By James Wood
Since hitting the scene in 1988, guitarist Greg Howe’s contributions to the world of instrumental rock and fusion cannot be underestimated.
Howe has performed alongside some of pop music’s biggest stars, including Michael Jackson, Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera and Rihanna.
This fall, the man who cut his teeth playing the club circuit in Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley will unveil his latest band project, Maragold, and his first "vocals" album in years.
I recently spoke to Howe and got the scoop on Maragold. We also discussed the upcoming anniversary of his self-titled debut album, which still ranks as one of Guitar World’s 10 best shred albums of all time.
GUITAR AFICIONADO: Can you give us an update on the new record?
We’re gearing up for an October release. There are a few extra guitar tracks I need to record and a few vocal things to tweak, but I’m comfortable with that deadline. We’re also planning a big tour to support the album beginning early next year.
This is your first vocal album in quite some time.
It’s an exciting, inspiring thing. This project is like a 360 back to where I came from. It was great going through the whole instrumental/fusion process. It allowed me to learn a lot and really build my musical vocabulary. But at the same time, this project gives me the opportunity to reach as many people as possible. Plus it’s a lot of fun to play rhythm guitar again and be able to smile at the audience.
What’s the rest of the lineup for Maragold?
The drummer is Gianluca Palmieri, who played on my album, Soundproof. The bassist, Kevin Vecchione, has been a friend of mine for years and also played on the Five album. I’m keeping the singer’s name a secret for now to really surprise people.
What should fans expect from the new album?
A lot of energy and a lot of really great songwriting.
This project also happens to coincide with the upcoming 25th anniversary of your original Shrapnel release.
It’s hard to believe it’s been that long [laughs]. There’s a good story behind that. Twenty five years ago, I was in a cover band playing the club circuits in the Lehigh Valley and upstate New York. We had done showcases and had gotten some label interest, but nothing
had evolved from it.
At the same time, Mike Varney was running a monthly column in a guitar magazine where he would spotlight three unknown guitar players. Guitarists would send in cassette tapes of their playing and, if Mike really liked you, he'd sign you to his record label. I decided to send in a tape to his PO box, never really expecting to get a response. But I've always believed that if you really want something, there isn't one "set way" to try to get it. Sometimes you have to be imaginative in order to achieve it.
So what I did was also mail another tape to him simultaneously; but this one I sent via Federal Express. I knew that by doing so, my package would be delivered separate from the hundreds of other tapes he'd likely receive. More importantly, someone would have to physically sign for it, and there would be a much better chance of my tape getting delivered to him personally. And that's precisely what happened; I literally got a phone call the next day and was offered a record deal. It was amazing.
What was your practice schedule like growing up?
At that time it was nice, because I was living at home with my mom and had no real responsibilities. I used to play pretty much all the time and occasionally take a break to go poke around in the refrigerator [laughs]. It wasn't uncommon for me to play eight hours a day back then. What was nice was that there was no email, gaming or internet social networking. For me, playing guitar was my video game. Instead of being excited about a new game that had just come out, I was excited to put my guitar in my hands and try something new. Especially if I'd hear someone play this really cool lick and had to try to figure it out. I was always inspired and it never felt like practice.
Do you have a good rock and roll story?
I do remember back in the mid '90s, Kevin and I were doing a benefit concert for Jason Becker, an amazing guitarist who, unfortunately, was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease and could no longer play. What was cool about that show was there were so many amazing guitarists there. Eddie Van Halen headlined the show along with Steve Lukather and Billy Sheehan.
At the end of the show, we were all hanging out together backstage when Kevin got into a misunderstanding with the local police outside of the venue. The officer was actually going to arrest him, and he was trying to get out of it. The cop eventually said, “If you get me Van Halen’s autograph, I’ll let you go.” Long story short, Eddie got my bass player out of going to jail that night [laughs].