ALVIN LEE - Rockspective Interview












 John Platt Interview with Alvin Lee - Rockspective 1993  

JP: Alvin, anybody who has listened to any of your music for the last twenty five years or so would know that your roots are firmly in the blues, but how did a young boy growing up in late 1950’s England get to hear the blues?

 AL: My father used to collect blues, he was an avid fan of chain/prison work songs, chain-gang songs, that kind of thing and I grew up with that, it was always playing around the house. He was a fanatic, he used to listen to Big Bill Broonzy and Lonnie Johnson, more the delta blues and the Mississippi blues rather than the city blues and he had a very ethnic collection of stuff which is as I say, it just must of, sort of got into my brain at a very early age, and one day I remember very vividly I was twelve years old and he went to see Big Bill Broonzy playing in Nottingham in a club where I lived and he brought him back to the house and they went and woke me up so I could see this guy and I remember sitting on the floor looking up at this giant man stomping away playing the blues and I think that was probably what started it all off, like the next day I decided to become a blues player.

JP: Were your first influences the country blues players that your father liked?

 AL: Yeah, they were I suppose, it was a mixed thing, I had previously to that I had played the clarinet for a year and I didn’t like it, it was one of those things where they said  we want you to play an instrument what do you want to play and I don’t know why I said the clarinet but I played the clarinet and then through listening to Benny Goodman I heard Charlie Christian and I decided I liked what Charlie was doing much more than what Benny Goodman was doing, so I definately had a feeling for the guitar. It’s difficult to say, all those years ago but the guitar to me, I think it’s the Big Bill Broonzy thing that really clinched it, I just went and swapped my clarinet for a guitar in fact. 

JP: Perhaps you could give us an idea of the sort of thing that Bill was playing that influenced you?

 AL: Well Big Bill, he used to play his blues, he would keep the rhythm going and play with his fingers to give it a great effect (Alvin plays a song that sounds just like  Don’t Want You Woman on guitar which shows the Big Bill Broonzy style and the big influence he had on Alvin)

 JP: Well presumably in time you got to hear and appreciate the city blues players like I assume like BB King, Buddy Guy ect.

 AL: Yeah, well the next step for me to be honest was Chuck Berry when I heard Chuck Berry suddenly I was probably fourteen or fifteen years old and to me it sounded like the blues with more energy and the first I heard of Chuck Berry I think Sweet Little Rock’n Roller probably the first track or something like that, and it just got to me and I just loved the energy cause Chuck would play that kind of…Johnny B. Goode.  The truth is I was interested in the guitar in all its forms. I listen to classical Andre´s Segovia, I listen to flamingo stuff and Mel Travis the country guys it was all good guitar players I mean I was keen to dabble in all those things.

 JP: Well when you started playing in bands presumably the R & B and the Blues scene started to take over.

 AL: Yeah,Yeah well I used to, I mean the first bands I played with it was pretty much kind of, most of the gigs were pretty much top forty type you know and you had to play what was in the charts and in those days it was pretty grim it was like Frankie Lane and Pat Boone and stuff like that. We used to play clubs and maybe do three sets and the last set we’d go on at one O’clock in the morning and there’s a half a dozen people there and we’d play blues and like a couple of people would come up and say I really liked that ya know, and that was fun to me, that was more rewarding than the whole audience all jumping up and down to me playing some current pop song. 

 JP: Presumably by the time you came down to London in 1966 you were pretty much established as a blues player this was the impression we had of you at the time.

 AL: Yeah Yeah, that’s right but I did still like Rock and Roll and I used to play blues with more energy, in fact there was a lot of purist, it was quite funny these plot purist blues fanatics and they would come and they all would wear leather coats for some reason and all stand around almost taking notes as you were playing and watching very intently and they used to come back and say hey, you’ve played that Elmore James solo wrong and that really used to annoy me because I said I play what I feel I’m not copying somebody else and they’d  say I know but you played it wrong it doesn’t go like that and so I kicked against all that, so I use to purposly kind of make it a bit more crazy and add some energy and try to rock it up a bit, which is the basis of English Blues to me I mean it’s American music and I learned it from Americans and American blues artists added a bit of energy and kind of took it back, recycled it and took it back to America and they called it British Blues which I always thought was very strange.

 JP: Did you see yourself as part of the big blues explosion of the late 1960’s I mean there certainly was a movement but did you see your band as being part of that?

 AL: Not really, I think when your on the inside of a band that’s happening your kind of the last to know, you know, to me it was gig’s and the whole thing was trying to fill the date sheet and try to make enough money to eat really, we got more gigs and it seemed good but I didn’t feel that it was part of any explosion at the time I don’t know.

 JP: and what about America because you became phenomenonally successful in America quite quickly what do you think would account for that?

 AL: Well one of the reasons the second album Undead was released in America and Bill Graham heard it and he wrote us a telegram and he said he had this gig called the Fillmore West and he was shortly to be opening one called the Fillmore East and he’d like to book the band at both those gigs, so we suddenly thought ah we can go to America and I mean I was American mad you know any thing, I had American cars, American guitars and anything American I thought was cool and I just wanted to get there no matter what.

 JP: Alvin I think your first proper band was probably the Jaybirds, do you want to tell us something about them?   

 AL: The Jaybirds was a bit later, the first band was the Jailbreakers. I was thirteen years old and I did a gig, the first gig that I’d ever done, it was a cinema in Sandiacre and we played between the B movie and the main feature like a ten minute spot, and that was my first introduction to show business and the Jailbreakers did kind of R & B stuff and a couple of other little units but then the original, the start of the Jaybirds was the Jay Men which then became the Jaycats which then became the Jaybirds, so a lot of confusion over what to call ourselves at that time and the Jaybirds was going pretty strong for about four or five years and we were quite big in Nottingham and that made things difficult because we kept moving up to London and then working in Nottingham cause we were well known in Nottingham you know, so we thought we got to go break in London, so we ought to go down and get a flat and live in London and then have to travel to Nottingham every Friday to do the gigs because we got better money there and we did that three times, moved to London three times, third time stayed there.

 JP: What sort of stuff were you playing then with the Jaybirds?

 AL: It was rock’n roll basically R & B, a bit of blues, we did some Chuck Berry tunes that kind of thing with the R & B leanings that was the forerunner of Ten Years After.

 JP: So how did you effect your first big break then you said you’d come down to London three times and the last time you stayed? 

 AL: Yeah, OK, well it all started around 1966 we started to get good work in the clubs in London, we got a residency at the Marquee Friday nights now that was a big deal in those days because that was the hot night Friday night and we were there every week and there were places called Bluesville, Madhouse, pubs cricketers arms but they were all pretty good blues clubs ya know, and so we had a circuit we were working four or five nights a week in London on the club circuit  and started to get a name for ourselves as a live band….and Deram records is a part of Decca, actually it’s a funny story because we’d done an audition for Decca records and there was a producer there, he gave us this song to play and we went off and worked it out and came back and played it, and then sombody came down  to the Marquee and said we want to give you an album deal you know to record an LP which was very unusual in those days cause you had to record a single and if that was a hit they’d let you record an album, and we were I think one of the first bands to actually start with an album which I thought was pretty cool, so we actually went into the studio and started to record this album and then we got a letter from Decca who signed us up saying we failed the audition so I don’t know it was a good clue as to how the music industry is, the one arm didn’t know what the other was doing, we were signed on and turned down shortly after by the same company.

 AL: We did the Ten Years After album first which is pretty easy to do because it’s your live set you’ve got your repertoire of your live set and the numbers you know which work  and you just basically go in and play them and that’s pretty good, I think it’s by the time you get to your third album it’s a bit of a struggle cause then you run out of the songs you used live and you have to start thinking of new ones that’s always the crunch.  It’s funny I remember, I don’t know why it was we used to play clubs and I remember one particular time this is the manager of the club came up and we played the first hour and then we  had two more sets to do and he came up and said I’m afraid we’ve had lots of complaints, the audience can’t dance to you and we don’t want you to play anymore, and for some strange reason I had so much teenage confidence that I thought well they’re all wrong and I’m right  and it’s funny cause it seemed that way ya know and later on when the blues boom happened and suddenly that music was accepted I thought oh, it’s about time now it’s going my way. 

 JP:  I seem to remember that you also used to play on what was known at the time as the underground circuit you did Middle Earth and places like that, I mean did you, the reason I ask I wondered whether in fact you liked the fact they were having bills of bands who played in totally different styles?

 AL: Yeah I loved that, yeah it thought it was great, I used to love those things you used to get, to play a four piece string quartet and then a rock and roll band and then a poet and I used to think it was great, it was all very arty and I loved the underground, I loved being  part of it, cause it was a very exciting period, it was the period when the whole music thing changed now up until then the bands had to wear suits and ties and smile while they sang and ya, know it was all pretty much a bull-shitty kind of thing, and the underground was the first time ya know, you go on in your street clothes you could play with your eyes closed, just play what you wanted, incredibly long guitar solos it was all accepted and to me it was freedom, freedom from the showbiz kind of thing which I never really wanted to be part of, but to me it was natural you know what I mean, it was like you didn’t have to wear a larmay suit or anything just go on with a tee-shirt and jeans and play and that was great, it was truthful and it was free.

JP: What about Woodstock?    

 AL: I was there ya know, a lot of people come up and say, ya know I was at Woodstock and I’d say so was I, yeah Woodstock was great, it was an amazing event but then again nobody knew history was being made at the time, I knew it was going to be a bit different when they told us that we couldn’t drive to the gig and we had get a helicopter that was amazing…and it was an open sided helicopter so I put on the old harness and I leaning, hanging out of the helicopter over a half a million people and there was a strong smell of marijuana coming up and it was an amazing start to the day, and actual memories ya know, it’s all very blurred purple haze.

 JP:  I was thinking also in terms not just of the gig itself but the film which must have taken your music to an enormous number of people.

 AL: Yeah, it was the film that in fact made the difference. We did the festival and then we were playing like two to three thousand seater Kenettic Playground type of gigs, Fillmore type of gigs those things, we did Woodstock, it was an amazing event, I personally had a good time there but thought nothing of it and then we carried on for a year playing two and three thousand seaters then the movie came out and that’s when it all got silly and soon we were playing ice hocky arenas and that kind of thing which actually I didn’t find all that good, I didn’t like playing those places, we were playing to security guards with cotton wool in their ear and a big orchestra pit with barriers and ya know it seemed to me that no one was listening. I perfer the underground phase ya know, like the Fillmore type gigs they were more clubby and I prefer a clubby vibe you can, sweat dripping down the walls and the sound pounding on the walls and that’s some of the best gigs that I’ve ever done. 

 JP: Alvin you said that the whole move to stadium rock was one of the reasons that you decided ultimately to break the band up.

 AL: Yeah it was the whole band got disenchanted, it was that feeling of what are we doing here, no one is listening, ya know a lot of people say Woodstock made Ten Years After but in fact it was the beginning of the end when the movie came out there was a lot of disenchantment, I didn’t like being a rock and roll star in inverted corners, I thought of myself as a musician. I was very naive in those days ya know, I thought I’ve already made much more money than I should do anyway and that wasn’t kind of part of the plan and I tried to hold it all back in fact I did what I called deescalated the whole thing and stopped doing all the interviews and all that and didn’t really want to play that game at all which seemed to even  make it  worse, then they thought I was Greta Garbo. No, it’s funny the success that everybody thought it really must be great when you made it but that wasn’t that good at all, I prefer the earlier parts.


 JP: But you still kept on going to the states I believe you did something like twenty eight tours in five years or something which is a phenomenal  amount of work to get through.

  AL: Yeah well the band was over toured, I remember complaining about that because we would do like a thirteen week tour of America, come back to London, have two days off and then start on a ten week tour of Europe, and then some bright spot would call me up on the telephone and say your in the studio next week we hope you’ve got the songs ready, and I was writing songs in the taxi on the way to the session and things like that and I was just getting too much pressure and I needed time off, and there was an album called A Space in Time which was a dedication to that time off that I managed to dig my heals into the ground and say that’s it, I’m not working, I want to write songs, I want to be a musician, but they kept saying but Alvin you can make millions of dollars, there was a demand for the music but I didn’t feel that I was living up to it. I didn’t feel I was getting enough creative time to supply good music, cause you had to rush it all and I was over toured. It’s funny because when you start a band off you just want to fill your date sheet up that’s your ambition to work six nights a week, when that happens you go four five or six years maybe just doing that and being glad of it but suddenly or sooner or later you think where are we going from here, I used to say we’re turning into a travelling juke-box, it sometimes used to feel that way ya know, you’d arrive at a gig, then plug in and play and take it out and off to the next town same thing, and you do that like fifty or sixty times in a row and you start to loose the spontaneity.


JP: So was your first solo album which I think was the one with Mylon Le Fèvre a deliberate attempt to get away from the old band sound?

 AL:  Yeah,Yeah it was it more of a country kind of feel more of a melodic kind of thing, more tunes and less and it wasn’t rock and roll, I mean I was getting away from that rock and roll kind of tag of course, I was probably a bit too aware at the time of criticism and press people who use to call me Captian Speed Fingers and All Haste and No Taste and things like that, yeah I was turning against the whole rock and roll thing for awhile, in fact there was a period where I didn’t play any rock and roll just to get away from that image---it was a personal problem, I had it all wrong to be honest, ya know I say I was very naive, but I was trying to keep my credibility and that has always been the important thing to me, I think if you loose that then your in trouble and if I started to feel that I was a rip off and I wasn’t being truthful to myself then I couldn’t really play thinking that you have to have your own credibility to continue it’s very important.  In fact there was a band, I did an album called In Flight and it was called Alvin Lee and Company. It was an eight piece band, a percussion player, two girl singers, Mel Collins on sax, and it was quite a funky little outfit actually and I enjoyed playing that and I got totally away from rock and roll and I didn’t do all the classic songs, I didn’t do any Ten Years After songs and that was the rebel again ya see, it’s a funny thing how you turn against what makes you famous, I know Jimi Hendrix he hated to play Hey Joe which I thought is a great number I still play Hey Joe he hated it because it was so popular and I for awhile I felt like that about I’m Going Home, it’s like it’s the only thing we played everyone would shout I’m Going Home all the way through the set it gets kind of annoying, so I did this whole set played for about a year never played any of those tunes but one day I went to see Jerry Lee Lewis, he was playing in Birmmingham England. I’ve always been a big fan of Jerry Lee and he was playing Country and Western, he was going through a funny phase and he didn’t  play Whole Lotta Shake’n and Great Balls of Fire and I came out of that gig greatly disappointed and realized that if people came to see me and I didn’t play I’m Going Home or Love Like A Man they’d feel the exact way that I felt and I didn’t want my audience to feeling like that when they left the gig, so the very next day I went back to the band and said I’m doing I’m Going Home tonight and played it and it felt great, it was like finding an old friend after a few years ya know. 

JP: Alvin now you’ve got a great new album out,

AL: Thank You Very Much,

JP: and to me despite the fact that it still has the blues feeling you know, the rock and roll feeling, it sounds pretty modern to me particulary on a track like “Real Life Blues” tell me something about the track and how it came about.

 AL: Real Life Blues ok, well it’s a real life feeling I was working in the studio until about two in the morning and I decided I needed a little break just to lighten my head a bit so I went in the house and switched on the TV and just caught the war breaking out in Yugoslavia, a highjacking and several murders and I thought and it really effected, I was trying to be creative and it I thought so much trouble in the world it’s time we had some better news maybe a song in there so I wrote the song basically on that feeling came back into the studio. It was a bring down to me and I was angry and the song is kind of a mellow chord, I didn’t play any lead at first I had the song, and then I did a lead guitar it was really angry, I was angry at the world ya know and so much trouble in the world, I was doing all this really manic guitar.

 I then called up George Harrison, he’s always been a mate of mine and he’s played on a lot of my albums and I’ve played on his and I said  any chance that you come play a bit of slide on this tune, it needs a bit of slide and he said I’ll be right over and he came over and he played. 

I took my guitar out of the mix ok so he just had the basic chord feel of it and he played this beauitful sympathetic slide guitar that was so wonderful and it turned the whole song around for me cause instead of so much trouble in the world it was like so much trouble in the world and he did the guitar fills and the first solo and I was going to play the second solo so I checked out what I was playing by the end of the track it was crazyness ya know, it didn’t fit at all so I had to rethink the whole end of the solo and make it more kind of mellow and sympathetic and that’s what he did to it, he took the angry bit out of it and he turned it around and made it much more interesting for me, it’s nice when that happens. 


JP: There’s a real variety of songs on the album everything from R & B Rock and Roll and a certain amount of  blues, something like Jenny Jenny which is superficially sounds like a Chuck Berry riff  but there’s all kinds of 1950’s things going on in there as well.

 AL: Yeah that’s right, I was very happy with that, that was one of the songs it took me about ten minutes to write that one, in fact I was working with my song writing collegue Steve Gould and we’d been working all day on this song and getting nowhere and I said to hell with this, let’s play some rock and roll and we wrote Jenny Jenny in ten minutes and I was very happy with it because to me it sounds like it was a song  that should have been written in 1958 and escaped that’s basically it  and to me I thought it was Jerry Lee Lewis cause the guitar is Chuck Berry (the guitar fills are Chuck Berry) but the rhythm is Jerry Lee Lewis.


JP: To some listeners who maybe haven’t heard your music in some time there is a superficial difference between I’m Going Home and the stuff on the new album, but do you really see it as that different? 

 AL: I don’t, I see Jenny Jenny and Going Home to me are very very  similar, it’s just cooking rock and roll twelve bars they have different flavors but to me it’s all the same roots that’s rock and roll it’s Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Chuck Berry and what you can do with that whole feeling.


JP: How do you think—I mean people still regard you as a guitar player as well as everything else and very much a solo guitar player, I mean do you think your solo playing has changed much over the years?

 AL: Some ya some, I’d like to think its got better I’ve got more control I think now,  I’m probably appreciating spaces more I think sometimes if you—a gap between the notes is sometimes more important then putting notes in, ya know it’s like light and shade and everything else. 


JP: In thirty, forty, fifty, sixty or whatever how many years time it is and that great bluesman in the sky calls you to play that last lick how would you like to be remembered? 

 AL: I’d like to be remembered as a musician rather than—I’ve always tried to be a musician rather than a pop star, I hate anything to do with pop music and I don’t really like show business as I’ve said my heros are people like John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker is over eighty now and still playing and I think that’s great, if I ever make it to eighty I hope I’m still playing too, in fact I’m sure I will be because I don’t want to stop now, and it’s too late for me to get a proper job.     



Alvin talks about his new release called ZOOM:   


Q:  Alvin how did you come up with Zoom for the album title?

AL: Well Zoom seemed to get the best reaction from people.


Q:  Can you tell us about the songs on this record?

AL: The songs have been written over the past two years or so, I write songs all the time, it’s my hobby and my trade as well. It’s a pretty good collection of songs and I’m really happy with “Real Life Blues” “Jenny Jenny” and “Remember Me” (when I’m dead and gone) which is actually about my own epitaph. I’m looking forward to people hearing “Jenny Jenny” it’s like a fifties rock and roll song that sounds like it sould have been written over twenty years ago, and Clarence Clemons (from Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band) is on it too.  I was thinking yesterday that my favorite song was “Use That Power” which to me has a double meaning. It’s all about ecology, protecting the environment and about being pissed off about dumping all that shit into our environment, so Use That Power is a warning cry to stop it now. It also means Use That Power as in use your power and change things back to the way it ought to be, and use all your power. 

Q: Alvin, are all the compositions on Zoom your originals?

AL: Yes, although I co-wrote some of them with a man named Robbie Sideman who is an American living in LA, he came over to England and we wrote “Anything For You” as a middle of the road song on this collection, but it’s still in the good old rock and roll style. It’s a good jamming blues song and Jon Lord (from Deep Purple) plays the Hammond organ and Clarence is on sax.


Q:  Describe if you would the style of music that you consider Zoom to be under.

AL: It’s a blues-based-rock and roll thing I suppose, if you needed to pigeon hole the thing, it’s basically blues, with the roots of rock and roll with some progressive leanings. I’ve always thought of myself as a progressive musician, I did my gig when I was around thirteen or so in Hamburg,Germany and it was the first time I was ever out of England.


Q:  Who have been your most important influences in music?

AL:   Well to begin with I was brought up listening to all kinds of blues, as my father had a huge collection of blues records and I moved towards the most ethnic kind of blues, people such as Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker and Lonnie Johnson were the original artists that I picked up on. 


As I was growing up, Big Bill came to visit my house, my parents went to one of his shows in Nottingham and brought him home with them. I think I was twelve at the time and the whole thing had a big impact on me. Bill sat in our living room and played his guitar, after that I discovered Chuck Berry, rock and roll, Jerry Lee Lewis and all the rest of them. I still listen to Jazz guitar, Wes Montgomery, Barney Kessel  and George Benson, it’s thanks to my parents that I was exposed to quite a lot of different music and I feel the thirties swing stuff had a big influence on the history of rock and roll as we know it today. 


Q:  When did you decide to take these influences and venture out on your own? 

AL:  I think in 1962, was the start, as there was a blues boom headed by John Mayall and suddenly the blues became the “IN thing”.  I always loved to play the blues before it became popular but before it was accepted. We used to get tossed out of clubs because people complained that they couldn’t dance to our music, so I went back to basic rock and roll. When the blues boom came I already knew all of the great songs because I’d been exposed to them all my life, so suddenly I found myself back in the blues. It all goes in cycles, I went through years where I’m very blues based, then I move to rock and roll then into a psychedelic period and then onto progressive, and then back into the blues, and around it goes. My first time in America back in 1967 I was amazed to discover that most Americans didn’t know who Big Bill Broonzy or Lonnie Johnson were. After all this is your music your heritage all we did was copy it, so in fact I was playing American music with some English energy added to it and then recycling it and sending it back to America, I’ve always been a fan of American music.


Q:  Alvin, how did you get George Harrison, Jon Lord and Clarence Clemons to help you on Zoom? 

AL:  Well, I’ve known George since 1973 when Mylon LeFevre and I were working on the On the Road to Freedom recording which for me was a positive step away from rock and roll. George wrote a song on that album called “So Sad (no love of his own) and ever since that time he likes to come over with a guitar in hand and a bottleneck, he plays a very good slide guitar by the way. Jon Lord I’ve known since the 1960’s, he’s played on some of my albums and I’ve played on his. George, Jon and I all live very close to each other in the part of England called The Thames Valley.   Clarence I met on the Peter Maffay tour recently in Germany and Clarence and I get along just great, we shared a dressing room, sat around and just jammed, Clarence said I’ll be on your album if you’ll do the same for me. Clarence is great I love him and he’s certainly a “larger than life human being”.


Q:  Alvin,who else do you have in your band right now?

AL:  Alan Young is with us as drummer and has been for the last three years and as his name implies he’s the young-blood in the band. Our bass player on live gigs is Steve Gould and he and I wrote Jenny Jenny together. On this album though I used Steve Grant. We all have a good relationship and we’re going to keep working on it. 


Q:  Alvin, what do you think of the new generation of blues guitar artist coming along now, like Gary Moore for instance?

AL:  Yeah well, I think it’s great and I know Gary pretty well, he was very surprised that his album did so well, because the record company made it very clear that they didn’t want blues they wanted heavy metal. Gary had gotten away from his heavy metal image and now all the record labels want the blues. Gary plays city blues and not the country blues, which is in the more acoustic style, like the Mississippi Delta Blues. There are so many forms and variations of the blues that hopefully this craze will embrace all of them. 


Q:  Do you think Gary may be using some of the work that you yourself pioneered as a member of Ten Years After?

AL:  Yes, well I might have pioneered something with Ten Years After, just as BB King did it before me. It’s just influences and Gary told me that I was his biggest influence after seeing a Ten Years After gig. He never forgot it because he fell off his motorbike on his way home from the concert. It’s good to be an influence like that, I’ve met a lot of guitarists on the road who want to play my guitar, they show me their version of the intro to “I’m Going Home” and they play it exactly the same way that I did, note for note, even I don’t do that, I change it a little bit, so I say to them that’s very good now go off and learn your own licks.                                                                                      Bruce                                                                                                             

Q:  Would I be close in saying that Zoom highlights each part of your music career? 

AL: All the styles that I play, blues, rock and roll progressive or even psychedelic are all in evidence on this record, it sounds like me but it also pays tribute to the roots too. 


Q:  Then are you happy with the overall results on Zoom?

AL:  Yes I’m happy as a sandman, I just heard it last night for the first time and it sounded great, it’s the first time because for the last three months I’ve been working on it everyday and I think it’s my favorite album so far. 



Gibson Musical Instruments decided to open their United Kingdom office with a party to launch the opening of a U.K. office, plus the debut addition of a limited run of a “Scotty Moore” signature issue guitar. The publicist for the event had used many resources in which to invite every guitarist in Europe to attend this spectacular event. The invitation also included a rare chance to perform with Scotty himself.

After a very long day of press and travelling around London, we finally arrived at "Air Studios”  and were promptly rushed on for more camera shots and a sound check. The same band was there who had joined us on the spring U.K. tour.

Scotty and D.J. Fontana were on stage for rehearsal, while the publicist introduced us to some guest who would meet Scotty later on, and perform an informal jam. While over in the corner of the studio stood Jack Bruce, Alvin Lee and Gary Moore. I already knew Alvin from our visit with George Harrison and Jack was invited through the Rolling Stones London office.

Gary Moore was the real surprise guest here, he’s one of the best white blues guitarist in the world these days. Upon meeting him, he was very humble and said he would play on anything Scotty would have him. Gary played an amazing solo on “One Night With You” and “Hound Dog” with Jack Bruce playing bass and doing the vocals.

A roomful of hero’s from the 1960’s and 1970’s. Gary told a wonderful story recounting his very first guitar, which was a small plastic Elvis model that his parents had bought for him in a Belfast, Ireland five and dime store. I could tell that Gary loved music and playing the guitar more than anything else in his life, because it was his life.

Alvin Lee, Gary Moore, Jack Bruce


Jimmy Page said of Alvin Lee, “he’s just great” said the most unimpressionable Jimmy, as his eyes were spellbound from watching Lee’s fingers!

When someone asked Alvin about being the fastest guitarist in the world his firm reply was:  "I don't think so, no way. There are plenty of guitarists faster than me. 

Django Reinhardt was faster than me and he only had two working fingers. It's a silly title anyway. I never was, I never will be and who's counting anyway?"Alvin Lee in 1984








From 1993 

Mark Paytress Remembers The Days When Decca Was The Nerve Centre Of British Pop: 

As Years Go By, the 1960’s revolution at British Decca.

David Wedgbury and JohnTracy


They gave away the Beatles, and even let eager young starlets like David Bowie, Marc Bolan, Joe Cocker, David Essex, Olivia Newton John and Rod Stewart through their grasp. But to every Rolling Stones fan, Decca remains the quintessential 1960’s label.

You knew its offices were crammed with stuffed-shirt executives who had their hands forced into doing business with acne-riddled suburban lads on the make; but that didn’t matter. It was obvious that Tom Jones and Engelbert Humperdink were its golden boys, but the urgency and glamour of the Stones, Marianne Faithfull and their confrontational manager Andrew Oldham provided Decca with a large helping of  1960’s (Zeitgeist) that no amount of myth, destruction can shake off.

Then one morning the 1960’s were over, and so too were Decca’s glory days: the Rolling Stones had quit, Tom Jones packed his bags for Las Vegas, the label invested unwisely in progressive rock, and the emerging glam rock craze was missed completely.

All Decca had left was a past, which it began to recycle rather shamefully during the 1970’s.

Thus annoying the Stones to such an extent that the band had placed full-page ad’s  requesting consumers not to buy the label’s repackages. This rapid fall from grace – which eventually led to a takeover by Polygram Records, in the early 1980’s wasn’t good news for it’s shareholders; but it did reinforce the notion that the company was as inextricably entwined with the 1960’s as “Twiggy” and “I’m Backing Britain” campaigns. 

Nostalgia for that decade, which has continued apace since around 1980, has ensured  that via the subsidiary Deram imprint, the back-catalogue has been polished up for the contemporary CD consumption. This has largely been through the efforts of John Tracy, who is a gentle giant of a man whose knowledge and attention  to detail has resulted  in a remarkably well-conceived stream of archive reissues. Bonus Tracks, enriching  sleeve notes, and fine sound, not to mention the “Special Price”  stickers, has ensured that the Decca catalogue remains a highly attractive proposition.

And now, to confirm the label’s prime position at the expense of 1960’s pop culture comes the latest project, a book CD tie-in titled, not unexpectedly, “As Years Go By”. The music provides an interesting résumé of Decca’s hits (Billy Fury, The Small Faces) and misses  (Marc Bolin and David Bowie), while the accompanying book (published by Pavilion Press) brings the era alive        in gloomy, monochromatic glory, via the distinguished photography of Decca staffer David Wedgbury.

Wedgbury spent the entire decade at Decca, shooting hundreds of record sleeves, publicty photos and advertising material. And his magnificent pictures have a vaguely classical quality about them, artfully composed, but rarely ostentatious. “Being the staff photographer, you ended up doing everything that was wanted,” he recalls, “including going round the dining-table photographing Mick Jagger Jagger eating with Sir Edward Lewis, and catching them signing the contract afterwards. Actually, I didn’t really enjoy that kind of social photography very much at all”.

What Wedgbury revelled in was welcoming artists into Decca’s design studio at Black Prince Road, Lambeth, and spending a couple of hours with them on a shoot. Despite being an in-house photographer, he maintains that he had a free hand, and was keen to put his considerable training to good use. “I pursed a very poised, serious approach to photography. I really wanted to get away from the cheesy, Clif Richard – type shots, holding a guitar and smiling for the camera, and treat the whole thing in a much more profound way”.

Inevitably, minor servings of “Cheese” find their way into anyone’s portfolio – witness the toffee-apple-chewing Applejacks outside a confectionist’s or a decidedly bland (and youthful) Olivia Newton John at the outset of her career. But with the right subject, Wedgbury’s acute ability to capture an artists essence comes into its own.

One of the most dramatic pictures captures a quietly confident Marianne Faithfull, at the outset of her career, when she still played the knowing virgin. “She was very intense when she posed for the camera, “recalls the photographer, who took the session at the singer’s new London flat. “She gave the impression that she was trying to seduce you, pull you through the camera lens. She basically struck those poses herself; she was very much a natural, very easy to photograph”.

On the other hand, a real trickier subject was Roy Orbison, who looked very strange without his dark sunglasses and provided numerous “Glare” problems when he wore them. “That was taken in a corridor at Television Centre on the way to the set of “Top Of The Pops” “says Wedgbury. “I was particularly struck with the personalised guitar strap and thought I’d make something of that”. The results provide a fine variant of the smiling – with guitar pose.

Not every subject he worked with had a natural charisma, though, and a quick glance through “As Years Go By” provides an amusing resume of many of Decca’s less than alluring investments. Collectable recording artists the Beat-Stalkers may be, but their line in flared tartan strides and demeanour that brings new meaning to the word clueless will ensure them a place in rock ´n´ rolls vast amusement arcade. Likewise the band called “Timebox”, a mostly quintet who, judging by the photo here, certainly put the freak into freak-beat. Whatever happened to the guy who struck the near-perfect “I Am Not Here” Warhol Pose?

Wedgbury identifies three categories of subject during his years as a pop photographer: those who could be photographed with little prompting; those who required considerable manipulation; and those who, whatever you did, were entirely useless. The photographer remembers two young mid 1960’s would be stars, Marc Bolin and David Bowie falling into the first category. Every frame of every film I took of them was printable and useable”.

He insists. Wedgbury took both to outdoor locations: “I strolled around the Inns Of Court with David Bowie,” he recalls. “It was autumn and the leaves were falling. There was quite an interesting light , it was a bright autumn day, and he did everything I wanted him to do. But to be honest, I can’t remember much in terms of conversation.

“The Bolan session was done in Holborn. I bought him lunch afterwards, and while he was eating, he really opened up. He had it all sussed, he was really going to be big and make a lot of money”. But did it sound convincing? “No, he was just a teenager and I was already in my early 20’s. I dismissed him as a young kid”.

  Decca may have had little success with the likes of Bowie and Bolan: but the fact that so many future stars were at one time linked to the label confirms its status at the heart of the 1960’s pop culture, if not its artistic development skills. And that’s what the book’s subtitle,

“The 1960’s Revolution At British Decca” reflects, rather than any counter-culture demand for the impossible. Though, somewhat incongruously, the label did have the era’s leading mischief-makers – The Rolling Stones – under its wing. The Rolling Stones, under the tutelage of Andrew Oldham, were at loggerheads with their pay-masters for much of their seven years at Decca. They determined where they’d record, and broke with the mould by recruiting their own photographers for their record sleeves. Nevertheless, Wedgbury photographed them throughout the decade, for press shots like the “Beggars Banquet” party and for their Christmas cards. And, he says, they were truculent from the start: “For the very first session, I had the band booked into the studio. Two of them, Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman turned up on time. Mick Jagger telephoned twenty minutes later to say that he wouldn’t be able to make it, and the other two didn’t even turn up at all. That really set the tone. “I can remember several occasions  when the Stones came to lunch with Sir Edward Lewis – (Decca’s bigger than life chairman). One time, they arrived in a wide assortment of clothing, and Mick Jagger wore a French-style, horizontally striped T-shirt that was loose on the shoulder. Sir Edward and the suits were horrified. The Stones had this belligerent attitude and treated everybody in a fairly disdainful way. That’s what really set them apart”. 

The Rolling Stones, revolutionary gestures were a far cry from the reality of the Decca set-up, though. “Sir Edward Lewis was an accountant who made his pile of money before the war”. Remembers Wedgbury, “and the Albert Embankment head office was run in a very disciplined way, rather like a spoof of the Civil Service. He had a lift for personal use, and there was a whole series of dinning arrangements, the chairman’s dinning- room was complete with heavy wood and silver service, the executives dinning-room , and the workers dining-room where you could queue up at the counter or pay an extra 6d and have waitress service”.

Despite the “Stones” towering presence at Decca, the group that best captured the mood of the decade, according to Wedgbury, was The Who. “They had a tremendous presence, they were innovative in that they into Union Jacks and visually exciting clothing, and they were

co-operative!” “The band only had a short spell with Decca – (via its Brunswick subsidiary),

but after one particularly successful session, their manager Kit Lambert employed the photographer on a freelance basis. “I used to arrive at their Sloane Square office, and from there, we’d travel in a black limousine to their concerts. It was the time when they were smashing their instruments and the idea was that I’d go out with them and publicise that activity. I worked with them right up to the “My Generation” album cover, which we shot in Docklands. When I hear “My Generation” even now, it still makes the hairs rise on my neck”.


Thanks to: David Wedgbury, John Tracy and Hannah Griffiths at Pavilion.