Alvin Lee Founder & Guitarist of Ten Years After Passes
I remember watching The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson around 1969. I think it was Steve Lawrence, or another of those loungey Vegas entertainers Carson loved back then, was on the show talking about hanging out with this group Ten Years After. He was shocked how this nice looking kid with perfectly coiffed flowing blonde hair would open up his mouth and sing like a growling Mississippi bluesman. He said they sat in the hotel room watching Count Basie on TV while the band distorted the color on the set, probably much like this album cover. Gee, I wonder what they were doing.
At the time, I’m not sure I knew but I had already been introduced to Ten Years After with their eponymous debut album and converted with Undead, their ferocious live album. Ten Years After was a band that was always better live than on record. Just witness that iconic performance of “I’m Going Home” in the Woodstock film. It made Ten Years After rock stars and Lee’s peace symbol-stickered red Gibson guitar a rock symbol.
Most people remember TYA from their 1971 hit, “I’d Love to Change the World.” It was a beautiful slice of late-psychedelic, Pre-Progressive pop that also showed a more tender side to this speed demon guitarist.
How much did I love Ten Years After? In a year or so span between 1969 and 1970 I saw them four times. Once at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1969 and three times at the Commodore Ballroom in Lowell, Massachusetts where I’d have my elbows on the stage while sweat poured off Lee as he scorched his guitar in furious improvisations. Every time they blew me away. They were always a band that was about the music with Alvin Lee flailing like mad hornet on his guitar. Leo Lyons had scraped the finish completely off the upper side of his bass guitar from coming off the strings so hard.
I never followed Lee after Ten Years After broke up in 1973, but he was still out there making records and touring even while a Lee-less Ten Years After toured the nostalgia circuit. He passed away on March 6 following complications for what is reported to be a routine surgical procedure. Born in 1944, he was 68 years old. The death notice was posted on his website.
Alvin Lee is going home.
~John Diliberto ((( echoes )))