In his first show at age 14, Andy Powell played guitar in a band that opened for the High Numbers, which evolved into The Who. Later, in 1970, Powell and his bandmates in Wishbone Ash again opened for The Who, this time in front of 35,000 fans at the Mississippi River Festival near St. Louis.
The 68-year-old Powell is the remaining original member of Wishbone Ash, which performs in Courtenay, Friday, Sept. 21 at the Sid Williams Theatre. The band plays seven shows in B.C. and Alberta before touring Europe and the U.S.
As it closes in on its 50th year, Wishbone Ash continues to enjoy playing festivals in the summer, and touring in fall and spring.
“I kind of took over the helm 20, 25 years ago,” Powell said. “I never ceased to be in the band. We had to regroup and rebuild in the 1990s…We had a great fan base. We did an album (Illuminations). We got the fans to assist with the production on it. It was a hugely successful period, and that kicked off this new phase. We’re talking 1994. That’s been the current model. We basically looked to our strengths, we looked to the fans, and realized that was where we wanted to be — connected. We didn’t need magazines, we didn’t need record labels, we didn’t need publicists.”
The band has, in fact, adapted to the times, and is having more fun touring than in past years.
“We were quite disconnected in many respects because of the aspect of owning labels, and the managers taking care of everything. Now we’re very hands on, we’re very connected to the fan base. Just spiritually, it’s better. It’s a good space that we’re in right now.”
The band formed in 1969 following the “British blues boom” of the mid- 1960s that spawned the Yardbirds, Led Zeppelin and others.
“(Eric) Clapton had a huge role in that period with Bluesbreakers and Cream, and Peter Green, all these bands. Which was the generation just before us that influenced us as players.”
Powell and fellow original Ted Turner created the twin lead guitar effect of Wishbone Ash in the early-70s. The band was at the top of their game in 1972 when the album, Argus, topped the charts in the U.K.
“We were being featured everywhere. You couldn’t open a magazine or a music paper without seeing something on the band. That was a great year for British rock bands, in general.”
Their single, Blowing Free, was likely the band’s best known song, though Powell remembers it as a B side.
“We didn’t really put much effort into singles. We were perceived, and still are perceived, as an album band. We’re probably one of the first jam bands; bands like the Allman Brothers, we would go off and start riffing.”
A couple years ago, Powell took on the challenging task of writing his musical memoir, Eyes Wide Open: True Tales of a Wishbone Ash Warrior.
“It was a great experience,” he said. “It’s been very well received.”
David Gogo opens for Wishbone Ash, Friday at the Sid. Show time is 7:30 p.m.
The band also plays Sunday at the Tidemark Theatre in Campbell River.