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Found in Heaven
Born in Nottingham England, ALVIN LEE began playing guitar age 13 and formed the core of the band Ten Years After by aged 15. Originally influenced by his parent's collection of jazz and blues records, it was the advent of rock and roll that truly sparked his interest and creativity, and guitarists like Chuck Berry and Scotty Moore provided his inspiration.
Appearing at the famed Woodstock Festival, Lee's virtuoso performance was one of the highlights and remains today a standard for many other guitarists. Captured on film in the documentary of the festival, his inspired playing catapulted him into superstardom, and soon the band was playing arenas and stadiums around the globe. Although Lee later lamented that he missed the intimacy of smaller venues, there is no denying the impact the film made in bringing his music to a worldwide audience.
TYA had great success, releasing ten albums together, but by 1973 Lee was feeling limited by the band's style. With American gospel singer Mylon LeFevre and a host of rock talents like George Harrison, Steve Winwood, Ron Wood and Mick Fleetwood , he recorded and released On The Road To Freedom, a highly acclaimed album that was at the forefront of country rock.
A year later, in response to a dare, Lee formed Alvin Lee & Company to play a show at the Rainbow in London and released it as a double live album, In Flight. An energetic mix of rhythm & blues and rock, with a tribute to Elvis Presley thrown in for good measure, Lee once, in his understated fashion, called this band "a funky little outfit".
They were far more than that and various members of the band continued on with Lee for his next two albums, Pump Iron and Let it Rock. He finished out the 70s with a powerhouse trio he called Ten Years Later who also released two albums, Ride On and Rocket Fuel, and toured extensively throughout Europe and the United States.
Lee's overall musical output includes more than 20 albums, including 1985's Detroit Diesel and the back to back 90s collections of Zoom and 1994 (I Hear You Rocking). Guest artists on both albums include George Harrison, whose brilliant slide guitar perfectly complements Lee's lead. Their duet on 1994's The Bluest Blues led one reviewer to call it "the most perfect blues song ever recorded."
Formed in Nottingham, England, as the Jaybirds in 1965, they abandoned their pedestrian title for a name that slotted in with the booming underground progressive music scene. The quartet of Alvin Lee (b. 19 December 1944, Nottingham, England; guitar, vocals), Chick Churchill (b. 2 January 1949, Mold, Flint/Clywd, Wales; keyboards), Ric Lee (b. 20 October 1945, Cannock, Staffordshire, England; drums) and Leo Lyons (b. 30 November 1943, Bedford, England; bass) played a mixture of rock 'n' roll and blues that distinguished them from the mainstream blues cognoscenti of Fleetwood Mac, Chicken Shack and Savoy Brown.
Their debut album was largely ignored and it took months of gruelling club work to establish their claim. The superb live Undead, recorded at Klooks Kleek club, spread the word that Lee was not only an outstanding guitarist, but he was the fastest by a mile. Unfortunately for the other three members, Lee overshadowed them to the extent that they became merely backing musicians in what was described as the Alvin Lee show.
The band began a series of US tours that gave them the record of more US tours than any other UK band. Lee's furious performance of 'Goin' Home' at the Woodstock Festival was one of the highlights, although that song became a millstone for them.
Over the next two years they delivered four solid albums, which all charted in the UK and the USA. Ssssh, with its Graham Nash cover photography, was the strongest. 'Stoned Woman' epitomized their sound and style, although it was 'Love Like A Man' from Cricklewood Green that gave them their only UK hit.
When they reconvened, their spark and will had all but gone and remaining albums were poor. After months of rumour, Lee admitted that the band had broken up. In 1978 Lee formed the trio Ten Years Later, with little reaction, and in 1989 the original band re-formed and released About Time, but only their most loyal fans were interested.
Ten Years After are similar to Jethro Tull, if only in the sense that it's yet another unjustly forgotten great rock group. They have a serious difference, though: they don't exist as a group any more (unless you count the occasional reunions, but that's something really rare and really peculiar). So if the Tullers are still able to remind the world of their presence on the Planet, they usually do it by releasing one more mediocre or horrible album (sorry Tull fans). To dig Ten Years After, though, one can only rummage through their back catalog.
It's not exactly songwriting, though: I couldn't really say Alvin was a great songwriter. In the earliest days, most of his output simply consisted of stolen blues melodies with new lyrics to them; only somewhere around 1969 did he finally upgrade his skills to writing something creative. (If it's Alvin's creativity you're looking for, start with 1972's A Space In Time, one of the most unfairly dismissed rock classics of all time.) On the positive side, one shouldn't make the mistake of overlooking his talents in that direction completely. From time to time, he managed to churn out an effective killer riff, equalling both those of his predecessors (Richards, Townshend) and of his contemporaries (Page), or produce a gorgeous, heartfelt ballad. The problem is that none of these efforts are at all innovative or interesting from a 'scientific' point of view: apart from TYA's pioneering use of synthesizers in the early Seventies, together with the Who and Stevie Wonder, they can't really lay claim to any serious achievements in the arsenal of the musical world.
A good comparison would be the music of the Faces: another sloppy (much more so than TYA, actually), boozy band with few new ideas to proclaim, but tons of reckless, mind-blowing energy and fury to display both on stage and on record. The big difference is that Ten Years After never contended themselves with the 'formula': throughout their best years, they always displayed a wish to find something new, even if they rarely found it. A Space In Time is as close to 'progressive' as they ever got, and even that one is not as close as could be. They definitely lose to the Faces in terms of vocal power, as Alvin was never that great a vocalist, and, furthermore, few vocalists could ever compete with Rod Stewart in his prime; but they definitely win in terms of musical power and tightness - Ten Years After's sloppiness is the kind of intentional sloppiness that only really skilled and talented players can allow themselves, simply letting their hair down a little to allow the music be somewhat more downhome and hard-hittin', while the Faces usually played sloppy because they had one too many Martini before the show.
And, of course, they win in terms of songwriting: the Faces never had a song even approaching the direct power of Alvin's immaculate riffage on 'You Give Me Loving' or 'Love Like A Man'. Of course, fate had it that the Faces are still more popular - simply because skilled vocalists tend to get more respect than skilled guitarists, much as Alvin was, guitar-wise, the complete equivalent of Rod Stewart vocals-wise.
So their music never had a lot of impact. So they didn't have any serious chart-toppers - some of the albums sold well, some not, but nothing special. And of course Lee wasn't the best guitarist on Earth, and his colleagues weren't above 'satisfying' with their instruments. So what? Taken together, they were still a prime band - not the best one around, but very decent, at times approaching brilliant. And even if Lee isn't the best guitarist, he certainly has a unique style - you can't mistake a great Alvin Lee guitar solo for anything in the world.
“The Lost Cricklewood Green Show”
Ten Years After Live At The Olympic Auditorium
Los Angeles California, March 21, 1970"
01. Love Like A Man 8:15,
02. Good Morning Little School Girl 6:55,
03. Working On The Road 3:30,
04. Spider In My Web 3:45,
05. 50,000 Miles Beneath My Brain 9:25,
06. I’m Going Home 11:10,
07. Help Me 14:20
08. I’m Going Home 11:00
09. Somebody Calling Live 6:40