On the Spot … Steve Howe


On the Spot - Steve Howe

INNUENDO: WHO PLAYED BRILLIANT FLAMENCO GUITAR on the track and how did that come about?
Here you to find out….

On the Spot … Steve Howe

Having been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with YES as well as achieving global success as a solo artist and with supergroups GTR, ASIA and ABWH, STEVE HOWE is recognised as one of progressive rock’s most pioneering guitarists.

He has often spoken fondly about his fleeting collaboration with QUEEN….

but in an exclusive interview with DAVE FORDHAM that originally appeared in the winter 2021 Official International Queen Fan Club magazine, Steve goes into the greatest detail yet about the finer points of his relationship with the band and guesting [FLAMENCO GUITAR] on INNUENDO !!!…..

Innuendo record sleeve art

DAVE FORDHAM: Prior to your contribution on Innuendo, what connections did you have to Queen?

STEVE HOWE: In the recording world, we were running into each other at studios all the time, and a few times socially too. When Yes made our Drama album at the Townhouse Studios in London in 1979 and GTR was recorded there in 1985, we were there for so long on both occasions that inevitably Queen would show up in another studio. I went to Townhouse doing other things as well and it was always a thrill to run into Brian and the guys. You would go down to lunch and, for example, Roger Taylor is in there and that’s an ordinary experience when you are in a top studio with other musicians.

How did you find them to be during those interactions?

Basically, I love bands that have camaraderie and I found Queen to be a great example of that. There were no egos, even Freddie as big and grand as he was! In reality, I found them to be a down to earth band, never looking down on anybody. Queen were a very good model for that. All different personalities but very much a self-contained band. The four of them were like a family.

Steve How - All My Yesterdays
Steve Howe’s autobiography
‘All My Yesterdays’ was released in 2020.

Queen were never going to be understated because Freddie was so flamboyant! He was a phenomenal singer and played really nice piano too. But I hope there is no misunderstanding about just how nice Freddie was, how kind he was and how appreciative he was of other people. Those are the traits that make an artist truly great.

As a fellow guitarist, did you have an appreciation of Brian’s playing?

Brian has a very highly identifiable style with a lyrical and dynamic approach, as well as being technical too. He showed his colours by playing really quirky and highly unusual and individual guitar parts (in solos in particular) that were quintessentially Brian and quintessentially musical. My appreciation is greatest for guitarists who like a good melody and when you consider the quality Brian has brought to the Queen recordings, it is amazing. Queen had recognisable trademarks in so many wonderful songs.

British guitarists (and I count myself as one of them) do have the habit of coming up with their own thing. It’s true of course that Brian’s guitar is unique… but when I used to hear Eric Clapton or Albert Lee, for example, playing a Les Paul custom, it still sounded like Eric and Albert. Brian’s guitar is definitely his vehicle into the music but even if he’d played a Gretsch or something, I still think it would’ve been something quite like what he does because that’s what he hears; the main part of the sound is the guitarist. Speaking personally, all the gear just helps me be me and I’m sure that’s the same with Brian. But of course, his guitar IS beautiful!

Did you get to see Queen play live?

I’m absolutely sure I did, but I don’t recall exactly when and where due to the quagmire of concerts I’ve been to (although I do remember being at Freddie’s tribute concert at Wembley with my wife).

You’ve got to admire not only the way they recorded and the colours of the dynamics they added, but when they got on stage, I always wondered how they did it and how come it sounded like the record because they brought in so many of the right parts. Not so much in the 1970s, but Yes are very keen on transporting recordings into the live environment accurately without selling ourselves short – that doesn’t limit you to colour, flavour or expand it and I certainly admired Queen’s wonderful ability to reproduce good songs on stage. It was like looking at an artwork, expertly put together and not jammed off as a hodgepodge of a song that’s a bit like the recording.

Prior to the Innuendo session at Mountain Studios, you already had a long history with Montreux?

We [Yes] went to Mountain Studios for a day in 1975 and after Emerson, Lake & Palmer played us the album they were working on at full volume, we thought if they can make that noise then we would record our Going For The One album there in 1977! I also went back in 1979 to play the Montreux Jazz Festival and heard that Queen had bought the studio…

And it was the chance meeting in 1990 in Montreux that led you to recording with Queen?

During those recording sessions at Townhouse, there were interesting social interactions and we started to get to know all of Queen’s people. Freddie really liked Claude Johnson-Taylor who was my guitar tech at the time. I’d need Claude and I’d find him in the studio with Freddie! All these people started to get on and were cross members almost. A perfect example is Martin Groves who had been a part of the Yes crew but ended up working for Queen.

From the late 1980s, I started working at various locations in Switzerland with Paul Sutin on different projects. I’d usually drive down to Switzerland and during days off I’d visit Montreux periodically as a reminiscence almost. I know Norbert Muller, owner of the Bazar Suisse shop, who is a wonderful guy and is always trying to make Montreux more Queen aware.

On one such visit to Montreux, Martin Groves spotted me by chance when I was having lunch, told me Queen were in the studio and that I should come on down. But Martin told them I was on my way after lunch so by the time I walked in, it was a set-up job!

They were ready for you to play?

It was lovely because after all the greetings they said they’d like to play me their new album. So I’m listening to I’m Going Slightly Mad and thinking this is an amazing album, astoundingly good, honest, descriptive and emotional… but they kept the Innuendo track until last and when the grand opening came on, I’m thinking ‘this is serious stuff’! I could see Brian looking at me in the middle section when his guitars are sounding very flamenco-like and at the end, they said to me ‘you know that bit in the middle, can you play some more guitar on there?’. I thought they had all they needed but they wanted something to go over the top so I said ‘sure!’.

Brian had three Gibson Chet Atkins guitars. I was familiar with them as I had one at home – brilliant inventions by Chet as they sound so much like classical guitar. I played all three of Brian’s and liked one a bit more than the other two, so that’s what I played on the record.

So your solo really was impromptu?

Yes and I’ve enjoyed improvising all my life; it’s one of the reasons I never learnt to read music… in other words, to make up stuff that nobody has thought of before! Before dinner I’d recorded about three different takes of guitar lines and then after dinner, we did some editing and mixing with Dave Richards and got all the best moments from the three takes. They were all live. Dave was a key part of that studio and later on in 1999 I did my album Portraits Of Bob Dylan with him there. A great, hardworking guy who could also be a wild card that was pretty wild… [CONTINUES PAGE 2]

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