Steve Hackett was the guitarist for Genesis from 1971 to 1977. He joined the band as it began to build a cult following with their string of groundbreaking albums; ("Nursery Cryme" (1971), "Foxtrot" (1972), "Selling England By The Pound" (1973), and "Genesis Live" (1973), and "The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway" (1974).
These are the titles that most die hard fans cite as the classic Genesis period (identified generally as when Peter Gabriel handled the lead vocals.) When Gabriel announced he was leaving (to become a solo artist) following the "Lamb..." tour, Phil Collins, after auditioning many candidates, ultimately became the vocalist.
Reduced to the core four members, the band's future was uncertain with the loss of Gabriel, but they went on to record three more impressive albums, "A Trick of the Tail" (1975), "Wind and Wuthering" (1976), and the live double album "Seconds Out" (1977.)
Hackett was a key contributor to those studio albums, three live albums and seven singles before he left to pursue a solo career. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Genesis in 2010.
Hackett performs Friday at the State Theater in Ithaca (details below). He spoke with Warren Linhart about the upcoming show and his career.
W.L.: That was quite a stretch of music in a relatively short time and all these years later, the fan base you built is still quite substantial and fiercely loyal.
S.H.: I still enjoy performing Genesis music as well as my own material very much.
W.L.: 2016 marked the 40th anniversary of "Wind and Wuthering." You celebrated that occasion with a tour that featured one of your personal and fan favorite compositions from that album, "Blood on the Rooftops." Now you've decided your 2019 tour will feature the entire "Selling England..." album. Have you ever done shows that feature an entire Genesis album?
S.H.: No, never before. But we just got done doing shows in 18 countries within seven weeks which featured the entire "Selling England" as well as material from my recent album "At The Edge Of Light", and songs from (his 1979 solo album) "Spectral Mornings" to commemorate its 40th anniversary. Even when we (Genesis) were all playing together years ago (with Peter Gabriel), we never performed an entire album. We'd select certain songs and add them to the set. We did perform most of "Selling England..." though but we certainly didn't do "After The Ordeal" or "Deja vu" which was an outtake from that album.
W.L.: You realize that you are now the torchbearer for Genesis music. You are the only member of the core group out there performing Genesis music. Suddenly, Phil Collins announced he'll be doing some U.S. dates this fall, but I'm not sure deep Genesis catalog material will be included in his set list. What was your motivation for wanting to perform the entire "Selling England..." album?
S.H.: Way back in the day (1973), John Lennon gave an interview and said that Genesis was one of the bands he was listening to. This was at the time we were doing our first tour of the U.S. and that comment stuck with me. Actually "Selling England..." was really the best Genesis album for me. I think the whole approach to doing that album was positive and I am very proud of the quirky band that we had at that time. "Firth of Fifth" and "Dancing with the Moonlit Knight" I think are two of my best works with Genesis. In a way, the Genesis story is by no means over.
W.L.: In looking over your extensive solo catalog, it seems to me that you don't leave yourself much spare time. Your recorded output is steady. You surely like to keep yourself busy!
S.H.: I just love making music!
W.L.: You have incorporated many world music influences and blues into your music which has provided you with many new things to explore.
S.H.: Yes, in recent years I've concentrated more on doing rock albums whereas in the past I've sometimes done acoustic albums and done classical things -- and being proud to either write something in a style that's suitable for an orchestra -- or I've found myself recording some Bach or Erik Satie. I don't really make any distinction, for me it's all music, but in recent years I've been concentrating on broadening rock's shoulders.
W.L.: So the broadening includes the addition of different instruments (including the tar, Sitar, Icelandic drumming) and musicians who join from different countries?
S.H.: Oh yes, it broadens the adventure and brings a "travelogue" aspect to the music. It's a music journey but we often parallel that with actual journeys to places that we hope influence the music. You can't help but take on board local influences.
W.L: Looking back to the early Genesis days, you were interested in broadening the band's horizons then. Guitar was your instrument and that was prominently featured on "Selling England..." but you were also persistent on the band getting a mellotron (keyboard) and you pushed for developing a sophisticated light show to accompany the music.
S.H.: Right, that was my pet thing. We needed then to be able to control the way the music came across. The fact that the lights can do something small like accommodate a delicate 12 string guitar solo or harpsichord interlude, they can also create something explosive. I like to run the full gamut of what's dynamically possible with not only sound but lights, too. I have always honored the early Genesis music that John Lennon said he was listening to at the time and that's good enough for me! Well... something about "Selling England..." perhaps -- the pan genre approach, so many styles. The music shouldn't really work, but it does, if you consider the different influences that the band had. At that time, Peter (Gabriel) was listening to Otis Redding and Nina Simone. Phil (Collins) was listening to Buddy Rich and Mel Torme, Mike (Rutherford) liked Judy Collins and Led Zeppelin and Tony (Banks) was listening to (Russian composer/pianist) Dmitri Shostakovich and Vaughan Williams.
W.L.: Wow, that's quite a variety of influences. How about you, what caught your ear?
S.H.: I was somewhere in between The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, John Mayall, Jimmy Webb, and Buffy St. Marie as it happens, she was kind of a female Dylan -- love songs, ecological, ethnic stuff and protest material. So "Selling England..." is very precious to me, it's got the humor, the "proggy" moments, the difficult time signatures (namely The Battle of Epping Forest). It's practically impossible to tap your feet to and to re-learn it after all these years is quite a journey. I felt that all this stuff fell under the fingers very easily and there might be less technique!
W.L.: That had to be interesting when you re-visit something as complicated as that.
S.H.: Yes, when we were being inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame, the band Phish was playing our stuff and they were saying nice things on stage about the very first track on that album (Dancing With The Moonlit Knight"), the fact that it featured (guitar) tapping and sweep picking. This was before those things became part of the glossary of terms largely adopted by heavy metal acts (notably Eddie Van Halen.) So I think it was "prototype" prog, perhaps metal too, I guess.
W.L.: Prog Rock was definitely a 70s term and phenomenon. You lived it. How do you view this now?
S.H.: It's interesting. I think "prog" went through a period when it was terminally un-hip, but it's all in the change now. It's all a case of who wants to come out and play. I'll be doing many lovely theaters on this tour. I love doing all these places. For me, it's not about the size of the place, it's about the depth or the level of enthusiasm from audiences. I think you have to go on a crusade for this stuff. If you really love it, then I think the best thing you can do is to find the greatest players in the world and go out and play the balls off it -- give them a show (musically), have a great light show and have a few laughs along the way as well. All that is very important otherwise Lennon might not have been interested in it back in the day.
W.L.: That original fan base is now older and there's a new generation that may not know the music. How do feel about touring now?
S.H.: It's important to me. I do it because I feel I must. It's wonderful to be doing this for a living. If you said to me tomorrow 'you can retire, you can have a billion pounds, or dollars, but you'd never be able to play another note live, I'd say no, sorry.
There's some kind of connection before you're born I think. The deal is you can have this gift but you cannot squander it or hide it, you've got to parade it. You've got to do what you believe in and be true to yourself.
If you go
What: An evening with Steve Hackett - Genesis Revisited 'Selling England By The Pound' in its entirety plus 'Spectral Mornings' Anniversary Celebration