GTR were a short-lived rock band founded in 1985 by former Yes and Asia guitarist Steve Howe and former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett. In comparison to the two leaders' earlier work within progressive rock, GTR's work followed more of an Album Oriented Rock format. The band was short-lived, lasting for two years and one album. Hackett has subsequently been strongly critical of the project, though not necessarily of the other musicians involved in it.
The band's name came from an abbreviation of "guitar" as used for track labelling in multi-track recording studios.
GTR was formed following Steve Howe's departure from Asia in 1985, following which he and former Yes manager Brian Lane discussed plans for a new group. Howe expressed an interest in working with Hackett, who was then approached by Lane. Hackett proved amenable, despite some doubts as to the project setup: his last few solo albums (including the atypical all-classical-guitar project Bay of Kings) had sold disappointingly and despite his interest in continuing his acoustic work, he saw GTR as an option for sustaining his career at a prominent level and also financing future solo work.Once the two guitarists were in place, the group was completed with the recruitment of American drummer Jonathan Mover (ex-Marillion, and later to work with Joe Satriani, Steve Vai and Alice Cooper), bass guitarist Phil Spalding (ex-Bernie Torme, Toyah, Mike Oldfield and Original Mirrors) and singerMax Bacon (ex-Moby Dick, Nightwing and Bronz).
One of the central ideas for GTR as a project was an attempt to create a fully fleshed contemporary band sound without the use of keyboard synthesizers (following Howe's increasing disgruntlement with the predominance of keyboards in Asia). Instead, Hackett and Howe's guitars were outfitted with Roland guitar synthesizer pickups, which used the vibrations of the strings to create MIDI signals which could be used to trigger and operate rack synthesizers. All of the synthesizer sounds on the group's studio recordings were created using this method, which was also in line with the emphasis on the band as a "guitar" project featuring two "superstar" progressive rock guitarists.
While Brian Lane pursued record deals (initially, without much success), the band set about recording songs with Howe’s former Asia and Yes colleague Geoff Downes as producer. Howe and Hackett disagreed on method, with the former favouring investment in high-quality studio time and the latter favouring a relatively low-budget recording approach but an investment in instruments and technology. Howe's approach prevailed and proved expensive, leaving the group uncomfortably in debt. Hackett would later criticise Lane’s work as manager, accusing him of following a “divide and conquer” approach to ensure that the band would be in dissension and agree to the final deal secured by Lane, in order to recoup the time and money invested.
GTR's self-titled debut album was released by Arista Records in May 1986. The album went gold, hit No. 11 on the album charts, and spawned a hit single, "When the Heart Rules the Mind" (#14), which stayed in the charts for 16 weeks. Another single, "The Hunter", received some video coverage and modest airplay, peaking at No. 85. While the album was a chart success, it was (and has remained) a work with a mixed and highly debated reputation among rock fans, especially supporters of Genesis and Yes. Some claimed the album contained substandard filler material beyond the two singles, and there was some criticism directed at Max Bacon's strident tenor. J.D. Considine's infamous review of the album (in Musician magazine) read simply, "SHT". (Considine later said it was the most famous thing he'd ever written in his three decades as a critic, while Hackett claimed the review actually helped sales of the album.)
"I always felt that something like GTR had novelty value. As soon as people start mentioning the word "Super Group," it basically has novelty value for one album. I suspect that no one was really that surprised that Steve and I, although we are very good friends these days, didn't ride off into the sunset together making albums for infinity."Steve Hackett, 2001
GTR toured North America and Europe in 1986. Live rehearsals revealed that the band's "no keyboards" method did not work in concert due to the poor tracking qualities of the guitar synthesizers, and therefore the tour featured keyboard player Matt Clifford in the GTR lineup in order to recreate the studio sound. Songs in the setlist included Genesis and Yes material as well as songs from Hackett and Howe's solo albums. Howe, Hackett and Bacon also appeared as guest VJs on MTV's "Guest VJ Hour" in the summer. A show at the Wilshire Theater inLos Angeles recorded for the King Biscuit Flower Hour radio show (and later released on album) demonstrated that the group was extremely tight and well-practiced live. Tracks played included versions of Yes's "Roundabout" and a re-working of the Genesis classic "I Know What I Like" as well as pieces from Hackett's and Howe's solo LPs. A preview of a new song, "Prizefighters", was included in this collection. The song was later developed for Hackett's planned 1986 solo release Feedback, which eventually appeared in 2000.
According to Hackett, by the end of the tour the band was falling apart, and his dissatisfaction with both the music and financial management of GTR (as well as a failure to see eye-to-eye with Steve Howe) led to his beginning to question the project. He later commented "it looked like either Steve Howe or I might jump ship with GTR, and I think the possibility of it being an on-going entity was mooted... At the time, I saw GTR as becoming more of a project than a band. Perhaps the idea of a number of guitarists all getting together." With this in mind, Hackett approached the Queen guitarist Brian May with the suggestion that May join the project. Despite May's initial enthusiasm, the potential collaboration only extended to three tracks demoed with Hackett, and it is unclear whether Hackett ultimately intended May to replace himself or replace Howe.
The band's debt situation had not improved and in 1987 Hackett called time on the group. He would recall that "in order to create or maintain that level of success, the band was functioning on an extremely insecure footing financially. Someone had to be the bad guy and say, 'I'm calling an extraordinary general meeting and closing down the company.' Which is what I did, because we had far too many money issues to be able to continue." Hackett then left GTR, stating it had been "interesting for about five minutes", and resumed his solo career. Later, he would reflect "Yes, we had a firm deal and I could have perhaps done it for life, but frankly, I prefer my albums to be more spontaneous and creatively free... There are artistic limitations with any successful band, and it was a successful band." Mover also left GTR, going on to play in Joe Satriani's band.
Unwilling to give up on the band, Steve Howe tried to continue GTR with Bacon, Spalding, ex-Saxon drummer Nigel Glockler (who had worked for Toyah with Spalding) and a second singer/guitarist, formerHush member Robert Berry. A bootleg of initial sessions (titled Nerotrend, which was also a new name suggested for the band) shows that half of the band's music was now sung by Berry and half by Bacon. Both sessions and band were ultimately abandoned, with some of the material later resurrected or reused on future albums by group members (including the song "This World is Big Enough for All of Us", which became "Birthright" on the ABWH album).
Post-GTR, Steve Howe would resume his solo career and rejoin the Yes lineup (initially as part of Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe) while Robert Berry would become part of the partial Emerson Lake & Palmer reunion project 3. Phil Spalding would return to a session career, and Nigel Glockler returned to Saxon. Max Bacon's 1996 solo album The Higher You Climb included GTR material, and he later sang lead on "Going, Going, Gone" on Howe's 1999 release, Portraits of Bob Dylan.
|Year||Song||US Hot 100||US Rock||UK Singles||Album|
|1986||"When the Heart Rules the Mind"||14||3||-||GTR|