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The Cult of '70s Rockers Wishbone Ash Has a Long Reach

Eyes Wide Open: True Tales of a Wishbone Ash Warrior
By Andy Powell with Colin Harper
Jawbone Press, 320 pp., $19.95.

While they were (and are) a bigger commercial and critical success in Europe than in America, since 1969 the English group Wishbone Ash certainly has had its cult of admirers on these shores.

Securely straddling the territories of prog-rock and classic rock, the Ash will likely always be best known for their magnum opus, 1972's majestic and sweeping LP Argus. The band performed the album in its entirety on a tour that stopped in Houston in 2014, before which the Houston Press spoke with founding guitarist/co-vocalist Andy Powell, the lineup's only constant over the decades.

In this memoir, Powell charts his career through the various incarnations of the Ash. It's a must-read for fans — who knew the group's preferred U.S. restaurant is Cracker Barrel?

For the more general reader, though, what Powell doesn’t say is sometimes puzzling. The book is only one-third over when the chronology reaches the end of the ’70s — quite arguably the band’s best period musically.

The creation and recording of entire albums from that decade are dismissed in a paragraph, while much more attention and page space are given to the Ash's ’80s and ’90s efforts.

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Powell is also vague in areas, with a tease that hints at more – he criticizes those who “pry” into his 40-plus-year marriage. Or he notes that guitarist and original member Ted Turner leaves the group the first time for “his own private and some would say self-interested reasons.” And that’s that. Other sketches of his bandmates are similarly sketchy.

The book’s liveliest chapters come when Powell acts like a journalist or music writer as the band copes with the long shadow thrown by Argus and travels around the world, including a vivid picture of touring India's sights, smells and culture. There, they were even laughed at by scores of local prostitutes while walking down the street.

The book ends with Powell’s gripping recount of the legal battle he fought with fellow original member, bassist/co-vocalist Martin Turner, over the band’s name, use of it on the Internet and Turner’s use of it in his own touring and projects.

Powell ultimately prevailed in 2013, buoyed by the fact that he alone never quit the band. And the story is a a fascinating and lively look into a subject faced by many other classic rock-era bands. Many have found that while their lineup has splintered — even over decades — there is still touring money to be made and reputations to uphold with the value of a name.

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