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WISHBONE ASH



WISHBONE ASH "Persistence of Vision"


By Dark Starr (with kind assistance from Col. Angus, Alison Henderson, Larry Toering and Scott Prinzing)

While Wishbone Ash have been considered a progressive rock band, a psychedelic band, a hard rock band, a jam band and just about anything else you can imagine (as long as it’s rock) depending on who is labeling the group, they are an influential band. In fact, one could point to Wishbone Ash as one of the originators of the twin lead guitar concept that defined a lot of heavy metal music. Andy Powell was there from the beginning and still remains with Wishbone Ash. We got to ask him about the history of the group, some controversy involving a former bandmate and a lot more.
 

WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: Between producers Derek Lawrence and Tom Dowd, looking back, which sound do you prefer and why?

 ANDY POWELL: Derek did it for me. He was English, the same as us. He produced the first 3 records admirably, while being aided in no small part by Martin Birch's engineering. Martin had already engineered Fleetwood Mac and Deep Purple and would go on to handle Maiden and other hard rockers. Derek was very good at keeping the band egos in check, as well as getting the best out of our performances. He knew right off the bat, that it was all about the guitars but at the same time he worked for the harmonized vocal approach. Only the other day he called me and told me the same thing again, about the guitars, actually. It was great to hear from him after all these years.

As far as the sound goes, British, at that time meant reverb, delay and anything that would give the feel of bigness / rock. American production then, was tight sounding, funky and dry. Their studios were like that and it was a continual battle to get ambience on the drums for example. That’s all changed now.

Tom produced some of the best records in popular music from the 20th century, but the times were changing. Tom worked well with UK artists who had a huge, almost sycophantic respect for American music. But with production, it was his way or the highway. He actually sent us for singing lessons. I didn't feel so bad about this though, because he'd done the same to Bette Midler. Lynyrd Skynyrd actually shelved a recording he'd done for them. Later they redid it without him.

In retrospect, we should have done the same with the ill-fated "Locked In". On the other hand you can't knock Cream's "Disraeli Gears" (which Tom actually only engineered) or Rod Stewart’s "Atlantic Crossing" - although I preferred the latter’s work with the Faces, of course.

WC: Was there a character inspiration for the track “Warrior” and if so, who was it based on?

AP: It’s a great sentiment, isn’t it? Especially that rousing chorus. I've had Vietnam vets and Desert Storm vets and their fathers come up to me after a show and tell me how much they relate to that song. These are actual warriors, after all.

Martin Turner got it just right with that lyric. I know he was reading The Bible and Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam for inspiration at that time. Drummer, Steve Upton was heavily into Homer and it was he that came up with the "Argus" title for the album itself.

WC: Out of "Wishbone Ash", "Argus" and "There's The Rub", which do you consider to be your favorite album?

AP: I think there was some great material on "There's the Rub" but it would have to be "Argus" for me. There are times when a confluence of forces throws up something like an "Argus". We all hit our stride on that one and the band’s true identity was born. We spent the next twenty years trying to find it again. "There's the Rub" heralded in the next phase, with Laurie Wisefield replacing Ted Turner, who left just as we were cracking the American market - not the brightest move.

It was, nonetheless a very creative period with Laurie. Not a lot of people realize that "There's the Rub" was like the sound check for "Hotel California" by the Eagles. Same producer, same studio, same engineer, twin lead guitars but this time with real vocals and let's face it, great songs. They were setting up their gear as we were breaking ours down in Miami's Criteria Studio. The running joke was that we'd spent so much time and money there, that they were able to build Studio Four on our dollar. It was crazy, to say nothing of the quantity of drugs and alcohol we were ingesting. It's a wonder we even completed that album. Mind you, it was the same for everyone who recorded down there at this time, to one degree or another; Clapton, the Bee Gees, the Allmans, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, the James Gang - you name it.

Getting back to "Argus"; the great thing about all the songs on the disc were that they were the fruits of a genuine group collaboration in all things. I've read that Martin now calls himself the “key creative force” of the early band, in recent interviews. I even read a quote where he says he had to “crack the whip” with us “minions.” I can’t speak to the way someone views or viewed themselves, but in truth I can tell you that he could not have pulled this one off, single handedly, which he often implies. No one person could have produced an "Argus" by himself - no way. We all leant on each other.

He needed my riffs and folk flavored chord progressions, also Ted's blues elements, in order to get inspired for some of those lyrics. Hell, Miles Copeland’s patronage was crucial. Steve's pastoral lyric for “Leaf and Stream” was absolutely inspired by the chord sequence and arrangement I'd hit upon for that song. And so on. That’s what I like about U2 . They don't pretend otherwise. It’s the band first and foremost and that’s why they’ve endured at the top of their game for so long.

It's why I'm so pleased with our current release, "Elegant Stealth". We achieved this recording as a result of a true group effort and we share the credits equally, as a band, just as we did with Argus, back in the day. Turner was never about that. We had endless arguments with him concerning this kind of stuff, which eventually resulted in him quitting the band. Don’t forget he was quite a bit older than us younger members and that could have given him a superiority complex, perhaps. You gotta be really, really good to pull that off.

 WC: If you were asked to join Uriah Heep, Bad Company or Deep Purple, which would you most likely consider?

 
AP: Bad Company. I always liked their groove. Great singer!


 WC: What are Wishbone Ash’s plans for touring the USA and UK?

AP: We start touring in Europe and Scandinavia in January and February 2012. Then we'll tour North America and South America in the spring and hit the festivals in the summer before touring the UK in the fall.

WC: There have been two versions of Wishbone Ash around (yours and Martin Turner’s). Can you shed some light on that?

AP: No, I can't. I know only the Wishbone Ash and have done for 42 years. It’s the band I’ve been a member of without interruption, through all its machinations.

WC: Has Martin Turner's touring under the “Martin Turner’s Wishbone Ash” name contributed to the overall appreciation of the band or confused your fans?

AP: Confusion is a state of mind and also it's a legal term used when one party in the business community actively and illegally, consciously and cynically, confuses the market place as to its identity, using the host identity as a way of getting some easy leverage. Yes, for sure, some casual old time fans of the band are confused. They’ve paid scant attention to the history of Wishbone over the years.

 Two weeks ago, the band REM collectively disbanded. This was clearly stated in the media and I’m sure reflected in their business dealings. That never happened with Wishbone. People left over the years of their own volition, one by one, sometimes amicably for greener pastures, and sometimes, derrière in the air, in a fit of pique, it must be said.

WC: Is there any likelihood that you might join forces one day like Yes did on their “Union” tour?

 AP: No.

 WC: What do you think changed within the music industry that prompted a resurgence for Wishbone Ash?

 AP: There’s been no real change in the band’s modus operandi but there has been a constant searching in the rock media for retro bands to fuel the void. A lot of the modern bands have a short shelf life. You could say that people started to value quality again and that retro has become cool in everything, but that wouldn't be the whole story. We've been doing quality work, keeping our heads down and finally it's paying off again. It doesn't hurt that back in the day, we came up with a very distinctive sound, based around the twin lead thing. It has stood the test of time. Guitars have always been cool. They define rock and roll.

WC: With such a long history and extensive catalogue, do you find it hard to pick a set list?

 AP: Sometimes. We do have some songs that are clunkers (doesn’t everyone?) so those obviously wouldn't make the set selection. On the other hand there was a golden period in the early 70s that gives everyone, me included, a warm and fuzzy feeling. The band and audience will bask in these songs during a set and that's always pleasurable, but equally we all get a real charge out of playing our newer songs. We’re players. We dig in. Come to a show and you’ll get it.

WC: In 2007, there was a remastered deluxe version of "Argus". Are there any plans to give any of your other records the same treatment?

 AP: Thank God for "Argus", but I don't limit what we are about to only this album. There are so many good songs on that album and the remastered version is great, but I'm surprised, that with the current release of "Elegant Stealth", you haven't asked me one single question about this release in this interview. This is what's happening right here, right now. (Dark Starr’s Note: At the time the interview was conducted, we hadn’t yet received the new disc, so none of us had heard it)

I do get it though. What was Elton John’s quote? “Don’t play the new one!”

As far as remastering other albums from the archives, it could be a worthy pursuit. "There's the Rub" and "New England" could certainly be candidates. Why not?

 WC: Iron Maiden are obviously influenced by Wishbone Ash's twin lead guitar approach ("Phoenix" being a likely influence). Steve Harris once said that "Argus" was "the best album of 1972." Do you feel Wishbone Ash is properly acknowledged for its contributions to rock music?


AP: Steve Harris said that because he was aware, as a rock fan in the UK at the time, that "Argus" was acknowledged to be the best album of the year in the media and was actually voted “Best New Album” in the “Melody Maker” magazine poll, by readers. It reached number two in the national charts displacing Purple and Tull and we also were named “Best New Band” and so on, by other magazine polls.

Maiden, Lizzy, Priest and even Skynyrd have been influenced by us, for sure which is a great compliment. As far as having been properly acknowledged; yes, I believe so, especially within the musician community but maybe not so much in the journalist community. It really doesn't matter to me though. If that has been an issue in the past, I'm over it now. Some people call us the greatest unknown band and the title of our new CD “Elegant Stealth,” kind of alludes to that. But on the plus side it's given Wishbone Ash a very interesting 42 year career. That's a rare thing in this business. We never had a charismatic front man like Lizzy or Maiden, and being a guitarist, that's been a good thing. I've managed to avoid LSS (lead singer syndrome) in my life, for the most part. My lot has been to have been continually paired with another guitar player and for the most part, having avoided my own form of LGS (Lead Guitarist Syndrome) As a bonus, I've had free guitar lessons for all these years from some of the best there are.

WC: John Wetton joined for one album (1981's Number the Brave). Do you have any comments on his short stint with the band?

AP: He wrote a song for that record and the title was, “That's That.” I guess that kind of sums up what he was feeling at the time.

WC: If you weren't involved in music what do you think you'd be doing?

AP: Farming or sailing.

WC: How did the name of the group originate?


AP: Two lists, two words; “Wishbone” and “Ash” (my suggestion). Fleetwood Mac was a name that we all loved. In many respects we were following in their footsteps. We liked the sound of that. These two words we'd come up with, were co-joined and the alliteration was immediately apparent. Wishbone Ash, we became. The name has stood us in good stead, being neither heavy or light. It's intriguing, even today. Some might say it's a metaphor for broken dreams. It does have a kind of yin and yang about it - a kind of regenerative / rebirth quality as well.

WC: Who would you see as your musical influences?

AP: Django Rheinhardt, Burl Ives, Chuck Berry, Joni Mitchell, Albert King, Hank Marvin, Shirley Abicair, Edmundo Ross, Dusty Springfield, Burt Bacharach, Bert Jansch, Rolf Harris and Lonny Donegan.

WC: What's ahead for you?

AP: Death, at some point, but until that comes, the road beckons, as ever.

WC: I know artists hate to have their music pigeonholed or labeled, but how would you describe your music?

AP: Melodiously scintillating and rhythmically syncopated within the two guitar, bass and drums paradigm, all the while incorporating contrapuntal basal elements and lyrics to accompany one on life's whimsical journey. How's that? (Loquacious yet succinct--Mality)

WC: Are there musicians with whom you would like to play with in the future?

AP: I'm in the best rock band I could wish for, not to say that I'm not intrigued by other players, singers and writers. McCartney would be someone to learn things from. I'm a huge fan of the Cardigans and so I'd love to play, write and sing with Nina Persson. Who wouldn't? Doug Pinnick from Kings X does it for me also - love his singing and bass playing.

WC: Do you think that illegal downloading of music is a help or hindrance to the careers of musicians?

AP: Both really. One thing's for sure; the genie is out of the bottle and he ain't getting back in there.

WC: In a related question, how do you feel about fans recording shows and trading them?

AP: Fine. They're fans. They are not going to rip us off. They love us.

WC: If you were a superhero, what music person would be your arch nemesis and why?

AP: Uh? That would have to be some kind of anti music individual who happened to be a manager, or he or she could be some awful record label type. You know, the kind of glad-handing, boorish, patronizing, sycophantic sleaze bag that sadly, one meets quite often in this cherished music business of ours. I will say that you also meet some wonderful folks too. I recently heard a quote from a nasty promoter who said; “rock bands are like baked beans, stack ‘em high and sell ‘em low.” That kind of individual. I'll let you pick one. He could be called “Dastardly Dick.”

WC: If you were to put together your ultimate band (a band you'd like to hear or catch live), who would be in it and why?

AP: Well, sadly not a lot of these folks are with us anymore. Hendrix on lead guitar – he had it all. Pete Townsend on rhythm guitar. Pete is rock. He wrote the book on the use of the power chord, which is the bedrock of rock. Unlike a lot of the heavy metal guys, Pete's sound is actually heavier for being quite clean surprisingly. Ritchie Hayward on drums, a great groove for a white man. John Bonham would be the only other white man with a comparable groove. Bonnie Raitt on vocals and slide and Larry Graham on bass. Garth Hudson would play the Lowry Organ and Marvin Gaye - for the ladies - would be the male lead singer with cool contributions from Jimi and Bonnie. Oh yes, and we'd have to have Janice Joplin in there, too, for some trailer trash, white chick rock and roll threat.

WC: If you were in charge of assembling a music festival and wanted it to be the ultimate one from your point of view who would be playing?

AP: Bands from the past again (because that is my point of view): Cream, the Who, Sly Stone, Hendrix, early Little Feat, James Brown, Bob Marley and the Wailers, Bob Dylan, Tim Hardin, Nirvana, McCartney or Lennon or Harrison but not the Beatles per se. Oh yes, and if he were alive today, Jeff Buckley. Radiohead would be in there somewhere. I do like what Roger Waters is doing currently, in the live arena. He doesn’t even call himself Roger Waters' Pink Floyd either. Gotta love that.


WC: What was the last CD you bought and/or what have you been listening to lately?

AP: Superheavy with Jagger, Dave Stewart, Ziggy Marley and Joss Stone.
I've also been listening to a lot of Black Keys, MGMT, Monica Lionheart, Wilco,
Opeth, Adele, Madeleine Peyroux and Tony DeMarco.

WC: Have you read any good books lately?

AP: Richard Dawkins "The God Delusion".

Stephen Clarke. "1000 years of annoying the French"

Haruki Murakami, "The Wind up Bird Chronicle"

WC: What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?

AP: The Mike Stern Band

 WC: Do you have a musical “guilty pleasure?”

AP: Show tunes from “Oklahoma,” “South Pacific” and “West Side Story.”

WC: What has been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?

AP: Falling into a large trash bin full of dirty towels in a corridor, backstage at a club in Covent Garden, London while the audience was calling for an encore. It was the very last time I performed totally stoned and drunk. I literally could not extricate myself from the bin, since my guitar was strapped on me. My band mates had to pry me out of the thing. It was pretty funny at the time – hysterical even.

WC: If you could sit down to dinner with any three people, living or dead, for food and conversation, with whom would you be dining?

AP: Christopher Hitchens (R.I.P), the Dalai Lama and Thomas Jefferson

WC: What would be on the menu?

AP: Korean cuisine with some fine claret and finishing up with a variety of choice single malts, 18 years and older.

WC: Are there any closing thoughts you would like to get out there?

AP: I really hope the Western way of life will survive long enough to enter the age of Aquarius, we've all been promised. I hope that we will continue to cast out the demons that our capitalistic system has thrown up and that our evolving culture could have even more of a really positive impact in the world, while at the same time assimilating positive lessons from other cultures and functioning in a far more conservational, green and socially democratic mode. I hope the balance of global resources could be redressed between the northern and southern hemispheres. I hope that the East and the Arab world will prevail democratically, and with rationality, in the face of their crazy burgeoning theocracies. That goes for the USA as well - I might add, and that we'll be able to refrain from the potential inevitability of a global thermo nuclear war, with the Middle East as the potential theatre.

 Thank you and good night!

www.wishboneash.com