After his departure from Asia in 1985, guitarist Steve Howe was looking for a new project. Although Steve had nothing in the pipeline, he had an idea. It was a tantalising prospect.
Brian Lane, Yes’ former manager, realised this as the pair sat down to talk. Steve Howe explained that his idea involved forming what a new group with another member of progressive rock royalty. This was none other than former Genesis lead guitarist Steve Hackett.
After working on six studio albums, three live albums and seven singles, Steve Hackett left Genesis in 1977. Since then, he had had been concentrating on his solo career.
In 1978, Steve Hackett released his sophomore album, Please Don’t Touch. Although it reached just thirty-eight in Britain, Please Don’t Touch became his most successful album in America, reaching number 103 in the US Billboard 200. However, that was as good as it got for Steve in America. His next four album never reached the same heights stateside.
Spectral Mornings was released in May 1979, reaching twenty-two in Britain, and 138 in the US Billboard 200. This trend continued when Defector reached number nine in Britain, becoming his most successful album. However, in America, Defector reached just 144 in the US Billboard 200. When Cured was released in August 1981, it reached fifteen in Britain, but stalled at 169 in the US Billboard 200. Little did Steve Hackett realise that he none of his solo albums would chart in America.
When Steve Hackett released Highly Strung in April 1983, it reached number sixteen in the British charts. The album failed to chart elsewhere. Nobody realised that Steve Hackett’s career was about to enter choppy waters.
After Steve Hackett completed Bay Of Kings, he took the album to Charisma Records. They weren’t expecting an album of contemporary classical music. This wasn’t what Charisma Records expected or wanted. Executives at Charisma Records, fearing that Bay Of Kings would fail commercially, rejected the album. Not long after this, Steve Hackett left Charisma Records.
Bay Of Kings was released in October 1983, through Lamborghini Records, an independent label. Steve Hackett’s classical debut reached just number seventy in the British charts. The executives at Charisma Records were vindicated. However, for Steve Hackett this was just the start of his problems.
Following the disappointment of Bay Of Kings, he returned with Till We Have Faces. What was Steve’s eight solo album, was released in August 1984. I became the least successful album of his career, when it stalled at fifty-four in Britain. This was another blow for Steve Hackett. So much so, that it would be another nine years before Steve Hackett released another solo rock record. Classical music Steve Hackett thought, was the future. That was until he met former Yes manager Brian Lane.
Steve Howe had asked Brian Lane to approach Steve Hackett about the pair working on project together. When Brian Lane met Steve Hackett, he found the former Genesis lead guitarist receptive to the proposal. That wasn’t surprising.
The last two years had taken their toll. Not only had Steve’s professional pride suffered, but so had his finances. A successful project with Steve Howe would allow Steve Hackett to embark on future classical projects. So Steve Hackett agreed to work with Steve Howe. All that was left was to complete the line-up of GTR, whose eponymous debut album was recently reissued as a double album by Esoteric Recordings.
Now that Steve Hackett and Steve Howe had agreed to work together, they began to recruit other musicians. Given the two founding members background, it was fitting that one of the recruits had been a member of a progressive rock band. That was Jonathan Moverm who previously, had been Marillion’s drummer. The American drummer was brought onboard. So was bassist Phil Spalding. His career began with Bernie Tormé, before being part of Mike Oldfield’s band. The final member of the band was Max Bacon, who had been a member of Moby Dick, Nightwing and Bronz. With the lineup complete now the nascent band could begin work on their debut album. First they needed a name.
The band’s name was simplicity itself. GTR was an abbreviation of guitar. This was how the instrument was abbreviated in multi-track recording studios. Fittingly, the guitar was the instrument that Steve Howe and Steve Hackett both found fame and fortune playing. It was also the U.S.P. of the band. GTR was one of very few bands to feature what was billed as “two superstar guitarists.” They weren’t just any “superstar guitarists,” they were among progressive rock royalty. Was this a clue to the band’s musical direction?
It wasn’t. When Steve Howe and Steve Hackett first began discussing ideas for the new band, they decided that they wanted the band not to use synths. By the eighties, synths were playing a bigger part in prog rock. That was why Steve Howe had became disillusioned with life in Asia. Increasingly, Asia had come to rely more and more upon synths. That he and Steve Hackett decided wasn’t going to happen in their new band. The closest they came, was using Roland guitar synthesiser pickups. So when either Steve touched the guitar strings, this triggered a midi signal which operated rack synths. It was an ambitious idea. However, before GTR could put their idea into practice, the new band needed a record deal.
Given Steve Howe and Steve Hackett’s track record, GTR’s manager, Brian Lane, must have thought getting the new band a record deal would be easy. The new band featured two of the greatest guitarists of the prog rock era. However, it was easier said than done. Initially, Brian Lane struggled to get a record company interested in GTR. The band couldn’t wait indefinitely, so GTR headed into the studio.
Joining GTR in the studio, was Yes keyboardist Geoff Downes. He was going to produce the album. However, straight away, problems arose. The two founding members disagreed on how to record the album. Steve Howe wanted to spend money on a good quality and well equipped studio. However, Steve Hackett disagreed. He felt that GTR should be a low budget project. Ultimately, Steve Howe’s approach won the day. This would come back to haunt GTR.
Now that GTR had agreed on how to record their debut album, they began recording ten tracks. Four came courtesy of the Hackett-Howe songwriting partnership. This included When the Heart Rules The Mind, Here I Wait, You Can Still Get Through and Toe the Line. The pair also penned Jekyll and Hyde with Max Bacon; Reach Out (Never Say No) with Phil Spalding; and Imagining with Jonathan Mover. Other tracks included Geoff Downe’ The Hunter, Steve Howe’s Sketches In The Sun and Steve Hackett’s Hackett To Bits. These ten tracks were recorded at the Townhouse Studios, in London, England.
Recording of what became GTR began in 1985. GTR and producer Geoff Downes would become familiar with the Townhouse Studios. The album wasn’t recorded quickly. However, when the sessions began, each member of GTR was ready to play their part. Steve Hackett and Steve Howe both played guitars, synths and added backing vocals. The rhythm section featured drummer and percussionist Jonathan Mover and bassist Phil Spalding. Both men added backing vocals. Max Bacon added vocals. Eventually, GTR was completed in early 1986, and was scheduled for release in July 1986.
Before GTR was released in July 1986, critics had their say on the latest supergroup’s debut album. Reviews of GTR were mixed. Critics felt that GTR was a concept that promised much, but ultimately, failed to deliver. It was an opportunity lost.
Against this backdrop, GTR released their eponymous debut album in July 1986. Despite the mixed reviews, GTR sold well, reaching number eleven in the US Billboard 200. This resulted in GTR being certified gold. Two singles were released from GTR. The Hunter stalled at number eighty-five in the US Billboard 100. However, When the Heart Rules the Mind, which opened GTR reached number fourteen in the US Billboard 100. GTR’s debut album, it seemed had been a resounding success.
This wasn’t a surprise. With two of the greatest guitarists of the prog rock era, the foundations were in place for GTR to become a successful supergroup. However, where things started to go awry, were bringing onboard three relative unknowns. They were talented musicians, but not of the stature of Steve Hackett and Steve Howe. It was like a musical version of Rocky, with Messrs. Hackett and Howe giving a trio of contenders a shot at the title. This didn’t involve fifteen rounds in the ring, but ten songs in the studio.
When critics heard GTR, they realised that the prog rock sound of Steve Hackett and Steve Howe’s pasts was gone. Replacing it, was meant to be a much more hard rocking sound.
Before the release of GTR, the album was described as hard rocking. This sound promising. It was meant to showcase the duel guitars of Steve Hackett and Steve Howe. This happens on When the Heart Rules the Mind, which opens GTR. As glistening guitars set the scene for sudden thunderous bursts drums. However, it’s the blistering guitars that stand out. Along with a prowling bass, they set the sound for Max Bacon’s vocal. It’s impassioned, but sometimes, seems lacking in power. Especially when compared to the rest of the arrangement. Harmonies augment Max’s vocal, before searing, screaming guitars steal the show. Aided and abetted by the rhythm section they combine AOR, eighties rock and prog rock. It’s a heady and potent brew.
Understated describes the introduction to The Hunter. Soon, the rhythm section and guitars are adding an element of drama They’re joined by Max’s vocal. A burst of thunderous drums signals that the arrangement is about to unfold. Max’s vocal grows in power. He sounds as if he’s pushing his vocal to the limit. By then, the drums sound distant, and could do with being brought forward in the mix. However, this allows the searing, scorching guitars to take centre-stage. What follows is a rocky, eighties power ballad. It’s good, but far from great. It’s let down by the production. Especially ratty, distant drums.
There’s an almost Eastern sound to the guitars that open Here I Wait. They’re a curveball. From this understated sound, a stomping rocky eighties anthem unfolds. The rhythm section provide the heartbeat, while Messrs. Howe and Hackett unleash machine gun guitars. Sometimes, rather than trading licks, the guitars run into each other, and clash. Mostly, GTR are producing one of their best performances. Max Bacon delivers a vocal powerhouse and a stomping, rocky anthem unfolds.
GTR take a musical diversion on Sketches In The Sun. It’s an instrumental, where the guitars dominate. This allows Steve Hackett and Steve Howe to take centre-stage. They play together, but don’t overcrowd each other. Unlike Here I Wait. Both Steve Hackett and Steve Howe deliver solo. Both scamper across the arrangement. Steve Hackett’s solo has a classical twist. There’s also a nod to their progressive rock past, on what’s one of GTR’s highlights.
Straight away, GTR launch into the uber rocky Jekyll And Hyde. Briefly, it pays homage to Steve Hackett and Steve Howe’s prog rock past. However, mostly, it’s GTR doing what they promised, rocking, and rocking hard. At the heart of the action are the guitars. They play starring roles unleashing scorching, searing and blistering licks. Meanwhile, the rhythm section lay down the heartbeat. Again, it sits back in the mix. It’s as if the song has been mixed so the guitars take centre-stage. The final piece of the jigsaw is Max Bacon’s vocal. He’s unleashing another powerhouse of a vocal. However, it’s the guitar’s that steal the show, as GTR are rocking, and rocking hard.
From the opening bars, You Can Still Get Through has an eighties sound. The first clue are the drums, then the synth strings. As the guitars enter, the rhythm section seem to be moved slightly back in the mix. Then when Max’s vocal enters, one of the guitars is moved back in the mix. He’s accompanied by harmonies. They play their part in what in 1986, GTR hoped would’ve a hard rocking, anthem. That may have been the case nearly thirty years ago. Sadly, nearly thirty years later, and You Can Still Get Through has aged badly. Its dated, eighties sound is a reminder of why the eighties weren’t music’s finest hour.
Short, sharp, bursts of guitars open You Can Still Get Through. Soon, the rest of GTR join the fray. The rhythm section lay down the groove for what’s another rocky power ballad. Machine gun guitars punctuate the arrangement, while Max delivers a hopeful vocal. Later, Messrs. Hackett and Howe unleash searing guitar licks. Along with the vocal, they’re the best thing about what’s a disappointing, disjointed track. The sudden changes in tempo, eighties synths and ratty drums disappoint. The annoying thing is, that there’s the basis of a very good track. It’s crying to be let out. Sadly, twenty-nine years later, it’s still trying to escape.
Just a lone acoustic guitar opens Toe The Line. It’s panned right, as another guitar is panned left. When it drops out, the vocal enters. This accusing vocal is accompanied by the acoustic guitars. That’s until the arrangement builds. The rhythm section and electric guitar are added. As the arrangement smoothes out, am AOR ballad shines through. It’s as if GTR have penned this track with a view to arena tours. However, they come close to spoiling their good work. Later, the guitars come close to overpowering the vocal. Especially as the arrangement heads towards its dramatic, heartfelt crescendo.
Hackett To Bits sees GTR become one, and blistering guitar solos, accompanied by a thunderous rhythm section. GTR kick loose, and unleash some of the hard rocking sound they promised. There’s a nod to their prog rock past as GTR combine drama to their hard rocking sound. Playing starring roles, are Messrs. Howe and Hackett, who showcase their considerable skills.
Imagining closes GTR. Again, it’s just an acoustic guitar that scampers across the arrangement. It’s joined by synth strings. Then after 1.26, it’s all change. The hard rocking sound of GTR makes its presence felt. As the rhythm section provide a pulsating heartbeat, bursts of searing guitars replace and accompany Max’s vocal. At 2.49, GTR seem to draw inspiration from Queen, circa 1975. Then they kick loose, and for the last time, show what they’re capable of. In full flight, GTR are an impressive sound, who although they sold 500,000 copies in America, still continue to divivd opinion.
As a concept GTR, offered much, but ultimately, failed to deliver what many expected. With two of the best musicians of the prog rock era, GTR could’ve been the start of another chapter in Steve Hackett and Steve Howe’s career. Sadly, that wasn’t the case.
Having decided to spend money on a top class studio, with the best of equipment, where they spent months, GTR racked up huge bills. Despite selling 500,000 copies in America, still GTR found themselves massively in debt. So, in 1987, GTR was dissolved. The group’s legacy was their eponymous album GTR.
Despite their prog rock roots, Steve Hackett and Steve Howe, decided to record a hard rocking album. Granted, that’s what they came up with. However, the music on GTR hasn’t stood the test of time.
Some of the songs have aged badly, and are a reminder of why, the eighties wasn’t music’s finest hour. Ironically, GTR starts off so well, with When the Hurt Rules the Mind. After that, there’s everything from anthems and power ballads. Some work, some don’t. Sometimes, the production isn’t as good as it could be.
Listen carefully, and the drums sounding distant. It’s as if everything is pushed back to allow the drums to take centre-stage. With GTR featuring two legendary guitarists, that would make sense. However, sometimes, this doesn’t work. Rather than trading licks, they play together. Occasionally, they cramp each other’s style. Other times, it’s as if they’ve an allotted time for solo. Having taken centre-stage, they then exit stage left. For much of the time on GTR, Steve Hackett and Steve Howe show why they’re remembered as two of the best guitarists of the prog rock era. They reinforce this on disc two.
It features a live performance from GTR. They played live at the Western Theatre, Los Angeles, on 19th July 1986. That night GTR work their way through fourteen tracks. Messrs. Howe and Hackett win friends and influence people during their only American tour. After that, GTR was consigned to musical history.
Since then, that’s where GTR have stayed. No wonder. GTR is far from a classic album. Even with the bonus disc, the newly remastered version of GTR is far from essential listening. That’s despite selling 500,000 copies in America. However, GTR was an album that was of its time. Some of the music on GTR has a dated eighties sound. IT was a snapshot of music circa 1986. GTR is a case of an album that promised much, but ultimately failed to deliver. Twenty-nine years after its initial release, that’s still the case. GTR sounds dated and is very much a reminder of eighties AOR. Especially with its power ballads and anthems. Its far from essential listening. That’s despite the best efforts of Steve Hackett and Steve Howe. They played starring roles in GTR, which was a mixed musical bag that GTR never bothered to repeat.
- Posted in: Prog Rock ♦ Rock
- Tagged: Asia, Brian Lane, Genesis, Geoff Downes, GTR, Steve Hackett, Steve Howe, The Hunter, When the Heart Rules the Mind