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Yes Guitarist Steve Howe on How He Feels Being Called ‘Prog-Rock’

Rob Shanahan

It may just be the ultimate classic rock triple-header – Grammy-winning icons Yes are hitting the road to perform three of their classic albums in their entirety, all in one concert. The historic shows will all feature 1971’s The Yes Album, 1972’s Close to the Edge and 1977’s Going for the One.

The band, now featuring guitarist Steve Howe, bassist Chris Squire, drummer Alan White, keyboardist Geoff Downes and singer Jon Davison, kick the tour off March 1.

The news is a big deal for fans of all stripes and influence, including none other than the keyboard wizard from Dream Theater, Jordan Rudess, who was kind enough to share his thoughts about Yes with us. “The music of Yes has had an enormous impact, not only on my musical life, but to my whole being as a person. There is a spirit and glory to their music and their message that is incredibly positive and healing. I’m thrilled to see the boys continuing the legacy and taking three of their finest albums all across North America.”

Noisecreep had the pleasure of speaking with Steve Howe recently about the tour, the band’s iconic album covers and the rock ‘n’ roll and jazz legends that changed his young life.

Steve, talk about this ambitious idea of taking three full classic albums on tour.

It’s been floating around for a bit actually. I was pushing for it years ago so it’s been kicking around. But as a band we thought it would be nice to put all of these albums, which are very near and dear to us, in their full and proper context. The flow will all be intact, which was important back when albums mattered; back when people actually sat and listened all the way through a long form piece of work. We haven’t really done something like this since the days of Tales From Topographic Oceans, when we would play everything in sequence. Since we got back together in 2008 we have had a more linear view about what we’ve wanted to play, and so the culmination of this tour is truly exciting for all of us.

The term “prog” gets hung on Yes a lot. What’s your take on that?

The idea of “prog” is something today with a built-in stigma, which is inappropriate, I think. Actually, as far as what we do, I called it ‘soft rock’ back then, that was my term for what Yes music was. Which was accurate. I was listening to Going for the One just before this conversation with you, and we play in a mid-range, a really nice space that is not heavy at all and has real depth to it. In the interim after we came out, beside soft rock, then you had orchestral rock, classical rock, graphic rock – so many kinds of rock before prog became such a well-know term. But I love a lot of the music that gets called prog today. It’s very complex, intense, and played by very talented musicians.

Listen to ‘Close to the Edge’

The artist Roger Dean still works with your band in crafting a visual image for Yes. Talk about the effect of his work and how it relates to the band.

It has rare that I have an in-depth conversation and Roger Dean does not come up. He has had such great influence on the visual access the band has been able to get. And the fact the he draws great logos has never done us any harm either [laughs]. We’ve got such a great logo and it’s been adapted so beautifully over the years, in so many different colors and shades and textures. So it always comes back in a fresh way. Roger’s work is so effervescent and so full of depth that you do get something out of it – it is really worth exploring.

The art almost seems to have a relationship with the music, as if it is viscerally connected.

I agree. We always thought it was the perfect mix, and as you describe quite well, Roger’s work paralleled the music, it was visually progressive, and there was an almost holistic viewpoint that Roger’s work has always brought. His art is based on reality, he draws things thing with realism, the floating islands, sort of like the Amazon or Patagonia. His attitude is just very much in tune with the music we make.

Watch Roger Dean Discuss Yes’ Cover Art

What did you listen to growing up, Steve?

So many things – and there are four names I’ll start with: Tennessee Ernie Ford, Jimmy Bryant, Les Paul and Mary Ford – those artists allowed me to hear so much great guitar playing. Then of course there was Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Duane Eddy and Bill Haley – all the great American rock ‘n’ roll stars. Then my older siblings said, you listen to rubbish! So they’d play me classical and jazz music. And I loved all of it. I had so many great influences. Add to that Chet Atkins, Charlie Christian, the Ventures, the Shadows – I just absorbed all of it.

Was there a first show you saw early on that inspired you?

Absolutely. In the south of London I saw a package tour that included Chuck Berry, Carl Perkins and The Animals. That was such a great show. I was really young and very affected by Chuck Berry – he was just outrageously good.

Yes Triple-Header 2013 Tour Dates:
03/01 West Wendover, NV Peppermill Concert Hall
03/03 Seattle, WA Moore Theatre
03/05 San Francisco, CA The Warfield
03/06 Los Angeles, CA Orpheum Theatre
03/08 Temecula, CA Pechanga Theater (at Pechanga Casino)
03/09 Reno, NV Silver Legacy Casino
03/12 Aspen, CO Belly Up Aspen
03/14 Omaha, NE Holland Performing Arts Center
03/16 Hammond, IN The Venue at Horseshoe Casino
03/17 Louisville, KY Palace Theatre
03/18 Kansas City, MO The Midland by AMC
03/20 Austin, TX ACL Live at the Moody Theater
03/21 Grand Prairie, TX Verizon Theatre
03/22 Biloxi, MS Hard Rock Live – Biloxi
03/24 Hollywood, FL Seminole Hard Rock Live Arena
03/25 Ft. Lauderdale, FL MSC Poesia
03/30 Melbourne, FL Maxwell C. King Center for the Perf. Arts
04/02 Clearwater, FL Ruck Eckerd Hall
04/05 Mashantucket, CT MGM Grand at Foxwoods
04/06 Hampton, NH Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom
04/07 Bethlehem, PA Sands Bethlehem Event Center
04/09 New York, NY Beacon Theatre
04/11 Toronto, ON Massey Hall
04/12 Detroit, MI Fox Theatre

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