Lex Neon on Steve Howe (Yes)

What follows is a homage to friendship, Yes, and Steve Howe, who has a birthday on April 8. Happy birthday, Steve.

I was lost in a sea of what looked like goths, Madonna wannabes, and jocks. I was a “classic rock and pop” high school freshman. It was during the mid-80’s “musical grey area” when I met Curt, another student and music fan who would later introduce me to progressive rock, heavy metal, “deep” album tracks, and the merit of “balls-to-the-wall” hard rock.

(He may not like to admit it, but he also turned me on to “professional” wrestling.)

Among our group of friends, Curt was the “mature” one. He was a junior, and three months older than me. He drove a car, had a girlfriend, and a job after school (he could afford to go to concerts); he had “the life,” plus advanced homework! As for the rest of our group? Broke, car-less virgins with an equal amount of homework and no social life.

When I visited his family home for the first time, we sat in front of his stereo. He placed The Yes Album on the turntable, and we started talking. We were just starting to really learn about each other when I first heard the Steve Howe instrumental piece called “The Clap.”

My ears broke contact with his words and zoomed in on the sound of the most beautiful piece of music, performed on solo acoustic guitar. Curt noticed that I had “zoned out” and just said, “That’s ’The Clap.’ Don’t tell me that you’ve never heard this song before.” I hadn’t. I only knew of them as the band that sang “Owner Of A Lonely Heart,” which I didn’t care for at the time.

I asked him to play the song again because I missed the live spoken word introduction of the song by Howe himself. Curt played the song again, and we both sat in silence as the needle vibrated the grooves on the album and once more gave us that song.

Steve Howe’s guitar licks continued to fill the air as Curt told me of his family’s roots in Wisconsin, his favorite radio stations, and his after school job at McDonalds. By the time we hit the last few hypnotic minutes of the album’s final song “Perpetual Change,” I felt as if I’d known him forever. He made me a cassette copy of The Yes Album, which I played to death in my Sony Walkman.

Trying to imitate Steve Howe’s finger picking style was my first instinct as a young guitar player. It was hard, but I learned the first 16 or so bars of “The Clap” before I switched gears and studied his lead electric guitar work in some of the other songs. It was at once bluesy, jazzy, and classical with a wickedly smooth texture and tone. He was unlike any other guitarist I had heard up to that point. He was precise, clean, and delivered a very unique impression. Steve Howe almost instantly won my ears.

As Curt and I got through all of the teen drama of high school and life, we always had music as a special bond. Time and distance had us out of contact for a while, but we managed to boomerang back into each others lives. Over the years, the sound of Steve Howe and classic Yes reminds me of Curt. The sound of Steve Howe is the soundtrack to my early friendship with one of my lifelong friends. Thank you Curt for turning me into a Howe-head, and thanks for being my friend.

And thank you Steve Howe, for showing me the progressive and musical side of guitar. Damn, you’re hypnotic! Happy birthday.

Note: My “listening to” selection (if it were working) would be… yes, you guessed it… The Yes Album which was originally released February 1971.

(Lex Neon is the musical mastermind behind the music of indie sunshine pop / rock band Poppermost.  For more info, go to http://www.poppermost.com/)

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~ by Poppermost on September 6, 2008.

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