The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has faced a lot of criticism for its treatment of progressive rock bands. They inducted Pink Floyd in 1996 and Genesis in 2010, but prog pioneers like King Crimson and the Moody Blues have yet to even appear on a ballot. It took Yes three ballots, but 2017 will finally be their year. Sadly, it comes two years after bassist Chris Squire (the only man to endure through every one of the group’s many lineup changes) passed away from acute erythroid leukemia. Every other core member remains alive, and hopefully they’ll all come and play at the induction ceremony in April even though they now tour in separate camps. Guitarist Steve Howe plays with drummer Alan White as Yes, while singer Jon Anderson recently hit the road with keyboardist Rick Wakeman and 1980s-era guitarist Trevor Rabin as Anderson, Rabin and Wakeman.
We spoke with Steve Howe about the Hall of Fame, the possibility of a reunion that night with estranged frontman Jon Anderson and the band’s upcoming 50th anniversary.
How do you feel about the news?
Pretty good. We’ve heard lots about this over the years, so there’s been, like, decades of anticipation. It’s a wonderful one-off thing that happens. If you get a gold album, you can always get another gold album. You win a guitar award, you can always get another one. But the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a one-off, and it’s great.
Are you surprised?
It comes after years of people saying, “We’re voting for you!” and “We’re trying to get you in.” It’s a result of all that and I’m not disappointed that it’s come.
Who told you the news
Yes’ manager Martin Darvill – he came to me and told me the news the other day.
Did he tell you about the other inductees?
No, he didn’t. I’m looking forward to hearing that.
I can tell you now. Pearl Jam …
I know them a little bit.
Electric Light Orchestra.
I know them [laughs]. They’ve done some wonderful things. It’s joyful music, really kind of upbeat. Of course they did the big production thing for a while. Roy Wood was part of it once and that thread of the Move lead to the Roy Wood Big Band and ELO. They had a great reputation and it was a chance for Jeff Lynne to break through. He’s a very competent and capable all-around player.
Wow! There isn’t anybody that doesn’t know them. Some of the bands that get in obviously have an amazing amount of hit records. That’s the way they’ve shown their validity, by mastering that art. Journey are one of those great bands.
Joan Baez! Oh, wow, that takes me right back. Basically, by the time I discovered Bob Dylan on his second record, I was knocked sideways. No sooner had I heard that I heard Joan Baez do her version of “Mama, You’ve Been on My Mind” called “Daddy, You’ve Been on My Mind.” Of course, she played a lovely Martin guitar that occasionally she loaned to Bob on their duos. Quite recently I saw some clips of their duos on the early days when they sang together. That was immense. I’ve been to many of her concerts in London. My wife and I love her very much.
I’m not quite familiar with him, but there’s bound to be artists I’m not familiar with.
Most inductees pick three songs to play. How will you pick those?
It’ll be pretty hard. I guess I would say that for us, obviously, “Roundabout” is a central song. We’d love to play “Roundabout.” We haven’t been playing it this year, but “Owner of a Lonely Heart,” we know that song and did it last year and several years before. Of course, we could stick something quite exciting in there. We’ve been playing five, nearly six albums in their entirety. We’re very close in hand with the entire Yes repertoire, particularly the 1970s, We could play anything, so we’ll take your request!
It often ends with a big all-star jam at the end of the night where all the artists player together. That could be a lot of fun.
Wow, well, plug my guitar in and we’ll see what happens.
It would be fun to see “Roundabout” with everyone playing.
[Laughs] That could be fun. It could be a little bit chaotic. It’s got some time changes in there. When you listen to the chorus of “Roundabout” it really deceives you into thinking it’s in 4/4 because it’s easy on the ear, but of course it isn’t and there’s a little trick in there that catches many musicians up.
“We’ve been working in different bands and different areas for a very long time.”
They’re bringing in Jon Anderson, Bill Bruford, you, Trevor Rabin, the late Chris Squire, Rick Wakeman, Alan White and Tony Kaye. Do you think they made the right call?
It’s not for me to say. That is the Union lineup, which is a midway point in Yes’ career when we had eight people in the band. But I think it’s great.
Bands usually reunite at the Hall of Fame and all play together. Do you think that’s going to happen?
I can’t say. I don’t know and I can’t predict. It just depends on how it feels and what the communication is and what the spirit is.
If Jon, Rick and everyone else wants to do it, does the thought of a big reunion appeal to you?
Like I say, it’s gotta be discussed and gotta be considered. Obviously it’s a consideration.
When is the last time you spoke with Jon?
I don’t know whether I can reveal things like that. It’s a little bit personal. We’ve been working in different bands and different areas for a very long time.
I think the fans are going to think this might lead to the second Union tour.
We know the [upcoming] 50-year anniversary is going to be quite colossal. The Union tour was popular with many fans, but it would have to be re-thought if we were considering that. It would need some reinvention. But that’s a ways away.
How do you think Chris would feel about the Hall of Fame if he was still around?
I think he’d be really delighted. I think Chris valued this kind of feedback from the business more than all of us. He was really keen on that sort of thing. He always loved the feedback from the industry, and of course this is the big one. Chris would be very pleased.
I am hoping Bill Bruford comes. I know he’s retired, but it would be great to see him play drums one last time.
He told me he hasn’t played in nine years and he’s not anticipating playing again, and I don’t see anyone pressuring him to play. I know people would love to see him, of course. He’s a friend of mine and I wouldn’t want to pressure him at all. I don’t want to hold him to it, but he told me he would love to come and be a part of it, but he doesn’t anticipate playing.
How do you feel about ARW [Anderson Rabin Wakeman] being on tour now? Do you think that’s a good idea? Are you cool with it?
[Laughs] It’s an idea that has every right to exist, as much as ABWH [Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe] when we were together in the late 1980s. Basically there’s room for anybody to play Yes music. We love to hear other people play Yes music. These guys have quite a bit of credibility to do that and they are outstanding musicians, so there’s no reason why they shouldn’t go out and play. There’s not any reason.
You can understand why the fans are hoping the two groups will combine at some point.
As long as its not trying to put a square peg in a round hole. The Union tour had some effects. For the fans, it was seen in a particular light. But internally, it was complex. Even considering it, you’d have to think about how it could work in a different way. It’s nice seeing people play together, but it’s really about the mood and the willingness and the love and the sharing. It just comes down to a lot of other things, unfortunately, like business and technical. Those other parts both help and interfere and destruct. A few people have said to me that although it was great to see us together all night for the Union tour, it was really a lot to try and fill your ears with. But I do appreciate that people are thinking about seeing us together, and that’s a very nice sentiment.
I know a lot of Yes fans were getting frustrated it has taken so long to get you guys into the Hall of Fame. It’s definitely time this happened.
It’s a bit like waiting for a train. Maybe it’s on time and you just noticed waiting. I don’t regret the wait. I just feel this must be the right time since it happened.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s class of 2017 will honor Pearl Jam, Tupac, Journey, Yes, Joan Baez, Electric Light Orchestra and Nile Rodgers.