Greg Howe Goes Back to His Roots for Blistering New Album

(Image credit: Fred Morledge)

Described as his most personal work to date, Greg Howe's new album, Wheelhouse—which will be released on September 1— marks the guitar legend’s highly-anticipated return to solo instrumental work.

Tracks like “Tempest Pulse” and “Throw Down” showcase Howe’s infectious tone and fretboard wizardry while eclectic tracks like “2 In 1” combine a funk-infused vibe with Forties swing. But perhaps one of the biggest highlights on Wheelhouse; and one that long-time followers of Howe’s career will certainly find appealing, is the track, “Shady Lane”.

A song originally written by Howe and his brother back in the early Nineties, on Wheelhouse, "Shady Lane" is given a 21st century spin with an emotionally charged vocal performance by Richie Kotzen (Winery Dogs, Mr. Big). Kotzen also complements his fellow Shrapnel alumni by contributing a blistering guitar solo to the track as well.

Wheelhouse is an album that will once again raise the bar for guitarists, and a fitting return for one of the genre's most dynamically diverse artists.

I recently spoke with Howe about Wheelhouse and more in this exclusive new interview.

How would you describe Wheelhouse in terms of its sound and maybe as it relates to some of your previous work?

From a guitar perspective, I’d describe it as an almost higher quality of the type of tone I was getting on Introspection. It's very clean and there’s a lot of gain behind it but it doesn't sound like it. I was also getting a little more into single coils and more "Strat" kind of tones, so it's a different kind of expression. As far as direction, I feel like it's a little more honest.

I can get carried away in the studio sometimes, and then I'll listen back to what I recorded and decide to scrap it and end up writing something that's either really complicated or putting together solos that border on unrealistic in terms of what I would sound like. I really wanted this to be a lot of one-take stuff and the material to sound like something I would want to play over. It's a very natural, honest record.

What's your writing process like?

There isn't really a process. It ranges anywhere from going through drum loops and finding something cool that inspires the riff to waking up in the morning with a song idea already in my head. Sometimes, if I'm searching for inspiration, it can come from just watching a movie, thinking about something or connecting to something that's happening in my life at the time. It’s a starting point that inspires and triggers the creative process.

Let’s discuss a few tracks from Wheelhouse, beginning with “Tempest Pulse”

That song was one of the first I wrote for the album and has a slight Latin feel to it. I went through a phase where I was listening to a lot of Michel Camilo and that opened up some of this Cuban influence. There's also something really festive and sexy about not hitting on the downbeat.

“2 In 1”

That was a fun one. I’ve always loved the Forties swing era of music. It really resonates with me. Originally, the song was going to be a vocal track based on the middle section, where it sounds like a classic standard with those chord changes. We ran out of time for the vocal but as we were working on the idea, the girl I was working with asked if there was any way to make the track a little funkier.

So, the first part of the song that you hear (which is really a completely different song) came from her suggestion. It was something very different from anything else I had done and segues into that Forties swing era.

“Throw Down”

That one is raw, energetic and bluesy rock. It’s one that doesn't really fit the typical instrumental format, but I like to do things that break rules and tradition.

“Shady Lane”

My brother and I wrote that song back in the early Nineties. It's always been one that's connected with a lot of people so I thought it was time to do something with it. I had asked Richie to sing it. He agreed and it all came together. Originally, Richie wasn't going to take a solo but I extended the length and let him blow through some notes. I'm happy the song is finally able to get out there after 20+ years.We’re coming up on 30 years since your self-titled debut album on Shrapnel. Can you tell me how that all came about?

I was in a band with my brother called Duke and we were a cover band that specialized in Van Halen. We really just wanted a record deal and had showcased and submitted demos to almost every major and independent label. We were even under the wing of CBS for about a month, but we didn't get the deal. Around that same time, Mike Varney had a monthly column where he'd spotlight three unknown guitarists and if he really liked them he would sign them. On a whim, I decided to throw it all against the wall.

So, I recorded some backing tracks that were just excuses for me to blow over and sent it to his P.O. box and sent another via FedEx. My thought was that someone would have to sign for the FedEx package and would physically have the demo in their hands. Turns out, that worked because the very next day I got a call from Mike who said he had the demo and really liked it and asked if I’d be interested in doing an album. We ended up negotiating a four-album deal which allowed me to have two of the albums be with my band. That's really how it started.

What are you most looking forward to about this next phase of your career?

I'm looking forward to all of it. For a while, I had gotten myself into the mindset of only wanting to do a vocal album. Now, I’m embracing the instrumental thing again and have a lot of song ideas. There's a momentum that’s kicking in and it feels like a lot of what I’ve prepared for and have been working toward is starting to pay off.

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James Wood

James is a guitarist and freelance writer who's interviewed some of the biggest names in music. He is the author of four books and his writing credits include work for Guitar World, AXS and Yahoo! as well as for his hometown newspaper where he writes on a variety of topics with both passion and humor. As a guitarist, he's performed everywhere from local bars and nightclubs to some of the biggest stages in front of thousands of music fans.