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May 1, 2013

Alvin Lee is coming home

Kevin E. Dayhoff

It has been almost two-months since British guitarist Alvin Lee, the legendary rock-blues master and lead singer of the band “Ten Years After,” passed away March 6.


His sudden death at age 68 was attributed to “unforeseen complications following a routine surgical procedure,” according to multiple media accounts.


Valerie J. Nelson reported in a Los Angeles Times article: “The guitarist was born Graham Alvin Lee on Dec. 9, 1944, in Nottingham, England. His father, Sam, was a builder who collected jazz and blues records, and his mother, Doris, was a hairdresser.


“At age 12, Alvin had a year of clarinet lessons behind him when American blues singer-guitarist Big Bill Broonzy came to the Lee house after a concert and held court…”


Lee’s passing joins a considerable list of people we have lost already in 2013, including country music legend, George Jones who died April 26. Richie Havens, who like Mr. Lee, also performed at Woodstock, died April 22.


Many Baby Boomers were saddened on April 8 when it was announced that “Annette Funicello, one of the best-known members of the original 1950s ‘Mickey Mouse Club’ died at age 70 on April 8,” according to CNN.


CNN also carried the news of the death of the lesser-known Australian rock singer, Chrissy Amphlett, of the early 1990s group, the Divinyls. She died on April 21 at 53.


For those of us who can actually remember events before the 1960s, the last surviving member of the Andrews Sisters, Patty Andrews, died on January 30. She was especially well-known for her work in the 1940s, with her sisters, Maxene and Laverne.


Although Mr. Lee was a household word among serious music aficionados not much has been written about his death.


He was not nearly as well-known as so many of his musical-colleagues from the ‘British Invasion’ years that many believe began with the appearance of The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show February 7, 1964.


The New York Times article agreed. “Mr. Lee was not as well-known as other emerging British guitar stars of the era, including Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, (and) Jeff Beck … But he was among the nimblest when it came to musicianship.


“On his Gibson ES-335, Mr. Lee could shift instantly from speedy single-string leads to rhythmic riffs while doing his best to sing like his American blues heroes. He grew up listening to his father’s Big Bill Broonzy and Lonnie Johnson records in Nottingham, England…”


In additional to The Beatles, for readers too young to remember Top 40 AM radio – or when you played vinyl records on turntables, other musical performers that were a part of the British invasion phenomena included, Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Moody Blues, Marianne Faithful, The Animals, and The Zombies.


Of course, to be perfectly technical about it, the British Invasion years are arguably considered to be 1964 – 1966. The first tour of the United States for the band, Ten Years After, did not take place until 1968. The band’s first, self-titled album, which first caught my attention, was not released until 1967.


Although I looked up the names and dates of the band’s early albums to be sure of accuracy, right after I first heard of Mr. Lee’s death I could still recall that the album, “Stonedhenge” was released by Ten Years After in 1969; “Undead,” a live album, was released August 10, 1968 – right before high school summer football practice began, and right before the 3rd portion of the Tet Offensive began in Vietnam, followed by “Ssssh,” in 1969, and “Cricklewood Green,” released April 17, 1970. I wonder if I still have those albums in the attic?


My favorites where the first album, Stonedhenge, Crickelwood Green and the album that may still be in my all-time top-ten list, “A Space in Time,” which featured one of the band’s few really-popularly accessible Top 40 tunes, “I’d Love to Change the World,” – which served as a sorta-kinda anthem for some of us who worked in the Civil Rights Movement in the south in the early 1970s.


For many it wasn’t until August 17, 1969, that the group began to burst onto the American musical scene after the bands historic 11-minute rendition of “I’m Going Home” was wedged in between performances by Country Joe and the Fish and right before The Band at Woodstock.


Dubbed the band’s ‘breakthrough American appearance’ by many media accounts, the set played by Ten Years After at Woodstock; “was featured in both the subsequent film and soundtrack album and catapulted them to star status,” according to tributes to Mr. Lee including this playlist on YouTube.


Although I must sheepishly admit that I do not remember the term – “A lot of the press coverage of Alvin Lee's death … centered on the catch phrase … about how (Mr. Lee) was once considered the “fastest guitar in the west,” according to an article by Glen Boyd in


Music magazine, Loudwire reported: “The career of Alvin Lee is incredibly distinguished, and as a result, rock and metal legends Geezer Butler, Bill Ward, (from Black Sabbath,) Slash, Joe Satriani, Glenn Hughes and others have paid tribute to Lee in a series of memorial statements…”


Perhaps if you were up late earlier in the week as this column was coming together, you heard “I’d Love to Change the World,” and “50,000 Miles Beneath My Brain,” from the Cricklewood Green album.


I have a sound system in my office that plays at decibels that register on the Richter Scale and you may be certain that I violated the local city noise ordinance…


. . . . . I’m just saying. . .


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