Wishbone Ash – The Celtic Lynyrd Skynyrd

April 24, 2009

Wishbone Ash – I credit these guys with being kind of a forerunner to Lynyrd Skynyrd. I didn’t read Wiki except to see if anyone else made the same comparison, and they didn’t so I’ll make it here – first.

I say ‘forerunner’ because Wishbone Ash’s album Argus was out by 1972, a year before the first Skynyrd album. As far as I know, they were probably the first rock band with three really good lead/rhythm players, and three good singers. In that respect, they were forerunners of both Skynyrd and the Eagles, as in One Of These Nights – a southern-fried tip-of-the-hat to the Ash if you recognize the sound. The  Eagles and Skynyrd must have heard Wishbone Ash. You had to back then if you were in the business.

My favorite album of theirs is There’s The Rub. I saw them play at a free outdoor concert in 1975 at Fair Park in Dallas, sponsered by KZEW. It was the ‘Can Jam.’ Admission was a can of food for the local food bank. Radio stations used to do that kind of thing back then. They were there along with Freddie King, Blue Oyster Cult, Head East, and Black Oak Arkansas.

Their hit single The King Will Come got air play in Dallas on KNUS, KZEW, and KRLD, and even once on KLOL here in Houston. (Wouldn’t believe it if I didn’t hear it myself.) KNUS and ‘the Zoo’ also played their single, Blowin’ Free. Both singles were from the album Argus.

I did a lot of record copying from Rub, and later from King. It just came along at the right time for me. I was just learning lead scales, bends and that sort of thing. Some of their stuff I could cop at the time, and some of it I couldn’t play till years later. All these years later, I still think these are melodic and soulful solos.

The solos from the Ash always come to mind when I’m searching for ideas. There’s The Rub contains some of my most primal improv riffs. I used to rely on those lines a lot as a young jammer, and I had a couple of favorite figures that I used as my signatures for years. Even before I began copying Clapton, if I got backed into a corner in a solo, I could pull up something from the Ash. These solos are worth a look for any aspiring or seasoned improviser. Rub may be out of print, the songs you may not be able to get are Silver Shoes, Hometown, Lady Jay and Don’t Come Back.

My favorite song from There’s The Rub is Persephone, which is available online. I’ve just always liked the leads in this song. The leads are slow, and are based on the pentatonic, but with other melody notes thrown in. There are also some nice arpeggio lines, and great use of bends and wide jumps in the lead melody. If you’re comfortable with the pentatonic, you can probably sound these out, and you’re likely to see some new combinations.

The rhythm-guitar parts on Rub are also varied and full of surprises. In fact, the rhythm-guitar in Persephone contains little strumming, using instead 6th and 3rd lines. A real study in arranging for rock rhythm-guitar. In fact, all of Wishbone Ash’s arrangements are very good.

The King Will Come is probably their biggest hit. It uses a single-line hook instead of a chordal background, like in Clapton’s Sunshine Of Your Love and Hendrix’s Purple Haze. Except this one’s spookier, darker than either Love or Haze. Closer to an Innagoddavida, and it doesn’t even use the classic ‘b5’ that’s in 85% of all metal hooks. Nice hook.

There’s no strumming rhythm-guitar part, and it would be hard to construct one that makes sense. The lead is a soaring ‘wah’ solo similar to the feel in Clapton’s solo on Presence Of The Lord. I’m not sure which came first, or who inspired who in this case. If you like the solo on Presence, then definitely check out King, and vice verse. King is a little easier.

 Other favorites of mine are Lady Jay, and Don’t Come Back, which may not be available online. Don’t Come Back is a rocker, and a great arrangement for two rhythm guitars, so check it out if you can find it. (I remember ABC’s Wide World Of Sports used Don’t Come Back as music for one of their segments back in the early 70’s, that was hittin’ the big time back then.)

Blowin’ Free was probably their second biggest hit. This one starts out with a really fun rhythm-guitar riff based on a moving the open ‘D’ chord shape up the neck, and alternating against the open ‘D’ string. (Warning: wicked little-finger stretch if you’re not used to it. May want to barre across three strings instead of just shifting your standard ‘D’ chord shape. I’ve played it both ways.) The verse has a unique open-position rhythm-guitar riff, not repeated since that I’ve seen. There is a slow, legato middle section, really nice vocal arrangement and some nice guitar solo-lines in this part. This is followed by another solo section that’s a little like Skynyrd, as in I Know A Little or Call Me The Breeze.

I would also recommend these recordings to bass-players. The bass lines jam, they’re all over the place. But they are completely coherent and appropriate to the moment. Very melodic bass, somewhere between McCartney and Entwhistle.

I looked again on Wiki – says there that John Wetton played with them after King Krimson, so there’s a direct link between those two, also with Trapeze and Uriah Heep. More to say about some of these guys in later posts.

I point to Wishbone Ash as one of the pioneers who had a major influence on their contemporaries. One of the essential high points of 1970’s rock guitar.