Wishbone Ash is living and performing in harmony

Published on March 25th, 2021

By Jim Dail

The idea of harmonizing guitar sounds is nothing new in the modern age, but when Wishbone Ash began using it in the early ‘70s, a new innovation went mainstream. And the band is still rolling down the highway all over the world, stopping at M 15 in Corona on April 18.

“These days I am just smelling the roses,” said guitarist Andy Powell during a telephone interview. “I’ve been in this lifestyle a long time and I have friends in every state and down every country road. When you start out in this business you might fight it and wonder when you are going to get home. You have to learn to make home wherever you happen to be.”

It helps that these are not 300-day tours.

“We are doing about 120 dates this year and going to Europe and have plenty of projects on the horizon, but we have down time to work on albums and be creative,” he said. “It always seems like a big schedule but it is mine and not the manager’s or the label’s schedule. We have a circuit around the world and people know exactly when we will be back in town, so it is a very definitive schedule. It’s not like the ‘70s when we were told what to do.”

He has always been a pretty creative person, all the way down to the first guitars he played.

“It’s nothing for a kid to buy an electric guitar these days, but when I was 11 or 12 and into rock and roll, guitars were out of a lot of people’s reach,” he said. “I realized I was pretty handy and had ability to work with tools from woodworking classes at school. My dad was also an engineer. He thought it would be a good thing for me to try and I made one, then I made a second one.”

It was a valuable lesson.

“By the time I was able to buy a decent one, everything was pretty standard but I knew exactly what I was doing when it came to looking at the guitar,” he said.

And he loved the Stratocaster.

“That was the one that inspired me because there were so many innovations in that design,” he said. “You had the machine heads on one side, double cutaways, the ability to switch pickups, all huge at the time. At first I didn’t realize the wood could be so different and change the sounds. The big eureka moment for me was when I discovered the Gibson Flying V. It was a new concept. It had wings, great sustain and vibrance to it.”

Perhaps the lasting legacy of the band is the signature double harmony sound.

“That’s the signature sound that influenced a few band,” he said. “We lucked into it by default. We couldn’t decide whether to have two guitars or one guitar and keyboard. We thought we could play them together and we tried it with ‘Blind Eye,’ and we had a riff that sounded like a horn. I’d been in soul bands where we used horns, but I hadn’t seen many people harmonizing the two guitar lines.

Groups like the Allman Brothers and Boston also used the harmonizing guitars.

“People are aware of them, but ours is a more English sound,” he said. “George Harrison did it with ‘And Your Bird Can Sing.’ The trick is it was often a bass line that may have been coming though the scale actually making a three part harmony.”

But there is also restraint involved.

“With all the ability to multitrack you can create problems,” he said. “Our first recordings were four track then eight track then 16 tracks and 24. We were like kids in a candy shop, but you can go overboard. After the recording you have to go out and recreate it live. So, it had to be restrained.”

He has some advice for guitar players and beginning players.

“Spend time with so you can be one with it,” he said.

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