12/19/2004

Musical Influences Top 10: #10 - Wishbone Ash

I tried desperately hard to cut my list down to ten and it was next to impossible, so I may cheat a little along the way. Also, I am going to generally try to select influences that are off the beaten path rather than the more common ones. However, I will also point out some common influences that just didn't do it for me. And finally, rather than trying to list them in order of importance (nigh on impossible) I'm going to work in chronological order.

So, that said, let's get to the first (or technically the tenth) one. I was hitting my mid-teens about 1970. As the oldest kid in my family, I didn't really connect with the whole sixties thing - I was too young. My wife, who is a smidge older than me, was into all that sixties stuff. Why? Because she had an older brother and sister. So she's a serious Beatles fan. Me? Not so much. My first serious musical interest was what is now known as classic rock. Back then it was known as just "rock". My first band of choice was Deep Purple, and in fact the first LP (that's Long Play record) I bought was Fireball. Oh, sure, I liked Zeppelin and some of the more popular bands, but I never really cared for the Rolling Stones.

But all this was just laying the foundation.

The first album that really stunned me was Wishbone Ash's Argus. Up to that point Ash were mostly a blues band with twin lead guitars, one feature song (Phoenix from the first album), a weak vocalist and a whole bunch of mediocre blues songs. Somehow, somewhere, out of absolutely nowhere, God blessed the band with an album of pure inspiration. And then right after that, the band dissolved slowly and never came within a million miles of the pinnacle again. It was as if they knew they'd never top this, so why even try?

As the band members said at the time Argus wasn't exactly a concept album, but it did have an overarching theme of weariness with war, especially side 2 (yeah, you used to have to flip those things over in the middle!). Well, what was so great about it?

First, the guitars. Ted Turner and Andy Powell were guitar players with two very different styles and tastes, but here they meshed and complemented each other beautifully. Second, while Martin Turner's (bass player, no relation to Ted) voice was a bit weak for blues, it fit much better with the ethereal lyrics of Argus. Then there was his "lead bass" style. It really sits up front in the mix and he played a lot of lead-like riffs that intertwined beautifully with Andy and Ted's work.

The result was an album with a hint of a theme, decent lyrics and vocals and flat out wall to wall guitar excellence. Of the seven original tracks (let's not sully the album's memory with the "bonus track" added to the first CD release...) six have guitar solos/duets that are so jaw droppingly good that all of them would make my top twenty of all time. The other track is a pretty acoustic ballad that serves as a nice change of pace in the middle of the epic side 2 tracks.

I've been listening to the album a few times this week as I've thought about this list, and it still stands the test of time. It's only reinforced the fact that since forever and a day my favorite guitar track of all time closes the album. Throw Down the Sword is the band's finest hour on its finest album. At six minutes it's hardly a radio friendly track, but it just means the build up to the two minute guitar duet finale is nicely paced. And while Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Allman Brothers featured some stunning dual lead guitar work at times, I don't think anything they ever did matches the power and emotion of Throw Down The Sword.

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