Imagine you’re Steve Hackett and it’s 1986. You left Genesis seven years earlier since they weren’t using nearly enough of your songs, but they’ve since become one of the biggest bands on the planet and they’re making piles and piles of money, landing hit after hit. If that wasn’t enough, Phil Collins and Peter Gabriel have become MTV-friendly pop giants and even Mike Rutherford turned his side project Mike and the Mechanics into a shockingly successful act. Meanwhile, you have a devoted cult audience for your solo work, but it simply can’t compare to what’s happened to everyone else in your old band not named Tony Banks.
Now imagine you’re Steve Howe and it’s 1986. You left Yes in 1979, and against all odds turned a prog-rock supergroup featuring members of Emerson Lake and Palmer and King Crimson into a platinum act with Asia, thanks to “Heat of the Moment.” But the follow-up album tanked and you bolted, right as Yes manage to reboot themselves without you and land on the charts with “Owner of a Lonely Heart.” Now Yes are once again playing arenas, and you’re a man without a band.
The stage was set for GTR, a short-lived and highly unstable supergroup featuring a union of prog rock’s two Steve H’s. It was just about the only time in history such a formula for a band could have plausibly led to mainstream success. One can imagine the discussions at VH1, which started the previous year: “We sure could use more videos by pasty-faced, wildly untelegenic members of 1970s prog-rock bands pushing the age of 40. We’re airing Yes, Genesis, Phil Collins, Mike and the Mechanics and Peter Gabriel around the clock, but if only there was another one. . .”
They must have been popping champaign bottles when GTR’s video for their debut single “When the Heart Rules the Mind” landed at their headquarters in July of 1986. Invisible Touch arrived red hot just a month earlier, and anything even tangentially related to Genesis was pop gold. “When the Heart Rules the Mind” got a ton of airplay and TV time, actually reaching Number 14 on the Hot 100. You can see the video above.
GTR – which featured Max Bacon on lead vocals – hit the road that summer, playing much of their album in addition to Yes songs like “Roundabout” and Genesis tunes like “I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe.)” The critics tore them to shreds, with Musician Magazine’s J.D. Considine simply writing “SHT” in the shortest and most damning record review in rock history.
Despite their big hit in America, there were major problems behind the scenes in GTR. “We had a hit album in America, and a bankrupt company in England,” Hackett said earlier this year. “The price of success was very high, indeed. I think, also, there’s the aspect of novelty value. Being able to sustain a band at that level, it was a case of high finance. At the end of the day, a group is like any company. It has to make sense economically.”
The guitarist also said the band didn’t live up to their potential. “A lot of what GTR did, however, didn’t make it onto records,” he said. “We did so much in the rehearsal rooms, but you can’t take people there. You just have to say that’s what it is; that’s what it was – a studio album, recorded totally live. What you see is what you get: A completely honest, live album.”
Hackett quit GTR shortly after the tour ended. Steve Howe briefly tried to carry on without him, but the second album he began was ultimately scrapped, and in 1988 he joined Anderson Wakeman Bruford Howe. It was his third prog-rock supergroup in six years, but this time around every member was an alumni of the classic 1970s lineup of Yes. It led to a crazy period where there were essentially two separate versions of Yes, but that’s a whole other story.
Meanwhile, Hackett went back to his solo career. There was talk of reuniting the Peter Gabriel–led lineup of Genesis in 2005 and they even had a group meeting, but when Gabriel balked it turned into a reunion of the 1980s lineup and Hackett was left high and dry. In recent years, he has talked to Steve Howe about the possibility of teaming up again. “I’m not closing the door to that,” he said in March. “At this point in time, obviously there’s a lot of other things on the agenda, first of all. So we’ll see how that goes.”
Will the heart rule the mind once again? In the immortal words of Asia, only time will tell.