Don’t expect to shake hands with Yes’ Steve Howe: ‘I’ve got to put my work first’

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Steve Howe has crafted a legendary career with his hands, and he takes that very seriously, indeed.

“Over the years, I’ve learned there some things you’ve just gotta say no to,” the long-time Yes guitarist tells Radio New Zealand — and that includes shaking hands.

Howe doesn’t shake hands with strangers, something that must make the high-priced meet-and-greets favored by classic-rock bands an interesting experience. It’s been his cautionary practice, however, for years.

“I say no to sugar, meat, fish, lots of things,” Howe says, “but handshakes is a golden rule, because — I like shaking hands, you know. It’s a nice sentiment. But you can feel a bit crippled an hour later, when you realize there was some contact there that was overzealous, or a bit too much like a wrestler’s grip. A gorilla grip, I think we’d call it!”

Howe says he understands how stand-offish this rule might seem. “It’s almost rude that I don’t,” Howe admits, “but the thing is, I’ve got to put my work first. So I make that rule. And I think it’s not just guitarists. Whether you are a pianist or a flautist, or anything — a cellist, can you imagine? When you shake a musician’s hand, people, do it gently.”

Of course, for those closest to Steve Howe, things sometimes change. “When I meet people that I know, and they’ve already been through this, that’s OK. Sometimes, I say: ‘Gently,’ you know? But I can’t do it when I’ve just met somebody,” Howe says. “I look after my hands very seriously. They’re doing great; I don’t have any problems with them — but that’s partly because I don’t shake hands.”

Howe and Yes released Like It Is: Yes at the Bristol Hippodrome, their first-ever live release with current Yes vocalist Jon Davison, today in North America.

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