A R T I C L E S
a n d I N T E R V I E W S
Guitarist, November 1988 by Eddie Allen
EA: Why did you leave in the first place?
TT: Well, it was 1974, I think. Having been a rock star for six years or whatever and Wishbone being a working band, I needed a break in my life. Also musically I was getting knackered because I was very much into black music; I still am today. I like to play with black musicians, they say I must have black blood in me.
EA: Was black music an early influence?
TT: No, I’d say I grew into it. Early influences were the British blues bands and all that. The first group I saw was Cream and the second was John Mayall. That inspired me to play guitar, it was the emotion transmitted through an instrument. I’d never seen anyone play like that before, it said so much with so little and that inspired me. It was rhythm - those were the days of Stevie Wonder and I was very much into rhythm but found that lacking in Wishbone and I still do today. But with Wishbone ‘88 and the next collection of songs, I think you will find that rhythm incorporated into the music. I have been finding now that this is very difficult music for me to come into after all these years. It’s an intense, ponderous kind of rhythm the rock thing. I personally prefer more rhythm - for me it seems to have a lot more expression, you can pace it and it seems like a more relaxed feeling when you’ve got a rhythm behind it.
EA: Where did you go when you left in ‘74?
TT: I went to Peru, bought a couple of donkeys, some camping gear and walked around there for about six months. It was the best thing I ever did. I visited the remote regions of the Andes and met Indian tribes that had never seen a white person before, it was fascinating. Over the years I have been married, I have a child, now I’m divorced and I’ve grown very much as a musician. When I left the band I was a guitarist, now I consider myself a songwriter, which is very important to me and I want to hopefully get recognition for that.
EA: Was it a conscious decision to get into writing or was it something you just drifted into?
TT: It seems to be a natural progression and I like the comprehensive viewpoint - I have my own recording situation, programming drums, playing bass. I’ve just been learning to play keyboards and drums.
EA: What did you do after Peru?
TT: I lived in New Orleans for a while. I went out to California - most of the time I lived in America - but the last eight months I have been living in Chicago. I enjoyed that very much, great blues there of course, a lot of jazz too.
EA: I didn’t think you were really into jazz?
TT: Well, I’ve always been into the fringe elements of jazz in the sense of improvisational music. I have always respected the musicianship behind it, but when it gets to far out it gets too much for me. I’ve always enjoyed simple and honest music. I think that’s what attracted me to blues in the first place. I like a slow twelve bar, it’s one of the most honest musical formats there is. That’s why I enjoy playing with black musicians, because they have a spirit of “what do you have to say? Talk to me, man”, and that’s it. That’s wonderful.
EA: You’re playing steel in the show and you always played slide in the early days. Has that become your first love?
TT: No, but people respond to that more than, say, my guitar playing because they don’t hear it that often. I get a lot of requests for that, a lot of people want it.
EA: In the band’s stage show, on one song you set the rhythm up on the steel.
TT: That’s really going back to the album. I came into the situation very late and, to be honest, it was detrimental to the album because there wasn’t enough time allowed to create a painting and finish it. I am very pleased with the album, I think it’s very good, but it would have been better if the time had been there. But from my perspective, I came and it was like meet the boys after fifteen years and the next day we’re in the studio. So my only choice was to allow them to do what they had to do and I supported in any way I could. I just graced it, just started jamming around and it’s like “oh, that part’s good” and that’s how it happened. The thing about steel is that for single note playing it’s so powerful - it just soars.
EA: Were you approached to come back to Ash?
TT: Yes I was and, to be honest, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to. I had to consider it being a career move and I was asking “do I want to come back after fifteen years, representing my past?” I had a solo career planned but that’s on hold now. I wanted to represent Ted Turner ‘now’ - a very different person from when he left fifteen years ago. So that was the main consideration and I really didn’t know. Even when it came to do this tour I was considering doing the English tour alone. I had some problems with immigration and I didn’t want to do a European tour. But we did a few concerts and it became apparent that the chemistry and the magic were still there. There is more potential for Wishbone right now than there ever was. I think everyone plays better and we’ve all matured. We are not young kids anymore and the attitudes are real easy to work with. We all love one another, we spent a lot of years together.
EA: When a band gets back together there is a danger of the criticism being levelled ‘their careers are flagging so they want to get back together’.
TT: Yeah, right. I agree. I think that is a great misconception for the band. For anyone who hasn’t seen us it would be very logical for them to think that way and that isn’t the case. Andy and Steve have been working ever since I left. Martin left in 1980 but they’ve continued to work, so I’m sure they have a different perspective of it. I think they would have preferred to have been working on a higher level, but I think it is a very different story now. With the old band there was so much positive energy it would be difficult to ignore or deny, and we’re looking forward to getting in and working on new songs.
EA: Have you already started writing?
TT: Well, in a sense. We have certain songs from our respective banks which we are going to do on this European tour.
EA: How does it feel after all this time to play the old songs again?
TT: The first concert was very strange, but it was also magical. It really was. There was so much adversity for me personally - I only got a two hour rehearsal and consequently I only ended up playing half the set with the old numbers I knew, but it worked out well and you could tell from the moment I walked on that it was just a completely different feeling.
EA: I noticed at the show in Nottingham - and I assume it’s the same wherever you go - that the audience are very pleased to see you back.
TT: Oh yeah. The first sort of ten shows it was very high profile for me because I was coming on halfway through the set. They had another guitarist, Jamie Crompton, who had worked with Andy for a while, so halfway through the set they would introduce me and the place just erupted. I would inspire the others and they would inspire me and the audience reacted. I don’t mean that from an ego point of view, I just mean it from love basically.
EA: There is a definite feeling that the band is ‘back’, but things have changed - for instance, you use backing tapes in the show.
TT: Yes we do. For the new album tracks we have to. It’s basically adding some keyboards, but that does make it more effective.
EA: Do you find it gives you a bit of space to play with?
TT: Yeah, there are two viewpoints; it’s also very restricting because you’ve got to play to a certain format, but I have no problem with that - as long as you can hear the tape! I think in the future we may have to incorporate some percussive element on the tape though.
EA: Can you see yourself or the band getting involved in heavier productions for your live shows?
TT: Well, I think that will grow. Of course, as far as the professionalism of technology today - lighting and sound systems - that will improve. I think the main production is in the sense of the equipment that the band will use. Andy and I are getting into rack situations and programming the sounds and textures for each song.
EA: I noticed in Nottingham you had a rack on stage. What did you have in it?
TT: All I’m using is a Pearce amplifier, a two channel, tubeless amp, but it’s the most tube-like sounding amp and very reliable. I’m using a Roland GP8 guitar processor with an SPX90 and it’s a very simple system to operate and I like that. It makes my job easier to go from one sound to another, the levels being pre-set and the effect, the textural content.
EA: Does it worry you as a ‘feel’ player to be reliant on technology for live performances?
TT: Yeah, in some ways it does. When I’m working in my own studio sometimes it gets very frustrating. You spend so many hours just messing with equipment and you haven’t even got down to any music yet. There is only one thing in life you can rely on and that is ‘everything changes’; that’s the world we live in with music these days. I like the option of having tools - you control the tool. No matter what it is it has to go through your brain and you state what you want from it. I think anything can be used with taste so I don’t feel badly about using that equipment to get what I want from it.
EA: Let’s go back to the old band, the sound quality both live and on record was always good.
TT: Yeah, when I listen to the old albums..that’s so long ago and you must realise that a chorus pedal hadn’t even been invented. When I first heard that sound it was one of the sounds I’d always imagined. It was like “that’s it”. For rhythm its such a beautiful sound.
EA: When you write have you got in the back of your mind how it will work live?
TT: Much of that comes from experience, you know what works on stage. I’m learning a lot. I mean, we’ve been playing together for about two weeks and I’ve learnt a lot within that time. I’ve actually only done three concerts from start to finish so I still have a lot to deal with and they are still throwing songs at me , like “we’ll do this song”, and I don’t know it.
EA: You must be under a lot of pressure.
TT: Yes, it’s a lot for me personally. I mean, we all love music and after seeing the response from the people it’s obvious why we do it. It makes it all worthwhile, it’s so heartfelt and warm. I think what Ted Turner is all about is sensitivity and emotion; I never approach guitar playing from a technical perspective, I never have. I’m not interested in the modern style of rock music, heavy metal as they call it. It seems to be how many notes you can get into a certain period of time. I appreciate Eddie Van Halen with his two hands style of playing but a lot of people are just copying that, and not very well. It’s a lot of guitar rubbish frankly. I’ve always thought what is important - and what Wishbone is about, and always have been - is melody and as a musician what you don’t play is just as important as what you do. What’s difficult for me in listening to a lot of music today is that it was inspired by the greats from the era we used to be in - Led Zeppelin, the Who, etc - and it’s an image, and the image is sensationalism. It’s all basically the same stuff, all the guitar sounds are the same but they’re not actually copying it very well. The point they’re missing out on is “what do you have to say; why is it you wish to communicate with people?” We don’t just see an image and just because you can play a guitar real fast, it doesn’t mean much. I don’t think it’s going to last a long time. A good song is timeless - it doesn’t matter when you do it, it will stand forever and that’s what I’m interested in.
EA: I noticed in the show that there are periods where you and Andy back off and let the others come forward, it’s very structured but it never appears obvious.
TT: Well, I do think Andy and I are one of the best teams in rock - period. There is a certain empathy there, there always was. It surprised Martin when we first came in and played for ten minutes and it was all there. In all honesty we have to be in the top twenty rock guitarists in the world - maybe not for technique, but certainly for style. I know Wishbone have influenced very many bands that are popular today. When guitarists sit down and play, one of the most common things you’ll hear is the intro to “Stairway to Heaven” and the beginning of “Blowin’ Free”, and I’m very honoured to hear that.
EA: When Laurie Wisefield was in the band it was apparent that the old songs were continually changing. How do you approach that - do you play exactly the same as before, with the same feel, or try and make the statement that ‘that was then, this is now’?
TT: A bit of both. It’s something I cannot answer, even now. The first few concerts I did I was attempting to recreate the licks everyone was familiar with, even in my own head, because it was so new to me again. So that was a challenge. As soon as I got that it was okay - “I know all the patterns, now let’s start playing the way I would now”. But I still find the personality of the music makes it difficult to step out too far.
EA: I noticed that Andy steps out a little bit on some things.
TT: Yeah, well it’s different in a sense for him because he hasn’t stopped playing, he’s been doing this for the last eighteen years. Now for me and Martin it’s different. I’ve always been playing music but not in a live situation. I’ve done very little stage work.
EA: Did you ever have the desire when you were not working to go back out on the road?
TT: I’ve never wanted to stop playing music.
EA: You never really found anything you were happy about?
TT: No, I was offered many things, but music has to mean something. There has to be some purpose behind it otherwise I don’t want to do it - I’d rather pump petrol. Music is very important and precious to me and if I can’t do it for the reasons I wish to then I won’t do it. There is no compromise, that’s how I feel about it.
EA: Are you worried about the future?
TT: No, because there’s just so much positive energy going on right now, although its a transitional phase for the band. We’re obviously having to supply some of the ‘greatest hits’ as well as represent the new album, but we’re all anxious to get stuck in and see what happens.
EA: Do you think the albums are going to develop in the way they did before, each one having a theme?
TT: It’s difficult for me to say right now, so the answer would be ‘yes and no’. I’m sure there will be a theme to it in the sense that it will represent this time period, and where we are now. One thing I am encouraged by being with everyone again is that the songwriting is a lot stronger. Wishbone used to have trouble in the old days, it was difficult to come up with music because we were on the road all the time. we never had the chance to sit down and work on a song for three months and we would never have taken two years to do an album - we would be very well rehearsed, go in, and in a week it would be recorded.
EA: I must admit the new album did surprise me. I don’t quite know what I was expecting to hear.
TT: It’s like you said earlier - maybe us old guys getting back together?
EA: I didn’t want to suggest that...
TT: I know you didn’t, but you felt that may have existed, right?
EA: Yeah, I suppose I did. Do you want to get involved in the production side of recording?
TT: Yeah, very much so. As I say, I want to be involved in everything. Martin has done very well there, we’re impressed with his capabilities because after he left the band he had his own studio and he really knows it very well, so that’s another benefit to the band. In so many areas now its grown, got power, and for the band that’s wonderful.
EA: You’re going from strength to strength then?
TT: As a singer I think Andy has definitely improved, I know I have. I love to sing, and right now I’m not having the opportunity - except for ‘Jailbait’, which is my particular song. I was amazed for the audience to start singing.
EA: On a lot of the songs you were playing, like “Phoenix” and “The King Will Come”, the audience were singing along.
TT: Yeah, that means a lot to people. I think it’s part of their lives - I’m not saying I changed their lives, things like that. The way I consider it is that I’ve been gifted - it’s nothing I actually worked on, it was given to me. I had to work of course to learn to play, but there is a definite gift there and I use that to help others; that is the most honourable intention I could get from it. Events like Live Aid, which personally I think was the greatest concert ever for coming together to really help others...I think anyone who saw that show could feel the planet that day, and how music transcends all borders, all nationalities.
EA: Can you see yourself doing as much touring as you did in the early days?
TT: I left the band when they were just starting to get paid back for all that work, so there are quite a few areas of the world I haven’t had the opportunity to visit. I’m looking forward to going to Japan and Australia. This time I am into working, I am breaking this band into what I think it should be, but at the same time we’re not young boys anymore and you can’t rehearse and be on the road 300 days of the year - and you don’t have to. Above anything else, it’s just playing the guitar, you could talk about it all day long.
EA: On the subject of guitars, at Nottingham you used a Paul Reed Smith...
TT: Yeah, I rented it for two concerts and now I’m buying one. I’m excited about getting a new guitar.
EA: You still get a buzz out of it?
TT: Oh yeah, especially when you want one. Although we’re talking about being older, basically we’re all kids inside.
EA: Do you find any hostility in the industry or the press about the band getting back together?
TT: Well, it’s very difficult for me because I’ve been out of the country for fifteen years and the time I have been here I have been on the road. I don’t really know what’s going on with the press. All I can say from looking at the papers is that I feel they are lacking in the sense of providing a service for people. I think they could be more comprehensive, maybe widen their angle instead of specialising. It seems they’re writing about obscure bands that fit with the formula they think is right, but there is a lot more going on in the music world than that.
EA: Are you surprised that Ash still exists after all these years?
TT: Well I was surprised in the sense that Andy and Steve kept it going so long.
EA: You thought they would have said “that’s it, it’s had its day”?
TT: Well, maybe they kept it going for this to happen. There is something mysterious about all this, independent of ourselves, which may be destiny or fate or whatever, but the time seems right for it to happen.
EA: Do you have any plans on pursuing a solo or parallel career with the band?
TT: Yes I do. I think it’s very healthy and I hope everyone else does within the band too. My music is deep within me and there is obviously a side of music that I can’t do with Wishbone. I would like to have that out of me.