Guitars, Martin Turner, and the Royal Family
Dr. Music Talks with a Wishbone Ash Legend: Andy Powell
by Scott "Dr. Music" Itter
I was recently given the honor of asking legendary guitarist and Wishbone Ash member Andy Powell a few questions about everything from life on the road to his ongoing conflict with former bandmate Martin Turner. As you will hear, Andy Powell is a confident man that knows where he's going as well as where he's been. And, by playing more than 200 dates a year, there are not a whole lot of places Andy Powell and Wishbone Ash haven't been. The challenge of asking questions that haven't already been asked of this well-traveled man was tremendous, and as you will read there were still some discoveries to be made.
Dr. Music: Hello Andy, and thank you for giving me a piece of your time it is truly an honor. Now, it is not only my opinion, but the opinion of countless fans and critics alike, that "Argus" is the definitive Wishbone Ash record. Would you agree, and what are your feelings about calling any particular album a "definitive Wishbone Ash record?" Are you comfortable with that?
Andy Powell: I am actually. There is much more to Wishbone Ash, but this is the album in which we pulled it all together and defined our style which was truly unique. In many ways I believe we made a big mistake in abandoning this vision when we recorded "Wishbone Four," which was a hastily put together record done under duress. You know, a big part of the creative process is reflection, and we could've used a bit more at that time; but, we were under the gun story of my life!
DM: There has been talk for many years about doing an orchestral version of the "Argus" record. Is this idea still "in the wings," or has it been forgotten about?
AP: Yes, it could work, and I've benefited by investigating the process; but it's huge, and requires a lot of the above. I've already learned a lot about the pitfalls of using the wrong orchestrator, and have indeed found a wonderfully talented German arranger/composer who I believe would be tres sympathique to the project.
DM: If you wanted to introduce someone to Wishbone Ash music, what album or song would you suggest they start with?
AP: "Argus" or "Pilgrimage."
DM: I have heard many artists, from The Flyin' Ryan Brothers to Judas Priest, site Wishbone Ash as a major influence. In your opinion, is there any one band in particular that you feel has captured the essence of the Wishbone Ash sound?
AP: Not really. These bands use us and our technique as an influence, but they often miss the pastoral, whimsical side the blues and emotion. There's a lot of English melancholy in our music. Just listen to "Sometime World" or "Leaf And Stream."
DM: It has been over 35 years since Wishbone Ash got started. What factor do you feel contributes most to the lasting power of this band? Do you think you'd still be playing if the band had decided on Jesus Duck instead of Wishbone Ash?
AP: Well, to call the band Jesus Duck, which was one of the names put forth by our manager, Miles Copeland at the time, would have had certain limitations. I think the main factors contributing to our/my longevity are a certain "under the radar" approach. We were never a big singles band, which tends to date you, and we've always been a player's band. Also, we have an eclectic musical style which often requires a bit of digging into or an open-mindedness, but then it can be really rewarding for the listener.
DM: How much has the World Wide Web and the internet impacted the longevity of Wishbone Ash?
AP: Huge. We don't really need labels, magazines and radio so much. The web enables us to get right to our fans with no "BS."
DM: Wishbone Ash has used many producers over the years, from Bill Szymczyk to Tom Dowd. Which producer do you feel was the most beneficial to the band and its sound? Is there anyone that you wish you would have had as a producer (Martin Birch, George Martin perhaps)? And lastly, if you could work with any of the big producers of today (Rick Rubin, Robert John "Mutt" Lange, Steve Lillywhite, etc.), who would it be?
AP: Bill Szymczyk was tops - great with people, great ears, and an ability to get the job done. Cool.
Rick Rubin would be someone I would love to work with. He seems to me to know his onions thinks like a true muse and producer, but is able to bring out the best in these artists, their true colors.
DM: You're going off to that proverbial desert island, and you have room in the suitcase for one album (from any artist). What would it be?
AP: A Beatles album maybe "Abbey Road."
DM: Are there any young bands out today that have really impressed you? If so, which ones?
AP: A lot do, but sadly they have a short shelf life. I'm currently listening to The Cardigans, who I rate; but also I've checked out Franz Ferdinand, and the Arctic Monkeys, whose singer is extraordinary. I'm addicted to songwriters these days. Ray Davies' new CD is good, but the production is a bit naïf.
DM: With the new album, "Clan Destiny," there seems to be a renewed creativity within the songwriting process. A song like "Surfin' A Slow Wave" has a much different sound than anything Wishbone Ash has ever done. Do you feel that the current lineup is the most flexible and diverse Ash lineup yet?
AP: Pretty darned flexible.We can go heavy, bluesy or retro. We all listen to a lot of music and have deep knowledge.
DM: You have mentioned in other interviews that you have used an old 1952 Telecaster (that used to belong to Roy Buchanan) since the mid-70's for much of the recording you do in the studio. You have also pointed out that you do not bring this guitar on the road. My questions are: How much of "Clan Destiny" was recorded with this guitar? And, why not use this versatile, fat sounding guitar for the stage?
AP: A good 75% of the guitar work on "Clan Destiny" was using this axe. In addition I used my Chilcott Angel V, and a cheap Mexican strat. I don't use it on the tours because it's valuable, but also the Flying V has a lot more head room on big stages, and it's also a performer's guitar. I've adapted my whole stage style around this instrument.
DM: I have also heard that the intro to "Throw Down The Sword" is also your warm-up exercise. Is this a fact?
AP: I had been listening to Fairport Convention and some other jigs and reels, and so wanted to make my own one up. It's at a little slower pace than one of theirs though!
DM: And are you still warming up with it?
AP: Not these days!
DM: Your signature red Flying V has become a trademark image for you, and you have mentioned in the past that it is a comfortable fit for you and your style of playing. If you had to choose one guitar, and donate the rest to me, which one would you keep?
AP: I'd keep the 1967 Gibson Flying V. I can do most things with this guitar, including catch snakes or impale nasty security men with it. This actually happened at a gig in the Soviet Union when the security was getting out of hand.
DM: Wishbone Ash just might be the hardest working band in the history of rock 'n' roll. With a tour schedule that has you playing over 200 dates every year, all around the world, when did you find time to write and arrange the songs on "Clan Destiny?" Is there a set formula or scheduling technique that you use for getting new material written?
AP: Well, I've bought so much into the lifestyle that I don't differentiate between being on the road or at home. My best songwriting ideas come on long, solitary American road trips like the one I just completed from Vancouver to Boston. I feel as free as the wind and really get inspired. Also, yard work works for me digging in the dirt and walking in the woods. The song "Mountainside" was written while working on a farm at harvest time, for example. Nature is the best.
DM: Being knighted and given the title of Sir Andy Powell by the Queen of England do you ACCEPT like Elton, or DECLINE like Bowie?
AP: Oh, I don't know. I feel like a world citizen these days. England feels a little claustrophobic, but I still love it and it's my true home. So yes, why not accept one? I've been a good ambassador for the U.K. music industry. Kinda quaint idea these days. Even though the lustre has gone off the Royal Family, they still hold a lot of weight. Did you know that Brits are not true citizens of their country? They are subjects. Makes me a little uncomfortable, that one.
DM: If you could pick any band or artist in today's music market to collaborate with musically, who would it be?
AP: I'm currently digging Gabriel Gordon, and Doyle Bramhall II. He rocks! Respect!
DM: Will we ever again see a reunion of Ash alumni like we saw in the late 80's when you signed with Miles Copeland's I.R.S. Records?
AP: I never say "never" to reunions, but I have grown rather tired of trying to galvanize some former members into action over the years. I guess, these days, everyone wants to do things on their own terms me included. I had always been the "fall guy" when it came to initiating these reunions, and also making the invitations to a successive number of new players. Then, as band members left piecemeal, I just continued in the role that had been pre-described for me.
Martin Turner has made things difficult lately in that regard, deciding after a 15 year hiatus to get a band together nothing wrong there but to rather cheesily call it "Martin Turner's Wishbone Ash." Prior to this, we'd had a gentleman's agreement that he would not go down this road, but obviously it was not working for him commercially. Having rescinded his role in the band all those years ago, it's not doing much for his credibility with former band members and the larger fan community to reclaim something that he gave up on. Why now? Why not back then? Fortunately, I've never had to deal with this dilemma, since I never quit the band. Can you imagine Roger Water's Pink Floyd, Mick Abraham's Jethro Tull, or Ritchie Blackmore's Deep Purple?
Now, in addition to falsely claiming that he alone actually formed the band, invented the twin lead guitar concept, and even invented the name - he falsely claims he was sacked (by me) instead of leaving. So, despite all my respect and admiration for all he's achieved in the early days, it obviously makes things a tad tricky with respect to a bona fide reunion and an ongoing relationship with him. At the moment, there's a kind of "he said/she said" thing going on with erroneous info flying everywhere like the current myth that I tried to shut down the website his people started. Not true. I merely asked, could they use a different name other than "Wishbone Ash - The Official Site," since it was obviously becoming really confusing with journalists, radio stations, our record labels, and the venues we work with. Of course, Martin's manager and advisors are eminently aware of this and are trying to strategically capitalize on the last 15 years work that has been put in by our team, which has unquestionably raised the profile of the band on a worldwide basis. It's all about money and trying to rewrite history...very Spinal Tap! It would have been of no interest to them 10 or 15 years ago, because they assumed the whole thing had ended.
DM: You've been asked the same questions over and over again while sitting through what has probably been thousands upon thousands of interviews. Has there ever been a particular question that you always hoped would get asked but never has?
AP: Yes. My true role in the construction, production, and writing of much of the classic music of this great band. It would take a detailed analysis and much verbiage.
DM: With a little research, we can hear you answer just about any Wishbone Ash related question you can think of, but hearing you talk about your personal life is rare. For instance, I don't know if you are married to a man or a woman, if you have kids or if you are single. Do you make a concerted effort to separate your personal life from your career?
AP: My married partner is a woman actually. We have three wonderful sons who are all in the visual or musical arts. I've done a really good job of separating my personal life from my musical life, which I believe has been important for my family's development - but of late, I'm seeing a blurring of reality.
DM: What do you think of "Queen Of Torture" being on a compilation called "Metal Age: The Roots Of Heavy Metal?" Do you feel that Wishbone Ash contributed to the beginning of Heavy Metal?
AP: I think that it's a definite! We were at times punky as well as really heavy. Listen to the aforementioned track, as well as "Lady Whiskey," and then "Runaway" from "New England" righteously heavy, I'd say.
DM: Who is Andy Powell?
AP: I've been called a saint, a sinner, even in an outburst from one individual, "the Devil." I just do what I do with a lot of momentum, energy, and impatience. I'm not always the most sensitive to others needs, but I can also be a real pushover at times. I'm a good leader, hard worker, and I play guitar and sing with passion which, thank God, I still have.
DM: Okay, Andy, just give me the first thing that comes to mind within a few seconds. Try not to give these too much thought.
DM: BLOSSOM TOES...
AP: First twin lead band I witnessed
DM: PETER GREEN...
AP: The Governor He wrote the book on tone and emotion
DM: RITCHIE BLACKMORE...
DM: MILES COPELAND...
AP: He who dares, wins
DM: RAP MUSIC...
AP: The French variety is best.
DM: HEAVY METAL...
AP: If it includes King's X, then it's cool in my book.
AP: Short for fanatics.
AP: Love it, love it!
My overall impression of Andy Powell was of a restless soul in total control. A comfortable man that can't sit still for very long without being creative in some way. A man that appreciates and craves the intimate fan relationship. A man that has led a complete life, and is always excited to be starting another one.
Extra special thanks to Andy Powell and Wishbone Ash headquarters for providing me with the opportunity, and taking the time to answer each question so explicitly. Thank you.