Once half of the legendary Wishbone Ash twin-guitar line up, Ted Turner crafted his recent solo album on a laptop, playing all the instruments himself. Interview by Michael Heatley
Wishbone Ash were Britain’s pioneers of the dual lead guitar rock band format, racing out of the stalls in the early ’70s to blaze a trail that Thin Lizzy, Iron Maiden and many others followed. Guitarist Ted Turner had answered a wanted ad for the as-yet unnamed band in Melody Maker in 1969, and since founders Steve Upton and Martin Turner had been unable to choose between him and Andy Powell, they simply picked them both.
Four studio albums later, however, Turner chose to reject the rock’n’roll lifestyle and relocated to Arizona where he still lives today. He rejoined the band in the late ’80s and again in 2010 for a one-off London festival performance. Now, as he releases first solo CD Eclektic Value, he’s well placed to evaluate the highs and lows of a career that seems set to attract the spotlight again.
It’s ironic that Ted, who after all made his name interacting so effectively with Andy Powell, now makes his music alone at a computer. ‘But then you’re really talking about two different people,’ he points out.
‘Wishbone was the start of my journey as a musician, a really big learning curve for me. At that point we were the four musketeers – we totally believed in what we were doing, and it showed in that music. This was prior to having girlfriends and marriages, which eventually takes you apart as individuals. But those first couple of years, which resulted in what is, in my opinion, the finest work, you get a sense of a real band – the unity of it all.
‘With Eclektic Value I basically did that by myself, sitting in a room with a laptop from start to finish and putting a product out in the market. That’s the difference with our world now. I can imagine Wishbone doing the song Navasat, because of my style. But Wishbone Ash was a long, long time ago; as an artist, that’s not in my head at all.’
In terms of the ongoing feud between the Wishbone line-ups led by Martin Turner (no relation) and Andy Powell, the fact that Ted contributed the foreword to Martin’s recent book No Easy Road says all that needs be said. The presence of original drummer Steve Upton at a UK August reunion prompted Ted to buy a transatlantic ticket, and while Powell wasn’t among those invited, Ted enjoyed playing for the first time with the man who replaced him in 1974, Laurie Wisefield.
‘It had been 22 years or so since I’d last seen Steve – and so, even though he didn’t play, for a moment the three of us were on stage. I really enjoyed playing with Laurie. We have crossed paths in the past but never really connected; playing Jailbait was very natural.’
But it was Ted’s combination with Andy Powell that created the Wishbone legend. Why did it work so well?
‘Andy played a lot more notes; he was a lot livelier, and I was the laid-back guy – far more economical,’ Ted ponders. ‘We both had similar influences and were basically the same age, so growing up with the Shadows was an important element of making solos with melody.
‘The effects were created with the harmony structure, the dynamics of the arrangement, the light and shade, which Wishbone was really good at. We would come in with one piece of music and then come in with another and fade it out slowly… those were the effects, in a sense. It was a very simple procedure; we weren’t trying to have two really heavy guitar players trying to compete for the sonic space. I remember the first time I heard a Cream record and there was a wah-wah – “What is that? What sound is that?” A wah-wah pedal was the size of a suitcase back then!’
While Andy Powell settled on the Flying V as his preferred guitar, Ted has always rung the changes between Gibsons and Fenders. ‘I still do. I’d choose a Gibson over a Fender for certain tracks just for a darker sound or a different voicing – but if I were cast away on a desert island I’d probably pick a Fender as an everyday guitar. I just prefer that kind of sound.’ He also plays the lap steel, which he taught himself. ‘Ry Cooder was my main guy that really got me into that. It’s a really powerful instrument.’
Wishbone Ash were tied in with Orange on the amp side in the early days, and this has recently come full circle. ‘I was a big fan of Fleetwood Mac and went to see one of their shows; they had a huge backline of Orange and it was very striking. I said “Hey guys, I saw this gear, it sounded good,” so we tried it. I recently met [Orange founder] Cliff Cooper again; it was great to see him after all these years.’ Turner is now an Orange user once more.
When Ted rejoined Wishbone Ash in the late ’80s, he took remarkably little persuasion. ‘It was a different time in my life and I was ready back then. I think we did some of our finest music then, especially on stage, because we’d all matured as players. It was very fresh again for a while, very enjoyable.’
Of the three songs Ted picks out as his all-time Wishbone Ash highlights, two come from his first spell, and one from the second. ‘Throw Down The Sword, from Argus, is probably one of the most eternal,’ he decides. ‘I’d pick it for the construction of the song.
‘Then there’s Phoenix [from the band’s self-titled 1970 debut]. That was a big song in terms of scope and what we were taking on at that point. It was an elongated jam, and I think I’d include that one because the band was so together. When we were up on stage during those first couple of years, it was everything. Phoenix gave me the opportunity to express myself as a guitar player.’
His final choice is Standing In The Rain, from 1991’s Strange Affair. ‘I like that because that was just showing that I am improving as a player.’ And from the current album? I’d choose This Girl, because it’s for my daughter. I wanted her to have something for the rest of her life. It was the last thing I recorded.’
It still surprises Ted that Wishbone Ash is held in such high regard four decades on from their peak. ‘The power of music, how it touches people’s hearts and their souls, how they remember it, is very important to them. I travel the world and people come up to you in all these remote places with all these experiences and with such emotion. I find it quite amazing.’Tags: Home, Interviews, Ted Turner