Steve Howe

You have to give Steve Howe credit. While most of his guitar-toting English brethren spent the ’60s fishing the Mississippi Delta, the North London native cast his nets globally, drawing in a wealth of influences such as Western swing, hard-bop jazz, classical, and surf rock. Despite occasionally being branded a prog-rock dinosaur, Howe has showed remarkable endurance, joining progressive-rock icon Yes in 1970, scoring MTV hits in the ’80s with Asia and GTR, forging a distinctive solo career through the ’90s, and, currently, taking a reunited Yes into its 38th year.


The Yes Album, 1971

Save Van Halen I and Are You Experienced?, this may be the boldest debut record ever by a rock guitarist. Howe’s revved-up country/jazz fusion sends “Yours is No Disgrace” and “I’ve Seen All Good People” into the stratosphere, and the thumb-thumpin’ steel-string solo “Clap” is a showstopper.

Fragile, 1972

Most aspiring guitarists learned to play the harmonics-based intro to “Roundabout” at some point in their lives. But a serious “Howe-to” primer requires immersion in the searing modal solo to “South Side of The Sky” and the nylon-string Bach-knockoff “Mood for a Day.” CD reissue bonus alert: Howe’s protracted break on the non-album track “America” serves up some of the hottest country licks east of James Burton.

Yessongs, 1973

Because Howe’s sound fits so perfectly into Yes’ grand schematics, it might require viewing this live DVD of logic-defying fretboard runs and effortless switching between Gibson ES-175, vachalia, Coral Sitar, and delay-drenched pedal-steel to fully appreciate his creative genius.

Going For The One, 1977

Where else can you hear greasy slide licks (the title track), gothic classical guitar (“Turn of the Century”), and fusion-fed electric 12-string (“Awaken”) on the same record? Prog rock heaven!


Close To The Edge, 1972

As co-writer of the 19-minute title track, Howe meets the challenge of long-form rock music by grouping smaller

pop-song structures within a macro AABA

configuration. He also nails a cool rhythm part by strumming the dickens out of a Coral Sitar.

The Steve Howe Album, 1979

Howe’s second solo album is somewhat remarkable, as it finds him abandoning rock to simultaneously explore two other musical passions—classical and Western swing. The juxtaposition is odd, but interesting.

Drama, 1980

Those who find Yes’ usual cosmic menagerie a bit too heady should investigate this aggressive, post-punk effort. Howe’s sound is biting and angular, and his riffage on “Machine Messiah” and “Tempus Fugit” is more streamlined and subversive than usual.

Asia, 1982

When ex-Yes men Howe and Geoff Downes teamed up with ELP’s Carl Palmer and Roxy Music/King Crimson alumnus John Wetton, the result was one of the biggest pop records of the early ’80s. Huh? Guess it just goes to show that good songwriting and tasteful playing go a long way.


Beginnings, 1975

Although boasting fine compositional ideas, lush orchestration, inspired playing, and the nifty ragtime instrumental workout "Ram," the main problem with Howe’s first solo effort is his nasally tuneless singing.

GTR, 1986

A failed effort to repeat the super-group concept of Asia teams Howe with ex-Genesis axeman Steve Hackett. Save the baroquish Top-20 single “When the Heart Rules the Mind,” and Howe’s solo piece “Sketches in the Sun,” this is generic ’80s pop rock. If you absolutely must hear what the pairing of these prog pioneers sounded like, investigate GTR-Greatest Hits Live [King Biscuit Flower Hour Archive Series], which also includes the band doing Yes and Genesis material.

Portraits of Bob Dylan, 1999

Many musicians have enjoyed success by reinterpreting Dylan. Unfortunately, Howe and the songs of the great Greenwich Village bard seem to be an unmatched pair.