1987

ALVIN LEE - Magazine Articles

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Alvin Lee at the Glass City Boardwalk, Tuesday, March 31, 1987 - Toledo, Ohio

 

 

 

 

Alvin Lee – Twenty Years After The likes of Eddie Van Halen and Yngwie Malmsteen were still running around in nappies when Alvin Lee was the fastest guitar in the West. With his band – Ten Years After – Alvin captured the hopes of many aspiring string benders, and still continues to do so in the eighties, but he now performs under just his own name. His latest album, “Detroit Diesel”, is just about to be released in the UK having proved a big success in the USA. Bob Hewitt chatted with Alvin about his career and the new album.

The new album is my first one for about five years. I’ve had a long lay-off, because I found myself putting out records I didn’t like very much, mainly because of pressure from record companies to push another album out although I didn’t really have the songs! The previous album was called “Freefall”: it took about six months to come out, and then I found myself touring around the world. I would do a radio station and people would say, “tell me about the new album…” and I would say “Well, I like one of the tracks on it…” So I thought it had to stop; if I was putting out albums I didn’t like, how could I expect anyone else to like them? Basically, I’ve spent the time here in my own studio finding out new techniques and stuff like that. I’ve been doing gigs as well, plenty of them in Europe and the USA, but none in England. I’ve got a three piece working band, which sometimes goes to a four piece when the budget permits! I perform under my own name—not Ten Years After—and I have Alan Young on drums and Steve Gould on bass. Micky Feát played bass on the album, and he is in the occasional four piece outfit, because Steve can also play guitar, keyboards and sing…clever bloke! Basically, I’ve just carried on earning my living as a musician—that’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. I’ve always avoided the “Rock Star” kind of image and have never gone in for gold lame´ suits and things like that! To be honest, I think it’s quite a privilege to be a working musician, and to make a living out of it. That’s what my heroes have done, like Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker, they’ve played ´till they’re 90 or so. Really, that’s all I’ve ever wanted to do, I’m not into getting hit records and retiring at an early age—I’ve tried retiring…it’s boring.

Tell us a little about the new album “Detroit Diesel”.
Well I think it took me a long time to find out which direction I wanted to go in, having had five years off. I’d heard all the new Eddie Van Halens and things, so I thought ´How am I going to represent myself?´ So I got back to the basic roots, things I like, straight ahead rock ´n´ roll blues—I figured I should do what I do best. For people who don’t know what I do, it’s like re-introducing my own style, and it’s probably nearer the old Ten Years After format as far as energy goes, and I like the songs. There is a tendency these days for record companies to want pop songs and hit songs, they are always looking for singles. I’ve always been an album artiste really, and it takes a long time to get a good song and then play it the way you want to play it, and not lose out. Sometimes it can sound commercial and lose some of its ethnic feel and sometimes its ethnic and not very commercial! Now I think I’ve brought the two together. I’ve used computer drums and triggered synthesisers and samplers, those kind of gadgets—really it’s old rock with a new slant!

Most of the work had been done here in your own studio, hadn’t it?
Yes, they are all original demo’s. I kept the same piece of tape and changed bits here and there, overdubbed and built it up. It actually sounds like a live band, but it’s quite high tech. Who is on the album with you? There’s a drummer called Bryson Graham, Steve, Alan and Micky from my current band. Tim Hinkley plays some keyboards, and a guy called David Hubbard who is first class with synths. Jon Lord plays Hammond Organ and George Harrison plays slide guitar on a track called ´Talk Don’t Bother Me´. Leo Lyons from the old Ten Years After band plays bass on the title track, ´Detroit Diesel´, and we’ve got Joe Brown playing fiddle on another track with his wife Vicky on backing vocals! Boz Burrell plays bass on one track, in fact, we used to have a band called The Gits about the time Ten Years After was folding up which Boz and myself, Mel Collins on sax and Ian Wallace on drums. That evolved into the In-Flight Band which did the Live at the Rainbow Concert, but it went a little bit too funky and tasty for its time.

The techniques used in making your latest album must be a far cry from the old days, when you first recorded with Ten Years After?
I’ll say! The first two albums from Ten Years After were recorded live in the studio. It was only four track in those days, but even then I had started to get interested in studio work. After the second album, ´Undead´, we basically had our set `down´ so we started experimenting and trying overdubs—all very exciting stuff in those days. Now of course, it’s a more complicated version of that. I still like the straight ahead technique, because I sometimes think today’s technology is just designed to make things take longer, and help the studios make more money! There’s no doubt about it, if you’ve got the songs and you rehearse enough, you should be able to put the album down in a few days. We always used to—those first Ten Years After albums, two days and that was it! …but nowadays bands go to exotic locations in the West Indies, and it takes 6 months or longer! Oh yeah! Keyboard overdubs this year, guitars next year…Scotty Moore is one of my real heroes, and he did some great solos on the Elvis records but he doesn’t like all this overdubbing thing at all. He always went straight onto the master tape. I remember him saying to me `I don’t like those modern recording techniques—what I like to hear goes down, if it ain’t goin´ down, I don’t know what I’m doin´…´. If you’re really in control in the studio, then you can use the latest technology to the best results—whether it’s done in five minutes or whatever. I remember somebody asking if I wanted to play on a Bo Diddley album, and I thought `great!´. I went along to the studio and there was just an engineer who played the track and I played my solo. Later some friends said `What was it like to meet Bo Diddley then?´, but I never met him: I’d played on the album but never saw a soul! But I suppose that happens a lot now, you get bands recording who have never actually met each other!

What about a tour to promote `Detroit Diesel´?
It’s nearly sorted. I’ve got a few more three piece gigs in Austria and Yugoslavia, then I think it will be the four piece to play the stuff from the album. I want to do gigs in this country, but I’m so out of touch here I don’t know where to start to be honest! England tends to like fads and haircuts rather than music, and I’ve found that the music press are pretty trite and don’t really help anyone. I remember when Ten Years After first came out and we were doing the Marquee, people said `You’ve got to hear this great band!´ As soon as we had success, the same papers turned dead against us: they wrote about´ a bunch of big headed gits who play in America all the time´. They seem to enjoy putting you on a pedestal and then knocking you off! It’s a shame really, because I don’t think it reflects the audience’s view at all. It’s the view of a narrow minded minority—there’s always a strange faction here in England. I remember during the blues boom—because I was playing at that time—there were blues `purists´. If you did an Elmore James song and changed a note of the solo, they used to come up to you afterwards and tell you, you hadn’t played it `properly´. I used to really revolt against that, because you can play what you like as long as it sounded like a blues number. It’s funny you know, they all used to wear long leather jackets and stand around the front of the stage making notes! My musical style seems to have gone right around the houses, because I started out playing jazz and blues, then went into rock, then deeper into jazz and funk. I went off all the Ten Years After numbers—I even refused to play Goin´ Home for about a year! I’ve come back to it all now. I think it’s just a phase you go through, because a lot of artistes turn against the numbers they are famous for. I remember Hendrix used to dislike Hey Joe which used to baffle me, because I thought it was a great song, in fact, I do it in my set now and it goes down a bomb!

What happened to Ten Years After—was it just the natural demise of a band?
Well we were together for nearly eight years, which is a pretty good run! After about eleven albums I think we realised we had gone as far as we could. In fact, we overworked in those early years, because every band starting off wants to fill the date sheets—and we worked for six years solid: it was six months in the States, back here for a day off, over to Germany for two months, another day off, then Italy and so on… Suddenly you’re due in the studio for an album, so you think, `Better write some songs then!´. We used to write songs in the taxi on the way to the recording session! I think another reason for wrapping it up, was to settle down with our families.

So the last time you all played together was the Marquee Anniversary?
Yes that’s right, followed by the Reading Festival. It was great and I actually thought somebody would say it was good to see Ten Years After together again and suggest we do it again, but nobody seemed to notice, so I let it go.

You had quite a bit of chart success with your early singles…..
Yes, we were in the top five with `Love Like A Man´ and `Love To Change The World´ was pretty big as well. But that was almost a sideline, because they weren’t the strong numbers in the set. We had Goin´Home and Good Mornin´ Little Schoolgirl, they were the show stoppers at a live performance, but the singles were pulled off the album by the record company.

Talking about the early days, how did your musical career start?
Well, my father used to collect very ethnic blues records, like chain gang and work songs, so that was an early influence. Dad also played a bit on guitar, with my mother and sister, they had a country and western singing band—very small time, local church hall jobs! There was always a guitar lying around—we were a very musical family—but at the age of twelve I started playing the clarinet, although I’m never really sure why, because I didn’t like the thing! With the clarinet I started listening to Benny Goodman music, but I found I was hearing more from Charlie Christian than I was from Benny Goodman. To my parents´ horror, I swapped the clarinet for a guitar and spent a year learning jazz chords—vamping chords and listening to Barney Kessell and Django Reinhardt . Then the rock `n´ roll explosion hit England from America, and I think Chuck Berry was the one for me—in a way it was all the blues I was used to, melted into rock `n ´roll, so I could understand it. I started playing lead guitar and I didn’t think the jazz chords were much use at all but in fact they came in very useful later on. I never used to copy things note for note, but just get the basic feel, doing it my way, and I think that’s how my style developed. I was Nottingham born and bred and used to play in bands around that area—in fact, I played with my first band, Alan Upton and the Jailbreakers, when I was thirteen years old at the Sandiacre Palace Cinema! Then there was Vince Marshall and the Squarecaps. I used to play lead guitar with that, and I would watch `Oh Boy´ on the TV and see Joe Brown and Eddie Cochran. That was the first time I’d ever seen a Bigsby tremolo arm, so I went down to Dad’s shed to make one! I got this metal thing and stuck it on my guitar, went to the gig that night at the church hall. We were doing `Milk Cow Blues´. It got around to my big tremolo solo, I got hold of the arm, shook it and broke all six strings!!! Believe me there’s nothing more useless than a guitar with no strings—I just stood there and went `Argh´!. That first guitar was a Guyatone—Hank Marvin had one for a short while. Then I had a `Burns Tri Sonic´, which was an awful thing to play, but it had a good jazz sound on the front pickup. After that came a `Grimshaw´--the sort of poor man’s `Gibson´--which I traded for my first proper Gibson.

How were Ten Years After formed?
I was with a band called The Atomites. Leo (Lyons) was playing bass. He was the first bass player I met who was keen on Bill Black; in fact, Leo is one of the few players who can make an electric bass sound like a slap stand up. So I was Scotty Moore and he was Bill Black! We used to do `That’s Alright Momma´ and stuff like that. We changed the name from the Atomites to the JayMen, then to the JayCats and then the JayBirds! The JayBirds got to be quite well known in Nottingham in the early 60’s, and that basically was the Ten Years After line up that moved to London. But we still returned to do Saturday night gigs in Nottingham!

…so you more or less turned semi-pro?
Well yes, sort of. You see, I was just waiting to get out of school, because I was playing anyway and I was very lucky with my parents, because I was coming home from gigs at 1 am when I was only 14! I didn’t go into an ordinary job; I’ve been a full time musician since leaving school. At least it meant I could have a sleep-in in the mornings! My parents used to ask when I was going to get a proper job! The third time we went down to London, we got a job in the West End at The Prince Of Wales Theatre, so we were the band in the pub scene of `Saturday Night and Sunday Morning´. That was quite good, it meant regular money and enabled us to set up in London, but the play only ran for five weeks, so after that we ended up backing `The Ivy League on the cabaret circuit. The door really opened for us when John Mayall broke open the blues scene. We did a residency at the Marquee club when we were known as `The Bluesyard´, but we thought that name would tie us down too much to blues, so we changed it to Ten Years After. The Marquee gig led to the Windsor Festival and then the whole London club circuit.

We got a record deal by word of mouth really. The offer came through to our management for us to make an album—in fact, I think we were one of the first bands to make an album without making a single beforehand. At that time. The music was described as `underground´ and I quite liked that—the fact that you don’t have to dress up to go on stage was great! To be able to go on in `T´ shirt and jeans and tennis shoes—that was freedom! We used to wear these little leather things and try to look smart before, and I used to hate all that—although I was an Elvis fan, I would never have dared to wear a lame´ suit or anything like that!

How did your `superfast´ technique develop?
Basically it just came from the excitement of playing live—the adrenalin. I used to hear tapes of the band from the mixing desk after a show, and sometimes I couldn’t believe it was me playing! I really didn’t know I could play like that—Ten Years After was all about excitement and energy. I basically played guitar `from the hip´, an instinct or reaction if you like, because I’m not one for practicing, I’m a `jammer´. My attitude was to `go for it´, and on a good night I could get it. I sometimes didn’t know what I was doing and occasionally would mess it up, but I’d bluff my way through with conviction. It’s like the old story—if you play a horrible note, play it again and people will think you meant to do it! I think you improve when you make mistakes; if you play perfectly all the time, then you are playing too much within your boundaries, it’s time to push the boundaries and see how far you can get. All the work in a studio to do an album, that’s real work, but the fun part is going out on the road and playing live!

Talking of playing live, you did some `mega´gigs…
Woodstock was a particularly good memory for me. It needn’t have been, had it all gone to schedule, because we would have just flown in on the helicopter and then flown straight out again, but there was a thunderstorm just before we were due to go on stage, so we had about three hours to wait. I walked around the audience and around the lake, and really got into it all—fantastic! When the movie of Woodstock came out, about a year after the actual festival, Ten Years After really took off. It was our spot on the movie that accelerated the band up to the 20,000 seater gigs instead of the usual 5,000 seaters. There isn’t much satisfaction playing the big auditoriums though—you can’t hear anything, can’t see anything. You just see the security men, usually with cotton wool in their ears. That doesn’t really encourage you to play your best! To me, the Marquee is what gigs are all about; a thousand people crammed together with sweat dripping down the walls. It’s hot and the music is loud, and you can’t get away from it—that’s really what I like. The American clubs that I do are all like that. They’re slightly bigger than the Marquee, but it’s all back to the blues again and that’s how I cut my teeth.

Have you seen any artistes on your travels who have taken your attention…?
Well I like Mark Knopfler, his style is quite different and foreign to me, but I like that fingerpicking. That’s my hobby style really. I don’t think I could ever do it professionally. I think Gary Moore is probably the `hot boy´ right now, in fact, he came to a gig we did in Ireland on a school roof! I met him about a year ago and he told me he was in the audience in the playground. He was at that impressionable age—while I was watching Chuck Berry, Gary Moore was watching Alvin Lee! He’s a very fine and technical musician—he can play practically anything. It’s good to be a motivator you know. I sometimes hear someone playing my licks—the ones that have become a bit `trade-markish´--and that’s quite a nice buzz, makes you feel a bit like a teacher. And I think, as you get older, that is one of the best things you could possibly be, to pass on the things you know. Freddy King was one of my favourites—one of the original string benders! It’s a funny thing about string bending, because I started off like Charlie Christian with a 28 gauge wound third string—and there’s no bending them at all! And then I heard Freddy King and it was like a door being opened to me—all these new licks waiting. The same with Chuck Berry—playing solos on more than one note at a time—that was a breakthrough that kept me busy for about a year, exploring all the different combinations. The more you know, it kind of gets slower and slower—the less new things there are to pick up. The hammer-on with the right hand was probably the latest thing, but they’re getting fewer and farther between—I’m happy now to stumble across a new progression, maybe once a month or something.

But I notice on a couple of your guitars you have Kahler tremolo systems, and I don’t think we’ve ever seen you use one on stage.
That’s right. Actually I was a bit of purist before I got hung up on them, but I used one in the studio and I wanted to get the same effect live, so I put one on a stage guitar—just in case. But I’m a convert now—put Kahlers on everything, piano, saxophone drums…!!!

Have you done any session work with other artistes or friends?
Well, Gary Moore lives nearby and we’ve had a few jams—but nothing on tape yet. But it’s funny being, for want of a better word, a `legendary´ guitarist, I don’t get as much other work as I’d like. People tend to think ´Oh, he doesn’t need any work´ so they don’t ask me but, as a matter of fact, I’d love to do it. So I’m putting out a call in Guitarist Magazine—anyone who wants some session work, I’ll do it—and I won’t charge a fortune either!!!

And you have the advantage of owning your own studio…
I’ve been interested in studio technique since the very early days at Olympic—a sort of amateur engineer if you like; I really enjoy it. I get bands in here to do demos—and proper tracks as well, but I’m an amateur engineer because I’d hate for anyone to be relying on me. But occasionally, if I’m not under pressure, I can get really good sounds—but I can’t guarantee! I think having a background knowledge makes you a better recording musician, and it’s taken years because it is only recently that it’s all started coming together, logically. It’s always been a kind of mystery—and that’s what makes it so interesting. In the early studio days you used to go in to record, and they wouldn’t even let you hear it back! They would say `That was fine, now what else have you got…´ Having this place is great for experiments and ideas; you can just pick up your guitar, switch on and away you go—instead of losing ideas. Really, for a professional musician and a recording musician, it’s down to the songs and the creativity. Playing is fun and song writing is hard, actually creating music is hard. That’s where the work comes in and where the time is consumed. I’ve probably got about 500 hours of great jams on 16 track; I’ve had all sorts of great musicians down here, but we all play in E for half an hour or A for half an hour. It’s some of my favourite music, but you can’t do anything with it.

Do you try and escape from those common blue keys?
Well yeah, that’s the whole trick. It’s finding something that goes with E that isn’t A—but sounds as natural, that’s the hard thing. You have got to make it flowing and natural and not fall into the three chord trap. Basically I like 12 bar and I like three chords. The thing is to use four chords and that’s where the jazz and the funk got me out of that—an easy way out. I’m still trying to make basic rock `n´ roll sound like 12 bar with three chords—but not use those three chords! I’ve always found that, no matter what you do performance-wise in front of the general public, I’m always aware of what other musicians think. Sometimes there will be one guy in the front row and you can tell he’s a guitarist because his eyes are transfixed on your left hand! Suddenly I think I’d better watch it because this guy is watching me very closely—so I’d better come up with something good here…!

Presumably, when you do a gig nowadays, it’s obligatory to pull out some of the old favourites?
Well, I enjoy it. It’s always been obligatory and I revolted against it for a while. In fact, when I had the `In Flight´ album, I did a set that had no Ten Years After numbers in it at all—I thought I would have a change after 8 years of the same material, so I was playing funky and jazzy stuff with Mel Collins. But I remember going to see Jerry Lee Lewis in Birmingham and he did all country music—no Great Balls Of Fire or any of the well-known stuff and I was really upset. So, from that night on, I thought maybe people who came to see me would be disappointed if I didn’t do the favourites. From then on I’ve never had any reservations about playing them. I mean, if you’re making money, then you’ve got to give people what they like. It’s fine to be a musician but if the public are paying to see you they want entertaining, and you have to play what they want. Actually, that was quite a turn-around for me, because I was quite a reluctant entertainer for most of those Ten Years After years—I used to play a bit begrudgingly sometimes. I mean that happens; you get to the point where you walk on stage and everyone is cheering before you’ve even played a note. Some nights you would play pretty badly, in your own estimation, and nobody would seem to notice—other nights I would play really well and no one would seem to notice either! It’s a difficult pill to swallow: you begin to think `What am I really doing—just being a cardboard cut-out and going on stage to do these songs, like a juke-box´. I think that attitude comes from doing too much, because we used to work all the time and had hardly any time to write songs, so the set stayed pretty much the same for about five years! But I’m enjoying it now, because I’m not working to that intense level—I’ve actually enjoyed the last five years touring without an album—it’s been great. You don’t have all those interviews and all that circus thing to do, but the new album is out now so I think I’ve got to go out and work a bit more. But that’s good too, because you’ve got to stretch. I’ve actually found a lot more enjoyment in playing now that I’ve got back to the kind of gigs I like—and the kind of music. It’s just taken me this long to work it all out in my own head. I used to be out on the stage wondering what I was doing it for. Now I know what I’m doing it for, and that means a lot. When there are times that I get a bit rough on the road—and I love being on the road, but there are bound to be times when you think `What the hell am I doing this for?´ Really, you’ve got to be doing it for yourself because if you’re doing it for other people you start resenting it. If you’re doing it because your manager has made you, then you start not liking the manager, but I have a much more mature attitude nowadays. But getting back to the old numbers, they will all be in with the new set from the Detroit Diesel album—Goin`Home, Good Mornin´ Little Schoolgirl, and Help Me Baby. They are key numbers in the set, because you have to open with a strong number and then you can play a blues or back off a bit—Schoolgirl is always a lift to start things off. Love Like A Man is a very simple riff that goes down a bomb—I meet lots of people who tell me it’s the first thing they learnt to play on guitar. It’s easy to play, but when you play live it still works. I don’t know why it is, there is no secret in any particular combination of notes, it’s just certain notes together really click. I think you can get over-complex and play something that sounds good to us as musicians, but it goes right over the heads of the audience—it’s what pleases the ears that matters.

Well we are sitting here in your studio Alvin, and I see the room is full of guitars, so you are obviously something of a collector…
That’s right, and here is my famous 1958 Gibson 335 that I bought for £45 in Nottingham—best investment I ever made—even had a fitted case!

How did it come to be covered in so many stickers?
Well, they just got thrown on actually. But when I broke the neck at The Marquee, owing to the ceiling being so low, I sent it back to Gibson for repair and when it was returned, they had lacquered over all the stickers—so they couldn’t come off anyway!

You’ve done some work to the 335 yourself over the years…
Oh yes, I’m a keen dabbler! I’m always changing pickups and re-wiring. The Gibson has the original 1958 PAF humbuckers with the covers removed, and a Fender pickup in the middle to give a bit more top—it’s good for the studio—lots of cut and fizzytop. I used to buy Hofner and DeArmond pickups and mess about with those as well. The 335 is still my main guitar: I think it’s the size of the body—it fits me quite well. I love to play Strats but I prefer to play them sitting down for some reason. I enjoy Les Pauls, but they feel too small and heavy. I’m just used to the 335. I bought this old Strat from a girl in Texas, who took lessons for a week and then put the guitar in the attic, along with this lovely Fender tweed amp. The whole lot only cost 400 dollars; they didn’t seem to value old guitars so much then. The most I’ve ever paid is 1,400 dollars for this 1958 335, which was `lost´ at the Gibson factory and found later under a pile of old wood. It was cased, so it’s totally unmarked with the most beautiful blonde flamed top—just lost in the factory for twenty years! Dave Edmunds is after it actually… When we were touring the States, my guitar would be in the equipment truck, and I wanted one to play in the hotel room. So at the beginning of each tour, I would go into stores and try find interesting guitars—like this Gretsch Chet Atkins. It’s got a good acoustic sound as well, so I could play it in the hotel room without an amplifier—this was the days before Pignose amps!

When I got home to England, I would just hang them up and buy another one on the next tour and so on. I never really wanted or needed 40 or so guitars, it was just easier than taking them back once you had got an American guitar over to England. I’ve got about six 335’s, including a 12 string, and if I ever find a half decent red one, I’ll get it anyway and try and make it into a stage guitar. My original red 335 has done every gig with me, up until December of 1986, and then the Tokai company came along and measured everything to make an exact replica of it. To finish off I got Mark Willmott, who does my serious guitar work, to fit a Kahler and shave the neck a little. Tokai were going to put this model into production--`The Alvin Lee Model´ --but they have stopped the production of semi-solids at the moment, so it could be another rarity to hang on the wall.

Basically I’d like to get together with some company and get a model into production—I’ve never even had a spare stage guitar, I just take the one and change the strings before the set. If a string breaks, it’s a quick drum solo while I change it! I wanted a Fender six string bass, but ended up with this Rickenbacker which is quite rare and unusual. I’ve got a Wal bass which I like—I’m quite keen on playing bass now.

What about your onstage set up, what happens after the guitar?
Curly lead…!! I tried those radio transmitters once—for about an hour, until one of the crew came along and said `Where’s your lead? That’s not rock ´n´ roll´. I thought he was dead right, so I scrapped it. I had the radio, but I was still turning around and stepping over an imaginary lead anyway!! It didn’t sound the same as a lead though. You see my guitar is matched perfectly to this old 50 watt Marshall I’ve got; it’s ancient! In fact a guy came down here from Marshall –Mike his name was—and he said it was built before his time, he found a component in there he didn’t even know about! I don’t know about pre-amps and foot pedals. I think the answer is to get an amplifier input level that matches your guitar perfectly. I use the 50 watt Marshall full up—I mean people used to think we were loud because I used to use 10 Marshall cabinets one time—but I only had the one 50 watt amp. I liked the dispersion! I tried the 100 watt, but it was too `middley´ I prefer the 50, flat out—it’s great.

You’ve got a Roland guitar synth in the corner…
Yes, it’s a present from George Harrison. He got bored with it—and I got bored with it too. It’s fun. But it’s more of a toy unless you know particularly what you want to get out of it. Then I find you are not playing a guitar like a guitar—it’s easier to use a keyboard to get those sounds.

How did you manage in those early days when there was no such thing as light gauge strings?
Because of my early jazz leanings, I was quite late changing over. I just used a first string on the third or something like that to start with, but I’ve always liked heavy strings. The set I use now are 54, 44, 28, 15, 12, 9. I did a gig with Frank Zappa once and at the end we decided to have a little jam, so I, so I played bass and gave him my guitar—but he couldn’t play it! The action was up a bit and he likes it laying on the frets—one of the things I noticed about Gary Moore, he has a high action and heavy strings. I like a big heavy bass string to hit that with gusto.

What about the guitar you used for the Roger Chapman tracks?
It’s built by Mark Willmott, but we are still working on the shape—it’s not quite right just yet. Actually we need a name for it, so if any of your readers have a good idea let us know. It gives a great sound, and I used a Rockman for the tracks you heard—I think the Rockman covers most needs—clean and dirty. I’ve got some interesting little WEM Dominator amps—15 watt output with one 12´´ Celestion—sounds like a stack of Marshalls when you mike them up. For live work though, it’s the 335—curly lead and the Marshall—no effects!

We’ve got two gentlemen here in the studio who have been your assistants for how long?
Nineteen years! John Hembrow and Andy Jaworski. John is my tour manager and Andy is the sound man—they help they help with everything—guitars, amps, door hinges, car repairs! We’ve been all over the world together and we’re just off to Yugoslavia and Austria with the three piece, then hopefully when the album is released here, some UK dates. Who knows, we might link up in the Blue Bore Café one night on the way up to Newcastle! Just like the good old days… It’s funny, I don’t know where to play in England—like the Universities have probably never heard of me these days—same with the little clubs—it’s difficult.

Maybe it’s time to go out and educate the masses again—not Ten Years After but Twenty Years After?
Could be the case—yes!! I think that’s it in a nutshell. I’ve got to get out and about and be seen again—I can’t think of anything better to do anyway—it beats watching television, that’s for sure!

Article written by, Bob Hewitt  

 

     

 

 

 

 

 

Alvin Lee Tour Dates 1987

 

January 27, 1987 – At Luky’s Posthof in Linz, Austria

January 29, 1987 – At The Metropol in Vienna, Austria

February 2, 1987 – In Ljubljana, Slovenia

February 4, 1987 – In Belgrade, Serbia with Wishbone Ash

February 26, 1987 – In Bergerweeshuis, Deventer, Holland

February 27, 1987 – In Azotod Utrecht, Holland

February 28, 1987 – At The Paradiso in Amsterdam, Holland

March 1, 1987 – At T´Noorderlight in Tilburg, Holland

March 5, 1987 – At The Stein Bruch Theatre in Nieder Ramstadt, Germany

March 12, 1987 – At The Paradise Rock Club in Boston, Massachusetts

March 19, 1987 – At Hammer Jack’s in Baltimore, Maryland

March 20, 1987 – At L´Amour East in Queens, New York

March 21, 1987 – At The Satellite Lounge in Cooks Town, New Jersey

March 31, 1987 – At The Glass City Boardwalk

April 1, 1987 – At Alrosa Villa in Columbus, Ohio

April 9, 1987 – At The Brat Stop in Kenosha, Wisconsin

April 10, 1987 – At The Zivko Ballroom in Hartford, Wisconsin

April 18, 1987 – At The Westport Playhouse in St. Louis Missouri

May 2, 1987 – At The Stadfest in Vienna, Austria

May 5, 1987 – At The Stein-Bruch- Theatre in Nieder Ramstadt, Germany

May 6, 1987 – At The Druckhaus in Hanau – Steinheim, Germany   

May 7, 1987 – At The Music and Action in Esslingen, Germany

May 29, 1987 – At Great Woods in Mansfield, Massachusetts

May 30, 1987 – At The West Hartford Music Hall in West Hartford, Connecticut

June 12, 1987 – At The Meriwether Post Pavilion in Columbia, Maryland

June 13, 1987 – At The Boathouse in Norfolk, Virginia

 

Gary Herrington (Fan)  -  Alvin Lee Concert

I’ve always been an Alvin Lee fan.  I was fortunate enough to see him in concert once, and have always thought I would have another chance one of these days.  With Alvin’s passing that opportunity is gone.  The one time I saw Alvin Lee in concert was in Morgantown, West Virginia.  Well, actually it was a tiny community located on the other side of the river from Morgantown called Westover.  Westover had an open air pavilion, set into a hillside, that was curved, not very large, and the bottom rows were about stage elevation.  the seats were bench seats and the rows rose up at a very steep angle so you could easily see over the people in front of you and you were very close to the stage, even in the last row, even if off to the side. 

I have nothing from that concert except the memory.  But it remains, to this day, my favorite concert of all time.  It was a 3 act performance with Roger McGuin opening, then Alvin, and Steppenwolf closing.  Poor Steppenwolf.  No one should have to play after Alvin Lee.  He blew everyone away and, literally, stole the show. 

I see that this date is not listed under the tour dates for 1987.  But I see they also played in Pittsburgh, about 70 miles north, on June 19th of that year.  The Morgantown/Westover concert must have been around that time, I do recall it was a week day concert, not on the weekend.  So it makes me want to think it was probably a day or two before the 19th (maybe the 17th?).  Anyway, I thought I would bring this to your attention.  Perhaps you’ll have other ways to confirm the location and date.  But Alvin Lee was great that night.  A truly intimate setting.  I remember Roger McGuin coming out from behind the stage curtain (or perhaps it was just stage equipment, on the far left hand side of the stage (if looking into the crowd from the stage), in a spot where the center stage performers could not see him.  And he was obviously enjoying just watching the crowd get overwhelmed by Alvin Lee.  A great memory.

 

June 19, 1987 – At The Syria Masque Ballroom in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

June 23, 1987 – At The Massey Hall in Toronto, Canada

June 26, 1987 – At Club Casino in Hampton Beach, New Hampshire

June 27, 1987 – At The Springfield Symphony Hall in Springfield, Massachusetts

June 28, 1987 – At The Warwick Music Theatre in Warwick, Rhode Island

August 8, 1987 - At the old Expo Theatre in Vancouver, Canada

August 9, 1987 – At The Paramount Theatre in Seattle, Washington

August 12, 1987 – At The Concord Pavilion in Concord, California

August 21, 1987 – At Harpo’s in Detroit, Michigan

August 30, 1987 – At Toad’s Place in New Haven, Connecticut 

November 26, 1987 – In Vienna, Austria

 

 

 

 

From Ear of Newt Reviews – Alvin Lee in Vancouver, Canada 1987

At the old Expo Theatre on August 8, 1987. Headlining band is John Kay and Steppenwolf.

 

There are a lot of rock and roll superstars that today’s average rock fan never had the opportunity to see live, either due to drug overdoses (Jimi Hendrix / Tommy Bolin) car crashes (Marc Bolan), plane crashes (Ronnie Van Zandt / Randy Rhoads), or other tragedies.

Then there are those rock heroes that remain alive, but just fade into oblivion, either because their current material is not popular enough, or because they just don’t care. Fortunately for fans of classic British Blues – Rockers, Ten Years After, the heart of that band is still pumping and with the same fury it possessed fifteen years ago. That heart belongs to Alvin Lee, and last Saturday (August 8, 1987) at the Expo Theatre it instilled real life into a crowd of 2,500 fans. When Lee ran onstage, bellowed, “Are you ready to rock `n´ roll?” and then headed straight into “One of These Days,” it was like being transported back to Chilliwack Junior High School, where we used to spend hours in the parking lot, playing air guitar to 8-track editions of “A Space In Time” and “Ten Years After Recorded Live”.

Lee has not lost any of the dazzling speed that made him such a huge favourite back then, and on “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” he showed that he can still use a mike stand to play slide. While introducing his version of “Hey Joe,” Alvin noted that, “everybody gets the blues even on a sunny day. Then he went ahead and blew those blues away with a killer guitar solo, that he  played with a drum-stick. “I’m gonna bring out my old Woodstock guitar for this one, he announced, before using his trusty red, semi acoustic guitar with peace symbol sticker on it, as he knocked off “I’m Going Home” tossing bits of “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Whole Lotta Shakin´ Going On, and “Hound Dog”. For the encore, Lee played his trade-mark show closer, “Choo-Choo-Mama,” as well as a rowdy version of “Rip It Up”. He never got around to doing “I’d Love To Change The World,” but no one was complaining. There was nothing to beef about, except that Alvin Lee should have been the headliner, that honour went to John Kay and Steppenwolf, and though they also took minds back to the late 1960’s and 1970’s they didn’t do it with nearly the same authority (conviction) as Alvin did. Oh sure, people danced in their seats to tunes like, “Magic Carpet Ride,” “Born To Be Wild,” and “The Pusher,” but they do that every time the band hits town. For his part, John Kay did look good dressed all in black, with black guitar and shades (sun-glasses), strutting slow and cool the whole time.

The group’s choice of Argent’s “Hold Your Head Up” as an encore went over well with the crowd. However, the new material they previewed from their up-coming album, “Rock and Roll Rebels”, sounded pretty average, and not the least bit rebellious. I would much rather invest in a new copy of “A Space In Time”.

 

Review by Newt.

 

 

 

 

The following photos are courtesy of 

JACKY MOUTAILLIER / Photographer


 

 

 

Thank You Jacky for your permission to post these photos on our website

 

 

From 1987 Review - Ten Years After: “Original Recordings Volume 1”
 

The sleeve notes to Volume 1 of See For Miles ambitious two-part anthology of Ten Years After’s Deram recordings, recount Alvin Lee’s dogged perseverance with the Jaybirds throughout the Sixties, before a move to London and a name change finally reaped a just reward.

If you already own some of Ten Years After’s early albums there is the added incentive of both aides of their rare 1967 single. “Portable People” which is a Bo Diddley-ish shuffle with an echoey vocal chorus and some uncharacteristically delicate keyboard playing.

“The Sounds” takes a nod towards Cream for its inspiration, being a heavy psychedelic number with solemn backing moans, distorted guitar, sound effects, sudden ending and a reprise thrown in just for good measure.

The rest of the fifty minutes plus is taken up with a generous sampling of the first three Deram albums. The first is represented by five cuts, including a fine version of Willie Dixon’s “Help Me”. “Undead”, contributes “Spider In Your Web”, which also features organist Chick Churchill prominently, and the inevitable “I’m Going Home”, which sits uncomfortably at the start of the compilation. The three tracks from “Stonedhenge” see the band start to experiment in the studio, although “Hear Me Calling” is a straight forward heavy boogie and a prototype for Status Quo.

      Volume 2 is eagerly awaited and the set promises to be one of See For Miles most successful projects.

 

 

 

 



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