Out of London, England, 47 years ago, arose the band that would change music fans prospective on just what would be considered a commercial tune, with their symphonic meets progressive style that set them apart from everyone else. Yes has released 17 live albums, along with 21 studio efforts containing 22 singles, cracking the top 50 with ten top 10 hits. They had 3 of those reach number one, and the most recognizable being “Owner of a Lonely Heart’ from November of 1983.
Through the years, they have seen their share of member changes. One of the long time and current members is Steve Howe (guitars, lap steel & pedal steel guitars, laúd, mandolin, backing vocals – Yes, Syndicats, The In Crowd, ABWH, Asia, GTR). I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Steve during the “Yes Albums Tour 2016” to get a little insight into one of the greatest minds in music.
As we begin our conversation, the first thing we touch upon is the process of finding your place in music. What really goes into establishing your identity. “You keep looking, as your asking what is my sound and look supposed to be,” he says. “It is possible you go on looking, even though you found it because you don't know you found it. I guess part of your style is not being conscience that you found it. If you think you found it, you might just stay there and not progress. We were having such a great time in the 70’s with Yes and I was looking for that sound, and later realized I had it all the time. So I think it is a mystery, but a nice one.”
Out of that, I gathered while developing your stamp change, is something that is inevitable. Steve says, “I think the true change I have adapted to, is being able to cope with being in music. The biggest thing my sensibility tells me, is that a child should be raised by a father and mother, but it's not true in everyday reality. My kids have had to grow up leaning on my wife and she has been marvelous. I had to change the predictable acceptance that I would be around my kids more, so it was a double sided sacrifice for the both of us, but love is strong.”
While on the topic of change, we talk about the change that has to be made while being involved with such a diversity of projects. As much writing that has been done over the years, there has to be a wealth of unused material. Howe says, “That is an interesting topic. I have a lot of projects started that are behind me. What I will do is go back through them and start to refine them. I usually come across one that makes me want to get back at it. All these projects and I am doing them all at once and they kind of a stock pile and none of them are finished. They will get finished when I think that it is time for that one to get sorted. One of the upcoming releases has me looking through back room stuff, but that is a process that doesn’t happen overnight.”
As Steve was talking, he made me think. While most things don’t happen overnight, there is usually that one decision in your life that sets who we become, into motion. He tells me that buying that Gibson 175 guitar after sitting there and dreaming about it, was that decision for him. He continues, “Eventually my parents believed that I was worthy and I should have a great guitar and they helped me get it. I brought it home, plugged it in and I was going to be the new Kenny Burrell. I was going to play just like Detroit’s own Kenny Burrell, but in a rock band. I had this sound with the 175 and it sounded like Kenny, so I said that is it, that is all I need. Then I realized the way you switched that guitar and its adaptability might not be what Chet wanted it to be. Chet had a great sound with his Gretsch guitar, but I was definitely a Gibson guy. Then I got 175ed out. With Yes, I wanted to play any kind of guitar I heard in my head, which was steel guitars and mandolin, and so on. It was an ever changing picture.”
The conversation then headed down memory lane and we talked about the first time he remembered really getting set back on his heels and thinking about that wow moment. Steve says laughing, “That happened before I felt that I made it. In ‘Tomorrow,’ we were the most egotistical band in the world. We believed we were phenomenal. There was nobody that could play better than ‘Tomorrow.’ We were that powerhouse kind of trio. We knocked people sideways because we actually believed that. So that was a hard act to follow. Instead of just being successful, I had learned the ropes of being successful before I was successful. Because I was successful in my own mind and so were the other guys in the band. It was a great education. We were pretty high and pretty out of it.”
Speaking of success, many people have a different take on just what success means to them. With his explanation, I had to really think hard on what he begins to say, “Well, it isn’t something I was working for before I had it, and then it wasn’t what I thought it was at all. I did love the kind of success that was on musical terms. It was about credibility and musicianship, those sort of things. I am not a trained musician and I can’t read music and I don’t know a lot of theory, but I do know what I like. My ears have guided me through it all and that is a happy experience. I have never connected music with looking at something that I want to lose as soon as possible. You see, my memory is quite exceptionally good with music, particularly if I write it and if I write, I never forget it.”
With the wealth of knowledge and the amazing conversation, I really wish that time would have stood still. Unfortunately, all incredible things must come to an end. I was very grateful that this isn’t the situation with Yes, just yet. I asked Steve to tell us a little something that we may not know about the band, and this is what he said while laughing, “We are complete lunatics and we don’t know what we are doing. In a way, that is kind of true. We are just kind of muddling through life just like everybody else. The big thing about being in Yes is that there is a great deal of commitment needed. We need to be sensitive to the appropriateness of achieving great performances. I think Yes has made so many great albums, and I am so grateful to be able to emerge ourselves into the album series like we are doing right now. I think it will go on, because we keep looking at other albums that were in other periods of our lives. I think that the debt of the commitment tells you a lot about the guys. We have suffered and lost a lot, like losing Peter Banks and Chris Squire. We have gained a lot, but we have paid dues. There is something that lives inside of the idea of what Yes is. Yes is a very special thing to be a part of and I am very happy that I can continue to be a part of it.”