Category Archives: Steve Howe

Steve Howe Discography

Steve Howe was already a guitarist of some renown when he joined Yes, having played with various groups through the mid to late 60s including the psychedelic outfit Tomorrow  and proto-proggers Bodast. Although Howe appeared on the cover of Time And A Word, his first recorded appearance with the band was on The Yes Album. Howe didn’t re-invent the role of the guitar in Yes; rather, he embellished it with a wider range of stringed instruments like the steel guitar and dobro.

Howe’s superlative style, cosmic consciousness and strong songwriting provided the missing piece to Yes’ music. Together with Jon Anderson and Chris Squire, Howe authored some of the band’s most indelible moments including “Starship Trooper,” “Close To The Edge,” “Roundabout” and much of the massive (if misbegotten) Tales From Topographic Oceans. During a mid 70s hiatus, Howe joined his bandmates in releasing his first solo album, Beginnings. A followup, titled simply The Steve Howe Album, was released in between Yes albums.

In the 1980s, Howe joined the arena-rock supergroup Asia with former Yes keyboardist Geoff Downes, Carl Palmer and John Wetton. Howe appeared on their first two albums, Asia and Alpha, then appeared in a similar venture with Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett, GTR. In the 1990s, Steve Howe focused primarily on a solo career while re-connecting with Yes (and sometimes Asia) mates for various reunions. The Grand Scheme of Things featured Steve with his sons Dylan (drums) and Virgil (piano); Dylan would become a permanent fixture on Steve’s subsequent records. Over the years, Howe has also recorded a pair of new age/instrumental albums with Paul Sutin and released no less than six Homebrew albums featuring home studio recordings. (You like how I glossed over two decades of music there? Sorry, I don’t really enjoy writing biographies.)

As a personal aside, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that while watching The Lord of the Rings trilogy, I kept thinking how much the elven king looked like Steve Howe. Which might explain those spritely leaps during his performances…

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Tomorrow Featuring Keith West: Tomorrow (1968)

Kronomyth 1.0: TOMORROW NEVER KNOWS. The first (and only) Tomorrow elpee is a pleasant artifact from the short-lived but highly popular psychedelic scene of the late 60s. Unfortunately, the record was released almost a year after it was recorded; it sounded dated by 1968 and hasn’t aged any better over the years. The band’s singles, “Revolution” and “My White Bicycle,” fared better from earlier releases. The music leans decidedly toward the pop side of the psychedelic experience: precious vignettes of lost souls (“Colonel Brown,” “Shy Boy”), fairy tales (“Auntie Mary’s Dress Shop,” “Three Jolly Little Drawfs”) and harmless blows against the empire (“My White Bicycle,” “Revolution”). Produced by Mark Wirtz, the album makes use of what were at the time sophisticated studio recording techniques, such as multitracking and phasing; the band even takes on The Beatles’ daunting “Strawberry Fields Forever.” In describing the sound of Tomorrow, I’d plot it somewhere between the contemporary work of Pink Floyd and David Bowie; lighter than the one, heavier than the other. Although most of the songs are credited to Keith Hopkins (West’s real name) and Ken Burgess, Steve Howe’s guitar work is the driving force behind nearly every song. Yeswatchers will take particular delight in Howe’s solo on “Now Your Time Has Come,” one of the earliest examples of what would become Howe’s distinctive sound (showcased to better effect in Bodast). Some people regard the first Tomorrow album as a psychedelic classic; people who presumably know more about the psychedelic revolution than me. Had this album been released in the spring of 1967 then, yes, it might have been highly influential. But in the interim between its recording and its release, Tomorrow’s debut had been superseded by the work of The Pink Floyd, Jefferson Airplane, The Beatles, Traffic, Cream, etc. Fans of psychedelic pop will enjoy the trip back to the past, Steve Howe fans will be better served by Bodast and the kloset kinks among us will lift “Shy Boy” on our shoulders.

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Steve Howe: Beginnings (1975)

Kronomyth 1.0: DWARVES OF SLEEP. It takes more than a great guitarist to make a great album, but a good album? Oh, Beginnings is that and a little more. As Howe was one of the principal architects of Yes, it’ll come as no surprise that the songs on Beginnings recall that band more than anything. In fact, Alan White, Bill Bruford and Patrick Moraz even lend a hand in the proceedings. The surprise is that Steve Howe sings. A lot. More than he should have, really. Suffice to say that his vocal range dwarfs in comparison to Jon Anderson, as the words “sleepy” and “bashful” come to mind in describing it. (It must be something about English prog guitarists, as Howe, Hackett, Hillage and Andy Latimer all sounded like they’d just quaffed half a bottle of Nyquil.) Despite some inspired passages, the songs on Beginnings suffer from the too-quick transition from one idea to another, which may be a carryover from the more-is-more aesthetic of Tales From Topographic Oceans. And so Beginnings is an album by a sleepy-voiced progressive rock guitarist that throws a lot of ideas at the wall hoping some will stick. A few do, none stickier than “Lost Symphony,” which might be the cutest Yes solo song this side of “Don’t Forget (Nostalgia).” Then there’s the pastoral classical piece (“Beginnings”) that reminds me of The Snow Goose, an instrumental featuring members of Gryphon (“The Nature of the Sea”) and a second dose of The Clap (“Ram”), all of it good and none of it featuring Steve Howe’s voice. Which isn’t to say that he’s an awful vocalist, but we Yes fans are a jaded lot after Jon Anderson, and Beginnings only offers the spacey lyrics without the celestial voice. If you enjoy music that works on a conceptual level, better to begin with Olias, Six Wives, Flash or Story of I. You’ll get around to Beginnings (and Fish Out of Water) eventually because of what they are: an alternate route through the land of legendary high adventure known as Yes.

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Steve Howe: The Steve Howe Album (1979)

Kronomyth 2.0: THE SIX WIRES OF STEVEN THE GREAT. Steve’s second solo album follows the format of his first, minus the singing (hooray!), with rapid-fire ideas rendered in musical rapture. The attendant kronomyth is a nod to the notion that this and Wakeman’s Six Wives are analogous in their relation to their creator’s muse as their most musical expressions. The Steve Howe Album is also a remarkably good-humored record. The guitar lines in Yes often leapt with joy, and you can hear the source of that joy on this record: “Pennants,” “Cactus Boogie,” “Diary of a Man Who Vanished,” “The Continental.” You could also hear it on “The Clap,” which again gets a kind of reprise on “Meadow Rag,” much as “Ram” before it. While nothing on here is as insidiously tuneful as “Lost Symphony,” “All’s A Chord” is awfully close and marks the only occasion on TSHA when Steve sings. A cameo from Claire Hamill on “Look Over Your Shoulder” is a tasteful addition, inviting comparison to the work of Renaissance (due to a dearth of female prog singers and my general laziness in these matters). The album closes with not one but two classical pieces: “Double Rondo” and a reverent version of Vivaldi’s “Concerto In D (2nd Movement).” Steve pulls out all of the stops (and an impressive stringed arsenal) on The Steve Howe Album, making this record a real showcase for his talents as a player and composer. Beginnings may be the better place to begin simply because it was Steve’s first solo record, and a very good one at that, but this is the Steve Howe album to play for your friends, if only because you won’t have to defend his questionable singing.

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Paul Sutin Featuring Steve Howe: Seraphim (1988)

Okay, first of all, take a deep breath. No one is putting a gun to your head to buy this. Yes, it has Steve Howe’s name on it, but if the man made dresses would you wear one? (You don’t have to answer that.) Seraphim is an album of new age music by a Swiss keyboard player named Paul Sutin featuring Steve Howe and Carlo Bettini. At least, that’s how it was originally presented. Then, someone got the bright idea that the album should be re-packaged as a Sutin/Howe collaboration and, voila, Yes fans fell upon it like ants on an errant melon cube. Much grousing ensued, most of it centered on the fact that Seraphim was not what it purported to be (half of a Steve Howe album), with a few peaceful souls noting that it was, in fact, a pretty good album of new age music all the same. You have to pity Paul Sutin that the only people who buy his records are disappointed Steve Howe fans. Now, I actually enjoy electronic music, although new age is a maligned category for a reason, and we’ve all run into treacly albums of trite melodies mixed with flutes, birds and the occasional whale, and promptly gone running in the opposite direction. Seraphim does have flutes, birds and some trite melodies (apparently, they saved the whales for their next album, Voyagers). It also has some sections of very soothing and stately music that recall the work of Vangelis. That’s right, the guy who almost replaced Rick Wakeman in Yes instead of Patrick Moraz. Suddenly, those Jon and Vangelis and Patrick Moraz/Bill Bruford albums come flooding back into your memory, and you realize that maybe a Sutin/Howe album isn’t so bad after all. In fact, I find this album very calming and lovely in spots (“A Venetian Passage,” “Seraphim”), certainly better than pointless jazz or aimless airiness. So forget that this is a Steve Howe album. Rub his name off the cover with an eraser if it helps. Then approach this as a new age album by an artist you’ve never heard of, and you’ll find it a pleasant companion for a peaceful walk through your mind. Or ignore it altogether and buy yourself another round of Homebrew.

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Steve Howe: Turbulence (1991)

Ironically, this is the least turbulent of Steve’s solo records to date. The first two (Beginnings, TSHA) were exuberant. The ten songs featured on Turbulence follow a more measured approach. These are songs without words, which may sound interesting on the surface, but what I really mean is they’re like songs that have had the vocals removed, leaving only the backing tracks. The first two solo albums featured some vocals and so many ideas that vocals would have been superfluous in most cases, but something’s missing on Turbulence. On “The Inner Battle” and “Sensitive Chaos,” which would appear in fuller arrangements on Union, you have the before to a better after. Howe has always been a master recycler since the days of “Starship Trooper,” although he does try to keep things fresh on Turbulence. There are pieces that sound like George Harrison (“Fine Line”), new age studies (“Corkscrew”) and songs with bits of Yes magic sprinkled throughout (“Running The Human Race”). In attendance are the usual arsenal of guitars. What’s absent is Steve Howe’s sense of humor. The first two solo albums were silly in quite a few spots, but there’s nothing funny about Turbulence. Despite the full-time participation of Bill Bruford and Billy Currie, this feels like more of a DIY record than its predecessors. Steve Howe remains a seriously talented guitarist, but that was much more evident when he wasn’t trying to be so serious. [Note: Opinion seems to be divided on this record, and I was initially divided myself, but after re-listening to Howe’s first two records, Turbulence seemed duller to me.]

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Polar Shift – A Benefit For Antarctica (1991)

Kronomyth x.x: ICE AGE. Real Music owner Terence Yallop (a pioneer in new age music) and producer/radio show host Anna Turner assembled a compilation of prominent new age artists to raise awareness of Antarctica and benefit the Cousteau Society, entitled Polar Shift. The impetus, apparently, was the imminent Antarctica Treaty ratification for environmental protection of the area (it was approved several months after the compilation’s release). Only three of the compilation’s thirteen songs are unique to the compilation, including Yanni’s “Song For Antarctica,” Constance Demby’s “Into Forever” and a collaboration between Demby, Paul Sutin and Steve Howe, “Polar Flight.” The remainder is borrowed from existing albums, including two tracks from Vangelis’ 1983 soundtrack, Antarctica. If you enjoy new age music, you’ll enjoy this sampler. (You’re also a marshmallow. A big, fluffy marshmallow.) If you don’t enjoy new age music, the words “pile of shift” will likely come to mind at some point (say, during the histrionic and anticlimactic “Light of the Spirit”). My only interest in this CD was to hear “Polar Flight,” and as the first of the Sutin/Howe works I’ve heard, it’s pretty good (probably no worse than Rick Wakeman’s Aspirant Sun series). Of the remaining cuts, “Pura Vida” from Chris Spheeris and Paul Voudouris caught my ear, so I may have to check out more of that. The rest of the artists (Yanni, John Tesh, Enya) left me cold. Those in search of icy tones would do better to seek out the original Antarctica from Vangelis, Mannheim Steamroller’s Fresh Aire IV or The Pearl by Harold Budd and Brian Eno.

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Steve Howe: The Grand Scheme of Things (1993)

Kronomyth 4.0: GRAND DAD. For the first time in ages, Steve Howe wasn’t a member of a group. Yes was off doing their own thing, Asia too, so Howe formed his own group with sons Dylan (drums) and Virgil (piano) and released an album of new material, The Grand Scheme of Things, before embarking on his first solo tour. His fourth album is an even mix of songs and instrumentals, not unlike what Turbulence would have sounded like if Steve had added vocals to those ideas. The instrumental pieces on Grand Scheme lean more toward the new age side of things: “Road To One’s Self,” “Wayward Course,” “Georgia’s Theme.” The songs aren’t far removed from Steve’s contributions to Yes and Asia. As a producer, Steve favors a more personal and homespun sound, and his vocals are less painful than I remember. There’s clearly a connection between these songs and what Steve might have contributed to a second ABWH album, but instead of complex, multipart suites, these are self-contained songs and instrumentals with surprisingly simple and melodic sensibilities. In the hands of Yes, for example, “Beautiful Ideas,” “The Grand Scheme of Things,” “At The Gates of the New World” or the instrumental “Passing Phase” might have flourished. Here, they’re pleasant reminders that Steve Howe still has plenty of gas left in his creative tank, and if he plans on using it for a family road trip, that’s fine with me. I’d still recommend his first two solo albums to Yes fans, but Grand Scheme is a better bet to please than Turbulence and an auspicious enough beginning to the next phase of his career as a solo artist.

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Steve Howe: Mothballs (1994)

Kronomyth 4.5: YESTERDAY AND TOMORROW. Prior to joining Yes, Steve Howe was busy in a number of bands including the Syndicats (rhythm & blues), The In Crowd (flower-power pop), Tomorrow (psychedelic) and Bodast (early prog). Mothballs is a closet-clearing exercise that provides a nice mini-history of Howe’s evolution leading up to The Yes Album. In fact, the segue is seamless, as the guitar intro for the last track, “Nether Street,” was famously repurposed for “Würm,” the last movement of “Starship Trooper.” For Yes fans, the Bodast tracks at the end will be the most interesting, as they provide a clear link between Howe’s future work in Yes. The earlier material is interesting from an archival perspective, much like listening to Denny Laine-era Moody Blues or David Bowie’s contemporaneous work from the 60s. The Syndicats were also-rans in the British Invasion who released a few singles, including the ambitious “On The Horizon.” The opening track, “Maybellene,” features an eye-opening guitar solo from Steve Howe. The selections from The In Crowd feature better production; a rocking version of Ike Turner’s “Finger Poppin’” is a standout. There are also two instrumental tracks credited to Steve Howe that feature interesting arrangements. With Tomorrow, the music takes a psychedelic turn, which prog fans are probably more amenable to than straight rhythm and blues. “Revolution” has a lot of interesting twists and turns, although it’s hard to hear it today without the mocking commentary of Frank Zappa’s We’re Only In It For The Money in my head. An old B side from Keith West, “The Kid Was A Killer,” signals a new level of musical sophistication, with complex harmonies that invite comparison to The Who. The closing three tracks from Bodast—and, to a lesser extent, the one song from the transitional Canto—will definitely pique the interest of prog fans. It’s on songs like “Beyond Winter” and “Nether Street” that Steve Howe emerges from his chrysalis and we’re treated to early, impressive scratchings at prog’s grand gates of delirium. Mothballs is mostly a history lesson, though, and history can wait.

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Steve Howe: Not Necessarily Acoustic (1994)

Kronomyth 5.0: THE SOUND OF TWO HANDS CLAP-ING. After the release of The Grand Scheme of Things, Steve Howe had a much more intimate scheme in mind, taking up a one-man, multi-guitar tour of smaller venues. Not Necessarily Acoustic captures his performances in Philadelphia (Theatre of the Living Arts) and Montreal (Café Campus) in December 1993. For Steve Howe fans, it was Christmas come early as the Yes guitarist thumbed (and pinkied and index-fingered) his way through a storied catalog that included “The Clap,” “Mood For A Day,” “Masquerade,” “Ram,” “Meadow Rag,” “Roundabout” and a medley from Tales From Topographic Oceans (which, unfortunately, manages to shed no new light on that inscrutable opus). Despite some occasional, soft singing, this is an instrumental performance—a showcase, really, for the guitarist. Now, you might be thinking, do I really have the stamina for 60 minutes of mostly acoustic guitar? And the answer is, not surprisingly, Yes. Remember how “The Clap” or “Mood For Day” seemed to end too soon? It turns out that Howe has an unquenchable quiver of ideas, and we have an unquenchable thirst to hear them. Instead of building a setlist from his recorded works, which he could have handily done, Howe mixes in a lot of material that would have been new to listeners, such as the “Country Mix” medley, “Dorothy,” “Second Initial” and “Heritage.” The result is a deeper look at an artist that we thought we’d studied from every possible angle already. Cynical eyes may see this as Howe cashing in on the Unplugged phenomenon, but these performances are more about getting to the heart of Howe’s appeal as an artist. His past turns in the spotlight have always featured the acoustic guitar, and it makes perfect sense that, for an entire evening in the spotlight, he would do the same. Because of the new material and the quality of the performances, Not Necessarily Acoustic is definitely essential Steve Howe. It is a live recording, so you’ll have to tolerate that one dingbat at every concert who goes “whoo yeah” at the end of every song as if they’d just accomplished something themselves, but you can either ignore that or take solace in the knowledge that the person doing that probably has an eternity of being followed by a small demon who shouts “whoo yeah” at every action, no matter how small, waiting for them.

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