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Andy Powell - Road Warrior

Issue #7

Consistently a regular in 'most influential guitarist' polls, Andy Powell is also a Rock and Roll survivor - a fine, unique, guitarist who has played a significant role in shaping the very essence of the Rock music we enjoy today.
Gary Cooper

Wishbone Ash's ambassador for the Flying V, Andy Powell, has been leading the band for 40 years. Michael Casswell, interviews, Gary Cooper profiles and Guitar Interactive brings you a world exclusive - Wishbone Ash live on stage! 

He may not sport the tattoos now more or less mandatory for a guitar super hero - particularly for a road-hardened warrior of countless gigs - but Wishbone Ash's Andy Powell has the better aternative: heritage. Wishbone Ash was formed in 1969 and Powell is, today, the sole original member in the band - roaming the world, seemingly always on tour somewhere, delivering what, in an alternative universe, could well have been the music one of the most commercially successful bands of the 1970s and '80s.

Don't get me wrong - Wishbone Ash was always a success and if selling out a string of 3-4,000 seaters on a month long tour of the UK 40 years later, having annual conventions in the UK and USA in your honour, playing festivals and tours across the US and Europe and continuing to release new CDs counts for anything (as it should) then the band remains a potent force. But by rights, Wishbone Ash should be up there with the likes of Deep Purple, Yes, The Eagles and Fleetwood Mac - if not just on the strength of their own material, then because of the influence Powell and his original co-guitarist, Ted Turner, had on the development of Rock guitar.

Ash may not have been the first band to use two lead guitars (in our video interview, Powell mentions the 1960s UK band Blossom Toes as having tried it first) but when he and Ted Turner were auditioned for a new band being formed by bassist Martin Turner (no relation, whatever the web might say) the two hit it off musically and began trading licks. At which point, something very magical happened: Powell and Turner didn't just play solos in harmony, they created melodies and harmonised those. This wasn't two BB King impersonators playing Blues scales in interesting intervals - it was serious melodic invention.

The band met with almost immediate sucess - helped by the fledgling  (albeit eratic) acumen of manager Miles (brother of Stuart 'Police' Copeleand) who was their manager. With cool album covers, extended, intricate solos, lyrics open to endless interpretations, Wishbone Ash was the perect ' do not inhale' band of the era. And, of course, millions did inhale - especially when the third album, Argus, was released, in 1972. It was the album that sealed the band's reputation. Moreover, it was album of the year around the world - the twin lead style of Powell and Turner became the 'must hear' for countless guitarists (among them Thin Lizzy and Judas Priest) and the open road with boundless success seemed to beckon.

What students of Rock history often miss, though, is that Wishbone Ash's twin lead style was different. Plenty of other bands tried the same idea (some even had three or more guitarists) but that usually descended into mere stoned widdling. What Ash had was melody. You can actually whistle some of Andy Powell and Ted Turner's solos if you're so inclined.

 


They also had unconventional influences. The band's bassist, West Country born Martin Turner, is one of Rock's greatest unsung bass heroes (ask Iron Maiden's Steve Harris, who was heavly influenced by him). Turner not only had an astonishng sound but, using his Thunderbird played unfashionably high up the neck, took the lead instrument role at times and brought with him a strong Folk influence, more usually found in the likes of Fairport Convention, or Steeleye Span. There are moments on the albums 'Argus' and 'There's The Rub' that sound more 17th Century anthems from the English Civil War, than the Scotty Moore and Buddy Guy licks that most of their contemporaries were recycling. Unlike the Folk Rock bands of the era, however, this music was delivered via wailing Strats, Teles, a growling Thunderbird, Orange stacks, vintage Fender combos  and Powell's trademark Flying V.

And then there were the moments when Wishbone Ash turned heavy. Unlike contemporaries, Deep Purple and Black Sabbath, however, that wasn't all they did. If they had, their status as a Heavy Metal band might be higher today.

It's a sad truth that Wishbone Ash was also one of the victims of the 'punk revolution' so idolised by some Rock critics, who perhaps value the politics more than the music. By the mid-seventies, after Ted Turner had left to be replaced by the phenomenally talented Laurie Wisefield, and despite the fact that Ash was firing even better than ever on albums like New England, the British media decided that guitar solos were 'uncool',  virtuosity was a dirty word and - in the words of one influential British music weekly editor 'We can't give a Wishbone Ash album a good review - what would that do to our street cred?!'. Do I sound bitter? I was the reviewer who'd dared to praise it!  

Suddenly dropped by the same music press that had been their champions just a few years before, things began to go wrong elesewhere, too. Financial success waned and the band went without a major record deal - though it did have a fine creative period with Miles Copeland's 'No Speak' project in 1987, which specialised in instrumental-only recordings. Sadly, the sales weren't great, personell began to change and Wishbone Ash settled into a new role as a hard working festivals and small tours band, releasing great, but sadly neglected, CDs, though they were lapped-up by a large tribe of dedicated fans.

Today, many albums and countless tours later, Andy Powell remains the sole original member (though there is a ghostly, mirror image Wishbone Ash, recently formed by founder and bassist Martin Turner). The band, with its second Finish-born guitarist in sucession (Muddy Manninen) is still capable of blistering perormances (see our exclsuive live footage for the proof!) and has a fine new CD out, Elegant Stealth ( http://wishboneash.com/blog/post/e_s_takes_flight/ ) and rocks like few others - but always with class and the gift of guitar melody, unequalled to this day.

Andy Powell is no Guthrie Govan and if you are looking for blistering fretboard gymnstics - naked technique -  you are looking in the wrong place. What he is, though, is a masterful guitarist with his own own style and voice - something no amount of flash can ever hope to equal. Rolling Stone lauded Powell and Ted Turner as among the Top 20 Guitarists of All Time and similar accolades have been showered on Powell down the years. He is also a generous player, allowing room for others to shine, as he has done right throughout the band's career, where he has habitually left acres of room for his co-guitarists to take flight, clearly content to return to his rhythmic roots.

Ironically, though Powell is probably the world's most famous Flying V user, his main guitar isn't a Gibson - it's an improved V built by the (retired) English maker Kevin Chilcott. Powell uses genuine Gibson Vs as well, of course, and takes to the stage these days (as our interview reveals) with an array of succulent guitars, including a modern Burns Double Six (reviewed in this issue) a Duesenberg and a 1952 Fender Telecaster, reputedly once owned by the master, Roy Buchanan!

Though almost an icon because of his Vs (the band even once recorded a track titled 'Real Guitars Have Wings' - the illustraton for which showed a V in a wind tunnel!) many of Powell's finest solos have been recorded using old Fender guitars and amps.The V just happened to become his trademark, as he explaned to Michael Casswell.

Had Punk and personalities not got in the way, Wishbone Ash's melodic, adult, Rock might have seen them reckoned today alongside the likes of Fleetwood Mac and others of that era. As it turned out, they have still produced an astonishingly wide range of work - always characterised by the sound of two great guitarists devoloping and exploring melodic themes and inventions.

Consistently a regular in 'most influential guitarist' polls, Andy Powell is also a Rock and Roll survivor - a fine, unique, guitarist who has played a significant role in shaping the very essence of the Rock music we enjoy today.

 

Issue 7
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