ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, FEB. 20, 2003
Every once in a while, when my wee home office gets too cramped from all the free CDs this job incurs, I take a deep breath and begin studying my stacks of record albums. Vinyl, baby—that’s where it used to be at. Now I scour those ’70s remnants more to see which ones I can relegate to the crawlspace to make room for another 100-disc CD holder.
On previous missions I’ve weeded out the old Styx and Foreigner entries, but there’s still a lot of treasures from the heyday of guitar rock that I won’t be without, like Wishbone Ash’s ’74 release, There’s the Rub. Looking back, I wish I’d also used my teenage lawn-mowing money to procure a copy of that band’s even better ’72 LP, Argus, which was voted best British album of the year by Melody Maker. I’m hoping that entrancing Argus tracks like “The King Will Come” and “Sometime World” will make the set list when founding guitarist Andy Powell brings the latest Wishbone Ash incarnation to the Yale on Sunday (February 23) for a 4 p.m. double bill with fellow ’70s die-hards Savoy Brown.
As Powell explains from his home in Connecticut, he’s been determined to keep the Wishbone Ash name alive, even though its popularity took a permanent nosedive with the onset of the ’80s. “The whole first decade of the band was just one big party,” he recalls. “We were doing great, touring all over the world, and then of course inevitably things changed. At that point I asked myself, ‘Well, should I throw this out and do something else within music? But why? The band is such a great vehicle, why not try and keep it going?’ So I just bought into it as a lifestyle, really.”
Although Powell is the sole original member in the current Wishbone Ash lineup, the band strives to be more than just a nostalgia act, continually releasing new albums, the latest being last year’s Bona Fide. (Hear clips at http://www.wishboneash.com/.) Powell describes the group’s recent music as “slicker” than its early material but claims it’s still got a mid-’70s feel.
“It’s got the blues-folk element to it,” he says, “which was always core to the band. And of course the twin-lead [guitar] thing is very strong there. The guy who’s playing guitar with me at the moment [Finnish picker Ben Granfelt] is an excellent player in his own right.”
Along with founding member Ted Turner, Powell was once voted by Rolling Stone as being among the top-20 rock guitarists of all time. And at 52, he figures he’s still got what it takes to light up the frets. “The thing about getting older is you play more within your limitations,” Powell relates. “When you’re young you’re flyin’ high, you know, so it’s just different. I was a lot more of a nervy player back then, but I would say I’m more of a complete player now.”
One thing that hasn’t changed over the years is Powell’s choice of guitar: he still favours the Gibson Flying V, the arrow-shaped instrument that’s plastered all over the cover of the 1997 Best of Wishbone Ash CD. “It’s a very awkward guitar to play,” he notes, “but once you’ve kinda mastered the shape and you make it work for you, it feels like an old friend. I just kind of identified with it and made it my own, and it’s become something of a symbol of the band, so that’s fine.”