One of the biggest “re-discoveries” of obscure eighties US Metal/Hard Rock are Ashbury from Tuscon in Arizona. The band, led by brothers Randy and Rob Davis, did originally record two very hard to find albums: »Endless Skies« in 1983 and the (belated) follow-up »Something Funny Going On« (issued in 2010).
However, the roots of the band go way back to the late 1970s, when multi-instrumentalist Randy Davis formed his very first band in Southern Oklahoma. “That was before Ashbury proper,” explains Randy. ”It was in late 1977 that Ashbury South was formed in Oklahoma. In early 1980 Rob and I returned to Tucson and formed Ashbury in June 1980. The original line-up of that band broke up a year later. Ashbury proper was born at that time as Rob and I were writing music and our long term objective was to record original music and we knew we had to have the right elements in place for that. Ironically, it would turn out that just the two of us would become the base for Ashbury, both then and now.”
The story goes that Ashbury was offered an album deal by a major company(from Los Angeles) in the early 1980s. Which company was that? ”The label was Polydor,” states Randy, “and the ‘offer’ came in September 1983. We had recorded »Endless Skies« and self released the LP in May of the same year. Rob was ‘shopping’ it around all the major labels in L.A. (and agencies like William Morris). We were looking for a major label’s interest in order to possibly re-record the album again (maybe with a larger budget and major label producer), or to at least gain better distribution, etc. Ashbury had only existed as a ‘cover’ band up until the release of »Endless Skies«, so we had not attracted the interest of A&R people at the major labels. The label, however, wanted to ‘shelve’ the whole record and sign us for something entirely different. They had in mind an acoustic sound featuring our songwriting and vocal harmony skills (i. e.: England Dan & John Ford Coley). We were not interested in that and turned them down. Ironically, we now perform an acoustic show as a duo and it is a major source of our music income. We perform the show locally here in Tucson, but have also performed acoustically as a duo in Greece and Sweden, while there to perform Ashbury shows.”
The original vinyl edition of »Endless Skies« came out in 1983 (with a circulation of 1,000 copies). ”It was a complete indie project all the way,” states Rob Davis. “The early processes were handled by Randy and another guy who was instrumental in putting everything together. His name is Stone Age, he went on to found other Metal bands like Butcher. He also was the artist that conceived and drew our ‘Rocker’ logo, and he found the artist Ernie Polo that painted the artwork for the »Endless Skies« cover (from our own conception). We worked mostly on a budget of $ 5,000 for the entire project, financed by a backer named Mac Whitton. Our distribution was through Tower Records in the western U.S. … and we put that together ourselves also. Tower Records was the #1 “Record” store in the western U.S., and we had secured distribution in several western states.”
Ashbury’s sound has sometimes been compared to Jethro Tull, would that be a fair comparison? ”We both have a big smile on our face with that question”, expain the Davis brothers. “Yes, we are proud to be compared with Jethro Tull, and can easily live with that comparison. Jethro Tull and Ian Anderson’s writing were a huge influence on us both. Ironically, Ian Anderson and Martin Barre were the stable members of the band while many others came and went, similar to us, except for the amount of success and sales – haha – that’s where the comparison ends!”
The first album does feature an iconic artwork. Who was responsible for it and what does the cover signify? ”Responsibility for the concept lies with Randy, Rob and Stone Age,” is the answer to the question. “Once we knew what we wanted, the search for the right artist began. Stone Age was not only a musician, but a very good artist (remember he conceived and drew our ‘Rocker’ logo), but he felt the cover art needed a more talented artist/painter than he was. He began the search, and found an artist named Ernie Polo working in Tucson, and subsidizing his art by selling shoes in a mall shoe store. We commissioned him and with relative ease he delivered the painting in just a couple of weeks. The cover signifies Creation, and the choices we all make. The cover obviously coincides with the opening song ‘The Warning’, about the Prophet who warns against bad choices, evil and greed. The final touch was a ‘fantasy’ setting, a look just off from any real world appearance.”
Were Ashbury catering to a metal audience back then at all? Or were they exclusively playing to normal rock audiences (locally?) in the States? ”Exactly!,” exclaims Randy Davis. “We were playing to ‘Rock’ audiences in night clubs throughout the western U.S. We did not consider anything about Ashbury to be catered to a ‘Metal’ audience. The irony might be that Stone Age was as “Metal” as Metal gets. During pre-production, he actually mentioned that we needed to have at least one song to appeal to the Metal fans, and we wrote ‘Vengeance’ at that time and Stone was very thumbs up on the song. Looks like he was right.”
Randy and Rob Davis are playing as brothers in Ashbury, they have always been the core of the band: ”We would not continue performing as Ashbury without both being involved. We write independently, and also together, therefore the very creation of the music would be different if one of us left the band. We also both sing lead vocals, so the sound of the band would be altered. I might refer to a recent tour concerning Styx – touring without Dennis DeYoung – therefore it’s NOT Styx.”