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 an album?
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 years?
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.

And Janis?
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.

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