Ten Years After’s Alvin Lee dies
Alvin Lee, the guitarist and singer of Ten Years After, has passed away suddenly at age 68.
A statement posted on his official website read: “With great sadness we have to announce that Alvin unexpectedly passed away early this morning [March 6] after unforseen complications following a routine surgical procedure.
“We have lost a wonderful and much-loved father and companion, the world has lost a truly great and gifted musician.”
Below, Classic Rock’s Max Bell recounts Lee’s career:
When British blues rockers Ten Years After flew in to the Woodstock Festival by private helicopter on August 16, 1969 they weren’t unduly impressed by the 500,000-strong crowd marinating beneath the Catskill Mountains. “It was just another day on the date sheet,” says TYA’s then-frontman Alvin Lee. “We’d already played huge festivals [Bath, Newport, Maryland], and once the crowd reaches a certain size it makes no difference – the horizon just goes back further.”
Even so, nerves began to fray backstage as Lee and bandmates Leo Lyons, Ric Lee (no relation) and Chick Churchill realised they may have to go on in the middle of a storm. Sensing their discomfort, others on the bill such as Janis Joplin, Joe Cocker and Country Joe McDonald tried to wind them up. “Everybody was saying: ‘Tough luck – looks like you’re going to be electrocuted,’” Lee recalls. With typical downbeat Nottingham wit, he replied: “Yeah. And think how many records we’ll sell if I die.”
There was another, more urgent problem: “They’d run out of ciggies backstage so I volunteered to go out in the audience and blag some. The first people I met were two coppers who said: ‘We haven’t got any, but you can have these joints.’ I said: ‘You’re police!’ Their answer was: ‘If you can’t beat ’em…’ I came back with 30 joints, so I was quite popular.”
As part of the British Invasion of hard rock blues groups, Ten Years After were somewhere near the top. And though history dictates that they were never considered as cool as Cream, the Jeff Beck Group or Led Zeppelin, Alvin’s monikers (Captain Speed Fingers, The Fastest Guitar In The West) guaranteed him kudos. When the Woodstock movie of the festival came out a year later, TYA’s showstopper I’m Going Home thrust the band towards superstardom, even though the studio version had flopped when released as a single from the excellent Undead live album.