the late George Harrison found with The Beatles, there can be resistance to your songs from within the band, for example, if you had John Wetton and Geoff Downes writing ten songs for an album, then it is extremely difficult for you to try and wedge a few of your songs in there. It was the same when I originally joined Yes; Chris Squire and Jon Anderson were the main writers in Yes and I did manage to get a few credits on the Yes album, but you could see that there was already an existing writing team in the band, and that was a good thing.
I wasn’t joining a band that didn’t know where to go; they knew exactly where they wanted to go. It was just a question of whether I was going to join them, and whether I could both elaborate and collaborate with them, and as I say it was all down to the arranging. It really didn’t matter who wrote the song just as long as Yes arranged it, then it would come out sounding like Yes.
Putting you on the spot, what would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?
(Hysterical laughter) okay well I am looking for my first reactions, simply because I am not going to dwell on this (laughter). I can’t deny that with the success of Yes, there were a few magical moments. For example we played Madison Square Gardens a few times, and when you play that place, and you come off stage and your lovely wife is waiting for you in the dressing room, you feel like you have finally made it, and when you finally compose your thoughts you think to yourself ‘just how much better could this be?’ (laughter). You are at Madison Square Gardens and the crowd are outside still screaming for more.
Other things like having a few hit records; me being named the top guitarist here in the UK, and about to become the top guitarist over in America, those kinds of things, those ingredients, make you feel happy, but I do promise you that I didn’t exactly let them go to my head, neither did I decide that I had done it all now (laughter). I hear that the late great guitarist Merle Travis, whenever he had some success, he used to say, “well I’ll go back home now and put my feet up” (laughter). He always said that after success a guitarist needs to go back to work; he believed that was when the work started; when you had been given the opportunity, as you have got the people listening.
That is what I wanted more than anything else, to know that my music was being heard. To me, that might be the most important thing about all of this. I would hate to be able to play like this and that nobody knew that I even existed. I know a few guitarists, who play great, but they are completely unknown and that might be a particularly hard thing for them to accept and put up with. Another example would be Albert Lee, who is one of my favourite artists from the UK, who has played with The Everly Brothers and Emmy Lou Harris to name but two. Albert really is a phenomenal guitarist, and yet you know that you most probably have to be a guitarist to know about Albert.
He is so good, and he didn’t really want the kind of success that I did. He never wanted to be in a band, and he would never compromise, but that’s where Albert and I differ, I did learn to compromise. Not only am I good, and I have some people skills otherwise I simply wouldn’t be here (laughter). The one thing that I quickly found out was that compromising really can work. You don’t even have to compromise one hundred percent you just have to do it to where you allow people to realise that you are not an idiot, and you are not an egotist, but you are actually going to enhance their career as much as they are going to enhance your career. And it works; all of the other members of Yes really did enhance my career (laughter). So, it never would have worked if I had been a total egomaniac and it was all down to me. Having said that, it always amazes me as to just how many people still come up with that scenario.
You are currently busy rehearsing for your forthcoming UK tour. Are you looking forward to being back out on the road?
Yes, I am I really am immensely. It will be almost three years since we last toured, and let me tell you, that is a very long time. Being honest with you I have to say that at this moment in time, I have absolutely no idea as to how I am going to feel. People have told me that after the break you do feel really good; you get back in there and think ‘oh yes, this is great’. What you have to remember is that I am seventy-five, I am pretty healthy, touch wood, and I am kind of ticking over on my music and my love of the guitar the same as my love for my children, my grandchildren, and my wife. Basically, they have all kept me balanced.
Having said that, for me to get back on stage is going to be interesting, if not fascinating for a while. I don’t know, I think that I am going to be patient. I think that it will take a little bit of building, together with a little bit of rehearsal. My moto is that I am as ready as I can be, If I’m not ready then that is completely my fault, because I didn’t practice enough, and I didn’t do enough homework. However, I won’t allow that to happen. We will have enough homework, we will have enough rehearsal, and I doubt whether anyone will be that nervous really.
You will be here in Nottingham at the Royal Concert Hall on Saturday 18th June. Do you enjoy performing here in our fair city?
I have performed in Nottingham a few times now and I always find the city to be a pretty nice place. Let’s just hope that it is still nice as I haven’t been there for a while (laughter). As you know, we haven’t done as much travelling as we usually do and that is purely and simply down to Covid-19. I absolutely love performing at the Royal Concert Hall and I will remember it as the place where I have not trod the boards in many years due to the virus. There will be some compromising and there will be some whinging but basically, like I said earlier, we have played at Madison Square Gardens but basically every stage is an opportunity to connect. I like twiddling on my guitar, I like the guitar to sound great, I like to feel good, I like to wear good clothes, I like to tune up my voice before I go on, but basically, the most important part is to put that guitar on me, plug the thing in and let me go.
On that note Steve, let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today, it really has been wonderful.
Thanks Kevin you take care, and I will see you when we get to Nottingham. Bye for now.
Kevin Cooper - UK Music Reviews
Monday, February 20, 2023 11:17 AM
INTERVIEW: GEOFF DOWNES
May 23, 2022
By: Kevin Cooper
Geoff Downes, an English keyboardist, songwriter, and record producer with the progressive rock band Yes and the supergroup Asia, chats with Kevin Cooper about forming The Buggles with Trevor Horn, playing Madison Square Garden with Yes, performing with Asia at The Budokan in Tokyo and the subsequent release of the deluxe box set and the forthcoming 2022 UK tour with Yes.
Geoff Downes, is an English keyboardist, songwriter, and record producer who gained fame as a member of the new wave group The Buggles with Trevor Horn, the progressive rock band Yes and the supergroup Asia.
In 1977 he formed The Buggles with Horn and he enjoyed success with their first album, The Age Of Plastic which was released in 1980 and which included the worldwide hit single, Video Killed The Radio Star.
In 1980 Downes joined Yes with Horn and released their album, Drama, the same year. After Yes disbanded in 1981, he helped Horn to produce a second Buggles album, Adventures In Modern Recording in 1981, although he was only primarily involved in half of it.
He then co-founded Asia with ex-Yes fellow musician Steve Howe. He left the band in 1986. In 2005 Downes reunited the original Asia line up and rejoined Yes in 2011, and he is currently a member of both groups.
Downes has also released seven solo studio albums, the first being The Light Program in 1987 and the last being Electronica in 2010.
Whilst busy promoting his Asia In Asia Deluxe Box Set and rehearsing for the forthcoming tour of the UK with Yes, he took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.
Geoff, good afternoon, how are you today?
Hello Kevin, I’m very well thank you and just how are you mate?
All is good thanks and before we move on, let me firstly thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.
That’s okay, it’s good that you are still interested enough in what we are doing to want to speak to me.
And just how is life treating you at this moment in time?
Well, what can I say; life at the moment is really good if not a little hectic (laughter). We have all been getting our sleeves rolled up for the forthcoming Yes tour and let me tell you, we are all really excited about it. It is almost three years now that Yes was out on the road and that’s a long time for a bunch of old guys such as us (laughter). We are all really looking forward to it, and I think that it’s going to be a great show. Being totally honest with you, this one, compared to previous Yes tours is going to be a relatively short one, but there is plenty more coming up elsewhere later in the year, but having said all of that, this first leg here in the UK is going to be great.
I was fortunate enough to photograph you at The Symphony Hall Birmingham on Tuesday 20th March 2018 when you were performing your Yes At 50 Tour.
Did you really, well that’s great, and being totally honest with me, just what did you think (laughter).
I had a fantastic evening.
Thank you for saying that the cheques in the post (laughter). The Birmingham Symphony Hall really is a great venue, but we are Nottingham bound on this tour, where we will perform in The Royal Concert Hall which I am told really is a great venue.
That’s right; you will be performing here in Nottingham on Saturday 18th June. I have heard a whisper that this will actually be the first time that you have ever played at The Royal Concert Hall. Is that correct?
(Laughter) and just who have you been talking to (laughter). Yes, that is absolutely correct; this will be my first time playing at The Royal Concert Hall. Is it a nice venue?
The only criticism that I get from people who have actually performed there is that they all feel that the walls have been painted a little too light, which means that you can still see the audience even when the house lights are taken down. People have likened it to performing on a cruise ship. But apart from that it is an absolutely great venue.
Oh really, well that’s a bit weird isn’t it. So, it’s not total darkness then when you are out on the stage. Well let’s just hope that it doesn’t destroy the atmosphere in any way. I’m sure that people will be focused on what is happening in front of them on the stage and not on the interior décor (laughter). But thank you for that’s; it is useful to know. Perhaps I should tell the audience to come along wearing their favourite designer sunglasses, that would help wouldn’t it (laughter).
How did you survive lockdown?
Well, I think that we all went a bit crazy. Not exactly stir crazy but I have to say that it didn’t stop us creating, and that was the most important thing for the guys in the band. We still managed to make music all be it in a different format, certainly working remotely, especially as half of the band now live in the States whilst the other half is here in the UK. It was a method that I was personally used to, working with the Downes Braide Association because together with Chris (Braide) I was working and recording in exactly that way. This was just exchanging files over the internet. It is something that I definitely feel that people have got more used to now, so it wasn’t that hard for us to adapt to that.
Having said all of that, it has to be said that there is nothing quite like being in a studio together with the rest of the band; that really is something that is quite special. In the same way, I think that it can be equally creative in the way that we applied ourselves to it, and that was most certainly the one thing which kept us all going, knowing that we could still go forward and create rather than just sitting there, not being allowed to go out anywhere.
Long gone are the days of flying a master tape all over the world.
Yes, they have, they totally have gone. That is something which you never hear of nowadays. This so-called new method of recording has been like this for a good few years now, especially when you talk about collaborations. The artists who supposedly record these collaborations actually never meet (laughter). They never get to meet; one of them will record the vocals in a studio on one side of America whilst the other part of the vocals will be recorded over here in the UK. So, as you can imagine, it is something that has been going on for quite some time now. Having said that, it is an interesting way of working because people are recording their parts on their own; they are not made to feel restricted in any way so it can actually, in some ways, have some benefit whereby they can all go their own way and hopefully everything comes together.
Just put my mind at ease and assure me that Yes will not go down the same route as the hologram Whitney Houston or ABBA (laughter).
(Laughter) no, we are trying our very best to avoid that one (laughter). And of course, ABBA is doing a similar sort of thing aren’t they but let me assure you that Yes will continue to always play live. As long as we are capable of playing live, then we will play live and let me tell you, there is nothing like it, even if you have put on a bit of weight, or you have lost a bit of hair or whatever it is, there is still something about being in that situation with some guys in a band that you respect, that you get on with and that you enjoy making music with.
You mention the ABBA thing, I don’t know if you have seen it or not, but they have actually made them look younger than they did when they were making records back in the 70s (laughter).
(Laughter) yes, I have, and it is almost like an age reversal process. It really is quite bizarre. To be totally honest with you, I’m really not a fan of the whole hologram thing. It’s a bit like looking at a cartoon really isn’t it (laughter).
It is; it really is. When I first saw the images, it took me back to 1969 and the song Sugar, Sugar which was originally recorded by the cartoon band The Archies (laughter).
That is so very true. One of the beauties about a band like Yes, and certainly from my own standpoint in Yes, is the fact that every night is different; you are not following any specific brief, you are simply up there, you get on a high simply by playing to the audience, and it’s great to receive their appreciation for what it is that you are doing. A hologram is not going to experience any of that side of it (laughter). It has always been very important within Yes that there has always been a very strong live presence.
Now, I would like to speak to you about the Asia In Asia Deluxe Box Set Geoff, is that okay?
Yes, that’s absolutely fine. I am quite happy to talk about it and explain just how it all came together and how it all happened.
Let me firstly say that I received my copy a few days ago now and I have to say that it really is a classy, professional, and fantastic item that I am sure all Asia fans will be scrambling to get their hands on.
It is, isn’t it? When I first received my copy, I thought, ‘well, someone has really pushed the boat out here’ because it has got all of the ingredients of an absolutely phenomenal package and certainly with all of the different coloured vinyl, the badges, the pins, together with the artwork which I firmly believe is one of Roger Deans most explosive things that he has ever done. So, it has got all of the hallmarks of being a very collectable item, I think.
How much input did you personally have with the project?
Well, I think that it was more to do with the fact that the concert was available but it was only a bootleg recording that was circulating and to be honest, it really was very poor quality. When we signed the album over to BMG, who are handling a lot of the Asia catalogue now, they really felt that it warranted this super dooper treatment, and we were all very much behind it. I had to approve the audio recording and that side of things, plus we had to approve the artwork too. I have to say that I think that everyone was totally blown away with it, and we all said, “let’s just go with this because it really is great”. In terms of the one concert that we performed, almost forty years ago now, I personally feel that it really does show in great detail exactly where we were at during that time.
I have to say that, in my opinion, the remixes really do sound fantastic.
Yes, I have to totally agree with you on that point and say that they have really cleaned them up nicely. I have to say that the concert now sounds much better than I remember it sounding at the time (laughter). It is a very collectable piece, and when you sit in front of it, it really is like a proper memento. It really is a great package.
I have to say that I have just one small criticism of the box set.
Really, what’s that?
Well, I have hunted high and low on mine, both inside and out, and I simply can’t find any autographs anywhere (laughter).
(Laughter) well, there you go. Maybe, just maybe, if you bring it along to The Royal Concert Hall on Saturday 18th June, I will get it signed for you.
Whenever I am looking at the box set two words always spring to mind; professional and classy. I think that it is most certainly a must have for all Asia fans.
Yes, I think so too; I totally agree with you on that point. Aside from the fact that it is the only concert that Greg (Lake) played with us, which always means that some Asia fans might say, “without John Wetton it is probably something that I wouldn’t want to have”. I think that you have got to look at these things in a 360-degree fashion and say, “well, that is where the band was at the time” and this is a great reminder of just what we were all doing at the time. From my standpoint, having gone to Japan for the first time which was an enormous experience, together with the whole wave of MTV behind it, plus the fact that we were bouncing off three different satellites, having had to buy one hours’ worth of time off a specific satellite, if it had gone wrong then we would have lost the show completely. It really was exciting stuff and pretty ground-breaking at that time.
Is the box set a pretty good representation of the events of that evening at The Budokan In Tokyo?
I have to say that I think that it is pretty good. I would certainly say that there are some very useful bits of information within the package as well about just how we had to record a parallel show just in case the satellite link did go down. So, we recorded an entire show which was running in tandem with the live broadcast, so it would have been fairly easy for them to switch that over, and feed in the backup as it were. Thankfully that never happened, so it is raw in that essence, but it does capture exactly what we were about that night. I’m very proud of it as it was a tough thing to pull off particularly in a country that we had very little or no knowledge of.
The reaction of the fans, not just the ones who were receiving it via satellite, but the actual Japanese fans that were in the audience, was incredible. People were always telling us that the Japanese fans were really quiet and that they just sat there, listened to the show, applauded during the breaks in the songs and then they went quiet again. However, it was a pretty raucous night and that surprised me a lot actually (laughter).
Considering that the concert took place some thirty-nine years ago now, it sounds as though you have got a fantastic recollection of the events of the night?
Yes, I have. I can’t remember what I did last night but I can remember the concert very well (laughter). That is most probably down to the fact that it was such an iconic event, and it was a very special time to go out to Japan for the first time, seeing just how crazy the fans were. It really was like Beatlemania when we got to the airport. It was a great thing for us because we hadn’t always had a great following there.
Did it feel at the time that you were involved in something special?
It did, yes, it really did because there were lots of film crews there; MTV had given away tickets via a competition that they were running, where they were to fly people out to Japan for the show. All of the top MTV DJ’s were there, so yes, it really was a big thing. David Mallet, the British director, who had worked with (David) Bowie and Queen was there and it really was big league, that’s for sure. It was nerve wracking as much as anything, but it was also very rewarding.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing and looking back, would you change anything?
Not really. Some people might say, “If it had been with John Wetton then it would have been a completely different show.” However, I personally don’t think that it would have been a different show, simply because it was already choreographed, and everything had been put together, pretty meticulously I must add. It is what it is; it is a moment in history that has been extremely well presented within this box set.
You have mentioned John leaving and Greg stepping in. Were there any nerves at that point?
That was a very tough decision for John particularly to make, and also for Greg. We were committed to do this show; we had already signed various contracts, together with all sorts of stuff, so the legalities were that we simply were not able not to do the show. When we got Greg in, having worked closely with Carl (Palmer) as we know and Greg having a similar type of voice that was in King Crimson; Greg really was a natural choice to come in and do it. I personally feel that he did remarkably well; he didn’t know the songs at all, the range of the songs was slightly higher than his normal singing voice. Because of that, we had to transpose, which was a bit of a nightmare for me because I didn’t have an auto bar which I could simply drop everything down a tone, or something like that. Moving forward from there, I had to relearn all of the parts in different keys, which at that time was something that I did at music college so I should have known how to do it (laughter).
We have to remember that this was the very first concert broadcast live from Tokyo to America.
Yes, I think that’s right. As I have said earlier, it really was pretty hairy simply because these things can and do go wrong, even now with all of the modern technology. Bearing in mind just how much technology has come on, particularly in communications, when you think about what we were dealing with back then, back in 1983 we didn’t have anything like the communication network that we have now. I think that they were pushing boundaries within the technical department as much as anything.
Most people, including many of the fans will say that Heat Of The Moment is the standout track on the album. Did it feel special when you wrote and recorded it?
I think that when John and I wrote that song, it was an afterthought on the first album funnily enough. The original track when we were discussing it with the record label was going to be on the Only Time Will Tell album, as the leadoff track. I think that both John and I knew that we needed something else and so just before we were due to go into the studio to record the album, we got together one afternoon and said, “‘look, what about this”’ and we put it together in one afternoon. It all came together very, very quickly. As soon as the record label heard Heat Of The Moment they instantly said, “that’s it, that’s the song we want, it really is amazing”.
Do you ever tire of playing Heat Of The Moment?
I will tell you what, when you have written something that people know and recognise and it is still an evergreen song that is played on radio stations all over the world, I still get a chill whenever I hear it being played on the radio. Whenever I play it on stage, I never feel as though I am on autopilot or anything like that. I really do get a kick out of it because I think to myself, ‘I wrote this song with John; we have got all of these people in front of us in the audience, they are jumping up and down enjoying themselves to it’ and that in itself is, to me, a real privilege.
You formed the band in 1981 with Steve (Howe). What was the catalyst behind that?
(Laughter) that really was a strange set of circumstances. I had continued writing with Steve after we had both left Yes; we had been working together on some stuff, and John Wetton’s then girlfriend was working in our management office, and Steve got talking to John, and they started working together on some stuff. Then, they were looking for someone to join them on the drums, and they mentioned Carl (Palmer), so Carl was asked to come in, and then they said, “we need a keyboard player”, and that’s when Steve said, “I have been working with Geoff in Yes and he is the man” (laughter). So, I went in, we all started to play together, and everyone looked around and said, “here we go”’ (laughter).
Whenever you read the names off, Downes, Howe, Lake and Palmer, you were a supergroup long before supergroups were heard of.
I think so, yes. In fact, that is how the record label billed us. They said, “this is the first British supergroup”’ and so it became this tag that they put on us. As you say, it was early days of the supergroups; there had been Blind Faith before, but in terms of a commercial entity that was mainstream music, these four guys had all come from progressive bands, not so much me but certainly the three other guys; here they were playing mainstream music, that was accessible to college kids all over America. That was the thing that the record label liked to pigeonhole us with, and say, “I told you, this is a supergroup” (laughter).
Putting you firmly on the spot, what is your favourite Asia album?
I can’t deny that the first album, Asia, to me will always stand out because I think that you can look at these things with hindsight and, with hindsight it doesn’t really have a bad track on it. I think that it is a very powerful album, and I think that it is also a very varied album. It has all of the ingredients that you look for in great music, in terms of the fact that the melodies are there, the arrangements are there, the performances are there from all of the musicians, so when you put all of that together, then you put Roger Dean’s wonderful logo with the dragon coming out of the sea, we managed to get all of those things perfectly right on that album. I would definitely say that was in there as well.
Taking you back to 2005 how was the Asia reunion?
Being totally open and honest with you, I personally liked some of the stuff that we did on that reunion tour back in 2005, when we got back together again. I thought that my song writing was as strong as ever when we got back together and maybe the only other album that stands out in my memory and one that I would feel very happy about doing it again is the Omega album. There really are some great songs on there, I think.
Well, I last saw Asia performing live at Rockin’ The Park here in Clumber Park, Nottingham back in 2013 when you opened for Family and Roger Chapman.
That’s right, yes, we did, and I remember that. That really was a brilliant show; we had a great evening.
I have to ask, is Asia still an ongoing concern and will we see you back out on the road here in the UK?
I’m so pleased that you have asked me that. Well, as you know, it is now some forty years since the first iconic Asia album came out, so we are planning, right now as we speak, to do a tour of the States this coming August, and I am talking about the whole of August pretty much (laughter). We have been over there before; in fact we went over there three years ago now, when we were involved with The Royal Affair Tour. Carl (Palmer) and I will be in there somewhere, those two well known, rather old stalwarts (laughter) plus we will have Billy (Sherwood) bass and Marc (Bonilla) on guitar, both of whom will be with us once again.
Marc spent some years playing with the Keith Emmerson Band who, funnily enough, sounds remarkably like Greg (Lake). In fact, I would go as far as to say that Marc sounds like a cross between Greg and John. I have to say that we are really looking forward to it, these anniversaries keep coming around and I feel that it is a shame not to celebrate them in some way. Asia really has been an important part of my life and career if you like, because it was one of the bands that I formed. Sometimes, when you are there at the front end of a band, it has a very special meaning or even an extra special meaning for you because you have been there right from the very beginning.
You mention the fact that you played on The Royal Affair Tour. I recently spoke to John Lodge (Moody Blues) and he was telling me just how much of a wonderful time he had with you all.
Yes, we did, and let me tell you, John Lodge is a truly wonderful guy. Funnily enough, during lockdown John and I wrote a couple of songs together; remotely of course (laughter). After that, John sent me a song a couple of months ago and I was going to put some keyboards on it, so I did that, and John really liked what I did on it. He really is a nice guy, and when I was in Barbados, John came over to help me celebrate my wedding anniversary. He came along, we had a big party, and it really was fantastic. He really is a lovely guy.
He really is; it’s just a pity that he supports Birmingham City (laughter).
That’s right; John really is a Bluenose (laughter). He goes to the games with our mutual mate, Jasper Carrot. They are both Birmingham Blue through and through.
You mentioned earlier about celebrating anniversaries. When I was speaking earlier to Steve about the forthcoming fiftieth anniversary of Close To The Edge, I asked him if the record company would be doing anything special to commemorate the event and he said no, the only thing happening is Yes going out on the road playing the album in its entirety. I thought that it was an anniversary that should be celebrated in some way.
Yes, I totally agree with you on that, and I do find it a bit odd really. If I remember correctly, as I recall they did something last year or it may have even been the year before with Close To The Edge. I think that they repackaged it and added a few more bits to it. However, none of what they did coincided with the anniversary which I really did feel was a bit odd. Thinking about it, I suppose that the record companies have their schedules, and that’s the way that these labels operate. They have a window, and they want to get something out, or they wait too long, and the moment passes, and the anniversary has gone. To be totally honest with you, that is something that we, as a band, are never really in control of.
You mentioned being at the front end of a band and being there since the beginning; well I can’t talk to you without mentioning The Buggles.
(Laughter) well there you go, that is going back even further.
You and Trevor (Horn) were responsible for Island Record’s very first number one here in the UK.
That’s right, yes, we were.
That was a fantastic achievement when you consider the calibre of the artists that were signed to Island at that time.
I think that Island had already had nine records reaching number two before The Buggles came along. When you think about Traffic, Stevie Winwood, Robert Palmer, Bob Marley of course, Roxy Music, they really did have the creme da la creme of the music business at that time. Generally, Island kept hold of their roster of artists for only one or two records; bands like Free and Emmerson, Lake and Palmer; it really was a fantastic label to be on. Chris Blackwell really was a proper guru, not at spotting talent, but having really good people around him. He really did know just how to run a record label. He was very much an artist’s man, he really did have a lot of business acumen, but he always put the artists first.
When Trevor and I were signed by them, it was an unusual signing in a way because Island had a lot of Reggae acts and they had most of the progressive British rock acts as well, prior to us joining; it really was a great label to be on. There was a certain kudos to the Island logo, and with Chris Blackwell at the helm, it was incredible.
And you were also in the right place at the right time with the iconic video for Video Killed The Radio Star being played all over the new kid on the block, MTV.
That was all down to Russell Mulcahy who later went on to produce some really big videos for the likes of Duran Duran, and I think that he got very expensive after that. Video Directors, at that moment in time, were getting a fortune or should I say that they were spending a fortune on these promo clips (laughter). Then of course, as you mentioned, MTV were on the ascendancy which meant that every record label had to fork out for their artists to make a video that was going to get played on MTV because it was all very well getting your record played on the radio, but MTV was an instant which would captivate people and MTV would be playing your video at least ten times a day.
I can’t let you go without mentioning Yes, can I (laughter).
Only if you must (laughter).
I was going to put you on the spot and ask you which you preferred working with, Asia, Yes or The Buggles?
To be honest with you, and this is not Geoff Downes sitting on the fence, but I have to say that I love working with both Asia and Yes. Having said that, I do still talk to Trevor about The Buggles as well. We still play around with the idea of going out and doing a few shows here and there, as we have done in the past. Each band out of those three, and really, I should also include the Downes Braide Association with Chris Braide, they are all very different in a way because, certainly with Yes, from my standpoint I’m not playing a lot of my parts; I’m actually playing music that was written by other keyboard players. So, that to me is much more of a learning curve.
However, with something like Asia because the music is embedded within me, I don’t even have to think about that, and the same goes with The Buggles stuff. As I have mentioned earlier, when you are there at the beginning, it has an extra special meaning for you.
You have now been in the music for some forty-eight years. Have you enjoyed the ride so far?
(Laughter) what can I say, so far so good. I’m still kicking along, and I am still enjoying it. I always consider it to be a great privilege the fact that I can still do something that I love doing and that really is a great privilege. It’s an honour that the fans have been so dedicated and have stuck with me through all the various ups and downs. There you go, there’s a quote for you (laughter).
If I had to push you for just one, what would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?
That’s pretty tough for me to answer to be honest. I think that when we played Madison Square Garden with Yes, that was a really iconic venue to play. It had always been a dream of mine that I would be on stage with a band who I respected and who I was really into as a teenager. And then all of a sudden, there I was standing on a stage in the middle of New York City, together with these amazing musicians. That was a real milestone for me. There have been many highlights, even going way back to The Buggles when I first heard Video Killed The Radio Star on Capital Radio in London, that was a moment that I will definitely remember. I am so thankful that I have been fortunate to have some great times which have left me with some really great memories.
What was the first record that you bought?
The very first record that I bought was A Scottish Soldier by Andy Stewart.
Who did you first see performing live?
Don’t laugh but that would have been the Carl Denver Trio.
What was the last song or piece of music to make you cry?
I can see why you leave that question to the end (laughter). That really is a good one, flipping heck (laughter). To be honest with you, I always cry at music. I think that it would have been The Greatest Showman that always makes me cry. I really am too soppy (laughter). If I go to the theatre, like I have quite recently, I always cry at The Phantom Of The Opera. For me, it is a combination of the music together with seeing all of the actors up there on stage, and when they all take a bow at the end of the show, that really is emotional. My wife will say to me, “just what are you crying for?” (laughter).
On that note Geoff let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today, it’s been great.
No problem, Kevin, I am really pleased that we finally got to chat in the end. You stay safe and I will see you when we get up there to Nottingham. Don’t forget to bring along your box set (laughter).
Prog Magazine #130
Tuesday, May 31, 2022 11:37 PM
Bill Bruford stars on the cover of the new issue of Prog Magazine.
Prog Magazine #128
Friday, March 11, 2022 3:29 PM
Yes - Close To The Edge at 50 on the cover of the March 2022 issue of Prog #128.
Eoghan Lyng - Far Out
Tuesday, August 23, 2022 11:26 PM
Far Out Meets: Steve Howe discusses ballads, Beatles and playing guitar with Queen
SAT 4TH JUN 2022
Editor’s note: This interview was conducted, completed and written before the death of Alan White. As such, the interview represents a musician who was still thriving in the present, and Steve Howe’s answers reflect that. In order to be truthful to the intent of the interview, we have reproduced the piece as it was intended to be released. Jay Schellen will perform in White’s place for the upcoming Close to the Edge tour, which now doubles as a tribute to White.
Steve Howe is disappointed in Brexit. He’s disappointed that his country’s vote has made it harder for him to travel to Europe with Yes – the pioneering progressive outfit who have carried the banner through seven singular, disparate decades – where he can learn more about his culture. And mostly he’s disappointed because he senses how much of an impediment it’s putting on my native Ireland.
Yes aren’t particularly known for their political proclamations – they’re too recondite for that – but Howe sounds almost apologetic discussing the situation that is pushing England and Ireland further apart after decades spent reconciling past wounds. Because any guitarist of Howe’s stature – whether it’s playing the bellowing riff for ‘Heat of The Moment’, or guesting on Innuendo, Queen’s most satisfying album since 1982 – shouldn’t feel duty-bound to apologise for anything, especially since his back catalogue is rich with contrast and dense, diverse guitar hooks.
“I have a good memory,” he chuckes, which comes in handy, because I’m interested in hearing about everything from Tomorrow to Asia, by way of a possible quote about Rory Gallagher. Howe says he must have performed with Gallagher on a select number of occasions, but admires the musician’s approach to guitar. The Cork native made an impression on the world, inspiring everyone from Brian May to Andy Partridge. In an interview with Far Out, May revealed that Gallagher gifted him his “sound”, and although Howe can’t regurgitate the sentiment, he is happy to name three formative musicians that inspired him to pick up his instrument and soar.
“Well, if I’m to give you three, I’ll go with Les Paul, Chet Atkins and Wes Montgomery,” Howe reveals. “Chet Atkins was a great country player, and came up with a great country picking style; he played on The Everly Brothers stuff. But he also made a lot of great solo records, and was a very versatile player, so he inspired me to become a versatile musician.” As it happens, I recognise Atkins for his work with Mark Knopfler, the former Dire Straits frontman who has spent much of his solo work dedicated to replicating troubled instrumental passages, that honour the Celtic traditions (Local Hero and Cal are exhilarating in their ambition).
But given the crackled line – Howe’s calling from England, while I’m typing in Dublin – I ask if it’s the same Atkins who performed with Knopfler. “You’re absolutely right,” Howe says, sounding impressed at my knowledge. “Mark Knopfler and Chet Atkins teamed up on a few occasions. But over time, I came to pick up other influences, such as Albert Lee. But the three guitarists – Les Paul, Chet Atkins and Wes Montgomery – were very good musicians. I discovered Les Paul through a collection of 78’s my parents had, and they were very inventive records. And Wes Montgomery was an incredible jazz guitarist.” Howe says he’s looking forward to the upcoming Yes gig because they haven’t been to “Ireland in years”.
Yes are due to perform in Vicar St. on June 22nd, bolstered by Jon Davison’s scintillating vocals. Yes mainstay Geoff Downes will be familiar to fans of the band, but the group also boasts Billy Sherwood, who has adeptly filled in for the late Chris Squire since 2015. Yes have always been interesting, because they didn’t write from the perspective of a keyboardist (Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Genesis) or a lead guitarist (Pink Floyd, Rush), but tailored the music to accommodate for both instruments.
Listening to The Quest – Yes’s most recently produced work – Howe and Downes work as if creating a dialogue, allowing one person to speak, before another takes over, and brings the conversation to another point. Howe and Downes have form, having worked in Yes and Asia, creating some of the more indelible hooks in British rock. I ask Howe what Downes is like to work with.
“That’s a loose question,” he says, humming to find the appropriate response to the question. And then he steadies himself: “I first started working with him in 1979. It was during the Drama album. He’s a great musician: Geoff was using samples long before they were popular, and these days he can play his stuff, or Tony Kaye’s stuff, or anything Yes does.”
Howe vouched for the keyboardist to bandmates Carl Palmer and John Wetton, and the quartet formed Asia, a confluence of prog, pop and blues hooks, laced under one tidy banner. The last to join, Downes was also the only member to play on every Asia release, but Howe sounds buoyant when he recalls the 2006 concerts that reunited the original four members.
“Geoff sang a lot of high parts, and I sang a lot of lower harmonies. I did a lot of singing on ‘One Step Closer’, so it’s almost like a duo. There’s a lot of good harmonies on the first album, but there was less on the second album, because it was so distanced from the original. I didn’t do much singing on that one – I probably wasn’t invited to either.”
Howe’s joking, although he’s more serious when he says the record label seemed to highlight Geoff Downes and John Wetton as the writers, when the band was a more sophisticated cocktail of past influences, spanning pop, prog, blues, ballad and Beatlesque melody. “I tell you what we didn’t sing on was ‘Heat of The Moment’,” Howe reveals. “John wanted to sing all the harmonies himself for that one, so he did.”
No doubt inspired by The Beatles, Howe’s work dipped into the far corners of rock, each riff and harmony vocal pushing the expectations of the audience in question. He’s clearly a fan of their work, although I sense his eyebrows are arching when I tell him that when someone asks me to play “something” on guitar, I play the opening chords to the George Harrison standard. It’s a groaner of a joke, but it does lead us on to ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’, a pulsating ballad Tomorrow – a 1960s power group that Howe was a part of – re-produced in a style that was more barren, brusque and rollicking.
“I don’t remember too much about it,” he chuckles. “But it’s a Beatles song, so it’s hard to go wrong with it? It wasn’t really characteristic of what Tomorrow was doing, but I liked the sound of it. It’s easy to do a good song in a variety of different ways.” And what of his work on ‘Innuendo’, the storming Queen that was arguably more powerful than the equally ambitious ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’?
“Queen played me the Innuendo album, but they saved the ‘Innuendo’ track until last,” Howe admits. “John Deacon wasn’t there: it was Brian, Roger and Freddie. Brian had formulated all these parts on the sort of Gibson guitar that I played, and asked me to play on the track. Maybe Brian didn’t feel up to it, but I’m sure he could have come up with something.”
Ultimately Howe wasn’t going to turn down a challenge of this magnitude. “I think they wanted something like Paco de Lucia, but I can’t play like de Lucia. But I’m a player, so I was happy to improvise something, so I did.” It’s a distinction Howe should be proud of: John Deacon, Roger Taylor and Freddie Mercury each played guitar on record, but Howe might be only person outside of their orbit to lay down a guitar backing.
And the guitars bristle against the backdrop, padding the way for the ferocious frenzy of drums to follow. “I realised early on that my music is defined by the drummers,” Howe explains. “I learned it from people like `(Tomorrow’s) Twink and John Melton, who played in my first band, The Syndicats.” His son, Dylan Howe, provides the backbone for much of his solo output, lacing the work with a selection of muscular back pedals, in a style that feels like a hybrid of Carl Palmer’s barrelling, backpedals and Bill Bruford’s more nuanced style of drumming.
And then there’s Alan White, who has served as percussionist for Yes, fleshing out the band’s melodies with a selection of bouncy, Beatlesque, drum fills (fittingly, White played on John Lennon’s Imagine album, including THAT song.) “Alan isn’t a showman like Carl is,” Howe explains. “But he has great stage presence. Carl’s a real powerhouse of a drummer, and he’s different to Bill Bruford, who’s more of a minimalist player.” Howe points out that the stage layout is deceptive: Drummers traditionally sit behind the singers and guitarists, yet they count the beat in, cementing the soundscape for the frontmen to strut their stuff. “Secretly,” he chuckles, “they’re leading everybody.”
His comment makes sense: In the Get Back series, John Lennon and Paul McCartney look back at Ringo Starr to count them in, just as they prepare themselves to sing in front of an astonished audience, walking across the streets of London. “And the real star there is Billy Preston,” Howe replies. “The cameras don’t show him on the roof, which is a pity, because he changed the way The Beatles were rehearsing. A lot of the chord shapes were inspired by Billy. He was not unlike Stevie Wonder in that way.”
But no matter the importance of drummers, Howe agrees with Bill Bruford – whom Far Out interviewed before speaking to Howe – that nobody has “the complete upper hand.” This brings us to The Quest, which to my ears, is the best Yes album of the last 15 years.
The guitars are crisp and warm; the keyboards are coiled and sensible, and then there’s a sense of journey to the lyrics that fit the album title. Howe explains that while the Covid-19 pandemic wasn’t ideal, technology made it easier for the group to record The Quest. “It’s all changed during the last ten, 15 years,” he says. “Sharing files has made things easier. Tony Levin sent me over half of the bass for my solo album, Spectrum. Fantastic.”
Howe is credited as producer, a task he stepped up to for the sake of the work in question. “We needed an inhouse filterer and producer,” he says, explaining they needed a “guy who was there gathering the ideas.”
Everyone chipped in from their studios, and Howe credits bassist Billy Sherwood with composing some of the keyboard hooks on the album. “He’s probably the most well-rounded musician,” the guitarist explains, pinpointing his harmony vocals, and strong ear for melody. “He was initially only supposed to fill in while Chris Squire was in hospital, but sadly Chris passed away, so it was a fairly intimidating position for Billy.”
Sherwood needn’t have worried: The Quest showcases a bass player who honours the work of his immediate predecessor but imbues a great deal of his own personality into the work. The album is flush with potential and opportunity, creating a sense of atmosphere that will compensate for the Brexit vote that has disappointed many, including the guitarist.
Ever the professionals, it’s unlikely that this setback will be an impediment for the fans, and buoyed by the importance of legacy and legend, Yes are no doubt prepared for the challenge ahead of them. And unlike the Brexit vote that has caused many in England to question their future, Yes are comfortable in their abilities to carry the legacy on into the future.
I ask Howe what Yes fans can expect from the upcoming gigs, and whether or not the band are going to use pyrotechnics. “We know how to present ourselves,” he replies, “We’re not just going out with just amps.” Howe says the band will use “animation” onstage, but the lighting will be arranged in such a way to show Yes for all their glory. And judging by the recent album, the finished results should be glorious.
Postscript: This piece was conducted and written before Alan White’s untimely death. Yes’ Close to the Edge tour will begin on June 15th, and will perform across Britain and Ireland. The band are dedicating the tour to the departed drummer.
Joe Bosso - Guitar Player
Tuesday, August 23, 2022 11:32 PM
"A Record Like This Was Destined to Be Made, and We Wanted to Be the Ones Making it”: Steve Howe on 50 Years of Yes's 'Close to the Edge'
By Joe Bosso
Yes's longtime axeman details the intense rehearsals, rare Gibson archtops, and inspired improvisations that formed the band's masterpiece.
"It was a really great time in our lives,” Steve Howe says, recalling the spring of 1972. His band, Yes, had hit the upper regions of the U.K. charts with their fourth album, Fragile, and much to their surprise, they did even better in the States. Tours were sold out, the venues were getting bigger, and FM stations were spinning the album tracks “Roundabout” and “Long Distance Runaround.”
As their unbroken, six-month string of concert dates began to wind down and they considered their next recording, the group felt as if they had the wind at their backs.
“Our spirits were very high,” Howe says. “We were young, enthusiastic, and adventurous, and we had this incredible breakthrough success with Fragile. We saw our next album as a real opportunity to prove our worth as a band. The door had been opened and we weren’t going to go backward. We wanted to sharpen our skills as far as writing and arranging.
"Concerts come and go, but a record is forever. I think we all had a sense that whatever we did next, it had to feel like some sort of definitive statement. A record like this was destined to be made, and we wanted to be the ones making it.”
Vast, enigmatic, full of moments of spectacular grandeur and ever-changing hues, Close to the Edge is the Lawrence of Arabia of progressive-rock albums. Comprised of just three tracks – the dizzying side-long, 18-minute title track, the equally sprawling mini epic “And You and I,” and the whacked-out, hyperactive jazz-funk album closer “Siberian Khatru” – Close to the Edge documented Yes operating at the peak of their musical powers.
At that point, the group consisted of Howe, singer Jon Anderson, bassist Chris Squire, keyboardist Rick Wakeman, and drummer Bill Bruford. Anderson was deep in thrall to Hermann Hesse’s spiritual self-help novel Siddhartha, as reflected in his cosmic lyricism. The band responded by pulling out all the stops, surging through each passage with unbridled zeal and relentless creativity.
For Howe, the widescreen canvas afforded him the opportunity to exhaust his wily eclecticism. One minute he’s unfurling gnashing, Hendrix-like riffs, the next he’s basking in elegant acoustic serenity. Each track yielded moments of meticulous plotting or go-for-broke improvisation. For a divine example of the latter, his nearly three-minute album-opening blitz is an epochal art-rock masterstroke. As definitive statements go, his playing on Close to the Edge checks all the boxes.
“We were quite fortunate in that we could do whatever we wanted,” Howe recalls. “We didn’t really have any kind of outside pressure to follow up a hit. I think, fundamentally, we were helped by the fact that Yes wasn’t a singles band.
"Obviously, ‘Roundabout’ launched our previous album, and that was all well and good, but we seemed to disregard that fact. Yes were now established, and we felt like Close to the Edge didn’t need a single. If we wanted to do a 10-minute song or even something that was longer, we could do it. And as it turned out, there were stations, particularly in America, that would play the longer songs. We lucked out.”
Close to the Edge marked the second consecutive album on which the band lineup remained unchanged, but shortly after the recording sessions finished, Bruford announced that he was leaving to join King Crimson.
“We were all taken aback, obviously,” Howe says. “Up until it happened, we felt as if things were pretty solid among all of us. Bill left mainly because of his conflicts – or should I say challenging times – with Chris wanting him to dot every bass beat with the bass drum or something. Bill had his principles and his musical taste that he wouldn’t revert from, so he left.”
Bruford, for his part, compared the jigsaw-like process of making Close to the Edge to “climbing Mount Everest.” His replacement, Alan White, stepped in with little time to prepare. [Sadly, White died on May 26, 2022, shortly after our interview with Howe.] “Fortunately for us, Alan White was on the scene and was already hanging around,” Howe explains. “He joined us in the nick of time, as we had a tour to start.”
That trek, a mammoth nine-month stint across North America, the United Kingdom, Japan, and Australasia, would be documented in the triple-LP Yessongs, released in May 1973. “All in all,” Howe declares, “we were quite lucky.”
Despite its lack of an obvious single, Close to the Edge bested its predecessor on the charts and received almost unanimous raves from critics (even the NME, issuing a somewhat mixed assessment, concluded that “on every level but the ordinary aesthetic one, it’s one of the most remarkable records pop has yet produced”). Over the decades, the album has grown in stature among critics and musicians alike, and it’s now generally regarded as a classic.
It routinely tops progressive-rock polls and has been cited by guitarists like John Petrucci, Steve Stevens, and John Frusciante as a major influence. In a recent interview, Wakeman called it the band’s finest album, and Howe agrees. “It’s got all the attributes a timeless record should have,” he notes. “It’s interesting, challenging, and exciting. It was certainly interesting and challenging to make, and dare I say, I think we broke new ground.
"You never know how something is going to be perceived as you’re recording an album. You might think that it’s going to be a landmark, but there’s just no way to judge that in the moment. You just do your best and hope for the best. So 50 years on, it’s incredible to see the long life it’s had. I hear other musicians say nice things about it, and to see it being voted best prog album of all time, it’s all very delightful.”
Before recording Close to the Edge, Yes had toured with the Mahavishnu Orchestra. I understand seeing them had a big impact on you and Jon Anderson.
"Oh, yes, but for me it started in the early ’60s. John McLaughlin was playing beautifully with Herbie Goins and the Night Timers. He had his amp on a stool, which I then started doing – I wanted it at ear level. With Herbie Goins, John was having fun being a really creative guitarist, but he hadn’t yet found his style. He found that with Mahavishnu and went on to greater things.
"Anyway, Yes had done some shows with the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Jon and I were knocked away; we felt they were the most remarkable band since the Beatles. They were totally different, and nobody can really top the Beatles, but as far as pure musicality goes, Mahavishnu was just so impressive. That’s why Close to the Edge starts with a kind of manic presentation. You wouldn’t expect a song or album ranting and blaring away for three or four minutes."
The Fragile tour was quite extensive and continued for the first month or two that you were recording Close to the Edge. How much actual writing time did you have before going into the studio?
"There was a bit. Jon and I established a pattern for writing and arranging together. It started with The Yes Album and into Fragile, where we discovered that one guy presenting a song could get knocked down very easily. But two guys? Much harder.
"We did have an awful lot of Close to the Edge arranged – parts of 'Siberian Khatru' and then 'And You and I.' Of course, a lot of credit goes to the general collective of the arranging style of the members of Yes when we were together. Jon and I had the imagination that things would project further than our little cassette once we got in the studio with everybody."
You did a bit of preproduction. Were the tunes fully fleshed out before going into Advision Studios?
"Not fully. We had our crude cassettes of ideas. I remember we went to rehearse in this dance ballroom – the Una Billings School of Dance in Shepherd’s Bush. We’d go in for afternoons. Bill wasn’t involved in arranging as much as Chris, Rick, and me, and Jon, of course.
"We were trying to find how to play these tunes and how we go from one to another. We were developing them together. The rehearsal period was fairly intense. We came out of it with mockups of sections of the music, if not parts of all of it. Some of the inventive arrangements came about in the studio. What I mean is, they became clearer to us in the studio. We’d figure out how to improve them.
"It would have been a waste of time and money to go into the studio saying, 'Okay, we’re going to start Jon and Steve’s song ‘Close to the Edge.’ We would have been there forever. We only had blocks of days, not weeks or months. We would do shows and go back into the studio. I suppose our manager was trying to get his commission, so we kept getting put back out on the road. It didn’t leave a lot of time for the studio."
Obviously, the band did a lot of overdubbing.
"Of course. We did an awful lot of overdubbing when we cut tracks. There was a lot of creativity on the part of Chris. He always liked to improvise, as did Rick, but he wanted structure around those improvisations. And he was right – there is a structure that you need so that somebody can then improvise.
"That was the key to a lot of Chris’s rather ponderous and slow approach to coming up with his final bass parts, because he was always thinking, Well, I’ve got to commit to this. And Bill was like, I’ve got to commit, too, so let’s get on with it!"
Yes had been working with Eddy Offord as engineer and co-producer for a number of years. He seemed to juggle his time between your band and Emerson, Lake & Palmer. What made him the go-to guy?
"He had been engineering the band before I arrived. On The Yes Album, we chose him to co-produce because we felt confident and comfortable with him. He had a strong personality, but he could be fun. Actually, you mention ELP – they might say that we stole him from them. [laughs]
"When it came down to the actual hard work, he was very good. If Jon was doing guide vocals in a booth, Eddy would say, 'That was a good take, but you went wrong here,' or 'I think you could do it better there.' He was our go-to opinion. He held that gauntlet in his hand, but he never abused it. He always got the best of us.
"Eddy was also very good with his editing. We would have different takes, and choosing which one worked best took skill and the right set of ears. Also remember, he was editing on tape – you literally had to cut them and splice them together. That’s a skill, and Eddy was great at it. If he had been a rubbish editor, he probably wouldn’t have lasted with us."
Your opening guitar solo on the album’s title track is quite remarkable. Was it an improvised, one-take deal or planned out?
"What I opened with [he sings the part], that was a structure that I used another guitar to harmonize with, but once it goes to the next part [he sings again], that’s an improvised take. There are so many meters, either 16 or 32 bars, and we knew we were going to do them. Those breaks had to be strategically placed in our minds. I think of myself as a composer in a way, but a lot of my music is improvised."
Which guitar did you use on that opening solo?
"Around that time, I did a strings advert for Gibson guitars, and they said, 'We’ll give you a guitar.' And I said, 'Well, I’ve always wanted an ES-345, with stereo wiring,' so they gave me one, and I plugged into two Fender Dual Showmans – or it might have been one Dual Showman and another Fender amp.
"That guitar became the Close to the Edge model, really. I liked to feature a new guitar on an album. On The Yes Album, it was the Gibson ES-175, and on Fragile I played the ES-5 Switchmaster. Playing a new guitar on an album was exciting. The guitar would feel fresh in my hands, and it made me excel in a new way."
You used a descending guitar line from one of your old songs called “Black Leather Gloves” for the “Total Mass Retain” section.
"Well, yes. That’s a reference to my old band, Bodast. We had recorded an album, but it went down the tubes and disappeared completely. The label folded and didn’t put the record out. So I said, 'Well, some of these riffs are quite good. I’ll throw them at Yes and see if they like them.' Some of my riffing came from that album, as it did with the 'Würm' part of 'Starship Trooper.' It was like a tribute to that band. The music came back, and I was proud to re-use it."
Your singing on the album is extraordinary. The way you harmonize with Jon, particularly on the “I Get Up, I Get Down” section – he’s talked about how influenced he was by the Beach Boys and the Association. Did those bands impact you, as well?
"I didn’t quite know the Association myself, but I certainly knew and loved the Beach Boys – not that I thought for a minute that Yes sounded anything like them. Actually, I hadn’t sung in public or on records until I joined Yes, but on The Yes Album there were harmonies that I could perform in my sort of naïve, untrained way. I could sing low stuff quite easily. I was a bit nervous and was sort of bluffing a bit, but in a strange way, once I started, it all happened quite fast.
"I think I benefitted from my not knowing the rules. So it’s been nice: Over the years, I’ve had more and more comments from people who like the sound of my voice."
What kind of acoustic guitar did you use on the “Cord of Life” section of “And You and I”?
"The main guitar I used was a Martin 00-18 that I bought in 1968, which is the best flattop acoustic I’ve ever had, even though I now use a Martin MC-38 Steve Howe model. Because of the cutaway, I’m much happier on that guitar. I had the 00-18, but I also used a beautiful Guild 12-string that Chris Squire had owned. I was very tempted to buy it. I think I did buy one in the end.
"There were those ones, and actually, now that I think of it, here and there I did some overdubbing with a Gibson called an FDH. It’s a very rare guitar that came to England under the Francis, Day, and Hunter [FDH] emblem. It’s a guitar I still love. It’s the second Gibson I ever bought – it cost me 50 quid.
"It’s basically a big archtop guitar, a little bigger than a 175. I still love that guitar. I’ll give you a scoop, in fact: Chris actually tracked with that guitar. His bass on 'Roundabout' was actually tracked with the FDH with a pickup on it."
How did you come up with that pedal-steel part in the “Eclipse” section? Are you using distortion and delay on it?
"Probably. But it wasn’t a pedal steel; it was a lap steel, or a Hawaiian steel – call it what you like. Nowadays I only play steels with legs because I like the guitar to be rigid, and then I can play well. If it’s on my lap, it’s hopeless, because I’m working a volume pedal as well.
"At the time, I was just sort of learning about the lap steel and its possibilities. By the time of 'Going for the One' , I played that whole song on a steel. I’d really worked on my steel playing after Close to the Edge."
“Siberian Khatru” features a riff that’s pretty much the basis for the song. How did that come about?
"Well, there’s two riffs, really. There’s the part [he sings] that I play for probably half of the song. I’m playing that with some different approaches, sometimes with a Leslie guitar, sometimes moving octaves around. Basically, that was one of Bill’s gems. He brought that in.
"It was a knockout to have that riff. I adopted it, I loved it, I played it. It’s a fundamental part of the song. But the other riff – sometimes Bill would do this if he wasn’t sure how to finish a line: He’d just mouth something, like a scat singer. That happened on several occasions on those first three albums. Bill was remarkable like that. I don’t think he realizes how much he contributed. But in the spirit of the arranging of Yes, it was the giving and taking of ideas, and we were really fluid with that."
You played two solos in the song, the second of which, the clean solo, you recorded without hearing what you were doing, as I understand.
"That’s right, yeah. We didn’t often record guitars with me standing in the big studio. I liked being in the control room, where I could really hear the music. I’d done some solos, but I didn’t like them. They just weren’t doing much for me. I had the 345 all set up and I was going to tape, and I said, 'Let’s try one without listening.' Everybody thought, He’s gone mad. But okay, do that. I played, and I didn’t even realize what I’d done, but I could see it in my mind.
"It was a different way of playing. When we listened back, I went, 'Okay, I like that.' Everybody else liked it, too. It was an eye-opener for me, because I don’t know that I would have ever played like that if I’d heard what I was doing. I truly didn’t know where I was going at the time. By not hearing it and just thinking about my fingerboard and my positionings, it came out quite good. I was delighted."
Alan White joined the band three days before the tour to support the album began. What happened there?
"It happened quickly. I mean, Aynsley Dunbar was pretty unhappy that I didn’t invite him. We were pally and we’d played together on a few recordings in the studio. I loved his drumming. When it was announced that Alan got the job, Ansley said, 'Why didn’t you give me a call? I would have come down.' But that wouldn’t have made any difference, because Alan was in the circle of people that we knew.
"He was friendly with Eddy Offord, and he was hanging out in the studio. He may have even jammed on Bill’s drums for a laugh here and there. Basically, we looked around and thought, Oh, Bill wants to leave – Alan’s already here; why not ask him? His reputation was such that we could ask him, and he said yeah."
How many rehearsals did you have with Alan before the tour? I’m guessing not many.
[laughs] "Well, I wouldn’t think no more than a couple. I don’t know how it’s possible that he got onstage after having two or three days to learn the album. We did put him through it, you know what I mean? I mean, even though we knew the songs, we hadn’t actually played them live ourselves.
"It was a remarkable learning curve. How anybody could come in and play Close to the Edge, let alone anything else that takes the highest level of technical and musical skill – it wasn’t an easy gig to step into, but Alan did his best to listen and practice. He tried a bit of this and a bit of that. We asked him to get it right as much as he could. And he did."
Previously, Yes played theaters and big clubs; even on the Fragile tour you played the Whisky in L.A. But you moved to arenas on the Close to the Edge tour.
"There had been a bit of time when we could tolerate those places – it felt like when I was playing gigs in England in the ’60s. But the Whisky… I’m cautious to say it was an awful place, but in a way it wasn’t really suitable for a band like ours. However, everybody played there, and I think its reputation preceded its reality.
"It was a place to be seen at – a place to add to the list of venues you’ve played. From the Whisky we made the jump to the Hollywood Bowl. We had played as a support band for several years in America. One night we played with Jethro Tull, the next night it was Grand Funk Railroad, and the night after that it was Mountain. We opened for acts that were on the Premier Talent roster.
"Actually, the very first gig we did in [North] America was in northern Canada. We had gone to New York and we got scared in our hotel; it was next to a fire station and all hell was breaking out from the noise. Then we went to Edmonton, Canada, for our first show with Jethro Tull.
"We went onstage and we were like, Oh, yeah, this is what we came for, because there was a captive audience of Jethro Tull fans. Nobody knew us hardly, but we went down really well. They liked us instantly. After that, we were unstoppable."
When you finally hit arenas, did you feel as though you were in your natural element?
"Yeah, we were ready. By the time Close to the Edge came, we were out there on our own. I think we might have invented 'the evening with' lineup, where we didn’t have an opening act. We were geared up to do a whole show of our own music. We knew our time had come, and it happened, quite remarkably."
Sid Smith - Prog
Tuesday, September 13, 2022 4:49 PM
Total mass retain: How Yes made Close To The Edge
By Sid Smith
Sibelius, Herman Hesse, The Mahavishnu Orchestra and even The Kinks. These were the inspirations according to Yes, behind the genius of their fifth studio album
Whenever he’s going out in the car, it’s Rick Wakeman’s habit to grab a handful of CDs so he’s got something to listen tt while he drives. Not knowing which albums happen to be in the pile he’s snatched up adds a nice element of surprise on the journey, kind of like shuffle play, but with the addition of the internal combustion engine.
On a recent jaunt, Wakeman found himself listening to Close To The Edge. “I hadn’t heard it for a long time and as I was listening, I actually pulled the car over on the A14 and I sat there, and I actually said out loud, pardon the language, ‘How the fuck did we do that?’ Because when I listen to it, with the technology we had at that time there is no way we should have been able to do that album. Absolutely no way.” As Wakeman talks about the album he was a part of 50 years ago, he sounds genuinely moved. “We had ideas of what we wanted to do and then we had to sit down and figure out how to do it and record it. That was the genius of that album and I put it down as the very last Yes album where we were completely ahead of technology. For me, what makes Close To The Edge the finest Yes album is [that] it’s where every single one of us were into it and knew what we were all trying to achieve.”
There are some musicians who will quietly tell you that they really can’t remember much about some of the albums they’ve made. There are lots of reasons for that of course. Too much rock’n’roll lifestyle back in the day will seriously curtail the grey matter’s ability to dial up events, and to be fair, the people who were all in their 20s and are now in their 70s probably weren’t taking notes at the time on the off chance that someone would be asking them questions about what they were doing 50 years ago. Yet for Rick Wakeman, who admits he was no stranger to many indulgences as a young man, the events of those times at Advision Studios remain surprisingly fresh in his mind.
“I can tell you exactly what a typical day during the making of Close To The Edge looked like. I used to come in and park outside the studio at about 10am There was a little snack shop café on the corner of Gosfield Street and I’d go in and get a bite to eat. When I went into the studio they were making coffee and Steve [Howe] was there – he would spend a considerable amount of time tuning his guitars and getting ready for whatever he wanted to do. Then Bill [Bruford] would turn up saying that there was no point in turning up beforehand as Chris [Squire] wouldn’t be there, which of course he wasn’t. Jon [Anderson] would arrive and he and I, or Steve and him, might go into a room and talk about what we were going to go through that day. Eventually, early afternoon, Chris would show up after having just rolled out of bed. It was a nightmare but you had to live with it. Bless him, to his dying day his time-keeping was crap. Chris would then sort of play around with his bass and then if we were lucky, by mid-afternoon, we might actually play something.”
In 1971, the year before they recorded Close To The Edge, Yes had undergone two important changes in personnel. This was not about finding mere substitutes to continue along a particular path. Injecting new talent as a matter of policy would always triumph over sentiment. In those early years it was indicative of a ruthless pragmatism that at its best sought to ensure Yes’ reach would always exceed their grasp, striving to always transform and improve rather than settle for the ordinary or average. By actively embracing change and taking the difficult decision to part company with original members Peter Banks and Tony Kaye, Jon Anderson, Chris Squire, and Bill Bruford were making a deep commitment to what Yes might become rather than what it was. The influx of adrenaline and creative energies accompanying such decisions didn’t just raise their individual game as players but formed the impetus that would put the band in a position where it would not only survive but evolve, grow and hopefully prosper.
Steve Howe’s impact on the band on The Yes Album was nothing less than seismic, shaking their sound from top to bottom with a galloping virtuosity that bordered on the rapacious, greedily swallowing any and all challenges with relish as they rushed toward him. His debut was the very definition of hitting the ground running. Wakeman’s arrival shortly afterwards was every bit as significant. That he could replicate his talented predecessor’s work was a given. However, his real value was in his ability to remodel the base metal that accrued in the Yes rehearsal room and writing sessions; there were numerous riffs, runs and sequences that all needed to be honed and threaded together. His formal musical background allied to his experience as an in-demand session player, where efficiency and speed went hand in hand, meant he quickly understood why one thing worked over another without the need to laboriously engage in a process of elimination.
Within a few minutes of listening to something, Wakeman was able to explain or demonstrate what might be possible, where something might go. While there was sometimes an inherent value in sifting through what amounted to trial and error, he helped speed up proceedings in a way that the band had, until then, all too rarely encountered. Between the two of them, the new members embodied a technique that could be either as surgical or as flamboyant as the moment demanded. Both also brought with them a masterly grasp of texture and dynamics, an element that had been front and centre on the multifaceted showcasing that was Fragile. With these two parts of the jigsaw now locked firmly in place, Yes seemed capable of anything. As novelist Paul Auster once put it, “If you’re not ready for everything, you’re not ready for anything.” It’s a line that perfectly describes the point at which the group found itself in 1972 as they entered Advision Studios to begin work on Close To The Edge.
Given Fragile’s success it would have been very easy for Yes to have pursued what was obviously a winning formula. There’s no doubt that wasn’t something Anderson was prepared to countenance. The point was to keep moving, keep expanding, keep developing. In common with other groups of the era, the notion of keeping things in the neat and tidy furrows of three-minute pop songs or prolonged bluesy grandstanding wasn’t where the juice was. In the days before progressive rock became a broad-brush genre description, it was perhaps a goal, a route to an artistic state of being.
Yes were always on the lookout for ideas that could be incorporated and adapted into their musical vocabulary and the development of Close To The Edge was leavened by many encounters and experiences. One example of this filtering process in action happened during their US tour during November and December 1971, where on some dates they were supporting The Kinks, whose criminally underrated Muswell Hillbillies had just been released. However, the new record was largely ignored in favour of a crowd-pleaser setlist that included a smattering of 1960s numbers including the beautiful, elegiac Waterloo Sunset, originally released in 1967. Just four years separates Ray Davies’ sublimely bittersweet love song and Yes’ setlist, which leaned heavily into The Yes Album and Fragile. Yet the pairing of these two bands at opposite ends of the rock continuum demonstrates how fast the pace of change and experimentation in form and content had moved. While acknowledging the observational acuity and melodic brilliance of Davies’ songwriting, in comparison the sharp differences between the two groups made it seem as though Yes had beamed down from some far-flung future.
However, that contrast was made all the more stark on November 28, 1971 when a third act was booked to support Yes and The Kinks at the State University of New York in Stony Brook, NY. The Mahavishnu Orchestra had just released their debut album, The Inner Mounting Flame, and had been placed on the college circuit as a way of moving beyond the wholly unsuitable jazz clubs where they had begun. If Yes made music from the future, then the sonic assault of Mahavishnu Orchestra, led by John McLaughlin’s blisteringly fast lead guitar, appeared to be coming from another galaxy entirely. As Squire and Anderson watched from the wings, the singer turned to the bassist and with his jaw still slack from what he was hearing said, “Chris, we’ve got to start practising.”
They always knew that after Fragile they were going to undertake a long-form piece. At a little over 10 minutes, Heart Of The Sunrise was the dry run, bringing together contrasting flavours and sections. Such an idea wasn’t new of course. Bands including Van der Graaf Generator, Caravan, Pink Floyd, ELP and Jethro Tull, to name but a few, had all got there before them but the yearning for that elusive symphonic statement had been on Yes’ to-do list almost from the beginning. Early in their career, they’d leaned toward the grand or epic, be it through startlingly reimagined cover versions, the addition of an orchestra, and through their own original material. Success wasn’t always guaranteed, but the fact that they had been stretching their compositional chops in the process meant that when the time came they were more than warmed up. Given Fragile’s success it would have been easy for Yes to have carried on doing what they were doing. But with ambition spiralling high, that jut wasn’t on the agenda.
Steve Howe also witnessed the show and was similarly impressed by what he saw and heard. Six months later in Advision Studios, as they worked on Close To The Edge, Howe channelled some of the creative sparks he’d seen flying that night from McLaughlin’s twin-necked Gibson into his own playing on the astonishing guitar solo that leads the opening of the title track. “Jon and I had basically dreamed up the concept that primarily this song needed a lot more space. It had the unusual intro, it had all these ingredients. And we pretty much mapped them out,” he explains. “We’d discussed how we wanted to open the album. On Fragile there had been the acoustic harmonic that began Roundabout and here we thought: what would be the most unusual intro you could have? How about a Mahavishnu Orchestra-style intro? Jon and I were really in awe of John McLaughlin’s great band and we thought we’d hurtle in with something like that and just surprise everybody with high tempo and lots of movement. So, as a guitarist, I could grab certain ideas for the opening like the leaping between the octaves. I knew that was how I was going to start.”
Whatever shortcomings Jon Anderson may have had as an instrumentalist, he was able to visualise the shape and structures into which the band would fit and make their own. “I was always aware of where we were heading structurally. I was listening to a lot of classical music while touring and Sibelius’ Fifth Symphony [Symphony No.5] I liked. The structure of the symphony actually mirrors the album as a whole,” Anderson explains. “It’s got a very wild first movement, a gentle second, and the third movement is very majestic. I thought the band could get into performing with that sort of musical positioning.”
Another influence on his thinking was the then-recently released Sonic Seasonings, a double album by Wendy Carlos comprising four side-long suites, brimming with evocative Moog-created ambient environments. Anderson discussed with engineer Eddy Offord how they might come up with something similar. “I wanted to create this sense of energy or a force field before the band started, and then have the group climb out of it with a wild and crazy solo section, raving away as though we didn’t know where we were going. You’d get to a certain point and you’re going to stop dead and a very straight choral thing would come in and then the band would carry on again.”
Under Anderson’s direction, the swirl of tape loops featuring speeded up keyboards and other electronic textures created an impression of a humid jungle streaked with exotic beasts and birds, creating a distinct world of its own. The surging velocity of that opening section remains one of Yes’ stand-out moments in a catalogue bursting with adventurous instrumental passages. The vivid, cartwheeling guitar solo bristling with all kinds of barbs and jagged edges is certainly a high point in Howe’s long career. “Chris Squire was always a great one for saying, ‘Steve if you want to improvise, we need a good structure.’ So, there’s a lot of movement in those chord structures that move around.”
Howe recalls that when it came down to rehearsals prior to the recording of the solo he had some assistance from Anderson. “Jon was great sitting there being the singer. He couldn’t play these fast riffs but he could strum on his guitar and make suggestions: ‘How about this key for that bit?’ or ‘How about down here?’ I give due credit to the arrangement skills that we had on the collaborative level. When we were together we could arrange stuff though sometimes we’d forget the arrangement the next day and we’d scratch our heads and wonder what we did,” laughs Howe. “So in the end we recorded most rehearsals on a cassette. Can you imagine trying to listen to all that noise of us all playing in a room? It was a nightmare. But we could still discern what the structure was and what the idea was. So we kept looping it day by day in rehearsals and then we’d look at all the material we could put on the album. That was our skill: fine-tuning arrangements in order to develop something rough into something polished.”
Close To The Edge became a repository for a variety of half-formed ideas that in some cases had been around for a while. A descending guitar line that had previously existed as part of the song Black Leather Gloves in Howe’s pre-Yes outfit, Bodast, was now repurposed for Total Mass Retain. “You tend to have plenty of ideas and sketches, which don’t necessarily have a home, so you pitch them in,” says Howe. “Jon and I worked like that all the time. One of my songs had the line, ‘Close to the edge, down by a river’, which actually referred to where I was living at the time, next to the Thames.” When Anderson heard the phrase, the symbolism of the river immediately connected to metaphors within Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha, which he’d been reading at the time.
“The river leads you to the ocean, all the paths lead you to the divine. So the idea was that as human beings we are close to the edge – the edge of realisation,” explains Anderson. This connection of ideas was typical of how Anderson worked, says Howe. “He always did this. He’d take an idea of mine but then he’d set it into a different global sensibility. It wasn’t just the River Thames but now the referencing of being close to the edge of some kind of enlightenment.”
Anderson recalls Howe presenting what was, in essence, a humble love song whose opening line was, ‘In her white lace…’ but immediately began a counter-melody off the top of his head. “When I started singing, ‘Two million people barely satisfied’ I had in my in mind what was happening around the world, starvation in African countries. So many people lived so well while so many people didn’t. I get high and low on the whole concept of life – ‘I get up, I get down’. So it worked out that Steve and Chris sang that while I sang my melody over these exact same chords. It was magical… it just happened.”
Divining the precise meaning of a lyric isn’t important, argues Howe. “There’s often a reluctance on the part of songwriters, and I think it’s a good thing to be reluctant in this regard, to describe exactly what the song is about. It’s very important to write your lyrics the way you want to and then not have to explain them. But I think the ethereal quality was something I got more and more into with lyrics in the last 30 years than I was maybe 50 years ago and I could see what Jon was up to and there were messages hidden in the songs that would somehow resonate with us. Jon took a lot of grief sometimes about his lyrics and sometimes I did as well with mine but neither us cared. This is what it is. A lot of people did relate to the sense of there being a wider, broader, more spiritual [side] to the lyrics. Music is a mystery that we’re all part of. The listener is in that mysterious place, but so is the musician.”
The spiritual aspect discerned within the track and elsewhere in the band’s output is something Wakeman recognises and has an affinity with. “The majority of Yes music that I’ve been involved with, certainly in the 70s, did have a very spiritual element to it and I think all of us in our own ways had different spiritual thoughts, beliefs and standards and what have you, but it all worked for all of us in our own way. I think that when you’re playing music you get a feeling that there’s something more than just a load of notes thrown together. There’s something about this record, maybe Going For The One might be the other one, where I felt we were all of us singing from the same hymn book.”
The cathedral-like ambience of I Get Up I Get Down is fully exploited with the arrival of Wakeman’s majestic pipe organ recorded at London’s St Giles-without-Cripplegate, where he’d already recorded the parts for Jane Seymour from his solo album, The Six Wives Of Henry VIII, released the following year in 1973. “The church organ part wasn’t easy to do. The recording itself in the church was fine because I had the tempos. We set up a Revox tape recorder and the mics and it went fine. The hard part was back at Advision Studios. I mean, you couldn’t just drop it in. It had to be absolutely in at the right place. So it was a matter of running it along with the master track and having various attempts at trying to slot it in, which we eventually did.”
The startling Moog line that corkscrews into the piece not only breaks the spell of reverence and rapture but re-establishes the connection to the harsher instrumentation heard in the earlier sections. “It was always planned that coming out of that, we needed to get back into electronic instruments again,” Wakeman continues. “So at the end of the church organ you would have the Hammond solo. That was quite a delicate operation to make sure the Hammond didn’t sound weak or the organ didn’t sound weird.” It could have sounded abrupt and unconvincing, he says, but it sounds like a genuine development. “The great thing about the actual track, Close To The Edge, is it has some brilliant natural progressions within it.”
Anderson’s impassioned performance makes for an electrifying experience throughout but especially over the build in the finale of The Seasons Of Man section. There’s an excitement that borders on the exultant in the voice that sings, ‘Now that it’s all over and done, called to the seed, right to the sun, now that you find, now that you’re whole.’ It’s an outstanding moment and a favourite for most members of the band. “That big end section, that’s that place where it’s like we’re climbing the mountain, you get there and you sit back and take in the view. My head was spinning every time I listened to it or sang it,” comments Anderson with more than a hint of wonder in his voice. His vocal achievements here are still admired by Steve Howe. “To this day I think how Jon sung it originally in the studio in G minor is just amazing. When we started touring it we had to drop that end section a tone below in F.”
While Steve Howe is well-known for his insistence on having the time to find the correct tone or guitar within a piece, he readily admits he was not alone in this regard. “Chris was really picky about his bass. I can’t remember how much bass he overdubbed. We might get a track down and Chris would still not be happy with a part of it. So that same day before the equipment was broken down he might fix something or play something better or change his part somewhere. He was usually the last person to get his part down. He liked coming in after everyone else so he could hear the whole song and say to himself, ‘I think I could play better here’ or ‘That doesn’t work there I’ve got to change it up.’
“Sometimes Chris would go to great lengths to perfect something and it was conditional on how he was feeling or if he could get it cut in there, or maybe he’d say, ‘I’m not going to get this in and I’ll do it afterward.’ He had a tendency to overrun on some of it. I remember that more on Drama because it’s years later and Chris was in there doing one of those fast runs we had. He was doing it all evening and I wondered why. But it was just Chris’ way. He wasn’t really an improviser. He had to have his parts in his mind and he had to get them right and they were really good parts and worth waiting for, but it could be a long wait.”
Wakeman elaborates on why Squire’s approach could be a source of much frustration and tension. “Chris would play and then want to redo the whole thing. We’d go, ‘But we’re happy with what we played.’ So he’d fuss around and redo everything and often, his original was kept because it was better. Chris always felt there was a better take to be had and I suppose it was a great attitude to have, except he wasn’t right. So then, I’d go up to the pub around the corner and come back at 10 or 11 and Chris is still doing his bass part again with Steve and Jon trying to egg him on.”
During the making of the album there were inevitably many late-night sessions, though these were often of little to no value when they listened to them the next day, as Wakeman explains. “We’d come in in the morning and have a listen to the board mix of what we’d done the previous night and it would be useless, the hi-hat would be shrill and deafening and so on because the more you do in a day, the top end of your hearing tends to drop. So what you do is you keep winding the top end up. So nothing was ever any good. David Bowie never, ever worked late at night because he said it doesn’t work. Fresh ears in the morning, always the best.”
Recorded in sections, sometimes a bar or two at a time, these were then sifted and their merits assessed before each section was then painstakingly sewn together in an arrangement, rather like an ornate patchwork quilt. Only at the end of the time-consuming process were they then able to see the full picture. Even then it still required edits and overdubs before it was finally mixed. Making the album was likened by Bill Bruford as like having five people trying to write a novel together. As torturous as that was, after all the haggling over which bits or sections worked best next to one another and which parts should be thrown out, the mixing process itself was another challenge. In these days of automated on-screen faders getting the balance on individual instruments is a relatively civilised affair. In Advision, and every other studio at the time, it was a case of all hands to the desk as several members of the group simultaneously clustered around banks of faders and controls following a kind of aural shooting script when it came to bringing takes in or out.
One might assume that camaraderie and team spirit would be a by-product of this work but often it was just the opposite. “From day one, I loved the way that we wrote, I loved the way that we recorded, but I hated the way we mixed,” says Wakeman darkly. “I think it was a hard job for Eddy Offord. We didn’t get the width we should have had in the mixes and that was because he’d more often than not have 12 hands on the faders and lots of knob twiddling and God knows what. At the end of the day it got so compressed it didn’t matter who pressed or twiddled what. Everyone was listening only to their own part and not the overall thing, not thinking about the finished product.”
Sounding rather rueful, he says this was always a problem in Yes. “I was from a different school of how you mix. The person I learned the most from was David Bowie and his various producers. I worked with Ken Scott, Gus Dudgeon and Tony Visconti, and David Bowie had it spot on: he never went to any mixes. What he did [was] he would go away, leave them to get on with it. He could trust them, they knew what he wanted to do and when he listened to it afterward, that was the closest he could get to hearing the music for the first time. That’s what I’ve always done and I wish Yes had done that. But I don’t think we ever had – no disrespect to Eddy Offord – I don’t think we had somebody we all felt we could 100 per cent trust to get what we wanted.”
Yet despite the tensions that come from five individuals working through their respective idiosyncrasies, the finished results on the completed album were exceptional then and it remains so now. Not only had Yes ticked their long-held desire to do an extended suite occupying all of one side, and achieved it without any gratuitous padding, they served up two other tracks that also stand up as a superb examples of what progressive rock was about. If he was certain about the shape of the title track, Yes’ principal animateur Anderson was less certain about And You And I. “I’d written this very simple song,” he recalls, “but we got to a certain point where I said we had to create a theme, somehow it had to get bigger.”
It was exactly why they needed someone like Wakeman in the room, recalls Bill Bruford. Although there were contributions from all the band, Wakeman’s skills as an arranger and musical fixer were crucial to the track’s grandeur and stately development. Howe’s contribution was no less vital. We hear the 25-year-old man say, “Okay” at the start of side two. “There’s a kind of honesty to that moment,” agrees Howe. “That song is produced in a whole different way. A lot of time was spent getting that theme right with the right bass and right chords and right key changes. There were endless rehearsals but when we got to the studio and played it, we had to find a way into the song. We were ready to begin, that’s why I said, ‘Okay’ but my rambling harmonics we liked and decided to keep in. Basically, the entire front of the song was performed with me with a metronome.”
Siberian Khatru remains a masterclass in concise, dynamic writing and arranging. Bristling with rapid gears shifts in the tempo, soaring themes, beatific vocals, and even the rush of a harpsichord as each new section builds upon the last the cumulative effect of the piece is dizzying. When, after seven minutes, everything is stripped away, it’s akin to being ushered inside an immense engine room where the pulsating bass throbs and the inner mechanisms of how the band works are briefly exposed as the Bruford-composed cyclical guitar line whirls about, the cogs and wheels of Yes turn in perfect synchronisation. “We stole a bit from Stravinsky by having that pounding staccato pounding and at the same time throwing those accents on voice and drums and having me driving through it with that constant guitar motif. It’s a good example of hi-tech arranging circa 1972,” says Howe. When the entire band kicks back in, there’s an extra exhilaration in Squire’s ascending basslines. However long it may have taken to get that best take, it was worth every minute.
The gleaming triumph of Close To The Edge was tarnished for some by Bruford’s decision to leave and join what would become the Larks’ Tongues In Aspic line-up of King Crimson. As far as Bruford recalls, there was no big meeting of the band, no big announcement where it was formally announced like an election result. “I seem to remember long conversations in my flat in Harcourt Terrace, Fulham. I knew leaving would cause an upset. I was terrifically flattered and gratified that they wanted me to stay, but on the other hand, Jon understood exactly that people have to do what they have to do. He took the artistic line, which was very sweet of him. He was lovely about it. ‘You must do what you must do. We’re very sad, it’s been fantastic, but if you have to do this, then go ahead.’ I think for a long time Chris probably thought that I’d been spirited off by Robert [Fripp] and over-influenced by him.”
In the 50 years since the album was released, countless legions have admired the economy and grace of Bill Bruford’s playing on it. Howe counts himself in that number and thinks Bill’s sound is a key factor in making the album a musically coherent statement. For someone who has come to have such a major impact on drummers, other instrumentalists and fans alike, Bruford’s instantly recognisable playing does not actually occupy that big a space, says Howe. “If he’s hitting drums and crashing cymbals all the time that’s going to wipe out a lot of the frequencies that somebody else wants to enter into. He didn’t have two bass drums and six Rototoms and so on. He had the basic kit. But the thing was, that was his art. The basic kit is all you need and he made that work in a wonderful way because he didn’t see himself as a rock drummer so much. His drumming is outlandish. It sounds straight 4/4 but you listen to the way he adds that extra snare. That’s Bill’s genius.”
Yes weren’t about to let the small matter of a crucial departure get in the way. With Alan White already a friend of the band and a regular presence at Advision as they worked on the album, he was the obvious choice to help propel Yes on to their next great adventure. Steve Howe, now 74, and the only member in the current incarnation of Yes to have played on the album, jokingly remarks that as well as playing the pieces on the record for the last 50 years, he’s probably been talking about them for at least that long. Yet he doesn’t regard this as a burden of any kind, he says. “I think everybody that plays on it is very proud of it. It’s a very adventurous record. It’s the first time we did a one-side song and two songs on the other side. I revel in it. I’m delighted it’s so popular and so convincingly performed on the original record. It’s always a reference to go back and hear how we did it with the original tempos and everything around it. I think Close To The Edge, And You And I and Siberian Khatru are exceptional indications of a band that reached a certain peak in their creativity. There was an argument [that] you’ve always got to try something before you can say no and as we did we’d argue about the merits of the music. But we did allow each other enough space to be happy and, at the end of the day, everybody was happy with Close To The Edge.”
Sid Smith's feature articles and reviews have appeared in numerous publications including Prog, Classic Rock, Record Collector, Q, Mojo and Uncut. A full-time freelance writer with hundreds of sleevenotes and essays for both indie and major record labels to his credit, his book, In The Court Of King Crimson, an acclaimed biography of King Crimson, was substantially revised and expanded in 2019 to coincide with the band’s 50th Anniversary. Alongside appearances on radio and TV, he has lectured on jazz and progressive music in the UK and Europe.
A resident of Whitley Bay in north-east England, he spends far too much time posting photographs of LPs he's listening to on Twitter and Facebook.
Bob Baker - Jazz Guitar Today
Sunday, October 9, 2022 11:58 AM
Jazz Guitar Today
July 1, 2022
The iconic Yes guitarist Steve Howe talks to Jazz Guitar Today about his many jazz influences – and about what he is currently up to today.
Steve Howe is brilliant, unique, a true artist and a gentleman. He has composed, recorded and performed with in one of the most successful, influential, seminal progressive rock bands (Yes) in music history. His style includes jazz, classical, bluegrass and folk.
Please note I didn’t say rock or blues, and he has accomplished all of this on the most unlikely of instruments, the Gibson ES175. Almost all of his tones are of the clean variety void of overdrive distortion that is the mainstay sound of rock guitar… It is so unlikely and hard to believe but there it is on some of the most popular “rock” songs of all time.
While many of his contemporaries are satisfied touring performing the music that made them household names, we salute Steve for continuing to push his boundaries and creating for us all wonderful works of new musical art. Please enjoy our Steve Howe interview.
Sid Smith - Prog
Sunday, October 16, 2022 7:43 AM
Total mass retain: How Yes made Close To The Edge
By Sid Smith
published September 13, 2022
Sibelius, Herman Hesse, The Mahavishnu Orchestra and even The Kinks. These were the inspirations according to Yes, behind the genius of their fifth studio album
[READ MORE FROM PROG #128]