Ten Years After’s Alvin Lee dies
A year earlier, TYA were playing that number in little clubs like Klooks Kleek in West London. Now, Michael Wadleigh’s film (edited by Martin Scorsese) had their mugs on cinema screens worldwide, performing a boogie blues that rehashed every cliché in the book and seemed to have taken about five minutes to write. In any case, it was a great time to be British in America. “There was competition because of Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page, but there was room for everyone. It felt like we were taking over,” Lee recalls.
As the Brit boys drank, pilled and whored their way across the USA, high jinks were inevitable. At New York’s Singer Bowl in July 1969, Lee, Beck, Page and Ron Wood were joined by John Bonham, Tony Newman, Glenn Cornick, Robert Plant and Rod Stewart for a riotous nine-man jam version of Jailhouse Rock that descended into an orgiastic version of The Stripper. Someone threw a glass of orange juice at Lee, while the Led Zep drummer removed all his clothes. According to Rod Stewart, “it was fuckin’ incredible. I finished the whole thing off by shoving a mic stand up Bonham’s arse and he got arrested. The cops pulled him off, while I ran away. We were all pissed out of our heads.”
Some say it was Bonham who chucked the juice at Alvin. More likely it was Jeff Beck. He certainly takes responsibility. “I threw a mug of orange and it stuck all over his guitar. It was one of those animal things. Three English groups at the same place have to add up to trouble.”
From then on, every time Ten Years After, Jeff Beck and Led Zeppelin shared a stage, there was trouble. Food fights became fistfights as the roadies took turns stripping the musicians and leaving them tied up and stark bollock naked by the speakers. Probably wisely, Lee has blocked this period out of his memory. “I’m sure that never happened,” he says. Everyone else is bloody sure it did!
Ten Years After capitalised on their success – at a cost. “We did 27 American tours in seven years – a record. Then we’d get home and management would tell us: ‘We’ve booked you in the studio and we hope the songs are ready.’ They weren’t. ‘So write on the road!’ That was impossible.”
If the first two albums came easily to Alvin, who’d been a graduate of the Hamburg Star Club scene in 1962 as a member of The Jaybirds, the constant pressure to deliver became a chore. Luckily, stimulus was at hand when they delivered the Stonedhenge, Ssssh, Cricklewood Green and Watt albums to their label, Deram.
“I took LSD in San Francisco in 1968 and found it very illuminating,” says Lee. “We played with the Grateful Dead in Phoenix and they had a very interesting attitude. They’d go off stage [during Dark Star] and leave their instruments against the amps, feeding back. We started experimenting. Stonedhenge slipped under the radar, despite its title. The press didn’t seem to notice that the cover had pictures of hookahs, pipes and smoke on it. We were taking a lot of hallucinogenics and made weird albums, and I was all for that. But the writers glossed over it all – how terribly British.”