Steve Howe of Yes happy to still do what he loves
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is notorious for taking forever to induct bands that almost everyone but the institution’s voting members thinks are overdue for entry. There was much frustration among rock fans—especially of the Canuck persuasion—when the mighty Rush kept getting shunned, even after 13 years of being eligible for admission.
Rush finally got inducted in 2013, and last April Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson were invited to introduce one of the class-of-2017 inductees, prog-rock legends Yes. “And we thought we waited a long time to get into the Hall of Fame” were the first words out of Lee’s mouth when he spoke at the ceremony, before he and Lifeson gushed about what a huge influence Yes had been on their rock-crazed teenage selves.
On the phone from a tour stop in San Diego, Yes guitarist Steve Howe admits that the Rock Hall has its shortcomings.
“Everybody knows that they take too long to induct bands and sometimes they do it either when everybody dislikes each other or many members have passed away. That seems a bit tragic, because of all the people in Yes who were keen on this—I was most probably the least keen—Chris Squire very much was,” Howe says, referring to the group’s long-time bassist and cofounder, who died in 2015. “He felt that this was the way that the industry and the fans showed how important we were. I mean, personally, after years and years of hearing ‘Oh, this year you might be [inducted],’ I lost interest.”
The induction ceremony took place the day before Howe’s 70th birthday, but age hasn’t slowed the fretmaster down much at all. After a spirited rendition of the band’s ’70s crowdpleaser “Roundabout”, with Lee on bass, Howe grabbed a Rickenbacker four-string to handle Squire’s parts on the 1983 hit “Owner of a Lonely Heart”, delivering the bottom end exactly as his old friend had done.
“I love playing the guitar, and I feel I’m playing better than ever,” says Howe, whose touring version of Yes finds former Sky Cries Mary bassist Jon Davison handling Jon Anderson’s distinctively high-pitched vocals. “I don’t really have a restriction technically—I don’t have a bad finger or a bad elbow or something. So I think the most important part of your body to keep well is your mind, and a lot of people think they can’t do anything about that. Certainly, taking antidepressants is never going to help it. All I’m really saying is that I like to keep alert for music, you know, if nothing else. Music’s a very big role in my life, second only to being caring and loving towards the people I love.
“If there’s something I couldn’t do now, that would be fairly depressing,” he adds, “and I’d rather go out and do something else. So I’m only going to carry on playing while I believe I’m playing at least as well as I always have. And if possible, like Segovia said, you keep learning and you keep loving the guitar. And you keep playing it. That’s my goal.”
Yes plays the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on Tuesday (September 5), with guest Todd Rundgren.