Wishbone Ash was formed in 1969 by bassist Martin Turner and drummer Steve Upton. After an extensive search for a guitar player, the band could not decide between the final two candidates, Andy Powell and Ted Turner. Powell suggested that they try both guitar players “just to see what it sounds like”. Unbeknownst to Powell, he was helping to pioneer a brand new technique in rock: the “twin lead” harmonizing guitar sound. Coincidentally, across the ocean in America, Dickie Betts and Duane Allman were utilizing the same technique, as The Allman Brothers Band was formed around the same time in Macon, Georgia. Though both bands were heavily rooted in the blues, the Wishbone Ash twin lead sound also included strong elements of folk, progressive rock, and classical music.
In early 1970, the band scored an opening spot for rock legends Deep Purple, who were on their way to becoming one of the most popular bands in the world. During soundcheck, Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore was warming up alone onstage when a very bold Andy Powell walked up, plugged in, and began jamming along with Blackmore. Within 24 hours, Blackmore hooked the band up with legendary producer Derek Lawrence and helped them secure a record deal with MCA Records.
The band’s self-titled debut album, released in 1970, was a huge success. Fans and critics alike praised the album, which contained a raw, rogue bluesy rock sound as well as extended jam sessions and twin guitar flights that displayed the band's impressive musical skills. The haunting “Phoenix”, clocking in at nearly thirteen minutes, closed out the album and is considered by many to be the definitive Wishbone Ash song. The group also displayed early signs of heavy metal with the pummeling riffs of “Queen of Torture” and “Lady Whiskey”.
One year later, the group released Pilgrimage. Reactions were mixed, as there was extreme pressure on the band to surpass their highly praised debut album. Regardless, Pilgrimage was a strong effort, and remains one of their finest studio recordings. However, most of the tracks on the album were instrumental, as there were only a few songs with vocals and solid song structures.
The band struck gold in 1972 with Argus, without question their commercial and creative peak. The album was voted by the readers of Sounds magazine as the best rock album of the year. Argus contained epic themes, brilliant vocal harmonizing, instrumental precision, and the best song writing of Wishbone Ash's career. The impact of Argus was enormous. A potent blend of folk, progressive rock, and classical, Argus was a truly original album that helped propel the band to superstar status. The band was now one of the most popular rock bands in the world, and was getting international acclaim for their live performances.
The band was now headlining major arenas and starting to make a huge impact in the United States. In a move that Wishbone Ash would unfortunately repeat time and time again throughout their career, the group released a lackluster follow-up to Argus that put the brakes on their rise to the top. Wishbone Four was the band’s first record without producer Derek Lawrence, as the band decided to produce the album themselves. It was as if Argus never happened. None of the lush harmonies, folksy elements, or epic song writing was present, and most of the trademark twin lead guitar was missing. However, there were some absolute classics on the album, including the beautiful “Ballad of the Beacon” and the underrated rocker “Doctor”.
Regardless of whether Wishbone Four captivated audiences, the band still had a reputation as a fierce live act. Therefore, in 1973, the band released a double live album entitled Live Dates, which truly captured the band at their peak of their live performance. Bands were releasing live albums left and right in the early 70s, so Live Dates, although successful, did not receive the popularity and attention it should have.
Just as the band’s popularity was continuing to rise on the strength of Live Dates and the now legendary status of Argus, the band suffered a serious blow with the departure of guitarist Ted Turner, who retired from music and moved to the English countryside. After replacing Turner with new guitarist Laurie Wisefield, the band relocated to America and recorded the critically acclaimed There's the Rub album.
Widely considered one of the band’s strongest albums, There's the Rub contained several classics, including the druggy instrumental epic “FUBB” and the haunting, gorgeous ballad “Persephone”, one of the group’s best songs. American influences began creeping into the band’s sound as well, as the album contained the first hints of the mellow, softer side the group would embrace later in the decade.
However, the band almost didn’t make it to the latter part of the decade, as their next album nearly killed their career. Locked in, produced (and extremely overproduced) by Tom Dowd, was a critical and commercial disaster. Virtually unrecognizable as a Wishbone Ash album, the album nearly derailed the band’s career as fan backlash was enormous. The group even began touring with a keyboard player; not only was the album panned, but the shows were disparaged as well. The entire Locked In experience was seen as a complete disaster.
The band returned with a newfound focus on 1976’s New England, and the Americanization of Wishbone Ash was now in full effect. A huge step forward, the band was also beginning to mellow out in a big way. Aside from a couple of rockers, most of the album is soothing and breezy, bringing the band’s great vocal harmonies even more to the forefront. The laid back, mellow trend continued with Front Page News (1977). Many fans proclaim that the group’s vocal harmonizing was never as fully realized as it was on Front Page News. A truly unique album which divides fans to this day, it acts almost as one constant, flowing number in the soft-rock vein, but without the kitsch elements. A highlight is the airy instrumental “714”, which includes strings in the background (a first for the band).
Despite recovering from the Locked In debacle with two fine albums in the mid-1970s, the band’s record sales were slumping. It was the area of punk and disco, and the hard rock giants of the early 1970s were now seen as has-beens only a few years into their careers. However, the group remained a strong live attraction that was still able to pack large venues.
In 1978, after years of experimental albums, the band decided to return to its roots with No Smoke Without Fire, the band’s heaviest album since There's the Rub and the first to be produced by Derek Lawrence since the Argus masterpiece in 1972. The album contained many songs written solely by Laurie Wisefield, including the massive epic “Way of the World” and the gorgeous harmonic ballad “Ships in the Sky” (one of the only elements still left from the Front Page News era; most of the album was classic Wishbone Ash). However, the band had long lost the ability to have a high charting album release, especially considering the trends of the time.
However, the band soldiered on and spent over an entire year making the next album, Just Testing. Released in February 1980, the album was the strongest Wishbone record in years. Containing mostly Martin Turner material, the album allowed Wishbone to try new musical trends and still retain the classic Wishbone sound. The album contained less frills with a stronger emphasis on vocals and chorus, coming through nicely on tracks like “Insomnia” and the classic opener “Living Proof”, one of Wishbone Ash's best songs of all time. “Lifeline”, another “Way of the World” style epic, closed out the album and unfortunately, an era.
The band began to fall apart after the “Just Testing” tour. Pressured by MCA to make more commercial music, the band wanted to bring in a lead singer and relinquish Martin Turner’s duties to bass guitar only. After eleven years, the band’s front man and co-founder was forced out of Wishbone Ash. Martin was so much more than just a bass player, as he basically represented the face of Wishbone Ash to many. It would prove, for the most part, to be a mistake on the part of the band.
Turner was replaced by the legendary John Wetton, formerly of King Crimson, UK, and several other classic groups. The band would take even more missteps by limiting the creative control of Wetton. Most of Number the Brave, released in 1981, was written before Wetton joined, but he was still not allowed to sing lead vocals on any of the songs except one. Clearly a superior vocalist to Andy Powell or Laurie Wisefield, Wetton grew disillusioned with his “session man” status, especially considering he was one of the most respected bassists/singers/songwriters in the world. Before the tour began, he quit Wishbone Ash and formed Asia, selling nine million copies of their first album, which contained songs Wishbone Ash could have used if they had treated Wetton as an equal. Wishbone Ash was dropped by MCA the same year.
Wetton was replaced on the Number the Brave tour by former Uriah Heep bassist Trevor Bolder. Also joining the band was a female baking vocalist, Claire Hamill, who had sang on both the Just Testing and Number the Brave albums. The new Wishbone got mixed reviews, as Martin Turner was sorely missed, as was John Wetton, who many in attendance thought they had paid to see. In 1982, the band went heavy metal and released the lackluster Twin Barrels Burning album. Clearly an attempt to ride the coattails of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, the album sounded more like an LA strip metal band than the legends of the twin lead guitar. The band is virtually unrecognizable, though there are a few bright spots along the way. Once again, the band depended on their still successful live shows to bring home the bacon.
Disillusioned with the state of the band, Trevor Bolder left the group in 1983, to be replaced by Mervyn Spence. Spence was a fantastic lead vocalist (much like Jon Anderson of Yes) and acted as the front man from the 1984-1986 period. The group continued with heavy metal on 1985’s Raw to the Bone, which became the first Wishbone Ash album not to make the charts.
The band suffered even more disappointment when Laurie Wisefield quit the band after eleven years of service. He was replaced by Jamie Crompton. Months later Mervyn Spence quit as well, to be replaced by Andy Pyle. This was considered one of the lowest points in the band’s career. However, it didn’t last long.
In 1987, IRS Records founder and original Wishbone manager Miles Copeland began a record label entitled “No Speak”, which featured all instrumental music. In order to launch the label successfully, Copeland needed a big name band that would bring publicity to the project. Copeland approached Andy Powell and Steve Upton about having Wishbone Ash release an all-instrumental album. However, he stated the album must mark the reunion of the original Wishbone Ash.
For the first time in fourteen years, Andy Powell and Steve Upton joined forces with Martin Turner and Ted Turner to release the album Nouveau Calls, released in 1987. Fans were beyond elated to hear that the original Wishbone Ash was back in action; however, reactions were mixed because there were no vocals on the new album. The tour of 1888 was a huge success, as the band played large venues for the first time since the late 1970s. In 1989, fans got their wish as the band released a full-fledged reunion album with vocals entitled Here to Hear. Considered the band’s best album since 1980’s Just Testing, the album went over well with fans and critics alike. The 1988-1990 period featured some of the best live performances of the band’s career.
After spending the first part of 1990 on the road, the band went back into the studio to record the follow up to Here to Hear. The band was shocked when founding member Steve Upton, the band’s drummer for their entire career, announced his retirement from the music business. Shaken but undeterred, the band quickly enlisted session drummer Robbie France to help out on some studio tracks and live shows. However, the band permanently settled on Ray Weston, who officially joined the band in 1991. After a full year in the studio, Strange Affair was released in 1991.
In 1992, fans were extremely upset that founding member Martin Turner was fired yet again from Wishbone Ash. Even more upsetting is that he was replaced by returnee Andy Pyle, who had been in the band years earlier. Turner was the band’s frontman, lead vocalist, and principal songwriter, whereas Pyle didn’t sing or write. However the band remained strong as Pyle, Andy Powell, Ted Turner, and Ray Weston toured throughout 1992 and 1993, releasing the excellent live album The Ash Live in Chicago.
Wishbone was totally dismantled in 1994. All of the members of the band quit. However, Andy Powell, who many fans blamed for the constant shifting lineup, promised to carry the flag and soldier on with a new version of the band. Guitarist/songwriter Roger Filgate replaced Ted Turner, bassist/vocalist Tony Kishman would be the frontman, and drummer Mike Sturgis replaced Ray Weston. Powell promised to deliver “the next Argus”, and fan donations and outside assistance help the group finance the new studio album. However, Tony Kishman had prior performing engagements in America, and had to bow out of the project right before the 1995 tour. For the third time, Martin Turner returned to the fold to the delight of the fans.
Turner offered to record the album in his home studio, which would have saved the group thousands of dollars. However, Powell declined because he considered it “handing over a year’s worth of work to Martin”. Clearly, the power struggle of Andy Powell was becoming more and more known to the fans. Martin Turner, appearing to be much more of a contributor and leader for Wishbone Ash than Andy Powell had ever been, was relegated to a session musician. He was fired for a third time in 1996, as Tony Kishman returned. Fans were irate.
The fans were even more upset when Illuminations, an excellent album, was released in 1996 without containing any of Martin’s contributions. Essentially an Andy Powell solo album (considering he was the only original member), the album received rave reviews and was the strongest Wishbone Ash release in years, but many were rubbed the wrong way after Andy Powell’s almost dictatorial takeover of the band.
In 1997, once again, everyone quit Wishbone Ash. Bassist Bob Skeat and guitarist/vocalist Mark Birch were hired, and former drummer Ray Weston rejoined the band. During the lineup changes, Andy Powell surprisingly released two electronic dance albums under the name Wishbone Ash. Psycho Terrorism and Trance Visionary were ambitious dance projects that contained electronic beats blended with Wishbone Ash guitar riffs. Boldly, the new band even played some of the material in concert. Not since Locked In has an album divided fans of the band so much.
Making a complete opposite turn, the band then released a quiet, all acoustic album of classic songs entitled Bare Bones before hitting the road in 2000 to celebrate their 30th anniversary. A special show was held at Shepherds Bush Empire in London, where the band welcomed special guests Laurie Wisefield and Claire Hamill, as well as other friends for a star-studded concert that resulted in Live Dates 3 and a live DVD.
In 2001, Mark Birch was replaced by legendary guitarist Ben Granfelt, who was already a solo star in Europe. Granfelt was the most gifted guitarist to join the band since Ted Turner’s return in 1987. The band hit the road for their most extensive touring schedule in years, and renewed interest in the band was seen across the globe (many older fans had just assumed the group had split). Showcasing their strongest lineup in years, Wishbone Ash returned to the studio in 2002 for the highly praised Bona Fide album. Like Illuminations six years earlier, Bona Fide was considered an instant classic by fans and critics alike. The band began the 2003 world tour with Savoy Brown, playing the largest number of American dates since the 1980s.
Ben Granfelt made a huge impact on the new Wishbone Ash. As the group was enjoying yet another rise to the top, he left the band to continue working on his solo career. This loss was a major one, perhaps the most damaging lineup change since Martin Turner was fired in 1992. Granfelt’s mentor, Muddy Manninen, joined the band. It has yet to be seen whether Manninen will be able to fill Granfelt’s very big shoes.
Power of Eternity (2007) is the first new studio album from the band for over two years. It follows on the great Wishbone Ash tradition of twin-guitar based rock for which they are universally famous. Fronted by the original member Andy Powell, this album will be a “must buy” for all Wishbone Ash fans, as well as all fans of great guitar-based rock.