The interview that follows was commissioned by Guitar World Magazine in 1998 as a follow-up to my interview with Yngwie Malmsteen (June 1998 issue).  I interviewed Steve Howe twice over two days during a summer Yes tour of 1998, each time for a couple of hours; Chris Squire, Alan White, and Jon Anderson were also interviewed.  For reasons that are still unclear to me, however, Guitar World did not publish this interview.  Since no money ever changed hands, the interview has remained my intellectual property. 

My thanks to Guitar World editor Brad Tolinski, a guy I’ve known since we both taught lessons at the same guitar shop back in Northville, Michigan during the 1980s.  Brad helped me understand how magazine interviews work, and how one edits these to best represent the subject’s remarks.  So here it is, The Lost Steve Howe Interview; this is a version that was completed in 2000 and is only slightly revised below. 

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Steve Howe, Epic Guitarist
by John Covach

It’s a July evening at Pine Knob, an outdoor amphitheatre just outside Detroit, and legendary progressive rockers Yes are in the middle of their Masterworks Tour.  After a rocking opening set by Kansas, Yes takes the stage to the pre-recorded strains of Benjamin Britten’s A Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra.  The band opens the show with their twenty-minute epic, “Close to the Edge,” and during the course of a two-hour set, the group also plays the lengthy “Gates of Delerium” and “Ritual,” making even ten-minute numbers like “Heart of the Sunrise,” “Starship Trooper,” “Your Move/All Good People,” and “Roundabout” seem almost brief by comparison.  This capacity crowd of die-hard Yes fans loves it.  Yes fans, in fact, had a voice in which songs the group would perform on this tour: many voted in an online survey that was held on the Internet.  The fans voted overwhelmingly for the complicated and virtuosic epic numbers from the 1970s: “The Gates of Delirium got the most votes,” drummer Alan White tells a group of fans at a drum clinic in Raleigh.  “I’ve been telling the band for years that we should be doing that one.”

At the center of these ambitious Yes tracks is the eclectic guitar playing of Steve Howe.  Howe rose to fame in the early 1970s as the virtuoso guitarist for one of rock music’s most musically accomplished and highly respected British progressive-rock bands.  Featuring the flashy and commanding playing of Howe, bassist Chris Squire, and multi-keyboardist Rick Wakeman, Yes were among the leaders in blending aspects of European classical music with rock, and along with groups like Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Jethro Tull, they enjoyed tremendous commercial success in the process.  Yes sold millions of albums and packed stadiums and arenas across the world, making Howe progressive rock’s most widely-admired--and arguably most talented--guitarist.  He played a broad range of electric guitars, steel- and nylon-string acoustics, lap and pedal steels, and an electric sitar.  His stylistic palette ranged from jazz to country to flamenco to rock, and often within a single number.  Yes vocalist Jon Anderson remembers Howe’s first rehearsals with the band in 1970: “He could play jazz, rockabilly, classical, serious heavy rock, and he loved things like the lute or the Portugese 12-string.  These are all the colors he brought into the group.  I thought, ‘he’s brought ten guitars with him.  Is he going to play them all at once?’”  At times, it seemed like he did. 

Master of many styles, Howe is practically a personification of the history of the electric guitar.  He has always acknowledged a wide range of influences on his playing, including Les Paul, Chet Atkins, Speedy West, Jimmy Bryant, Tal Farlow, George Harrison, Jim Hall, George Benson, James Burton, and many more.  Howe’s gallery of guitar heroes ranges from pop to jazz, rock to country, and this goes a long way toward explaining the fundamental eclecticism of Howe’s own style.  But this maestro of the eclectic electric is also recognized as an important collector of guitars (and perhaps one target of the famous Spinal Tap dressing-room scene).  The history of his music, influences, and especially his instruments are the focus of The Steve Howe Guitar Collection, a richly illustrated book suitable for any guitarist’s coffee table. 

While he is eager to acknowledge the contributions of others, Steve Howe is himself an important figure in the history of the guitar.  Emerging from the rock scene in the late 1960s and early 70s, Howe quickly became known for his virtuosic skill as a lead player.  As he puts it, “the guitar solo is something I’m very interested in.  That’s what life’s all about!”  Listeners and fans greeted Howe’s enthusiasm for elegant music-technical display by voting him top guitarist in a number of polls during the 1970s.  Perhaps surprisingly to the generation who witnessed all this, not a single Howe solo appeared in Guitar World’s Top 100.  This is not so much a reflection on Howe’s talent and innovation as a guitarist, but rather more a result of the neglect 1970s progressive rock has suffered in rock culture since the late 70s--a neglect fueled by the original punk/new-wave battle cry for a return to simplicity and the rejection (on the surface, at least) of musical professionalism among rockers.  History, however, will almost certainly judge Steve Howe as among the best guitarists of his generation. 

As much of a mark as Howe will ultimately make as a guitarist, his more important role in rock history may be his part in composing and arranging the epic Yes tracks of the 1970s.  Together with Anderson, Howe wrote “Roundabout,” “Close to the Edge,” and all four sides of the controversial concept album Tales from Topographic Oceans.  The extended length of these and other Yes pieces is not the result of simply inserting long solos into the framework of shorter songs (“In-a Gadda-da-Vida” is the classic instance of this) or of creating a medley out of several shorter numbers (as on side two of the Beatles’ Abbey Road).  Yes music instead expands organically, with harmonic, rhythmic, and melodic patterns reworked and developed over the course of a piece.  Like the contemporaneous music of Jethro Tull, ELP, and Genesis, Yes music borrows from classical music in approaching rock songwriting and arranging as “composition.”  Yes’s longest and most musically ambitious tracks are so indebted to the classical-music tradition that they sometimes seem to hover close to the edge of the rock style itself.  

But that this kind of music making occurs in Yes presents an interesting problem: How can a bunch of guys in their twenties at the time, and with only a smattering of traditional musical training between them, write large-scale pieces that push on the boundary between rock and classical music? It was a considerable musical accomplishment, but how did they do it?  In the interview that follows, Steve Howe discusses the way Yes music was written and arranged, reflecting along the way on his own development as a writer and guitarist.  There is something patently psychedelic about the idea of using classical music to enrich rock, and Howe discusses his days as an important figure in the London psychedelic underground.  This scene encouraged avant-garde experimentation and unrestrained stylistic eclecticism, and the spirit of late-60s psychedelia clearly permeates the Yes music that follows in the 70s. 

From his initial efforts at writing with Tomorrow and Bodast before joining Yes, Howe moves on to consider his songwriting relationship with Jon Anderson and the Yes process for arranging music.  Perhaps most interesting aspect of his remarks about the epic tracks is the fact that the kinds of musical connections that hold these pieces together arose mostly unconsciously, as a part of the writing, arranging, and recording process.  While the connections are there, in many instances the musicians seem not to have known they were creating them.  But musicians live in a world of music, and are in this way like fish in water; it is often the case--even in classical music--that composers become aware of important relationships in their music only after the works are completed. 

There is more to tell about Steve Howe’s career than appears here.pan style="mso-spacerun:yes">  There is, for instance, no mention of his solo work or his stint with the 1980s mega-group Asia.  Whatever the merits of that work may be, the epic tracks are his most important contribution to rock history.  In what follows, then, we get some sense of the why and Howe of Yes music.

The Years Before Yes (1963-69): In Crowd, Tomorrow, and Bodast

 John Covach: Most readers will know your playing with Yes from the 1970s and with Asia after that, but I think it is largely overlooked how pivotal a figure you were in the London psychedelic scene of the late 60s.  Tomorrow, for instance, was a much more important band than most people realize.  Can I get you to think back to those days?

Steve Howe: Yes, quite happily.  Tomorrow was born out of the In Crowd.  We were doing soul music, a bit of R&B, and we were improvising.  Keith West wanted very much to take the group in a new direction.  I think the main influence that Keith and I felt was the Byrds.  So in a way one of my heros was obviously Roger McGuinn--the way he had that big sound on the twelve string.  Also, the way he soloed was interesting, particularly “Eight Miles High.”  By the time we’d gone in this new musical direction Keith and I had written “Revolution” and generally started collaborating.  He was very encouraging, like Jon Anderson is now, in saying “Just play something there.”  Tomorrow was a time when I decided that I very much wanted to become a writer.  I’m not sure who I was thinking I might emulate, I just wanted to join the club of writers.  I think a main reason I wanted to write was because my listening was broadening much more.  My tastes had never been just pop music anyway.

JC: It seems like Tomorrow was a band you really believed in.  I mean, what were you 19 or 20-years old at the time?  Maybe this is the kind of band experience that can only occur at that time in a person’s life. 

SH: Yeah, because it did actually happen, even though we didn’t have the chart success.  At that time we lived in a flat in Chelsea and the world was at our feet--to an extent!  If we’d only had the album out in 1967, but we didn’t.  And I think management--understandably--lost a little bit of interest by the time 1968 came around.  We ran out of dates and then we collided with Keith West’s Teenage Opera.  The group was successful at two levels: Keith had a #2 single [“Excerpt from A Teenage Opera”] and the group was this crazy psychedelic band that had a lot of fun.  It did start the writing process for me as well as a better understanding of producers.  I learned from [Tomorrow producer] Mark Wirtz that you can have fun in the studio--it was like an experiment. 

JC: You had an offer to join The Nice between Tomorrow and Bodast. 

SH: That was very exciting, because I’d played with Keith Emerson at that time and we were made to play together.  There was something marvelously twiddly between us--the twiddly way I played and the twiddly way he played were complementary, later to be explored with Rick Wakeman, Patrick Moraz, and Geoff Downes.  And so that meant a difficult decision--you don’t always make the right decisions!  I don’t know now if it was right or wrong, but I suppose in retrospect it was good that I was available.  There was some very exciting musical potential there, mainly because we both Keith and I were mad about Vivaldi. 

Yes Years (1970-81): The Yes Album (March 1971), Primary Guitar: Gibson ES-175

JC: Looking back on your playing in the 60s, you went through a number of stylistic changes.  The Syndicats were very much part of the British revival of electric blues, the In Crowd were more Stax oriented, and Tomorrow was at the heart of British psychedelia.  But with the next group Bodast, it seems like your playing takes another important step forward.  That’s the record in which the Steve Howe most Yes listeners will recognize emerges.  And then there’s a tremendous jump from Bodast to The Yes Album.  In the context of the late 60s, the Bodast music already featured exceptional guitar playing.  But The Yes Album was something else again--where did that come from? 

SH: Well, that was a major step, because in a way, Bodast didn’t make a big colorful picture, but it allowed me to explore overdubbing a little bit.  The Yes Album was a bigger jump--the big jump was really the fact that I’d met a band of people that I fitted in great with and they were all pretty formidable at their own particular skills.  And I think that this accelerated me, because that was what, unfortunately, wasn’t true about Bodast.  There was talent and musical strength, but there wasn’t anybody else who was as exceptional in skill or developing the way I was.  But of course, it was good, because Jon Anderson saw me in Bodast. 

JC: Let’s turn to some of the technical aspects of your playing.  “Starship Trooper” begins with a first-position E chord that then shifts to the sixth position, creating the jingly-jangly characteristic opening of the song.  Where did that come from? 

SH: Jon.  That was Jon’s idea. 

JC: But then you added the arpeggiated figure that immediately follows? 

SH: That’s right.   

JC: And this arpeggiated figure returns later in the song over a chord progression that goes A - C - F - Bb - Ab - F.  

SH: This is the great thing that happens between Jon and I.  That idea was an extension of the beginning.  Jon was singing and playing the chords and I was seeing those chords in a different light. I was seeing the influence of the major seventh and how I could keep using that on the F chord and on the Bb.  As far as the beginning goes, already formulated in the band was the idea that any section in 4/4 would not sound like 4/4.  Say in one four-bar section, we’d have everybody playing in different time signatures.  Because we were capable of that, it made it very intense.  That rolling part was something that still makes me smile to play. 

JC: And of course the ending, “Würm,” all comes from Bodast. 

SH: Those three chords come from “Nether Street” and I play the same tune--I’m very glad I did.  I dearly liked that song and the reason it got used so quickly was because to all intents and purposes that Bodast record was buried.  So I looked at remnants from that music and much to my enjoyment, when I played Yes those three chords and then that melody, they said “That’s great.”  And then the idea came from the collective group that it would build slowly, gradually getting bigger and bigger.  The other major ingredient in “Starship Trooper” is the country-picking, acoustic guitar in the middle.  And that was rather fun because that was about as fast as I could play at the time. 

JC: It seems to me that one thing that really hangs together about “Starship Trooper”--and you can test this by comparing it with the other tracks on the album--is that the guitar parts all deal with open-string voicings--notes played on lower strings high on the neck ringing against the open first and second strings.  All the sections we’ve discussed share this characteristic.  It’s all about these idiomatic guitar voicings. 

SH: That’s right. That track’s much more about the “ringing” ones. 

Fragile (November 1971), Primary Guitar: Gibson ES-5 Switchmaster  

JC: Those ringing 12th-fret harmonics that open “Roundabout” are famous.  Did that acoustic introduction begin as a solo guitar piece?

SH: That introduction is a piece I can imagine being done like that, as it was a bit on The Symphonic Music of Yes, where David Palmer arranged it with the orchestra.  Certainly what I felt I was doing was bringing that guitar sound, the Martin 00-18, right to the front of the group, which was not something that I knew would work.  I wondered how much could I play acoustic guitar in a rock band.  I’d done it with “Clap” and “Starship,” and little bits on “Yours Is No Disgrace.”  My goal on “Roundabout” was to make the acoustic a feature instrument.

JC: The first verse features strummed acoustic-guitar harmonics on the Em - F#m - G progression and what follows.  It’s not possible to get any of those chords as harmonics using the standard tuning.  How did you get those full chords that almost sound like an autoharp?

SH: We recorded it on three separate tracks and each one had different chords.  We either retuned the guitar for each chord or used a capo and retuned it.

JC: I hear a real Byrds influence in this song.  The Em - F#m - G chord progression comes right from “Eight Miles High” and your trill on the notes F# and G at the instrumental climax just before the last verse (7:02-7:05) sound a lot like the trill McGuinn does just before the vocals enter.  But maybe this was unconscious.

SH: Well those influences are still there nonetheless, because they’re still here now.  As far as I’m concerned, The Byrds are still something I relate things to.  I couldn’t deny those connections, but it’s subtle and quite well pointed out.

JC: “Roundabout” seems to me to be a piece that hangs together musically in an even tighter way than “Starship Trooper.”  For instance, the opening descending guitar notes B - A - G - F# seem to return as the ascending main figure in the middle section as E - F# - G - A.  In classical-music terms this is developing a motive through inversion.  That opening line also returns at the very end during the choral vocal section over the strummed Em chord.  How much are connections like this a conscious part of your composing?

SH: Maybe one part of it is the way Jon and I write, being around the guitar.  We both have a guitar and we sit there and sort of yell at each other a lot.  That’s how we get our music going: “Do you sing that?”  “I’ll sing this,” and so on.  Out of this must come almost a fixation that we must keep this within certain boundaries that will keep it within that song.  So the song has a sort of “sound,” if you like, and it’s there kind of all the time.  That would relate to what you’re saying about the surprising comparisons between parts.  It’s almost, as you say, like taking one idea and expanding it.  Yes tried to do that; we did do that in what we called “arranging,” which is taking one idea and changing it. 

Close to the Edge (September 1972), Primary Guitar: Gibson ES-345

JC: Did this arranging process continue on music from Close to the Edge?

SH: “And You and I” was one of the longest development periods in terms of arranging that I can remember.  We went on for hours--people trying out things, Chris Squire changing the root.  This tune evolved: it wasn’t there to start with, but it evolved out of an idea.  Someone would have an idea and the band would then create a whole way of developing the idea through repetition, using different keys, for instance.  And, of course, Rick Wakeman was great at that time; he was actually working with us in the true sense of the word, and that meant being in the room together for hours.  That’s the only way of really shaping the music.

JC: “Close to the Edge” was the longest track the group had produced up till then.  Were you conscious of “composing” in connections that would help the whole piece cohere musically?  I ask the question in this way because I’m not sure any musician needs to be consciously aware of these kinds of relationships for them to be effective.

SH: I don’t think you could be.  If you were conscious of those things--well, I don’t know.  It might work for different people; after all, people who read and write music obviously have a different vantage point from where I come from.  I can’t really tell what it’s like over on the other side.  It has always appealed to me to get to that point but, you know, I guess I won’t.  But I’ve often tried.  I suppose I’ve got compensations in that I don’t have any inhibitions in any way about writing music.  I’m not surprised I do write music, but then again I’m not sure how I do it--I just find ideas.  It all stems from the way I learned to play the guitar, I think, because I learned by ear.  But certainly when we wrote “Close to the Edge” I wasn’t all that conscious of such musical connections.  The fact that it was so long didn’t surprise us; we were attempting to do that.  After “Roundabout” was ten minutes, we were shooting for twenty minutes--one side of an album.  When we were writing the song we knew we’d arrange the piece to death in rehearsal and in the studio.  If ever we did one right, “Close to the Edge” is it--it’s one hell of an arrangement.

JC: Some listeners might be surprised to know that your part in the fugatto passage (7:59-8:28) just before the long, spacy middle section is actually appropriated from another Bodast song, “Black Leather Gloves.”  Two more contrasting musical contexts would be hard to find.

SH: That’s right.  In “Black Leather Gloves” it’s treated like a rock riff, almost like a kind of Neil Young riff.  But there you are again, I thought the Bodast album was dead and buried.  That riff got used nicely there.  It surprises me that I was doing that sort of borrowing so early on, because I’m still a kind of magpie of my own music.  Once I try an idea in maybe two different musical settings and they both fail, though, that bit of music is over--I won’t go back to it again!

JC: I don’t want to seem like I’m pushing this idea too much, but the important pitch relationship in that section is from the low F that ends that lick to the E that begins the next section (8:27-8:28).  That’s the same two notes that make up the opening guitar riff, and this half-step motive appears again in the big church-organ passages, first as E - D# (12:11-12:26), but then as F - E (12:27-12:39).  These kinds of relationships do help that track hang together, I think.

SH: Yes, it’s very uncanny.  It’s quite interesting for me that you spot those things, because I wouldn’t spot them.  As it turns out, Rick’s organ part was actually a guitar tune that I had.  In a way the fact that I didn’t play it was the best thing about it.  From that I started to learn that I could write music and not even play it, but as long as it was there, it certainly carried my sound, my writing, my music. 

Tales From Topographic Oceans (November 1973), Primary Guitar: Gibson Les Paul Junior

JC: Close to the Edge was followed by the band’s most extended album.  Tales is a double LP, with four sides each as long as “Close to the Edge.”  Despite the wealth of melodic connections that pop up across the album, I’ve always thought that the Tales pieces are more loosely structured than the tracks on the previous album.  The first side, “The Revealing Science of God,” contains many beautiful moments but seems a little freer than “Close to the Edge.”  Still, you bring the parallel sixths from the opening back in a transformed way at about the halfway point of the piece, and this is a structural feature that can be found on a number of earlier tracks.

SH: That’s right.  Sometimes that music is a backdrop, sometimes it’s the only thing that’s being played, sometimes we’re playing it together.  Yeah, it’s a looser arrangement; it’s less uptight and more laid back and that’s why things seem more spacious.  We were going for different kinds of structures.  My original demo version for that track appears on my Homebrew CD, and I’m playing synthesizers just like Rick does [the track is listed as “For This Moment”]. 

JC: Didn’t the scale of this project make recording it very difficult?

SH: There was a feeling that Jon and I were maybe going mad together.  I remember us at the studio, and one of us would get exhausted and the other would have to take over.  One of us would have to be “on the case” really intensely.  We weren’t the leaders, but rather the messengers of why the music would be like this.  We tried to get the others to understand that Jon and I had a rough idea of what the music was about. 

JC: The music on that album cuts across a vast range of musical styles.  It must have all seemed quite new at the time.

SH: Side three, “The Ancient,” went from almost avant-garde rock to kind of a classical approach.  That piece was so important to me; it was a great opportunity musically.  I felt Yes were really more of an instrumental band here, which was giving me a lot of pleasure.  Because, after all, most of side three is instrumental.  The first section’s mad, and then leading into the “Leaves of Green” section I play an extended passage on the classical guitar.  I think that’s a very challenging idea for a band to have taken on.  It’s almost musical deception.  Think about the first ten minutes of that track: you wouldn’t expect that you’re going to hear something rock, then classical guitar, and then a song.  Of course, then we give in to temptation, and come back with the angular stuff to close the piece.  You thought we were going to let you off lightly with all that nice stuff, but suddenly, a bit like Keith Emerson, we come running back in with the ammunition firing.

Relayer (November 1974), Primary Guitar: Fender Telecaster

JC: Tales met with a lot of critical resistance, but seemingly undeterred by that, the band came back with Relayer.  And if side three of Tales was out there, “Sound Chaser” went further out yet.  And that manic electric flamenco solo on the Telecaster!

SH: I’d learned to be pretty resilient to criticism a long time before this, and when that criticism came Jon and I were pretty unmoved.  It tried to move us; it moved Rick.  And that solo, it’s almost as if I’d given myself a license to break all the rules.  What I was doing was completely mixing things up.  In a traditional sense I had the wrong guitar in my hands--the right one for this experience--but I was going against the traditional approach of respecting a musical style.  If anything, I was disrespecting it, or maybe trying to jump over it.  Other guitarists were doing that kind of thing with rock and jazz.  It’s a risky business doing that--it’s a risky solo.  It paid off though.

JC: “The Gates of Delirium” is the epic track on Relayer.  How did that come together?

SH: Jon had basically conceptualized “Gates” and had a huge overview of this piece.  He was able to direct us.  All he had was a kind of structural plan: he wanted so much of this, and then he wanted to change to this, and then to get into the song, and so on.  There were some themes, but it wasn’t all worked out.  They were like plateaus of nothing--they were just open to opportunity, musically speaking.  So, like I did with “Parallels” and a lot of songs that I don’t get any credit for writing, I had to invent a whole part that was significant.  Like “Close to the Edge,” “Gates” has a sort of improvised feel though it is actually structured.  It’s a very radiant piece, full of ever-changing scenes: a powerful song, the battle sequence, back to the song, and then we’re doing “Soon the Light.”  It took a lot of control to play “Gates,” which is about as complex as anything Yes arranged. 

Going for the One (July 1977), Important New Guitars: Fender Stratocaster, Rickenbacker Electric 12-String

JC: Each Yes album seems to feature one guitar prominently (the guitars listed above are supplemented by others on every album).  On Going for the One the Strat and Rickenbacker 12-string enter the picture.  The Rick 12 seems especially important for “Awaken.”

SH: The Rickenbacker allowed me to play electric 12-string with a lot of finger movement.  I started racing about the guitar like crazy.  I was really pleased I could do that--it’s a very “feel” thing to play.

JC: The guitar line in the first section of the piece reminds me of “Eight Miles High” again: both are in E minor; there’s the Rick 12-string; and McGuinn’s opening lead on “Eight Miles High” is also frantic, though I know he thought of his solo as inspired by jazz saxophonist John Coltrane. 

SH: Well, Going for the One was a bit of a time when we revisited our roots musically.  Chris and I were filmed singing Bob Dylan songs together in harmony.  There’s one bit of film of me playing Duane Eddy; I think it’s one of my favorites of his is called “The Avenger.”  It is really the easiest thing in the world to play but it sounds good.  When I look back, I think we were trying to make the most authentic album we could.  “Awaken,” being a big structure, took us a hell of a long time--we were still rehearsing in the studio.  “Turn of the Century” was another time-consuming structure, like “And You and I.”  The way we got to that structure took ages--we had to learn things, to rewrite it, re-record it, and so on.  The end took forever because it was complicated, though great fun.  That guitar line for “Awaken” was one of those times when Jon heard me play something and just jumped on it.  He’ll have this sudden vision: “That’s all we need!  Play it again.”  I always seem to be able to find another guitar part or tune.  As soon as Jon likes it, it kind of explodes.  We were talking before about the classical guitar piece on side three of Tales.  Before I got to that piece, I played Jon at least three, if not four, other solo pieces like that, which were later to become “Surface Tension” and other tunes of mine.  And then I suddenly played the Tales solo and that was it.  There is a thing about a good riff and the excitement that Jon will then create out of that.   That’s the big plus of working with other people. 

JC: You’d have to admit that there are a number of characteristic Yes guitar riffs in E: “Starship Trooper,” “Roundabout,” “The Revealing Science of God,” and “Awaken.”  It must be because the guitar sounds a mile wide in E.

SH: Yes, but it’s also because Jon quite likes singing in that key as well.  It’s a logical thing because he plays the guitar as well--you know, he strums away.


Sidebar #1

The Classical Connection: How the Epics Were Made

While Steve Howe played an important role as songwriter for a number of epic Yes tracks, he and the other members of Yes all made crucial contributions to the arrangements of these extended pieces.  As Jon Anderson recalls, “I was eager to work on the structural side of music.  One goal of mine, for instance, was to figure out how Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring and Petrushka went.  When I worked with the group, I would say, ‘Do you remember that thing you were playing before?  Can you try that in half time against the guitar.’  It was very easy for me to think on that level.  We started working in that way all together, but I think I was one of the initiators in working at how to piece together Yes music.”  Alan White agrees on Anderson’s role: “Jon used to listen to Sibelius continuously, and this worked its way into the writing process of the group.  The one thing we all got out of classical music was the use of light and shade, and the idea of structuring a piece.”

Some of the Yes epics might not have been possible without the use of sophisticated recording techniques.  In a sense, the studio became the band’s sketch pad in composing the longer tracks.  Passages were recorded in 30 to 90-second bits and then spliced together.  Sometimes tracks were not played live from beginning to end until after they had been recorded.  As Chris Squire points out, “There was a lot of cutting and pasting.  ‘Close to the Edge’ was the last big piece that we played all the way through in rehearsal before recording it.  Tales from Topographic Oceans and “The Gates of Delirium” were worked out as we were recording.”


Sidebar #2

Howe Do You Do It?  “Starship Trooper”

In his remarks about “Starship Trooper,” Howe reveals that a later passage in the piece is an extension of the introduction.  Let’s see how he does it.  The opening pair of chords are nothing more than an open E chord followed by the same fingering moved up the neck from the first to the sixth position.  This second voicing creates an unorthodox A-major chord.  Howe’s arpeggios that follow are derived from an A-major-seventh voicing, and the scalewise descent from G# to D# on the third string sounding against the held A and open E on the first and second strings produce a bell-like, ringing effect.

Later in the tune (at 1:51) he extends this arpeggiation idea by beginning from the same figure as before over the opening A chord.  As the chord shifts to C major, he continues the general scalewise descent on the third string from the opening, extending it to include the fourth string while keeping the ringing first-string E and now using the G on the second string.  The descent continues onto the fifth and six strings as the chord progression moves through F major, Bb major, and Ab major, finally coming to rest on F major.  Thus, what started as a way to embellish a single held A chord is developed into an extended passage that works its way through six chords.


This interview is copyright 2000, John Covach
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