Wishbone Ash: The Best Band You’ve Never Heard Of

Image courtesy sam-musiclovers.blogspot.com.

Don’t ask me why, but I’ve recently developed the strange habit of logging into YouTube and searching for obscure rock bands from the 60’s and 70’s–the weirder the name, the better. Some of the best I’ve discovered so far include “Gandalf,” “Lucifer’s Friend,” and “Bulbous Creation” (what the hell a bulbous creation is, I have no idea). Okay, I admit, some of these sound really weird. But, as they say, don’t judge a book by its cover. In fact, it seems to me that even the bands that never made it in the 60’s are still better than most of the acts around today. But that’s just my opinion…

One of the better groups I found with this method is a four-piece by the name of “Wishbone Ash.” Two random nouns smushed together to make a band name? Sounds good to me.

A British rock band founded in 1970, Wishbone Ash originated as a power trio named “Tanglewood.” Their lineup featured Martin Turner on bass, Steve Upton on drums,  and Martin’s brother Glenn Turner on guitar. After Glenn quit, manager Miles Copeland III put out an ad for a replacement guitarist. Instead of one, they found two: Andy Powell and Ted Turner. After extensive auditioning, the band decided to keep both. As members of Wishbone Ash, Powell and Turner became a seminal twin-lead guitar pair, pioneering the style made famous by such bands as Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, and Thin Lizzy.

I chose 1972’s Argus to be my introduction to the band, partly because it’s their most commercially successful album and partly because it’s the only complete album of theirs on YouTube.

Forty-five minutes later, I was blown away. These guys absolutely rock.

Right from the opening track, I got a sense of a professional, tight group. The nine minute rock odyssey “Time Was” starts things off with some soft acoustic picking. Then we get some surprisingly tender vocal harmonies from Martin and Ted Turner (no relation there, by the way). Just when you wonder where the electric guitars are, both blast in and take things to a new level. It’s a solid track, and it showcases the band’s versatility.

Next comes the sombre “Sometime World,” followed by the cheery “Blowin’ Free.” This was a concert favorite of the band, and for good reason–the bouncy riff is instantly recognizable, and it gets stuck in your head.

I consider the next track to be a high point of the album: the seven-minute epic “The King Will Come.” Andy Powell’s guitar tone during the intro sounds almost like pipes, and Upton’s marching snare matches the feel nicely. After about a minute, the song explodes into a killer riff by Ted Turner. Equally impressive solos from both guitarists fill the song out. After listening to most of their catalogue, I remain convinced that “The King Will Come” is Ash’s best.

Afterward comes the reserved “Leaf and Stream;” a nice song, but probably the weakest track on the album when compared to the others. “Warrior” features even more impressive guitar work (notice a pattern here?), but the song that solidifies Powell and Turner as true guitar legends is the closing track, entitled “Throw Down the Sword.”

Priest and Maiden might have made the twin-lead style famous, but I argue that Wishbone Ash did it better than anyone. The solo at the end of this song proves it. For the final two minutes, we’re taken on a musical journey by two outstanding guitarists. It’s amazing how the solos entwine, then diverge, then rejoin one another, almost like threads of silk woven into one. The combination of emotive phrasing and impressive fretwork is what makes this dual-solo really shine. But if you truly want to get a sense of just how good it is, you’ll have to listen to it yourself.

Argus vaulted Wishbone Ash into my upper echelon of all-time favorite artists with just one listen. The band produced some other strong efforts throughout its career (check out Pilgrimage, There’s the Rub, and New England), but, in my opinion, none of them quite matched the brilliance of this album.

So do yourself a favor. Buy Argus and take a listen. You won’t regret it.

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