Wishbone Ash are an English hard-rock/jam band from Torquay, Devon, that released eleven studio albums and two live double-LPs on MCA between 1970 and 1981, followed by albums on Metronome, Neat, and I.R.S. during the subsequent decade. They are noted for their twin-lead guitar format, as exemplified on the 1971/72 albums Pilgrimage and Argus and their 1973 two-record concert document Live Dates.
Members: Andy Powell (guitar, vocals), Steve Upton (drums, 1969-90), Martin Turner (vocals, bass, 1969-80, 1987-91, 1995-96), Ted Turner (guitar, vocals, 1969-74, 1987-94), Laurie Wisefield (guitar, vocals, 1974-85), John Wetton (bass, vocals, 1980-81), Trevor Bolder (bass, vocals, 1981-83), Claire Hamill (vocals, 1981-82), Mervyn “Spam” Spence [aka O’Ryan] (bass, vocals, 1983-86), Jamie Crompton (guitar, vocals, 1985), Phil Palmer (guitar, vocals, 1985-87), Andy Pyle (bass, vocals, 1986-87, 1991-94)
Wishbone Ash was formed in 1969 by bassist/singer Martin Turner. He had been active since the outset of the beat boom when he formed The Torinoes in 1963. By 1969, that band had morphed into the pop-psych trio The Empty Vessels, which issued the single “My Son John” (b/w the “Low Toby”) on the German Metronome label.
After a brief stint as Tanglewood, Martin and drummer Steve Upton found themselves without a guitarist when Glenn Turner (Martin’s brother) left the band. Their manager, Miles Copeland III, placed an ad for a guitarist and keyboardist. However, the search left them torn between two guitarists, Ted Turner (no relation to Martin) and Andy Powell. Out of curiosity, they tried both guitarists at once and the arrangement clicked. They drew up two lists of potential names and Martin chose one from each: “Wishbone” and “Ash.”
Wishbone Ash made their live debut on November 10, 1969, at the Civic Hall in Dunstable with the Aynsley Dunbar Retaliation. In February 1970, their live load increased with five confirmed dates, including a show on the 20th at London’s Bedford College with May Blitz and Jackie Lomax‘s Heavy Jelly.
They managed twelve dates in April, including one at the Youth Club, Bletchley, with Van Der Graaf Generator. On May 9, 1970, Wishbone Ash played a multi-bill at London’s Imperial College with Tyrannosaurus Rex, Taste, Kevin Ayers, Michael Chapman, Grail, and Smile, a precursor to Queen.
On May 23, Wishbone Ash supported Deep Purple at Dunstable’s Civic Hall, where they impressed that band’s guitarist, Ritchie Blackmore, who linked Wishbone with Purple producer Derek Lawrence and helped them land a deal with Decca/MCA.
Meanwhile, Wishbone Ash proliferated as a live act. On May 23, they played the Spring Music Festival in Twerton Park, Bath, along with Chicken Shack, Fleetwood Mac, Juicy Lucy, Quintessence, and Sam Apple Pie. During June and July, they shared bills with Writing On the Wall (Marquee, London), Taste (Hull University), and opened for The Who in Dunstable.
On August 9, Wishbone Ash performed at the National Jazz & Blues Festival 1970, an event at the Plumpton Racecourse with sets by Caravan, Colosseum, Yes, and benefactors Deep Purple. Two weeks later, Wishbone played London’s Lyceum with Hardin & York, the Keef Hartley Band, the Spencer Davis Group, and Stray.
During September–October, Wishbone played eight dates with Emerson Lake & Palmer. On October 8, they played Lancaster University with Free. Seven concerts followed through late November, including shows with Brinsley Schwarz, Mogul Thrash, and Stone The Crows.
1970: Wishbone Ash
Wishbone Ash released their self-titled debut album in December 1970 on MCA (UK, Europe, NZ) and Decca (North America). Side one contains two six-minute cuts (“Lady Whiskey,” “Errors of My Way”) bookended by shorter numbers (“Blind Eye,” “Queen of Torture”). Side two consists of the lengthy “Handy” and “Phoenix.” All tracks are group-credited.
Lawrence produced Wishbone Ash at De Lane Lea Studios, London, during September 1970. The engineer, Martin Birch, also worked on Deep Purple In Rock (with Lawrence) and the 1970 Warner release The First Step by Faces.
Wishbone Ash is housed in a gatefold cover designed by John C. LePrevost (Strawberry Alarm Clock, Pidgeon) that shows a wishbone lain in disarray (outer) and held aflame (inner). Photographer Gene Brownell (Jellyroll, Help) captured the imagery. The album’s two shorter tracks were paired on 7″.
Wishbone Ash reached No. 29 on the UK Albums Chart in February 1971.
Wishbone Ash played 28 shows during the first quarter of 1971, including five straight nights of Northern dates in late January with Mott the Hoople and Red Dirt. On February 25, they made their US debut at the Municipal Auditorium in Austin, Texas, with The Guess Who. Wishbone did a two-night stand (March 19–20) at Detroit’s Eastown Theatre with Mountain and played three nights (April 8–10) at NYC’s Filmore East supporting Elton John.
Wishbone Ash issued their second album, Pilgrimage, in September 1971 on MCA/Decca. It features five studio originals, including “Alone,” “Lullaby,” “Valediction,” and their signature instrumental “Pilgrim.” The albums starts with a cover of Jack McDuff (“Vas Dis”) and ends with the 10-minute live number “Where Were You Tomorrow,” recorded at the De Montfort Hall, Leicester, on June 14, 1971.
The studio tracks were recorded that May at De Lane Lea with Lawrence and Birch. Hipgnosis designed the gatefold cover: two yellow-tinted photos of a dead tree, turned sideways (front) and viewed from below (back). The inner-spread features a b&w photo collage of group and members pics.
Decca (US) issued “Jail Bait” as a single (b/w “Vas Dis”). In Japan, MCA reversed the sides. Pilgrimage reached No. 14 on the UK Albums Chart.
On October 14, Wishbone Ash appeared on the The Old Grey Whistle Test (season 1, episode 4) along with Lindisfarne. On December 4, Wishbone played Waltham Forest Technical College, London. The night marked the debut performance of Camel, recently formed by Peter Bardens and the backing band of Phillip Goodhand-Tait.
Also in 1971, Ted Turner played on two songs (“Crippled Inside,” “How Do You Sleep?”) on John Lennon’s second solo album, Imagine.
Wishbone Ash released their third album, Argus, on May 8, 1972, on MCA/Decca. It starts with the 9:42 “Time Was” and features five songs in the 5–7-minute range: “Sometime World,” “Blowin’ Free,” “The King Will Come,” “Warrior,” and “Throw Down the Sword,” all with dual vocals between Martin Turner and Powell. Martin sings alone on the shortest cut, “Leaf and Stream.”
Martin penned the medieval-themed lyrics, apart from “Time Was” (Turner–Turner) and “Leaf and Stream” (Upton). Sessions took place at De Lane Lea in January 1972 with Lawrence and Birch. Renaissance keyboardist John Tout plays organ on “Throw Down the Sword.”
Hipgnosis designed the Argus cover: a blind-spot view of a knight overlooking a valley. The inner-spread has a live middle-shot of each member, photographed by Barrie Wentzell, also credited with 1971/72 album visuals for Ashton Gardner & Dyke, Barclay James Harvest, Flash, Genesis (Foxtrot), John Kongos, and Yes (The Yes Album).
Wishbone Ash promoted Argus with an appearance at the Bickershaw Festival in Wigan, Lancashire. The three-day event (May 5–7) featured sets by Brinsley Schwarz, Captain Beyond, Donovan, Family, Hawkwind, Jonathan Kelly, The Kinks, Linda Lewis, Mike Westbrook, and Stackridge.
On May 22, Wishbone played at the British Rock Meeting on Insel Grun, Germersheim, West Germany along with Amon Düül II, Atomic Rooster, Beggars Opera, Billy Joel, Buddy Miles Express, Curved Air, East of Eden, Ekseption, Frumpy, Home, Jerusalem, Karthago, Lindisfarne, Nazareth, Osibisa, Pink Floyd, Rory Gallagher, Savoy Brown, Status Quo, Strawbs, and Uriah Heep.
In late June, Wishbone Ash embarked on a US tour with stops at the Milwaukee Arena (supporting ELP). and the Rainbow Ballroom, Fresno (supporting Ballin’ Jack). Their live in-studio set on WCNK Studios, Memphis, (8/21/72) yielded the US Decca promo release Live in Memphis, which has renditions of “Jail Bait” and extended versions of “The Pilgrim” (11:34) and “Phoenix” (17:00). In October, they returned for the 21-date Movin’ tour.
Argus reached No. 3 on the UK Albums Chart. In August 1972, Wishbone Ash issued a new single: “No Easy Road” (b/w “Blowin’ Free”).
1973: Wishbone Four
On May 11, 1973, Wishbone Four appeared on MCA (worldwide). It features the pre-released a-side and seven new originals, including “Doctor,” “Ballad of the Beacon,” “Sing Out the Song,” and “Sorrel.” Martin wrote all the lyrics apart from “Rock ‘n Roll Widow” (Upton).
Wishbone Ash self-produced the album at Olympic and Apple Studios, London, during Feb-March 1973 with engineer Keith Harwood, a technical hand on 1972/73 albums by Humble Pie, Juicy Lucy, Led Zeppelin (Houses of the Holy), Leo Sayer (Silverbird), Mott the Hoople, Stories (About Us), and Tranquility. The lengthy “Everybody Needs a Friend” features keyboardist George Nash. “No Easy Road” features pianist Graham Maitland (Glencoe) and the horn section of (Bill Fay, Ray Russell, Rock Workshop), , (both Gass, Manfred Mann Chapter Three).
MCA lifted “So Many Things to Say” as a single (b/w “Rock and Roll Widow”). “Ballad of the Beacon” appears on Some Hard, Some Hot ‘N’ Some Heavy, a 1973 US/Australian MCA sampler with cuts by Budgie, Deodato, El Chicano, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Martha Reeves.
Wishbone Four reached No. 12 on the UK Albums Chart and No. 44 on the Billboard 200.
Also in 1973, Martin Turner backed folkster Mick Audsley on the Sonet release Dark and Devil Waters, which also features keyboardist Ann Odell, steel guitarist BJ Cole (Cochise), and session drummer Barry De Souza (Ablution).
In December 1973, Wishbone Ash released Live Dates, their first official live album. The two-LP set draws from June ’73 shows at Fairfield Halls, Croydon (6/17); Guildhall, Portsmouth (6/21); Reading University (6/23); and City Hall, Newcastle (6/24).
Live Dates features 11 tracks in all. Each side spotlights a specific album: side one, Argus (“The King Will Come,” “Warrior,” “Throw Down the Sword”); side two, Wishbone Four (“Rock ‘n Roll Widow,” “Ballad of the Beacon”); side three, Pilgrimage (“The Pilgrim,” “Jail Bait”); side four, Wishbone Ash (“Lady Whiskey,” “Phoenix”). The only deviations are “Blowin Free” (side three) and a cover of Jimmy Reed’s “Baby What You Want Me to Do” (side two). This version of “Phoenix” clock at 17:13.
Live Dates sports a gatefold cover designed by Colin Elgie, who did contemporary album visuals for The Hollies and Darryl Way’s Wolf. Original copies include a six-page booklet with info and pics. Live Dates reached No. 82 on the Billboard 200.
1974: There’s the Rub
In early 1974, Ted Turner left Wishbone Ash and moved to the US, where he played in assorted local combos. The band replaced him with guitarist Laurie Wisefield (b. 1952), fresh from rustic rockers Home, which made the 1971–73 CBS albums Pause for a Hoarse Horse, Home, and The Alchemist.
Wishbone’s first album of the Wisefield era, There’s the Rub, appeared in November 1974 on MCA. It features six group-written originals, including four in the 5–7-minute range (“Silver Shoes,” “Don’t Come Back,” “Persephone,” “Lady Jay”) and the nine-minute “F.U.B.B.” By now, Martin Turner was the band’s de facto lead vocalist.
Sessions took place at Criteria Recording Studios, Miami, with producer Joe Walsh, Rick Derringer) and engineer (Dan Fogelberg). Assistant engineer Seth Snyder worked previously with Ramatam and subsequently with Milton Wright. There’s the Rub is the earliest credit of assistant Ed Mashal, who soon worked with Thee Image, Raices, Jay Ferguson, and the Outlaws.
Select numbers feature session keyboardist Peter Wood (then of Natural Gas), who also played on 1975/76 albums by Joan Armatrading, Michael Chapman, and Al Stewart (Year of the Cat). “She Was My Best Friend” and “It Started in Heaven” feature backing vocals by Cissy Houston, Sylvia Shemwell, and Eunice Peterson.
is housed in a single sleeve illustrated by Chris Corey. It depicts an apparition of the band, as seen through a porthole of an emerging vessel near New York Harbor. The back cover features two group pics, taken on the Hudson River with Manhattan in the backdrop. The photographer, David Gahr, is also credited on 1975–77 albums by Andy Pratt (Shiver in the Night), David Forman, Funk Factory, Kansas (Masque), Manhattan Transfer, Miles Davis, Roberta Flack (Blue Lights in the Basement), and Spinners (Pick of the Litter).
Wishbone Ash promoted Locked In with a 42-date US tour (March 4–May 8) that included double bills with Status Quo in St, Louis and Portland, Ore. On June 6, they played the Sunrise Festival at the Messegelände in Offenburg, Germany, along with Bob Marley, Man, Scorpions, Van Der Graaf Generator, and War.
By now, Wishbone Ash resided in the northeast US for tax purposes. They recorded their seventh studio album in the summer of 1976 at Laurel Edge, Connecticut.
Wishbone Ash released New England, named after their new base of operation, in October 1976. It was their second album in seven months and their second of two releases on Atlantic (US, Canada). It features two miniatures and seven proper band-composed songs, including “Outward Bound,” “(In All of My Dreams) You Rescue Me,” “Lorelie,” and “Lonely Island.” Ted Turner is credited as a fifth writer on the postlude “Candlelight.”
Sessions were split between Laurel Edge and Criteria Sound Studios, where New England was produced by brothers Howard and Ron Albert, collectively known as Fat Albert Productions, also credited on recent albums by Law and Sutherland Brothers & Quiver. Padron adds percussion on select passages.
New England comes in a b&w gatefold designed by Hipgnosis photographer–illustrators and
- Wishbone Ash (1970)
- Pilgrimage (1971)
- Argus (1972)
- “No Easy Road” / “Blowin’ Free” (1972)
- Wishbone Four (1973)
- Live Dates (2LP, 1973)
- There’s the Rub (1974)
- Locked In (1976)
- New England (1976)
- Front Page News (1977)
- No Smoke Without Fire (1978)
- Just Testing (1980)
- Live Dates Volume Two (2LP, 1980)
- Number the Brave (1981)
- Twin Barrels Burning (1982)
- Raw to the Bone (1985)
- Nouveau Calls (1987)
- Here to Hear (1989)
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