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Wishbone Ash from "Argus" to "Blue Horizon": an interview with Andy Powell

Wishbone Ash
Wishbone Ash
Courtesy of Wishbone Ash (used with permission)

With albums like “Argus” and “Wishbone 4,” English band Wishbone Ash set the standard for melodic twin lead guitar-fueled rock way back in the ’70s. Fortunes have come and gone for the band in the ensuing decades but they’ve never called it quits, nor have they ever compromised their much-beloved sound to suit the flavor of the year. Now Wishbone Ash has a double treat in store for their fans; they’ve just released a stellar new album called “Blue Horizon” and are touring select American cities to showcase the new music while also flashing back to 1972 with a performance of fan-favorite “Argus.” I took the opportunity to quiz via email Wishbone Ash founding member, guitarist and singer Andy Powell about “Blue Horizon,” the old days and homemade guitars.

Wishbone Ash "Blue Horizon" cover graphic
Courtesy of Wishbone Ash (used with permission)

I saw Wishbone Ash in the mid-’70s on a tour where Aerosmith was your opening act. I don’t recall ever reading about Wishbone Ash being wild; did the band have an era of heavy partying, and do you have recollections of the tour I’m referring to? How did you get along with Aerosmith?

It was the ’70s, so in a word, yes, we did party hard. It was only years later that I put it all together and realized just how abnormal the amounts of alcohol and pharmaceuticals we were ingesting were. These things creep up on one, due to the insane lifestyle. Luckily, I had a family life which kept me grounded in between our mad tour schedule. Band members lives were taken over, for sure, and marriages failed one by one. But we never got into the really hard drugs thankfully. Much of it was big fun though, I have to say, recording and touring in exotic locations and meeting fellow travelers, Aerosmith being one such outfit. They’re all nice guys. I mostly bonded with Brad. Joe and Steven kept themselves fairly private. Their management company later tried to solicit us for their stable of acts. They wanted a big percentage which we thought was exorbitant but it could have been good for our career; who knows. We turned them down.

The Wishbone Ash story is now a very lengthy one and you must have a ton of stories to tell. With the “Blowin’ Free” book now more than a decade old, do you ever think about penning your memoirs? If so, how much of a “tell all” book would it be?

Oh yes, of course. People are always asking me about a book. I'm a great blogger and enjoy biographies myself so it's a natural for me. I am in process, shall we say. Up until now, and even currently, I'm still living the 'life'. I don't feel the twilight years are there yet but they might be coming and I need to get it all down, warts and all.

Can you describe the “Les Powell” and the circumstances that caused you to make it? Do you still have it?

I have it still. Back in the ’50s and ’60s, we neighborhood kids could not have a hope in hell of owning such an exotic thing as an electric guitar. When a salmon pink Fender Stratocaster arrived at our local music store, we'd simply go down and ogle it. No one could afford it, so my friend and I decided to make one just like it. Later on I decided to make a Les Paul-styled instrument and that became known as the Les Powell which I used on the first Wishbone Ash album. I still have it and it's quite playable.

When you decided to call the band Wishbone Ash, did you realize at the time that a wishbone mimicked the shape of the Flying V guitar that you’re so fond of?

No. In fact I had not yet discovered the guitar of my dreams so it was a happy coincidence that the shape of that instrument mimicked the wishbone to some extent. I think folks really related to that in the early stages of our appearance in the guitar magazines and so forth.

“Argus” has always been a fan favorite; do you feel the same way about the album?

Yes, the album is a favorite of mine and obviously an iconic album. It most closely defines our style I would say and audiences agree, making it perhaps our biggest global seller next to the “Live Dates” album which we have also featured in concert.

Much of “Blue Horizon,” from “Take it Back” to “Tally Ho!” to the jam in the title cut has the feel of early “classic” Wishbone Ash. Did you make a conscious decision to tune into this era for the new record?

Not especially, but we do have a rich mine of music from which to draw inspiration. It's obvious that the band will feature twin lead guitars in its compositions, because that's what we are known for and this approach gives a melodic signature to our music. But other than that we just let the music flow. It's quite an eclectic album stylistically, taking the listener along quite different musical paths at times.

Have all the technical advances over the decades made it easier for you to get the sounds you’re looking for in the studio? Are you a Pro Tools guy or would you just as soon record with vintage equipment, or perhaps either depending on the song?

We use it all. Certainly vintage amps but for example in this album we used digital modeling amps for the instruments, which is pretty cutting-edge. The tracks are cut organically, in real time without click tracks because we want the music to breathe. Then overdubs will be added. Sure, we'll use Pro Tools for editing here and there but the trick is to use it subtly. This kind if technology does make for a more stress free, creative process.

Speaking of changes, for all that is different now from when you started out, what for Wishbone Ash is still the same?

The passion for the music. For me, the band is still a work in progress. I never feel that I am quite there yet.

Wishbone Ash tour dates.

Purchase “Blue Horizon”

Visit the official Wishbone Ash website.

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