Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Alvin Lee: legendary guitarist dead at 68

Alvin Lee in 1975
I am still numb upon hearing the news about the death of singer-songwriter-guitarist Alvin Lee. Only 68, the virtuoso guitarist apparently passed away in the wake of "unforeseen complications following a routine surgical procedure," according to his Web site. Throughout the day I have received a number of texts and emails from friends who know that I am a long-time fan of the Ten Years After icon. I only had the chance to interview him once, and then subsequently see him shortly after that. I'll never forget the excitement of seeing him play, including how expert he was in using drumsticks on his guitar. The Beatles were my first musical love, but Alvin Lee was my first guitar hero. After seeing a special screening of Woodstock at an art movie house while I was in high school and witnessing his 1969 performance of "I'm Going Home," I signed up for guitar lessons in hopes of becoming a lead guitarist. I never could play like Alvin but I sure have enjoyed listening to his recordings over the years.

Here is a link to read Ben Wener's post about the death of Alvin Lee.

What follows is my preview story on Alvin Lee that was published in The Orange County Register on Nov. 5, 1994. It was a challenge to set up the interview but it was one of my most memorable interviews to be sure...

Alvin Lee: no-frills guitar thrills
ROCK: The blues veteran is on tour fronting a trio and churning out his hits from Ten Years After.


Published: SAT, 11/5/1994


When Alvin Lee performs at the Coach House on Sunday and Monday nights, fans of the legendary British blues guitarist may be surprised that he is backed only by a bassist and drummer.

But the stripped-down approach is really a return to form for Lee, best known as the singer-guitarist of Ten Years After. The group turned in arguably the best performance at Woodstock 25 years ago with a fiery version of "I'm Going Home. " Lee is on a U.S. tour for the first time since a Ten Years After reunion trek more than four years ago. He's out in support of "I Hear You Rockin' ," a new album that features Lee's most colorful blues playing and songwriting since the late 1970s.

"It's back to the roots, really. For this record I sat down and listened to some of the original Ten Years After records and thought to myself, `How did we used to record in 1968-1969? ' " Lee said by telephone from San Diego.

"What I've been doing the last few years is making good demos and playing them to the band, and they listen to the tape and we record the songs. I realized what I used to do was sit down with a guitar and play the songs to the band; this way the band is much more involved in the making of the album and can put their own ideas in the songs. " Although Lee ranks as one of the most gifted guitarists to come out of the mid-1960s blues revival in England, he has never found the fame of contemporaries Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton.

Yet he remains as committed to his guitar-based style of blues as when he performed with his first band, the Jailbreakers, at age 13 in the early 1960s.

"I Hear You Rockin' " is full of blues-styled originals such as "Boogie All Day" and "Play It Like It Used To Be," as well as furious, straight-ahead songs such as "Keep on Rockin' . " These will remind Ten Years After fans of Lee's classic rockers that earned him the nickname "Speedy Fingers. " Lee also puts his guitar touch on several rock classics, including a near-10-minute version of the Beatles' "I Want You (She's So Heavy). " The recording is especially noteworthy because George Harrison provides a slide-guitar solo.

"George has played on quite a few on my albums; originally he played on my first solo album ("Road To Freedom," 1973) when I did a song of his called `So Sad. ' Then I played on his `Dark Horse' (1974) and `33 1/3' (1976).

"We jam a lot together. George, despite being an ex-Beatle and incredibly famous, is a musician and likes to play. I call him up, `Any chance of slide guitar on a couple of tracks? ' and he comes right over. " Lee's decision to include the Beatles classic came after work on "I Hear You Rockin' " had started.

"Actually, I just happened to be listening to the `Abbey Road' album and you know how your memory makes songs sound bigger in your mind. I remembered `I Want You' sounding very big and very heavy, and when I heard it I was quite surprised it sounded quite light and thought that would be a good one to record. What I tried to do was record it the way I imagined it was. " Lee is happy with the result, adding that Harrison loved the final version of the John Lennon song.

But fans of Lee's original work will be glad to learn that his classic Ten Years After hits such as "I'd Love To Change The World," "Choo Choo Mama" and "I'm Going Home" continue to be included on the current tour.

"There was a period when Ten Years After split up for about a year where I didn't play anything; I was trying to get away from that rock 'n' roll image at the time. I remember one day I went to see Jerry Lee Lewis play in England and he played all country tunes and didn't play `Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On' or `Great Balls of Fire' and I came out of the concert feeling very disappointed," Lee recalled.

"I realize if people come to see me and I don't play my hits they come out feeling as disappointed as I did. The very next night I went back to my band and said, `We're playing `I'm Going Home. ' " Alvin Lee When: 8 p.m. Sunday-Monday Where: The Coach House, 33175 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano Tickets: Tickets, $23.50, are available for both shows.

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