1983

ALVIN LEE -  Newspaper Article  - Interview - Reading Festival

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SOUNDS GUITAR HEROES – SPECIAL EDITION

FROM FEBRUARY - 1983 –  ALVIN LEE

 

Interview by David Sinclair

 If you cast your minds back to the first week of last November you’ll remember that amidst a fanfare of largely self-congratulatory publicity, Channel Four was launched. For rock fans that Friday there was the opening edition of the sporadically brilliant The Tube with the Jam doing a live set, and later a real guitar hero’s bonanza. Jimi Hendrix, Santana, and The Who amongst others jostled for space  in your front room, as British television’s first screening of the Sixties classic, Woodstock unfurled on the nation’s T.V. screens.

Also present at the festival, though not in the film, were Johnny Winter and Leslie West Mountain. But there was one guitarist featured for whom  Woodstock had perhaps  the greatest significance of all. For eleven minutes in the film, Ten Years After held forth with their epic version of “I’m Going Home” a showcase for the talents of vocalist, writer, and guitarist Alvin Lee.

After its general release in 1970, the film became a box office smash throughout the world, and Alvin Lee found himself leading a group that had become instantly elevated to a level of superstardom. It was simultaneously a peak of success, and the start of the group’s decline.

Prior to Woodstock, Ten Years After were a respected and successful blues / rock band with a particularly pleasing habit of occasionally dabbling in their own personalized brand of high-energy swing jazz, such as – Woody Herman’s “Woodchoppers Ball” and “I May Be Wrong, But I Won’t Be Wrong Always”. Woodstock, whilst bringing Ten Years After to a wider public’s attention in a most spectacular way, particularly Stateside, also disproportionately emphasised one particular aspect of the band. “I’m Going Home,” the climax number of an otherwise varied set of material, became the style that Ten Years After were most recognized for and which audiences now came to demand. A twelve bar Rhythm and Blues shuffle / boogie workout. “I’m Going Home” was notable for the incredible velocity of Lee’s guitar playing. The lyrics were throwaway to say the least, the keyboards inaudible, drums and bass providing a monolithic thump behind Alvin’s awesome Gibson guitar. Notes flew like supersonic laser flashes as whole sequences passed in the blink of an eye, and Alvin Lee stood there stage centre, the quintessence of Rock and Roll cool.

His features looked as if caved from granite, high cheekbones, perfect skin, and sneering down-turned mouth, all framed by a shock of thick blonde hair. He looked like an ideal of Caucasian manhood, eminently photogenic and totally confident in his mastery of his chosen craft, but then, he’d had a fair old while to develop his skill.  

Alvin Lee was born in Nottingham, England on December 19, 1944. His father Sam, owned an extensive collection of blues records, and both his parents played the guitar. So there was always an instrument laying around the house. However, young Alvin’s first musical endeavours were pursued on the clarinet, an instrument which his brother-in-law- played.

After a years lessons, Alvin swapped his clarinet for Broadway Plectrum Guitar, and took chord lessons. His earliest influences were the old jazz musicians, Django Reinhardt and Benny Goodman’s guitarist Charlie Christian, but it was Rock and Roll that was starting to percolate through. “I was very into Chuck Berry and Scotty Moore, who was Elvis’s guitar player,  and Jerry Lee Lewis, all straight rock and roll. I still like it the best now. I did practice about four hours a day, and when I was eighteen, I hocked myself up to the eyeballs for my first electric guitar, it was a Guy-a-tone with crystal pick-ups. Later on I got a Burns Tri-Sonic which was awful, and then I got a Grimshaw, which  was the nearest thing that I could afford to Chuck Berry’s Blonde Gibson. I had that right up until the time that I bought my Gibson ES-335 which I still use today.”

His first group, featured the Guyatone guitar, was Alan Upton and the Jailbreakers. Upton was a Jerry Lee Lewis style pianist, and they played the local pubs on the weekends. Then, in 1964 Alvin teamed up with bassist Leo Lyons, and drummer Pete Evens, to form The JayBirds. Pete Evens was later replaced by Dave Quickmire, and for awhile The Jaybirds featured vocalist Farren Christy. However Christy dropped out just prior to the group going to play for six weeks at the Star Club in Hamburg, Germany. 

"The singer dropped out and I just voluntarily became the singer. I was underage at the time, and had to lie my way in, but it was good experience for me. It was like getting a years training crushed into a six week period. Albert Lee was there. Around the corner, playing at “The Top Ten”. He could play the “Hound Dog” solo which had always eluded me, so I introduced myself and got it off”.

By 1967, Alvin Lee and Leo Lyons had teamed up with drummer Ric Lee (who is no relation to Alvin Lee) – along with keyboard player Chick Churchill, to form Ten Years After.

The group came riding in on the crest of the blues boom wave. (Alvin was now in his element) “Thanks in part to my father’s record collection, I suddenly found that I had this great repertoire of blues songs, that previously we could only perform at 3:00 in the morning, when the clubs had emptied out”.

Decca, in an unusual move, signed them to an albums only deal, though singles were subsequently released, most notably their 1970 hit from their album Cricklewood Green, “Love Like A Man”, which reached number ten in the British charts. Their first album, self titled “Ten Years After” caught the ear of American promoter, Bill Graham, who booked them into his prestigious Fillmore Auditoriums, and they quickly became a major concert attraction in the States. Their albums from 1969 release “Stonedhenge” were consistently strong sellers in their native Britain.

  “Underground”, was a word that was bandied around at the time, and I quite liked being “underground”. I had been through the situation of wearing satin shirts and what have you, doing a mini-Elvis Presley. And I realized that with the kind of music we played, you don’t have to do that. That was good, because it suited me to just turn up in blue-jeans and a T-Shirt and not have to dress up and have your hair done and things like that”.

  Ten Years After were an unpretentious but highly souped up rock n´ roll unit. Although Leo Lyons, Chick Churchill and Ric Lee were all admirably capable musicians, the band’s principle appeal was in the dirty gritty voice and high speed guitar of Alvin Lee. Emerging as contemporaries of “Cream” (with Eric Clapton)  and “The Jimi Hendrix Experience”, Ten Years After were cast firmly in that mould of 1960’s groups that adhered to principles of technical excellence and musical bravado and flash.

Alvin Lee was in those days, an unnervingly fast guitarist, and while he de-emphasises this important aspect now, he was without peer in rock  guitar circles. Certainly for sheer speed, Eric Clapton couldn’t have got near him, and it’s very doubtful if even Jimi Hendrix could have matched Alvin in this respect. Check: “I Woke Up This Morning” from Ten Years After’s Ssssh album and see for yourself, what I mean.

Alvin says: “We used to sell a hell of a show (put on a hell of a show). Ten Years After were specialist in blowing people (other bands)  off the stage, that was our ultimate goal – it wasn’t how well we played, it was how well we went down, as long as people went home, remembering that we played above all else, then that was our motivation. Very unsubtle.”

Actually, a lot of Alvin’s speed as a guitarist derived from his background in jazz where ultra fast tempos are far more commonplace than in rock, and the super-hyper- live approach that Ten Years After utilized in their live shows, energised themselves as well as their audiences.

According to Alvin: “I never tried to be fast, it’s just that when I got on stage, all the numbers sped up, then suddenly the solo came and all of a sudden I’d think, “Hell” I’m not going to be able to handle this, but I’d just go for it…..”  But speed is not everything. The critical backlash was not long in coming and particularly after the Woodstock film was released. Alvin’s playing was branded as “tasteless”, lacking in “finesse” along with “excessive” – “self indulgent” and “all haste and no taste” among other things. It became a received wisdom that Alvin Lee, “the fastest guitar in the west” couldn’t play subtly to save his life. When in point of fact, Alvin Lee is one of the most extremely versatile guitarist capable of playing more styles of music, such as: Ragtime, through to Classical and he was understandably and undoubtedly affected by these snide criticisms as indicated by his change musical direction subsequent to Ten Years After.

Woodstock the movie was the watershed in the career of Ten Years After – Alvin states: “It was a big break, but it was the start of the end for the band too. Up till then we had been playing eight to ten thousand seat venues. After the Woodstock movie it changed drastically, almost overnight to playing to 20,000 to 30,000 people every night, and along with that, the quality of the gigs dropped off as well. That’s when I’m positive that the “Disenchantment” set in. Alvin continues: “When a band is just starting out, in the early years, all you really want to do is fill up your date sheet, to keep working. Then, if and when the band finds some success, you find that your date sheet is now full everyday of the week. You work for maybe a year before you come to the realization that you need some time off, in order to write songs etc. and that’s exactly what happened to Ten Years After.

Alvin says: “ We just kept working and working and working, then we had to fight just to get three weeks off and the fun went right out of it. We didn’t feel that we were achieving anything particularly, it was just what I came to call “The Travelling Jukebox Syndrome”. This is where you get on stage, plug in and away you go, and do the same as you did the night before.

Ten Years After did twenty eight American Tours alone. Each one lasting about two months each, and in the end they simply toured themselves out. Call it burn out or total exhaustion, but that’s the fact. Their last official album release as a band, came in 1974 with “Positive Vibrations” and the vibrations were no where near positive at this point. In fact, the band had already split up long before this album was released – although it was never officially announced in that way, the band just stopped, and in an interview Alvin just said,  that it was over, Ten Years After ceased to exist any longer.

Alvin embarked on his solo career, in a direct attempt to shake off some of the “No Subtlety” comments.

Alvin continues: “ Some of the criticisms about me being all flash and no taste affected me personally, but I was pushing that side of it for a long while, and then I started to back off a bit and I went through that whole psychological thing of thinking, “I must do something more tasteful just to prove it”. But overall it didn’t do me much good in the long run, all it did was confuse the audiences.

Thus a collaboration with Mylon Le-Fevre  began that yielded an album called: “On The Road To Freedom” released in 1973, which established a more tasteful tone, that continued on through three albums during this period. For live work, Alvin formed a nine piece touring band: “I did a very tasty set, that worked out very nice in clubs, but put that into big arenas and it was frustrating to me, because halfway through the set, and although I’d gone off doing the unsubtle stuff, I suddenly felt that the audience was wanting some real grating rock n´ roll. But the way that the band and the equipment were set up, we really couldn’t deliver grating rock. I was going through the fifteen watt WEM only, miked up and coming through the monitors – it’s a totally different feel to having four cabinets behind you.” 

Alvin was grapping with the problem that faced all of the sixties guitar-axe heroes: how to move forward into the seventies without disappointing audiences who know you for one particular body of work, that’s rooted in the sixties. “Through that period I came back to my roots, one of the reasons for that was because I went to see Jerry Lee Lewis in Birmingham, and at the time he was playing only country songs, I came out of that concert feeling really disappointed, because he didn’t do “Whole Lotta Shakin´” and “Great Balls Of Fire”, and it occurred to me that if people come to see me, and I don’t do “I’m Going Home” and “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” then maybe they would feel that way too”.

The combination of this thinking and pressure from R.S.O. records with whom he got a record deal in the States, led to the new formation of “Ten Years Later”. Comprising of : Tom Compton on drums, Mick Hawksworth on bass guitar, and Bernie Clarke on keyboards, they cut two albums: “Rocket Fuel” 1978 and “Ride On” in 1979. It was the start of a frustrating period for Alvin Lee, where the output had been dictated more by the record company demands, then by his own artistic requirements.

“Ten Years Later was actually a joke name, it didn’t last very long. I thought that “Rocket Fuel” was quite good, and I thought “Ride On” wasn’t. That’s my personal opinion. There’s not many people that agree with what I think, even the people who follow it closely. R.S.O.  specifically wanted a rock band. They particularly  wanted us to play heavy rock, and so we moved towards that, but it didn’t happen the way they wanted it to, and we  weren’t enjoying it that much”.

Since then, he has released two more solo albums, teamed up for six months with Mick Taylor with whom he toured in Europe  and the States, and is currently working on material for a new album. He’s down to a three piece “Alvin Lee Band” for touring, comprising of:  Fuzzy Samuels on bass and Tom Compton on drums, both of whom are featured on his most recent album release, “RX5. I talked to him in a sumptuously well appointed flat located near Holland Park.

Thirteen years after Woodstock, and approaching his 38th birthday, his face is lined, and he has put on weight, he remains courteous and dignified master guitarist.

  What’s your view in 1982 about that Woodstock appearance? “Actually I saw it only the other day on Channel 4 and to be quite honest, I was getting really worried before my bit came up, because I was thinking, “now I’m going to watch this and I’m going to think, where have I gone since then?” musically. Often in moments of doubt, and everyone has moments of doubt, I used to think, “I’ve done my best gig somewhere in Cleveland or, I don’t know when it was, but I probably played as best I’ll ever play”. And I was quite relieved afterwards, because actually I didn’t play that well!!! The energy was good, but I did a few horrible things that I’d never do now. In fact, I’ve improved quite considerably, so I didn’t feel as bad as I thought I would.”  Do you think that your best gig’s still ahead of you? “Hopefully, hopefully”. I always thought that Ten Years After, had a bit of a problem, getting that energy across on record sometimes.

“Yeah – we never cracked that, we never got the energy in the studio that we got live. To me there’s a whole different attitude to playing live, as opposed to playing in the recording studio.

Even when we’re recording live, I don’t think about the recording. I play the gig, I play to the people. I show off a bit, I go for things that I might not get, on the off chance that I might get them, and often when you’re that confident you do get them.  

  “That’s where the new licks come from, those bravado tries, and in the studio I kind of go safe. You start constructing the number and it gets more subtle, and I think what Ten Years After had live was very unsubtle, and no matter how we tried in the studio, we just couldn’t get it to have that rawness. Of course a lot of it is more than sound at a gig, a lot of it is the environment – the feedback that you get from the audience. If you do something a bit outrageous and the audience loves it, it encourages you to be more outrageous. “There’s no such encouragement like that happening in the studio.  

Pic by Barry Plummer

  How much were you influenced by Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix?

“Well I wasn’t terribly influenced as far as what I actually played, but what did influence me was the effects of the way Hendrix played, and the area in which they played, gave me a good idea as to what I could get away with. I never tried to play like them, but I could play in that vein, with no problem.

Jimi Hendrix to me personally, was an innovator. When I first heard him I didn’t know where he’s come from; the closest that I could figure, was like a psychedelic version of John Lee Hooker. After hearing Hendrix and getting into him, then I’d suddenly go into an extra long, sustained distortion bit, and really his music gave me the idea and the freedom to do that. I’d probably have not done that before I heard him.

  Eric Clapton:

I think that I borrowed his vibrato technique; I used to vibrato very fast, and Eric used to do it so much slower, and I used to think “now, how can he do a really hot lick and then go right into that vibrato at the end of it ? But I liked it. With Eric, it’s easy to see his roots, you could look into all the Kings – Freddy King – Albert King and B.B.King and the old bluesers and things and I knew lot of it anyway.

“I think you take a bit from everybody you hear. It all mucks in – into one thing; sometimes I hear a guitarist that nobody’s ever heard of, then or since, and you can learn something off of them too. Everybody who picks up a guitar plays something different, usually the first thing you do, you just fiddle around, just to get the feel of the instrument. Those fiddles are often the basis of their style patterns. Not reading music you see, I work in patterns and a new pattern, is a good thing to fall across. I find fewer and fewer the more I play. They get less and less. There are still hundreds.”

  What advice would you give to an aspiring young guitarist, who is very anxious to achieve your kind of speed ?

“Well the speed just came from all that energy. I mean I’m not really that fast, a guitarist Jazzers play much faster than me, but they ply smoothly, so it just doesn’t come across as fast. My so called fast runs are very staccato and they come out like jarring machine gun bullets, whereas a jazzer will use a smooth bloopey sound. I hit every note with attack, and I play with a lot of aggression: I think it’s more that than speed. I’ve found the way to practice is when you get new lines and new licks is to work them really slow and repeat them over and over again. If you can do three or four hours a day of that they get faster without you even realizing it”.

  Do you still use the same Gibson ES-335 with all the stickers on it ? (Known Affectionately As “Big Red”)

Yeah, I bought it for 45 pounds actually, in Nottingham, with case. It was quite a good investment. It’s had a new neck. I broke the neck at the Marquee. It’s very small headroom there, and I got carried away with the old guitar, and chopped the top off. I had to send it away to Gibson, they kept the old head with the serial number on it, and spliced a new neck on it. They also re-sprayed right over the body, and I had all the stickers on, which is why they’re  still there today. They’re kind of cellulosed over. It’s a dotted neck. “I’ve got an additional Fender pick up on which I mainly use in the studio, and those TP-6 turnable  tailpieces – I like those, they’re great, you don’t have to take your hand off to tune up. Apart from that, it’s a pretty regular one. It’s a bit of a good one.. I think it’s a 1958 model actually.

  Now do you have the action set on it ?

“Pretty high and hard. The original teacher that  I had did a lot of Django tape stuff, so I got hard finger pads pretty early. I use a 54 on the bass end. because I like to hit open E’s a lot and if you have them much lighter than that, I find they ring sharp at first, so I have a very heavy bottom and a comparatively light on the top. For example: From the bottom up it’s – 54. – 44. – 28.- 15.- 12. and 9.

  And Guitar Pick ?

“I use three cornered ones. I got about 12 gross of them in New York one time. With the side scrubbing I wear them out quite a bit. With the side scrubbing technique, I can turn it around and get three times the use, a very hard pick.

  What amplification do you use ?

“I’ve got a Marshall 50, an old one, a small flashy one and I’ve got four outputs on it and I use four cabinets. I’ve always used that, it’s great. I’ve found that the 100 is just a bit to middley. While the 220’s are totally useless: One time I had the guys from Marshall come down, I really wanted to find out exactly why my 50 was so much better than the brand new Marshall 50’s. – and they said, it shouldn’t be any different, and they got out the old dentist’s mirror, they looked in the back, and the guy said, “Oh, this must be an old one, because they didn’t have these when I’ve been working here”. He’d found a component. I said, “Whatever it is, stick it on all of them”, and it seemed to do the trick actually.

“Also I power the valves a lot. Hell of a lot of bias on the valves, so I change the valves once a week on the road; but that gives you that high sustain. In the studio I’ve got a 15 watt WEM with one Celestion which sounds just like a stack of Marshalls milked up, they’re actually a bit better for  recording”.  

  What sort of volume setting do you put that on ?

“Three quarters to full, I find that the Marshall 50 watts practically flat out, that’s the best sound. If you turn it down, it gets a bit dry”. 

  Do you have any pedals or use any other effects ?

“No, I always avoid those. I like a strong lead, that also gives me the level I need. I sometimes use effects in the studio, but I don’t put them between the guitar and the amplifier: I put them after. I do like reading about all these effects boxes. Makes me laugh; I’m so glad I don’t have any. How on earth musicians choose nowadays. You open those books and there’s 80 guitars and 300 foot pedals to choose from. It was Gibson or Fender when I started, it was quite easy to choose, if you could afford it”.

  What Acoustic guitars do you have in your collection ?

"I’ve got a Martin and a Yamaha, not the most expensive Yamaha, but it’s got a turn-able bridge so I can use a wire third if I want. My favourite one is the cheapest Yamaha in their price range, with gut strings on it. That’s the one I pick up and fiddle with all the while”.

  Do you use any unusual tuning at all ?

“No, very seldom do. I just mess around with them, but I don’t actually use them. I play bottle-neck in standard tuning. I’m not a great bottle-neck player”.

  What do you use for a bottle-neck ?

“A torque wrench thing off of a plug spanner. A very heavy one. It’s Lowell George’s idea. I got it from him."

  Are you a guitar collector ?

“Semi, semi. What I do is, if I do a tour of America, I get a guitar when I get there and use it at the hotel and then it enters the collection. I’ve got about 40 guitars. I usually buy novel guitars. I’ve got three favourite guitars which I keep strung: the rest tend to get stuck into boxes and end up with rusty strings. I think you’re  well if you can keep three guitars in good playing condition”.

  It’s very often overlooked, that as well as being a guitarist, you’re also a singer.

“Well, I often overlook it too actually. I don’t really think about it much, I’m more of a shouter than a singer. I don’t profess to have much of a voice, but I think half of it is the effect of singing and playing the guitar. “With my Chuck Berry upbringing, you phrase differently, you phrase a vocal lick and then you answer it with a guitar lick.  I think that’s a quite natural sounding way  of doing it. I also do the odd session, with people where I put a guitar solo on, and I usually play all over the vocals, if I’m not singing it. I try to make the vocals as good as possible, but I’m no Paul Rogers, and I never will be."

  What’s your view of these bands like “The Who” and “The Rolling Stones” who are still pressing on after all these years ?

“Well, I think it’s nice for us, the listeners as it were: there was a lot of pressure for me to keep Ten Years After together from the business side of things, but I knew that it wouldn’t work.. I could feel from the other guys, that there was no pulling in one direction, and the managers wanted me to, if I wanted to change, they wanted me to keep the Ten Years After name. Business wise, and looking back, that would have been good for me to do for the money, but not for the others in the band. For me it just didn’t seem right. Ten Years After was the four of us, and if I was going to change the musicians, I’d call it something else."

  How democratic or otherwise was Ten Years After ?

“It was very democratic. It was an equal band all the way down the line, and with any democratic band like that, because I was the lead guitar, and singer, I got more spotlight, I got to do more interviews which I really didn’t want to do actually. I was keen to spread the load, but with that also came a little bit of bad taste from the other boys in the band, which caused a little bit of friction”.  

You also wrote and handled most of the production !

“Yeah, right, and people used to say to me – You’re Ten Years After; and I’d say, “I’m not”. I didn’t really want to be. I didn’t want to take all the blame to be honest”.

  What are the other guys doing now ?

“Leo Lyons is producing, he’s got a studio in Oxfordshire, and he’s doing pretty good. Good producer actually. He did some time at Wessex studios; he knows his onions (Business). I’m still in touch with Leo, I go down and play him my tunes and things. Ric Lee was playing in Stan Webb’s Chicken Shack, but he’s doing managing now; I think that’s taken over from his playing more. Chick Churchill, is not in the music business anymore unfortunately. I don’t know if that’s terminal or not. He’s got into music publishing a bit”.

  Can we talk a bit about your recent activities; since Ten Years Later you’ve been working solo.

“Ever since 1979-1980 I’ve found myself up until last Christmas being pressured into making albums all the while, when I haven’t really got enough fresh ideas and that’s a trap. As much as I’d like to think of myself as a musician above being a rock star or whatever you’d like to call it, when people are waving money in front of your nose and they want an album, you tend to get it done whether you think you’re ready or not. “I’ve been doing that and the last two albums I did. I didn’t even have enough songs to dare start. I got three songs for the last album – called RX5, and I only thought two of them were any good anyway, so it’s just a matter of getting enough tracks down to make an album”. Isn’t that a rather cynical way of doing it ?

“Oh it’s terrible. It’s just the way things were, where I was at the time and everything else, but I have stopped it now. I realize if I’m going to keep on making albums that I can’t even------I mean people used to ask me about RX5 – and I used to say, “I hate it, all of it. It’s ridiculous you know, because people who buy albums or even get them free, when they hear that, to them that’s everything I stand for and do at the time, and it’s too important just to go bumming them out.

So for the next nine months I’ve been writing pretty solid. I’ve got a target not a deadline to start recording in February. But I’m certainly not going to release anything or let anything out until I’m really happy with it. I can’t hope for an album to be successful if I don’t like it, and if it was it would be silly, because I’d have to make another one like it then.

  “So, I’ve been delving back into my roots and writing new stuff, old stuff…..and just a lot of writing. Playing more for my own pleasure, more than I’ve done in awhile”. 

  Alvin, I noticed at a previous meeting, where liberal supplies of alcohol were available, that you were very careful not to drink….any reason for this ?

“I never used to drink, and then I did start for awhile, and like most things, I went over the top for awhile, and then I just cut it out altogether. It didn’t really suit me, being an old hippie. I’ve never been a serious drinker, but I did start getting into playing poker with a bottle of scotch, that was with Steve Gould and Mickey Feat actually, not putting them down, they’re wonderful guys. I didn’t have to join in”.

“I’ve put on a lot of weight as well, and it was just generally no good for my health. I had a good clean out….I was going down the old Elvis road at one time, getting very puffy and doing lots of other things that I shouldn’t have been doing. But fortunately, I saw the light, and I saw myself before it was too late”.

  Do you have a recording contract at the present time Alvin ?

“No, as a matter of fact I don’t at the moment. I’m looking for a new one right at this very moment, but I do have an option with Atlantic in the States, they’ve got first choice as it were”.

  Are you going to do any gigs in Britain ?

“I haven’t done any for a long while. I don’t do much in England. Ten Years After never did that much in England, and the last time I tried it, there was very poor attendance anyway. So that has kind of put me off trying, although I’d love to. I wouldn’t mind playing the Marquee again actually, just to see if it’s anything like it used to be. “I’ve played the Odeon. Hammersmith a couple of times, a token English gig, but there seems more interest abroad.

Possibly because when Ten Years After were kind of hitting it, I preferred not to. Well the whole band preferred to kind of keep a low profile in England, because we lived there, you know what I mean ? It’s great going over and being a rock star in America, but when you get home it’s also as nice to be able to walk the streets without having any problems. The main reason really why I’ve always been a musician  is that I can’t do anything else. I don’t have a proper trade you see”.

It’s certainly been a reasonable trade so far hasn’t it Alvin ?

“Yes, but my attitude has always been that a musician’s only security is that you can sing for your supper. If you can make ten pounds down at the local pub, then you can eat. That’s really all you can count on, you can’t count on thousands of pounds and being successful. A lot of that’s fashion, waves of fashion. You can catch a wave and then lose a wave, and then you have to go back and catch another one.

  The working for your supper theory keeps you more level headed. I’m certainly not afraid to get up at the “Red Lion” and do a bit – quite enjoyable sometimes, things like that. You lose the tension; put your beer on the amplifier, and turn your back to the audience occasionally – it does a musician a world of good to not have to take his profession so seriously.

“But there again, even when I get up and jam, I like to deliver something; I wouldn’t like to get up and jam on a bad guitar, that I can’t play because I ……….somebody’s going to remember it. You’ve got to deliver something – and make people think about it when they go home”.               

 

 

     

   
 

Alvin Lee Band at the Hullabaloo 1983 in Rensselaer, New York

The Venue in Hell:

The  Alvin Lee Band is just across the Hudson River from Albany, New York, at a place called The Hullabaloo.

On the good side of town in Troy you have the Rensselaer Polytechnic Insitute situated inside a plush neighborhood of historic value and full of quarter of a million dollar houses on every street, but where Alvin is playing tonight is the railway station, the whores, and every practicing alcoholic, drug dealer and criminal in our tri county area. If Alvin had a craving for any of these things or underworld activity he's come to the right place.

This part of Rensselaer reminds me of any movie by Boris Karloff, Alfred Hitchcock and Christopher Lee all rolled into one, every  twist of evil, fate and horror can happen here at any moment.This place reeks of murder, mayhem and disaster.

Alvin's song "The Devil's Screaming" ain't got nothin' on this sewer and Charlie Daniels Devil stands a better chance in Georgia than in this God-forsaken toilet of a town and this is just the parking lot! 

You would think that we'd feel a little safer inside the building but it was just as bad if not worse. The only thing that saved us from turning around and going back across the river as fast as possible were two things, first my desire to see Alvin Lee play that big red Gibson guitar of his, up close and personal and second my not telling the others, that I had convinced to come with me, the truth, that I was scared shit-less!

I keep reassuring them (and myself) by saying "ah, your with me nothing bad can happen to you here, I'll protect you, you're in good hands, we're here to have a good time, relax". It's a tough act when you also have to preface it with, forget about that dried blood on the freak-in wall, and that real dried up human eyeball that someone neglected to sweep up off the floor from the last slaughter that took place in here. I felt like the Wizzard of Oz in Hell, pay no attention to the hairs standing up on the back of your neck and arms or your heart beating twice as fast as normal,  your desire to puke is all in your head, stop worrying will you.

I knew all about what I was getting into before I even left the house, I put on my heavy police issue motorcycle jacket that weighs in at the better part of ten pounds and prepaired myself for any conflict that might arise during the evening. It would've been a much different story had I not brought my little sister and her husband with me, this just increased the level of stress and danger ten fold.

 

The Venue is a Barn:

No this isn't a continuation of what a Hell Hole this place was, you got the background and feeling correct already, I mean it really is or was a real barn at some point. The old cow or horse stalls are now used for seating and you have to walk up a ramp to get there just like the cattle did, once upon a time. At the top of the ramp is a landing, we take a left and walk about fifty feet and we're now looking down at the stage which is no more than ten to fifteen feet away and we sit at the table that's in prime view.

Wood floors, ceiling and heavy wooden beams for support all over the place and it reminds me of Alvin's own barn that he calls Space Studios back in England, from the photos I saw inside the On the Road to Freedom album. Now my mind and emotions are changing course like quicksilver, from fear and hyper awareness for our safty to "hey we're really here, we made it" and Alvin is only a short time and distance away.

The only point that I'm not really sure about is Alvin's tour bus, because my memory is fuzzy about whether it was along side the building when we got there or it was there a short while later. 

The opening act The Lazers:

A friend of mine knew one of the band members and told me that this band was going places, they were going to be huge (not by way of this pig sty in Rennselaer, as far as I was concerned).

The band comes on, they're out to make a point, they're rough and tough and they all want to be stars. I believe they thought they were at Madison Square Garden opening up for Aerosmith or some such thing. The lead singer started spitting on the amps, and blowing snot all over the place (maybe a little cocaine back stage) who knows, who cares, we're all there to see The Alvin Lee Band, to Hell with these people, since when does Alvin Lee need a warm up act?

Three songs into the Lazers' set and the people in front of the stage are getting more restless by the minute and in-between songs the audience starts in with "Alvin, Alvin, Alvin" to which the response from the lead singer is "who gives a "F" about some has-been-once-was guitar player from some old band, we're what's happening right now" basically saying "look at us, ain't we cool, we're hot!"  Not a chance pin head, you're outta--here--gone--history!  As I said three songs into their set and the audience is already bored and revolting in no uncertain terms. A hot exchange ensued between the band and the audience. I grabbed for my leather jacket once again and back into defence mode I headed.

The men on the stage started saying FU to the audience and the same FU was coming back to the band in spades, switch-blades and guns would be next and I'm thinking about protecting my little sister and nothing besides.

The band got pissed off and left the stage an hour early and the audience erupted with savage elation over this victory. Now I myself was in an emotional void between feeling sorry for the warm up band which were really very good but so arrogant as to need a damn good wacking and this crowd of savages who were craving blood, choas and violence just to satisfy their need for primal recreation and lust. A Roman Wilderness of lions and Christians and at this point I can't tell who is who any longer and I really believe if all Hell breaks loose I'm sure the police won't make any effort to come here until the cold light of day or better yet noon time tomorrow. We're on a dead end road in more ways than one and once again I'm reminded that we're stranded and completely on our own, there is no excitement in this kind of fear and unrest and these natives are hunting heads.

 

Where's Alvin:

The warm up band is long since gone and the pressure is rising and rising, not just in anticipation of the Gibson Guitar Wizzard, but because you can tell by the age of this AC/DC crowd they just want action and the name Alvin Lee doesn't mean shit to a tree here. I would venture to say maybe fifty people know of Ten Years After's music, fifty have heard his name somewhere and the rest are just taking up space. In a total audience of two hundred people there is nothing to be gained here and I just hope this audience doesn't turn ugly on our hero or we're all going to get hurt before we get out of here.

It's now been over an hour and this barn is now a Miami pressure cooker, like waiting for Jim Morrison and the Doors back when all Hell broke loose there.

So where is Alvin? I don't have a clue, maybe he's waiting for the money to come down, having a drink or three, having a little taste of some stash from one of the local dealers, doing an interview, or maybe keeping company with one of Rensselear's finest street walkers. All speculation and everything that crossed my mind in this very uncomfortable and long wait. There is a point when anticipation turns directly into agony and that's where we're at right now and everyone is pissed-off to the maximum.

 

The Concert:

I don't remember anyone introducing Alvin, all I recall is him lumbering out on stage acting very guilty and with a look of attitude on his face that said  "I'm sorry but I'll make it up to all of you right now I promise." 

At one time I had a list of all the songs he played on this night, but it has long since disappeared, but I can tell you he played about thirty songs. Thirty songs one after the other with no break in between, no sitting down, no half assed rush through and he did it all, for the better part of two hours on that barn floor stage. No false pretence, no acting the part of the star, no arrogance to be found, just the real Alvin singing and having a great time. At one point he leaned over the edge of the stage to shake the sweat off of his head and onto the teenage girls down below and he threw a guitar pick in their direction but other than that it was all straight ahead Rock and Roll Blues flat out and full force.

The long wait for him to take the stage took us all about four songs before he was truly forgiven and this locomotive was off and rolling on true Alvin Lee steam, desire and passion. What ever happened backstage or in his tour bus no longer mattered to any of us, we were rocking and rolling along.

Harmonica, a little drum stick action on his guitar but again nothing fancy or phoney. Alvin was on fire and on this night he was hitting on every spark plug.  In between one song he said "is this better than MTV or what?" Of course I understood what he meant, a live performance is always better than an idiot box TV set any day of the week but I was thinking beyond his quick comment and felt sorry that Alvin may be locked into a time zone that no longer provides any realistic promise for his career and that's why my hero has been so overlooked for so long. I thought one video on MTV from Alvin Lee would put him and Ten Years After back into the record bins for all time, never to be forgotten again but right now Alvin appeared to be stuck. 

On this tour was a drummer (of course), if it was Tom Compton, I hope I would've remembered but I have no idea who he was and nothing was memorable. It was the bass player who was the one to keep up with Alvin and share the same spotlight---his name is Calvin "Fuzzy" Samuels!!!  That man is "F-in" crazy and not since Leo Lyons has anyone come close to beating up a bass guitar like that or been able to push Alvin along into new areas of music or to new heights. Just incredible.

Imagine attending a concert such as this, Alvin did everything except cook a midnight snack and tuck us all in for the night.

 

Encore:

The encore was obligatory, in the sense that Alvin gave it his all the first time around and there was no need what's so ever for him to return to the stage due to any obligation that wasn't already met in that two hour span. I personally clapped my hands raw in appreciation only, and not trying to persuade him to come back to give us more. We didn't deserve more because he owed us nothing. In fact if I were him I would have grabbed the nearest chair come back out on stage, sat down and just soaked in all the love and respect that was in the air. Alvin not only earned it he deserved it as well, that's why I loved the man and his great talent, on this night he made me happy and proud to be in the same room with him.

 

Time To Go Home:

We were the first ones there and the last ones to leave.

The parking lot was now as vacent as a cemetary and Alvin and his bus long since gone on to other venues, rolling on through the night.

This venue is the place where "shadows really do run from themselves" as the song by Cream goes and I'm more than happy to be getting out of this place, if it's the last thing we ever do, sings Eric Burdon in my musical mind.   

My little sister finally got to see for herself the Alvin Lee part of Ten Years After, having had to listen to his music for five years straight as her bedroom was right next to mine. Her husband liked the show but is still a big fan of Nils Lofgren, all in all it was one incredible evening never to be forgotten.

 

Thank you Alvin, I was spellbound, elated and enthralled beyond words to watch you do what you do, and do it better than anyone else.

Review by David Willey

Our Thanks to Gary Stringer for the ticket stub

   
 A second opinion:

But the place I really wanted to mention is the Hullabaloo in deepest, darkest Rensselaer. This place had The Police, not once, but twice on their way up. They also presented The Talking Heads, Joe Jackson, The Boomtown Rats, Pere Ubu, The Dictators, The Dead Boys, King Crimson, Dire Straights, The Roches, Kasim Sultan and a ton of other great acts from the late 70s and early 80s. They didn't catch on to the fact that new wavers wanted to dance, so they would put tables right up to the stage and sell tickets for each table, like the Van Dyck does now. When I saw The Police on their second visit I had a table right under Sting!

J. Martin

 

 



 

HUDSON VALLEY NEWSBEAT (newspaper)

FROM MARCH 16, 1983 "THE CHANCE" (Venue) in POUGHKEEPSIE, NEW YORK

ALVIN LEE: GUITAR SAINT IN A SYN-FILLED WORLD

Most years, the tail end of February is seriously dreary. The snow on the ground has taken on a West Point grey hue, the temperatures shoot from near 50 down to the low teens, and everybody has a cold. The last week of February 1983, though, brought us Koo Stark's left nipple in Time Magazine, the astoundingly funny team of Andy Kaufman and Fearless Freddie Blassie on David Letterman and Alvin Lee's blistering performance at the Chance in Poughkeepsie. With his old red axe and the latest stripped down version of Ten Years After, Alvin Lee has given an awful lot of straight ahead rock fans at least a brief respite from those anguished prayers at night…"Now I lay me down to sleep, O Lord our God whither goest Rock?

From the moment that Lee walked onstage and sang the first line, "One of these days…," the crowd at both sets roared. People in chairs leaned forward and tapped their feet. Those caught standing boogied and air guitarist filled the club. Why? The man has never had an album that everybody in the junior class had to buy, and nine times out of ten, when radio stations get a Ten Years After request, the jocks will spin the Woodstock soundtrack version of Lee's "Goin´ Home." So how can this pleasant, plain spoken Englishman who dresses like Joe fan inspire such happy lunacy? The answer lies, I believe, in the lines from "Rock `n´ Roll Music To The World"; I tell the truth / I ain't no star / I only shout / and leave the rest to my guitar…

Just what does he leave to his guitar? Every classic hook in rock - Carl Perkins, Leiber and Stroller, Jerry Lee Lewis, bridged by those fantastic runs that made Lee famous. I caught up with Alvin between sets, to try to find out a little bit about the man behind the fingers that reeled off "Something Like That," "Goin´ Home" (of course), and a version of "Hey Joe" that, after the initial cheers and whistles, produced a short audience wide gasp of awe; a millisecond vision of Heaven and Hendrix. Alvin Lee belongs to a simpler, braver era of rock, when every new lick was a New Discovery, a flag on Everest. In light of all the trends that seem to originate in England, like ska, the reggae revival, the synth bands, and rockabilly a la Stray Cats, I especially wanted to know if anybody was playing the blues anymore. His answer was tinged with disappointment. "Well…some are playing, but it's not catching on. People aren't content with being musicians anymore. They want to be rock stars. They're afraid if they don't have purple hair, or act outrageous, they won't get noticed." I asked him if perhaps there might be a resurgence of basic, solid rock in the offing, what with Eric Clapton's new "Money and Cigarettes" release, and Jeff Beck's working on an album, and Jimmy Page is getting back to work. "People ask me all the time, "Are you making a comeback?", and I haven't been anywhere. I mean, I've been playing all the while," Lee said. I said, "You'd think that they'd be banking on the old masters, with the record industry in so much trouble," and Alvin cut me off in mid sentence, and said "I think it's good the record industry's in trouble. "He did not offer to explain the statement, and I felt there was no need to. In an industry obsessed with the Grails of Trendy Sounds, Marketable Concepts, and Super-Groups, there doesn't seem to be much room for a man who wants to play small clubs because the people are closer. I asked him if he enjoyed playing at "The Chance". "Well yeah," he said, "except for those tables down in front. I saw all these people on the sides going wild, and right there in front, everyone was sitting. I want people right there in front of the stage, the closer the better." The tables were gone for the second set, and the floor area was packed, which makes me believe that everyone went home happy. Even Alvin Lee.

Exciting as was Lee's playing , it would have been incomplete without the two members of  Ten Years After, (he of course means Ten Years Later) drummer Tom Compton and bassist Fuzzy Samuels. They are ultra tight, and combined a steady discipline and a joyous abandon that I haven't seen since the Grambling band did that Coke Commercial.

Alvin Lee was warmed up by "Enola Gay" a three piece band from New York City, whose biggest asset was the guitarist's haircut (first runner up for Best Keith Richards for the month of February. The original Enola Gay was the B-29 that dropped the bomb on Hiroshima. Need I say more?

 


 

 

 

 

 

Ten Years After Revival Horror

Ten Years After reform with their original line-up for one night at London’s Marquee on July 1, 1983 

It’s the latest of the Marquee’s Silver Jubilee reunions and brings back together:

Alvin Lee – Leo Lyons – Ric Lee and Chick Churchill. And if you don’t get at least a twenty minute version of “Going Home” the News Page reckons you should get a refund on your ticket. 

 

 

 

  

 

From Metal Hammer Magazine 

 Ten Years After – Live At The Marquee 

– 25th  Silver Anniversary Concert Event -

 By Pippa Lang  

This Video, (now available on DVD) contains classic footage of Ten Years After performing live at the Silver Anniversary Celebration of the famous Marquee Club. This video / dvd will remind doubters that Alvin Lee, Chick Churchill, Leo Lyons and Ric Lee really were a major instigator of Hard Rock Music. Remember Alvin Lee beating the hell out of his guitar for “Going Home” at Woodstock ? Real Rock in 1969! No, I wasn’t there, but I saw the video!

Though the band’s add little jazzy habits never really did them justice – “I May Be Wrong But I Won’t Be Wrong Always” ain’t ma cuppa tea at all – the classic legendary rock ´n` roll of “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” and “Going Home” (Sensibly saved until the end) are proof enough of the band’s influential role in rock ´n` roll history.

 The band always sweated profusely for their art, even as comparatively late as 1983, when this video was shot. Leo Lyons, in particular, throws himself into fits of frenzy, Alvin remaining more god-like and civilised about his emotional throes. Never a bum note, Alvin seems to have a magical coalition with the guitar he partnered at Woodstock – here it is still, with the same peace and cannabis-leaf stickers! He must have varnished over them long ago to keep them in pristine condition!

 So there are the don’t-mess-with-me-mutherfuckers rock `n´ rollers, the strange jazz jams and, oooh yeah baby, the Blooooz – “Help Me” and “Slow Blues In C” – Help Me carries the audience along to its mighty blood-sweating climax, with Alvin dabbing at his strings with one of Ric Lee’s drum sticks at one point. “Help Me! He cries plaintively – but I hardly think he needs any help at all. No other British band can hold court with a Blues number so successfully – a spellbound Marquee crowd can hardly believe their ears and eyes.  

Through the spontaneity – filled Jazz-Rock of  “Woodchoppers Ball” the horrendously wonderful and painstakingly horny “Slow Blues In C” which boast some of the juiciest keyboard-playing ever, to the grand finale: “Going Home” one of the truly classic songs of the “Woodstock Generation” with a vast number of today’s up and coming  guitarist  still trying to learn to play it as effectively as Alvin Lee does….but no chance. This is a Classic video / Dvd – for Ten Years After buffs, and those who are earnestly interested in learning where British Metal’s roots really lie…….                 

 

 

    




From The History Of Rock Magazine 69 – Called “Heavy Duty”  

1983-1985

High-Octane Rock
Written by David Sinclair   

From Alvin Lee and the Boys:

Formed in 1967, Ten Years After emerged as part of the late-Sixties British Blues Boom, becoming a big-selling album act and premier live attraction – particularly on the emergent American stadium circuit, before their break-up in 1974.

The star of their act was singer / guitarist Alvin Lee, probably the flashiest blues / rock guitarist of the lot.

Jaybirds Of A Feather:

Lee, born in Nottingham on 19 December 1944, grew up in a musical environment – both his parents played guitar. After taking lessons for a year, he joined his first local group at the age of 13. A couple of years later he paired up with bassist Leo Lyons, born 30 November 1944 and they played together in various line-ups. One of which took them to Hamburg in Germany, before meeting drummer Ric Lee, born 20 October 1945. The three of them formed the nucleus of a band called the Jaybirds. Chick Churchill, born 2 January 1946 was initially given jobs as road manager of this outfit, but soon began to make a more direct contribution as organist. 

In 1967 the group decided on a change of name to Ten Years After, and swiftly established a strong reputation in the London clubs- most notably at the Marquee, where they held down a residency. At this point, they met Chris Wright, who became their manager, and later, with Terry Ellis, formed Chrysalis Records.

With Wright’s help, they secured a contract with Decca Records who, perceiving the band’s underground as opposed to commercial appeal, assigned them to their new progressive label Deram and allowed them to release an album, “Ten Years After”, without the customary requirement of a hit single.

The album sold reasonably well and during the rest of the year Ten Years After played as many gigs as they possibly could, further establishing their grassroots following in Britain.  

General Lee:

In 1968, Deram released a second album, “Undead”, recorded live at London’s Klook’s Kleek club. American promoter Bill Graham, impressed with the album, telegrammed Chris Wright inviting Ten Years After to play at the prestigious Fillmore West, and the band departed for what was to be the first of numerous Stateside tours.

Although the two 1969 albums, “Stonedhenge” on which Lee’s guitar work was uncharacteristically subdued, and “Sssssh”, which was a heavier, more fully produced effort, established them in the British charts, it was “Undead” that conveyed most accurately what the band was about, high-energy, high-velocity performance rock, as raw and unsubtle as it comes.  

 

Despite the fact that Ric Lee, Leo Lyons and Chick Churchill were all extremely capable musicians, each having had more formal training than Alvin Lee, it was very much the guitarist show. Alvin Lee sang, wrote nearly all the songs and produced the albums. On stage he was always the centre of attention. A tall, well-built figure, with scowling face and thick blonde hair, he quickly became renowned for the incredible speed with which he played his familiar sticker festooned red Gibson 335. His guitar playing came to dominate proceedings to such an extent  that Chick Churchill would often leave his keyboards – which were drowned by the guitar – to stand on a stack at the back of the stage and clap his hands impotently in the air. For a while audiences loved Ten Years After’s show, particularly in America, but the critical response was less than favourable.

The situation crystallised with Ten Years After’s appearance at the Woodstock Festival in 1969 and subsequent inclusion in the film of the event, which became a worldwide box-office success in 1970.

“Woodstock”  featured the band storming, stomping and wailing their way through an Alvin Lee song called “I’m Going Home” – an extended shuffle / boogie 12-bar, that tended towards indulgence when taken out of context with the rest of the show. But the effect of that appearance was dramatic – the band was suddenly hoisted into a position of international superstar status.  

 In Britain they were rewarded in June of 1970 with their only hit single, an edited version of “Love Like A Man”, but Lee didn’t care for the number and refused to play it on “Top Of The Pops”. Meanwhile “Cricklewood Green” 1970 and “Watt” 1971 both reached the Top five in the album charts.

Ironically, Woodstock also heralded the start of Ten Years After’s decline. “It was a big break, but it was the start of the end too”, said Alvin Lee. They found themselves in an artistic straight-jacket, hedged in on the one side by audiences demanding nothing but the formula of “I’m Going Home” and “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl”, and on the other by the critics who were lambasting their lack of finesse and paucity of imagination. Moreover, the band suffered from a work schedule that left them little time to draw a breath, let alone write new songs and develop in any new directions.

Alvin Lee commented: “ We just kept working and working and working…and the fun went out of it. We didn’t feel we were achieving anything particularly, it was just what I call the travelling jukebox syndrome. Get on stage, plug in, and away you go – do the same as you did last night.” It has been reliably documented that Ten Years After undertook as many as 28 American tours, as well as appearing all over Europe.

Bad Vibrations:

The band’s last new album, “Positive Vibrations” was released in the spring of 1974, but Ten Years After had already split, having played their last British gig at London’s Rainbow earlier that year. They did, however, undertake a final American tour in 1975, and got together briefly in the studio in early 1977, though no recordings were ever released from these sessions.

Alvin Lee embarked on a solo career with mixed results. He worked initially with Mylon LeFevre, producing the country-rock-flavoured “On The Road To Freedom” in 1973 and then set up a nine piece touring band – casting himself in a more “tasteful”, laid-back role. But his new image suited neither his audience nor himself, and it wasn’t too long before he was back in the heavy-rock fold.

In late 1977 he formed “Ten Years Later” in response to record company pressures, but after two lacklustre albums they split, and since then he has again worked solo, using a three piece “Alvin Lee Band” – with bassist Fuzzy Samuels and drummer Tom Compton – for touring.

Leo Lyons became a producer, working most notably on a trio of “UFO” albums, and eventually setting up a studio in Oxfordshire. Ric Lee did a spell with Stan Webb’s Chicken Shack before moving into management. While, Chick Churchill recorded a solo album, “You and Me” in 1973, before joining Chrysalis Publishing.

Perhaps Ten Years After failed to take a firm enough stand against the many pressures that boxed them in, and perhaps they should have established a stronger musical identity as a band, rather than as a vehicle for Lee’s greased-lightning guitar. But, whatever their detractors may say, they worked long and hard, and gave many an audience one hell of a buzz.

 

 

 

 

 

     

 

 

 

 

 

The 1983 concert was broadcast and recorded on FM Radio, later to be released on CD under the Raw Fruit label in 1990 – It’s called “The Friday Rock Show Sessions”  from the BBC.

The best bands to play the 1983 show according to one fan, was Ten Years After and “Thin Lizzy”. 

 

 

 

 


Tom's "Point After" 1983 - Orlando Florida


Alvin Lee - 1983 New York City at the Palladium

 

 

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