Yes guitarist Steve Howe says Chet Atkins was–and is–his number one



By Steve Newton

When Yes guitarist Steve Howe calls the Straight office from Reno, Nevada, it’s not to brag about how well he’s been doing at the blackjack tables. Although he and his bandmates—vocalist Jon Anderson, bassist Chris Squire, and drummer Alan White—have been holed up in the gambling mecca for two weeks, they’ve only been there to rehearse for an upcoming North American tour, which will see Yes performing with symphony orchestras in key cities.

Assuming that the British prog-rock legends might be working out the live bugs in the company of the Reno Symphony Orchestra, I ask if that’s the case. “People are under the impression that you can rehearse with an orchestra,” replies Howe. “You can’t—it costs too much money. We rehearse, get our show ready, and then we play with the Reno Orchestra. They read the dots.”

The dot readers of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra will be joining Yes at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre next Thursday (August 2), when tunes such as “Roundabout” and “And You and I” will be getting the full classical treatment. While the idea of undertaking a tour in the company of large orchestras was suggested to Yes by its management, the group had been heading in that direction with last year’s Masterworks Tour, which showcased the band’s lengthier, more progressive material.

Howe’s work with Yes in the classical and early-music vein goes back to the early ’70s, with the baroque-tinged “Mood for a Day”. On his new solo CD, Natural Timbre, he performs his own arrangement of the second movement of “Winter”, part of Antonio Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. He uses 12-string guitar and mandolin on that track, but elsewhere handles Hawaiian steel guitar, bass, koto, autoharp, mandocello, banjo guitar, and alto guitar.

“I move across the whole gambit of the mandolin and guitar family on this record,” he relates, “and instruments like the koto and the autoharp, the kind of peripheral instruments, add a nice warmth and colour to things.”

Natural Timbre includes three tunes from the Yes canon: “To Be Over”, the Anderson composition “Your Move”, and Squire’s “Disillusion”. “We put a poll on my Web site where people could vote for the kinds of things that they might like me to do,” explains Howe, “and ‘To Be Over’ came out number one. So I wanted to do that primarily, but ‘Your Move’ was just staring me in the face, and ‘Disillusion’ was like a bit of fun, really. ‘Disillusion’ was a little piece that always had a pretty interesting guitar part, so I thought, ‘I’ll pull that out and play my Chet Atkins part there.’ I mean, Chet was my number one—well, he is my number one—guitarist. Out of all the great players that have been, Chet is the synthesis of them all.”

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