In the latter half of the twentieth century, rock and
roll slowly, gradually shifted from novelty youth music to enduring
institution. The musicians involved in this scene had to learn the business the
hard way during that time, developing their careers on the fly and making business
mistakes in public as their commercial appeal waxed and waned. The smart ones
learned to manage their own affairs once their glory days had faded and built
their bands into legacies, creating a retirement plan when the business they
supported wouldn’t offer them one.
Andy Powell is a good example of someone who followed
this circuitous path and emerged successful. He is a founding member of
Wishbone Ash and ultimately became its keeper of the flame after the other
members had left, drafting in replacements and continuing the band working both
as a touring and recording act. In 2015,
he authored a memoir with assistance from Colin Powell entitled Eyes Wide Open. If you’re a Wishbone
Ash fan, it offers an interesting insight into both his life and personal
Powell sticks to the core concept of the autobiography
and focuses on his life story as a musician, starting with the moments that
made music an obsession and a professional pursuit and leading into his
audition for the band that would become Wishbone Ash in 1969. From there, he
gives his perspective on the development, success and slow fade that Wishbone
Ash experienced during their glory years as well the brief reunion period at
the end of the ’80s and its gradual disintegration.
That part is roughly the first half of the book. Powell
doesn’t go into great detail on recording sessions – though he devote time to
key albums like Argus and New England – or bawdy tales of post-concert shenanigans.
Instead, he takes a wry and introspective approach, offering the view from his
vantage point on the band’s tempestuous chemistry, member and management
changes and the hard lessons learned by a band that came close to the top of
the business but never quite had that sort of breakthrough.
The second half of the book deals what happened after
Powell found himself the last original member standing in Wishbone Ash at the
beginning of the ’90s. Instead of surrendering his career, he figured out ways
to rebuild it in a grassroots style. This section gives fascinating insight
into what happens when a band becomes a legacy outfit with revolving
membership, including how Powell learned to both manage and market his own
professional affairs. He’s honest about the mistakes and disappointments he
experienced along this path but also reveals the evolving music-driven
philosophy that kept him continuing when the ideas of fame and fortune became a
There’s also the matter of the big band name ownership
lawsuit. In recent years, Powell found
himself getting challenged by former bandmate Martin Turner, who formed his own
band using the Wishbone Ash moniker. Powell had maintained the band the
continuously during and after Turner’s departures and when negotiations between
the two camps broke down, there was a legal battle in 2013. Powell ultimately
prevailed and lays out his side of the story in these pages. He’s frank about
his disappointments with Turner and the way the rest of the band sided with
Turner but also offers a detailed chronicle of the complexities of how a band
and its legacy are perceived in the legal system.
It’s also worth noting that the regular chronological
chapters of the book are interspersed with sidebar chapters where Powell
pursues a particular autobiographical theme.
Sample subjects include experiences in hotels as a touring musician, the
pleasures and perils of being friends with a fan of one’s band and the
all-consuming passion of collecting guitars. The most interesting is a chapter
devoted to Powell’s experiences in India, both colorful and harrowing, during a
few tours in the first half of the 1980’s. These sidebar chapters add
additional layers of texture to the overall narrative and are often the most
fun reading in the book.
In short, Eyes
Wide Open is a rewarding read for
Wishbone Ash fans. It is a personal
chronicle rather than a band chronicle but it still provides key insights into
the twists and turns of their career, all delivered with disciplined prose and
plenty of hard-won rock biz wisdom.