"I tell the truth, I ain't no star / I only shout and leave the rest to my guitar," Alvin Lee, "Rock and Roll Music To The World," 1972.
"With great sadness we have to announce that Alvin unexpectedly passed away early this morning after unforeseen complications following a routine surgical procedure. We have lost a wonderful and much loved father and companion, the world has lost a truly great and gifted musician." Jasmin, Evi and Suzanne (Lee's immediate family).
Like many music fans, I first became aware of Alvin Lee through the "Woodstock" soundtrack and film. I'm not sure which came first, but I think a friend had the soundtrack, then I bought my own copy. I'm also not sure how I got to see the R-rated movie at the time, but somehow I did. Lee's blistering runs on "I'm Going Home," a ten minute tour de force, with its simultaneous multiple camera angle images, was mesmerizing on the silver screen. Sure, these days you can see some five year old "shredding" on You Tube, but in 1970, seeing Lee play was very impressive, full of soul and virtuosity, and it made him an instant guitar hero. You can check it out in the embedded clip below.
In 1972, I bought the Ten Years After LP, "Rock and Roll Music To The World." I hadn't heard any songs off of it beforehand. It was probably just a new release, cost under $5, and had a cool looking cover. I already loved Lee's guitar work, and decided to take a chance. In those days, that's what you did. You spent some quality time with it, because you just spent your hard earned allowance on it. You stuck with it, until you connected.
When you opened the gatefold cover, you'd see Lee's photograph, taken from the stage, of thousands of fans at some stadium concert. I would often sit in my room, stare at the artwork and listen to the album all the way through. I would try to replicate the simple opening riff of "You Give Me Loving" on my guitar. Sometimes when listening, I would just skip to my favorite rockers, namely the title track and "Choo Choo Mama." I still hear the latter song on satellite radio every once in a while, and it just stops me in my tracks. I didn't know about the music being blues-based rock or any of that at the time. I just liked it and its underlying message in the title song, "Give peace a chance / Get up and dance."
Ten Years After split not long after. I would periodically check in on Lee's solo career, mostly due to his collaborations with former Beatle George Harrison. His first post-Ten Years After album, 1973's "On The Road To Freedom" with Mylon LeFevre, not only featured Harrison, Ron Wood, Steve Winwood, Jim Capaldi, Boz Burrell, Ian Wallace, Mick Fleetwood, and Rebop, but an exclusive Harrison composition, "So Sad (No Love Of His Own)," which the former Beatle would later record for his 1974 release, "Dark Horse." Harrison would also appear on Lee's 1986 album, "Detroit Deisel," 1992's "Zoom," and 1994's "I Hear You Rockin'."
Lee's albums would also feature such heavy hitters as Al Kooper, Ian Wallace, Mel Collins, Zoot Money, Chris Stainton, Jon Lord, Willie Dixon, Johnnie Johnson, Clarence Clemons, and Joe, Sam and Vicky Brown. On his 2004 release, "Alvin Lee in Tennessee," Lee collaborated with Elvis alumni Scotty Moore and D.J. Fontana.
Lee also played on albums by Jerry Lee Lewis, Earl Scruggs, Roger Daltrey, Roy Harper, Bo Diddley, and others.
Lee was planning to tour with another Woodstock veteran, Johnny Winter, at the time of his death.
In today's Billboard article about Lee, a comment credited to "Phil 'n Jane Strick" spoke of a time that seems so long ago:
I wonder how many people remember when Ten Years After came on the Fillmore West stage before the Paul Butterfiled Blues Band was to perform. I believe it was Paul Butterfiled who said into the mike: "How are we expected to follow THAT?" To which instead of the expected show it ended up being a 90 minute jam session with T.Y.A. and the P.B.B.B.! WAY BEYOND AWESOME!
Today feels like a hundred years after.
Rest in peace, Alvin.
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