Alvin Lee Interview
"Ten Years After"
He gained his reputation after people started referring to him as the
fastest guitar player on earth. Between 1967 and 1974, he did 30 tours of
the U.S. He knew Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. He performed at Woodstock
and was featured in the film of the same name. He is Alvin Lee and his band
is TEN YEARS AFTER. It's been 15 years since the release of his last album,
but make no mistake about it, Alvin Lee is back. ABOUT TIME (Chrysalis Records)
is Alvin Lee and TEN YEARS AFTERS latest vinyl effort. Recently, Alvin Lee
spoke with us about the music business he knows.
Why did you feel now was the right time to put out
It was last summer and I got a call from a promoter in Germany, and he said
is there any chance of getting TEN YEARS AFTER together for these four festivals
in Germany? I called up the guys and they all said yeah, we'd love to do it.
I kept in touch pretty much on a social level, but we hadn't done any work
together. We did The Marquee Anniversary about 5 years ago. But, nothing much
came of that. There wasn't much interest around at the time. It was all New
Wave then. Anyway, we had a couple of rehearsals and played these festivals
in Germany. Twenty thousand people at each gig! There were banners out saying "Welcome
Back TYA!" Basically, it's by public demand. We would’ve been fools
not to realize that people wanted to hear the band. I don't really know why.
There seems to be a movement back towards the older bands now. It seems to
be rampant in fact. But, I'm not going to complain about it.
How were you able to support yourself all these
I’ve been a working musician all the time. I’ve been doing gigs
under the name of the Alvin Lee Band. What I did, kind of my backlash against
the business was, I wanted to earn a living as a musician without the interviews
and the media stuff. But, it was good for me. The fact is, it's kind of club
circuit. I've toured America 12 times over the last 10 years. Thing is, nobody
really gets to hear about it on the club level. You hit town and maybe there's
a thousand people there, and it doesn't actually get out into the papers. It's
been enjoyable. My ambition was to be a working musician, and that's what I’ve
been doing. I think this is an opportunity to get back into the mainstream,
and kind of carry on where we left off. But, we've all had our ears open for
the last 15 years.
When you performed at Woodstock did you think it
was a big deal?
Not really. It was a good festival. It was a big deal personally. I enjoyed
it. It was a spectacular event. The main thing to me that made it different
was flying in by helicopter. I had a safety harness on and was hanging out
over a half million people. Not the kind of thing you forget easily. Actual
playing wise it didn't seem that special. It was just basically another gig.
Even after we'd done it, apart from being declared a national disaster by the
government, it didn't seem that big a deal. I think the movie is what made
it big. And, that didn't come out till a year after we played. In fact, we
were doing 5,000 seaters a year after Woodstock, and when the movie came out
we were kind of catapulted to the 20,000 seat bracket.
As I understand it, Sly and the family Stone and
Janis Joplin were sandwiched between ten years after. Is that true?
I don't think that was the way it happened on the actual gig. It may have been
that way in the movie. I think we played after (Joe) Crocker, possibly before
Country Joe. The reason I have any memories of the Festival at all, apart from
the helicopter ride, was we were about to go on, Cocker had played, and the
storm broke, which is still one of the highlights of the Festival to me. (Laughs)
God's own light show. The stage got flooded and there were sparks jumping around.
In fact, nobody wanted to go on. They thought it was dangerous. There was a
4 hour gap. I took a walk around the lake and kind of joined in the audience
as it were, which was great. I got to see it from the other side of the fence.
The groups and performers who played Woodstock were
not as concerned with gimmicks and show-biz as many of today's performers
are. You have to wonder how many of the people in attendance at Woodstock
can relate to today's music.
We were called underground movement in those days. It was the time when we
could get on stage and play in street clothes, like jeans and t-shirts. You
didn't have to bow and do the show-biz kind of thing. It was pure, one hundred
percent music. That was what it was all about. It was about the playing, and
of course the extended solos, and the ten minute songs. It might’ve been
self indulgent but it was a very healthy situation for a band to be able to
play just the way they wanted to play. I think that attitude is what is interesting
people today. It's a good healthy attitude towards music.
Youy knew both Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. What
do you remember about them?
I held them both in high respect. Jimi Hendrix was a phenomenal guitar player.
He was an innovator. There's lots of good guitar players but I think he was
the one guy I actually couldn’t pin down where his roots were.
Janis Joplin and I used to get along pretty well. She used to call me "Babycakes" whatever
that meant. She was great. To me she was like one of the boys. I never hardly
thought of her as a woman. She was like an ass-kicking rock'n'roller, a lot
of energy, a lot of power. I first met here at the Fillmore East. I think it
was TEN YEARS AFTER'S first concert at the Fillmore East. We were supporting
the Staple Singers and Janis. We all had a jam at the end. She was great. She
turned me on to Southern Comfort--got me drunk as a skunk. I was watching the
show from the wings, and saw people handing her bottles of the stuff. I saw
here tip her head back and drink half a bottle. So I thought it probably was
like Red Ripple, some wine or something. She came offstage and gave me a bottle
and it tasted nice and sweet. I got very drunk. In fact, I woke up backstage
at the Fillmore East about 2 hours later and everybody had gone home. I didn't
even know the name of the hotel we were staying at. Some guy was sweeping up
and I said, "Do you know where all the bands are staying?" Amazingly
enough, he gave me three addresses and I found out where we were.
Do you like the term superstar?
Not really. No. I've always considered myself a musician. I was your actual
reluctant rock star in those days when things kind of took off with TEN YEARS
AFTER. I never felt comfortable being a superstar or a rock star. It's just
something that people say. My idols have always been John Lee Hooker, Muddy
Waters, the old blues guys and Chuck Berry. Those guys, they get to 60 years
old and they're still playing. To me, that's what is important. Hopefully
when I get to that age, I'll still be playing too.
© Gary James All Rights Reserved