Alvin Lee, the legendary virtuoso guitarist who achieved greater fame with his memorable appearance at the 1969 Woodstock music festival has died. The death of the British guitarist was announced on his official website, citing unforeseen complications following a routine surgery. He was 68 years old. A statement on the website from his wife and children reads “We have lost a wonderful and much loved father and companion, the world has lost a truly great and gifted musician.”
Within moments of the announcement, words of sadness and reflection came pouring out on the website’s message board and social media sites, particularly Twitter, have joined in unison to honor what many consider as one of the greatest rock guitarists of his era.
Alvin Lee and his British blues-rock band Ten Years After released their debut album in 1967, a significant year in the history of rock music that also saw the release of The Doors’ debut album, the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, Jimi Hendrix’s debut album and Cream’s “Disraeli Gears”. While the first three albums from Ten Years After received minor notice, their fourth release, simply known as “Ssssh” reached #20 on the 1969 Billboard charts and went as high as #4 in the UK. The album featured a controversial yet very popular rendition of Sonny Boy Williamson's blue standard, "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl", highlighted by its ever familiar guitar intro and lengthy solo.
About the same time in the summer of 1969, Ten Years After achieved worldwide stardom in front of a crowd estimated at 300,000 at the Woodstock Music and Arts Festival, particularly for Lee’s show stopping performance of “I’m Going Home”. The subsequent record from the historic concert “Woodstock: Music from the original Soundtrack and More”, went all the way to number one in 1970 and solidified Alvin Lee and Ten Years After as as one of the era's top rock stars.
That same year, the band released another critically acclaimed album, “Cricklewood Green” but it was the following year in which the band achieved their most critical success with the album “Space in Time”, which featured their biggest hit, “I’d Love to Change the World”. In all, Ten Years After had eight Top 40 albums in the UK and 12 in the Billboard 200 during the height of their careers. Alvin Lee also released 14 solo albums, and his most recent work, “Still on the Road to Freedom”, was released just last year. He was expected to perform live with another legendary blues-rock guitarist, Johnny Winter next month in Paris.
Like other musicians before him, his music might see a surge in interest on music sites such as iTunes and Google Music. But because Ten Years After were famous well before many of today’s music listeners were born, how much of a surge is yet to be determined.
Still, even though “I’d Love to Change the World” was released more than 40 years ago during the Vietnam War, some of the songs' lyrics written by Alvin Lee seem relevant today, while other portions seem outdated. “Tax the Rich, Feed the Poor, till there are no, rich no more” and “world pollution, there's no solution, institution, electrocution, just black and white, rich or poor, them and us, stop the war!”, are both part of today’s social consciousness. Although the rock world has lost one of the most significant rock guitarists of that era, his music and legacy will live on.