GTR

Country United Kingdom

Style Melodic Rock/AOR

GTR+02500x2016GTR came together in 1986, at the very end of what most historians will probably call “the era of the supergroup.”

Just as Crosby, Stills,& Nash and Emerson, Lake, & Palmer had each formed acts, GTR (a commonly used abbreviation used by soundmen to mark the guitar input on a mixing console) jelled when two of England’s best known axemen decided it was time to re-invent the concept of the guitar-driven pop band.

With its tormation, GTR merged the talents of Steve Howe (guitarist for both Yes and Asia) and Steve Hackett (long time guitarist with Genesis). But, unlike bands like Blind Faith and Asia –supergroups whose members came out of a calculated pool of celebrity musicians– GTR was formed initially by the two Steve’s out of mutual respect of each other and desire to bring back the dual-guitar intensity made popular by bands like The Yardbirds and The Allman Brothers Band.

“Steve and I had spoken here and there during the 70s, and had acknowledged each other’s presence here and there”, says Howe, “but we didn’t have any real communication until we formed GTR. It could have turned out to be one of those duet albums, similar to the ones that Chet Atkins and Les Paul made, but once we got together we got into song writing and piecing each of our ideas together, and the band was formed from there”.

This recording for the King Biscuit Flower Hour weekly radio broadcast was recorded in the in the intimate Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles, in February, 1986.  GTR was wrapping up its first (and only) US Tour, and the band was hot to burn its brand of guitar rock into the eardrums of the sold out audience. Unfortunately, GTR was short-lived and this King Biscuit show gave the band its first, and only, widespread national radio exposure.

“I do remember this being one of the more memorable shows we did on that tour” says Hackett. “After I heard these tapes when we were approached to release the show on CD,” adds Howe, “I was reminded just how good some of the music we made actually was.” Since the late 1960s, Howe has held a spot in the elite circle of guitarists. He enjoyed early success in band called Tomorrow with the hit single “My White Bicycle”. In 1970, he joined the pioneer British Progressive band Yes, and he became an international star shortly thereafter when the band exploded onto the pop charts with Fragile, and the hit single, “Roundabout”.

Howe stayed with Yes until 1982, when he, along with Yes keyboardist Geoff Downes, ELP drummer Carl Palmer, and King Crimson bassist John Wetton established Asia. Asia struck platinum success from upon the release of its debut LP, but three years and three albums later, Howe was ready to move on. Hackett, on the other hand, had experienced similar platinum success in Genesis. He was recruited in 1971 into Genesis to replace founding member Anthony Phillips, and was asked to audition after Peter Gabriel spotted a classified ad in Melody Maker placed by Hackett that read: “Guitarist/writer seeks receptive musicians determined to strive beyond existing stagnant musical forms”.

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Like Howe, Hackett had been leaning more toward bringing the intricate musicianship of Prog Rock into the traditional pop song medium Both Howe and Hackett had recorded solo albums that showcased their respective guitar talents, but the idea of joing forces, after both working in such keyboard heavy bands, was something neither could resist. “I had felt personally dissatisfied at the way the guitar had been relegated to a second place position in the British music scene since the late 70s,” says Hackett. “At the time GTR came together, it had been my plan to fully orchestrate pieces using the guitar as the ultimate weapon.”

Adds Hackett: “Steve Howe and I met. We had spoken on the phone and bumped into each other at various events. Brian Lane and I knew each other. Brian had managed Yes and Asia, and through the social connection, I was talking to Brian. Steve Howe had just left Asia. My wife had suggested, ‘Why don’t you do a band with two guitarists?’ Brian loved the idea and thought this would be like the Yardbirds. Hackett and Howe, with help from Lane, settled on three relatively unknown musicians to round out the band. Vocalist Max Bacon had been recruited to the band by Hackett after he heard him in a band called Nightwing. Bassist Phil Spalding had played with Mike (“Tubular Bells”) Oldfield and John Mover (the sole Yankee in the band) had drummed for the Prog band, Marillion.

“Paul Carrack was an early front runner for lead vocals,” says Hackett, “but we settled on Max Bacon after we auditioned him. Steve Howe was keen on him and thought he had a strong and powerful voice.” “It was really exciting growing up practicing to Genesis and Yes records all the time, then actually being in a band with these people,” says Mover. “It was an honor (drumming) with two of the greatest guitar players in the world.”

“(GTR was) definitely a players band,” says Bacon. “These two guitarists could have phoned up other popular people to be in it, but they didn’t do that. They got us other guys, and we were hot for it. That was the thing: the fire” The band singed with Arista Records, Who gave them commercial guidance without forsaking any artistic integrity. “Brian Lane came up with Clive Davis and Arista Records. That came together pretty quickly. Davis and the label were on the up with Whitney Houston. They had been a pop/dance/R&B label and they wanted re-establish their rock roots. They wanted a white rock band and were it.”

Both the band and the label agreed to bring in keyboardist Geoff Downes to produce the band’s studio LP. Downes, who had worked in both progressive and pop bands, was the perfect element to bring the act’s music to life in the studio. As with Asia, GTR saw chart topping success right from the beginning. The initial single, “When The Heart Rules The Mind” zoomed up the FM and Top 40 charts, largely due to the concentrated efforts of Arista’s crackerjack radio staff.

“In retrospect, Arista did an amazing job of breaking the single, and the band, itself,” says Howe. “They stayed on this record and really helped take it over the top.” With the album doing so well, the band hit the road. At the onset of the tour, Hackett told the media: “The band’s stage show would be the equivalent of the Ben Hur chariot race.” Most of the material captured in this recording are songs from the band’s sole studio album.GTR also rounded out the show with tracks from Howe and Hackett’s solo LPs, and memorable re-workings of the Yes hit “Roundabout” and the Genesis classic, “I Know What I Like.”

“I remember the King Biscuit show very well,” says Howe. “I had not seen (Yes bassist) Chris Squire in almost about six years, since the Drama tour, and he showed up. It was a real friendly vibe. The Wiltern Theater is so cozy place. It was great that we were able to control the sound, and present a nice package.” “The response was really very good right from the start,” adds Howe. “People were into what we were, musically. Arista did a great job at launching it. The record was hot to trot, especially in Texas and California.” “Of course, the Yes and Genesis fan base helped make it happen, but people were excited about the new music we were making.”

GTR+TheHunterBy the time the band had reached LA for this show, however, problems between the band members had already started to develop. After completing the US Tour, the band did a few shows in Europe, but soon after, fell apart. “It was a compatibility problem, and not just with Steve and I,” admits Howe. “It might have been between Steve Hackett and the band, in general. Some time you can’t see how critical things are at the time, but he eventually became frustrated.”

“We had a great time writing the album, and assembling the LP and the band,” continues Howe, “the problems came about after that when we were out touring.” “I think our demise might have occurred because Steve Hackett and myself had been experiencing different approaches to being in a band,” says Howe, today. “Steve had a lot of experience with controlling a band, because he had been a solo act for seven years, but I had always had a more shared experience with Yes and Asia.” “You gotta have fun,” adds Hackett, “and after a while they became difficult. I realized at the end of the US tour that maybe having two guitarists in GTR might have been one guitarists too many.”

“We had to both be in it to be called GTR,” says Howe. “I was going to make a new album with the same band and call it Steve Howe & Friends, but it didn’t come into shape. It was a shame the band didn’t last longer, but at least we didn’t make a lousy second album.” “In retrospect,” says Hackett, “GTR was a little bit poppy from my usual history, but we were more into stretching the music out. We did have commercial pressures, but at that point in time, I was very happy about the level of the success of the band. After years of being blessed by the American music industry for being too esoteric, I saw GTR as a chance to keep the door open.”

“The period of Steve and I writing together was great,” remembers Howe. “Very peaceful. Then the business came into it, and the public pressure, and that sort of corrupted it. It was too short lived. I am proud of it. We were disappointed we didn’t get a little more exposure, at the time.” Today, Hackett is currently touring with a band that includes former King Crimson members John Wetton and Ian McDonald. He was also very involved with the other Genesis members in assembling two separate box sets of Genesis music.

Howe is currently part of the reunion of the classic Yes line up of Anderson-Squire-Howe-White and Wakeman. He also remains a solo artist and is working on an album with Renaissance singer, Annie Haslam. Both Steve Howe and Steve Hackett remain friends and have indicated that GTR reunion in the future is not out of the question.

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– GTR [1986]
– King Biscuit Flower Hour [1997]

Bruce Pilato

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