Britain’s Wishbone Ash did not become a household name in the United States like some of their early '70s rock peers. But the band left its mark on a generation of hard rockers that followed, thanks greatly to the melodic, dueling riffs of co-lead guitarists Andy Powell and Ted Turner.
Powell leads the band’s latest incarnation, which also has guitarist Muddy Manninen, bassist Bob Skeat and drummer Joseph Crabtree. That lineup will deliver “Warrior,” “Throw Down the Sword” and other cult classics on March 20, at Jazzbones, 2803 Sixth Ave., in Tacoma. But, during a recent phone interview, Powell made one thing clear: This is no mere nostalgia act.
TW: According to your tour itinerary you are in New York today. Are you doing anything fun before the show?
Powell: Well, we’re doing a couple of sets there at the Iridium, the venue made famous by Les Paul, if you know that place. He played every Monday night. I actually saw him there, so I’m kind of happy to be playing at this venue just for that, being a guitarist.
We’re actually doing these shows where we play the “Argus” album (the band’s third, from 1972.) So we’ll play some classic material, and then, obviously, material from the new CD, “Elegant Stealth.” And we’ll also cover all points in between.
TW: You are playing “Argus,” are you?
Powell: Yeah, we’ve been doing that for all the shows. For the first half of the set, we play the entire album. We figure enough water’s gone under the bridge where we can actually do that, and people want to hear it.
TW: What do you remember about making that album?
Powell: We were being exposed to the world at large at that point. We were traveling all over the place. We were reading; we were philosophizing. We were thinking about where we were and what our place in the world was, and that album just reflects all of that. It’s one of the most pleasurable albums I think I’ve ever made.
TW: What is it about that record that stands the test of time?
Powell: I think, like with a lot of great records, the song structures. There’s no wastage there. Everything has a reason for being on the record. ... We’re not papering over any cracks in the material. It’s sturdy stuff, as were other classic albums at the time. If you look at Pink Floyd ... Jethro Tull “Thick as a Brick,” for us “Argus” – they’re all very solid works, you know; simple production, great engineering.
TW: You are into your fifth decade with Wishbone Ash. What is it about this band that keeps you excited?
Powell: The normal state of affairs for an “artiste,” if you want to say that, is ... being slightly dissatisfied and saying, “I want to do better.” And that’s still with me, that feeling of unfinished work to do. It’s a passion, you know. I just enjoy playing onstage. I enjoy creating in the studio. I enjoy the life.
TW: Can you recall when your sound first gelled, with the dual guitars and everything?
Powell: When we formed the band ... it was suggested the two prospective guitar players, myself and Ted Turner, get together and jam. I think the moment I really felt that was when we wrote the song “Blind Eye.” It was really almost an attempt to replicate the sound of horns, riffing with guitars.
It was like, “Whoah! That is an arresting sound right there.” I’d heard other bands dabbling with this stuff, but I thought we really had something. … We realized, without resorting to keyboards, it gave us this amazing palette of melody, really. That’s always been the stock and trade of the band, this melodic content.
TW: You and Ted together are considered among the most influential guitarists in rock. Do you hear your stamp on many of today’s bands?
Powell: I think a lot of those metal acts, like Iron Maiden and so forth, were younger than us and probably were in our audiences and watching us and checking us out. ... Thin Lizzy’s a band that totally was influenced by us. The guitars in Steely Dan’s music, you can hear the direct cops. Lynyrd Skynyrd ... came onto the label after we were already signed, and I know for a fact they were influenced by us. So, you know, that’s gratifying.
TW: And who influenced you when you were developing your own style?
Powell: I cut my teeth as a teenager playing in soul bands – all this R&B and soul – which gave me my rhythmic foundation. But when guitar players started coming to the fore in the mid-60s, I was listening to Roy Buchanan; I was listening to Django Reinhardt, Jeff Beck. Of course, there was this great wave of fantastic British players that were a bit older than me. You know, Clapton, he led me onto the blues. And then I discovered Albert King who really, for me, was a great sort of mentor.
But when I was 11 or 12, the guy that really caught my ear in the UK was a guy named Hank Marvin, who played with the Shadows, which was Cliff Richards’ backing band. He just had the cleanest, sweet sound. I guess the equivalent band over here (in America) would have been the Ventures, really. Hank is the roots of most British guitar players, whether they admit it or not. There’s always a bit of Hank in every one of us.
TW: If we can totally switch gears, a few years ago Martin Turner formed his own version of Wishbone Ash. What led up to that?
Powell: Martin left the band on two separate occasions. He was in the band for a total of 15 years. I can’t comment on what led up to him deciding after the 15-year hiatus to come back on the road, and I can’t really comment on what he’s doing. But I can tell you he was a very important part of the band in the early days, obviously.
But there’s a very – how can I put it? – bad taste about it. … I can tell you it’s a dumb move to call your band Martin Turner’s Wishbone Ash and give the idea there’s another version of this band out there, ‘cause there’s not. This band is vigorous; it’s producing new music on a regular basis, DVDs. Just in the last 10 years, we’ve done five, six studio albums. We’re not a tribute to ourselves. We’re very vigorous about what we’re currently doing. The question you started asking is, “What keeps me passionate?” Well, what keeps me passionate is that we’re current.
My main focus is keeping the legacy intact and pushing the band’s creativity in this 21st century.