Wishbone Ash may not have invented the twin-guitar attack in rock music, but the British prog-rock band was there from the technique’s early days.
In the United States, the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd famously showcased twin-guitar leads. Andy Powell, the one continuous member of Wishbone Ash, believes Wishbone Ash and the Allmans developed twin-guitar leads in tandem. “In the U.S., the Allman Brothers had a Southern version of it,” Powell said. “They were a very melodic band. They latched onto the idea.”
Lynyrd Skynyrd, on the other, definitely borrowed from Wishbone Ash, Powell said. “Lynyrd Skynyrd was on the same record label as us. They had the same producer. I know they listened to Wishbone Ash. ‘Free Bird’ is their most well-known song. Our most well-known song, ‘Phoenix,’ is about a bird, too. I’m not saying that they copied it, but they saw ‘Phoenix’ in concert.”
Released in 1970, “Phoenix” appears on Wishbone Ash’s self-titled album debut. Powell also hears his band’s influence in songs by Steely Dan and Thin Lizzy. Steely Dan’s “Reelin’ in the Years” reproduces the coda in Wishbone Ash’s “Blowin’ Free,” he said. “And if listen to the ending on Thin Lizzy’s ‘The Boys Are Back in Town,’ that’s Wishbone Ash,” Powell added.
Whether it’s called stealing or being influenced by, Powell doesn’t object either way. “That’s a great honor, that those bands were influenced by us,” he said. “We incorporated bits from other bands. My favorite band back in the day was Fairport Convention. I also loved early Fleetwood Mac and the way they interpreted the blues. We were fortunate to be playing on the circuit at that time.”
A prog-rock band that blended rock, jazz and British folk music, Wishbone Ash expanded from its American blues, soul and rock ‘n’ roll roots. “It was all Stax and Motown,” Powell said. “Before that, Chuck Berry. Living in Britain after World War II, we all wanted to be Americans. We’d watch shows like The Cisco Kid or 77 Sunset Strip on British TV. That looked way more appealing to us than gray old England.”
But after playing American music since his teen years, Powell and many of his English peers were ready to move forward. “All of the bands, when they came of age, we were like, ‘We’ve done the blues, soul, Motown. What can we do next?’ For Wishbone Ash, we threw some jazz and folk in there. We became eclectic.”
Powell and Wishbone Ash also transferred the harmonized horn lines featured in their soul and blues bands to the two guitars. “Because we couldn’t afford a horn section, we did harmony guitar lines,” he said. Fifty years later, the twin-guitar attack remains an essential part the Wishbone Ash sound.
House of Blues