Steve Hackett is best known as the guitarist with Genesis during their best years as both a progressive and commercial band, across ten albums of their history. His arrival in the group's lineup at the start of 1971, replacing original guitarist Anthony Phillips, provided the group with the last ingredient that it needed for success. In the years since, while Phil Collins may have enjoyed pop/rock stardom and an acting career and his other bandmates their periodic successes, Hackett has come the farthest as a star performer and composer in his own right.
Hackett's earliest experience in playing professionally came with groups named Canterbury Glass and Sarabande, doing mainstream rock with a progressive/psychedelic edge. It was as a studio musician that he excelled, recording with a band called Quiet World during 1970. They were signed to the Pye Records label and released an LP entitled The Road on that company's progressive rock-oriented Dawn Records label. In late 1970, Hackett crossed paths with the group when he placed an advertisement in search of like-minded progressive musicians and Genesis' Peter Gabriel responded -- the group's original guitarist, Anthony Phillips, had departed and they needed a replacement. He saw them in concert with a temporary substitute in the guitarist's spot and approached them about joining. Hackett was in the lineup in January of 1971 and was quickly established as an integral part of their sound, though his concert work at their earliest gigs suffered from the fact that Hackett had little experience playing on-stage, which initially made him nervous. He subsequently became not only an essential part of the group's sound, but also of their image; his bespectacled figure, seated and bent over his instrument in studied concentration, helped to set the group apart from flashier progressive rock outfits of the era.
His skill and vast range opened up the group's sound in new ways during their progressive rock phase; coupled with Phil Collins' drumming in the mix, Genesis was turned into a true virtuoso unit, as revealed on the albums Foxtrot, Genesis Live, Selling England by the Pound, and The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, all among the finest progressive rock LPs ever conceived. Then, following the departure of lead singer Gabriel and his replacement by Collins and their move toward a more commercial sound, Hackett proved equally adept; the difference was that their albums were now selling in the millions instead of the hundreds of thousands, and he was getting far more public exposure than ever before.
Hackett's first solo album, Voyage of the Acolyte, dated from 1975 and was, in many ways, almost a lost Genesis album, featuring Collins and Michael Rutherford in its lineup of musicians. Coming out as it did in the wake of Gabriel's departure from the group, it was a cause of some strain among the members, despite their participation, but Hackett stayed with the band through the tour behind the release of Wind & Wuthering, making his last appearance with the group on the Seconds Out live album, ironically just as the band was ascending into the top ranks of concert attractions and recording acts. Hackett's first post-Genesis solo album was Please Don't Touch!, which deliberately hewed very far from his old group's progressive sound and departed completely from Voyage of the Acolyte as well. He also put together his first touring band, which included Pete Hicks on vocals and John Shearer on drums, as well as brother John Hackett on flute and keyboards, with whom he subsequently recorded the Spectral Mornings album.
Hackett's sound advanced rapidly in the 1980s, through albums such as Defector -- a fascinating musical/political fantasy -- and the pop-oriented Cured. His concert work kept him busy throughout Europe, and the expanding fame of his old band led a steady stream of listeners to check out the work of the former Genesis guitarist, whose playing and personality were so prominent on those classic early albums. He also reunited with Peter Gabriel and Michael Rutherford and then with all of his ex-bandmates for a pair of 1982 charity concerts. The following year, he enjoyed a very successful European single in the guise of "Cell 151" from the Highly Strung LP, which helped propel that album to hit status. The mid-'80s saw him broaden his sound to include various elements of "world music" in his studio work, and he also to begin playing smaller, more intimate halls where his guitar skills could be better appreciated.
In 1986, Hackett hooked up with Yes guitarist Steve Howe to form GTR, a progressive rock unit that became a favorite of MTV and the rock press, generating a hit single ("When the Heart Rules the Mind") in America and a platinum-selling album for Arista Records, and following them up with an international tour. Hackett resumed his solo career in 1987, but with the momentum of GTR behind him, he now found crowds of tens of thousands eager to hear him play classical-style acoustic guitar and was becoming the arena rock version of Christopher Parkening or guitarist John Williams. His next major release was Time Lapse, a live retrospective collection of his work from several decades of music-making.
In 1994, Hackett surprised most of his fans by turning back to his roots with Blues with a Feeling, an album built around the sounds of blues guitar and harmonica that harked back to his boyhood. This pointed to one of the ironies of Hackett's career: as a member of Genesis, he was presumed by most fans to have been classically trained, but his music was actually derived from a multitude of influences, to which he's always extended himself in order to embrace and absorb; thus, although originally a rock guitarist with blues roots, Hackett has performed with the London Symphony Orchestra and composed instrumental classical music based on Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream for EMI's Angel Records label.
Even as his composing career ballooned in the 1990s, he also began playing more concerts and turned back to his progressive rock roots by performing Genesis' classic repertoire. Working with a group that includes such luminaries as ex-King Crimson alumni Ian McDonald and John Wetton, not to mention Genesis' Chester Thompson, as well as the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Hackett released a live album entitled Genesis Revisited, which was precisely that. During the '90s, he fronted a group known as Steve Hackett/Friends, including former members of King Crimson, who have revived their classic progressive rock repertoire in dramatic new concert form, on CD and concert video. Hackett has continued to record well into the new century; numerous solo albums include To Watch the Storms, Metamorpheus, and Wild Orchids. Live Rails was released in 2011 and was followed by the moderately successful studio album Beyond the Shrouded Horizon later that year. In 2012 Hackett collaborated with Chris Squire from Yes under the moniker Squackett. Their album A Life Within a Day featured seasoned session drummer Jeremy Stacey, who was fresh from his work with Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds. That same year Hackett released Genesis Revisited II, another collection of reworked early Genesis material, which became his most successful solo album to date. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi