Posted August, 2012
It’s been forty-four years since the Alvin Lee and Ten Years After battalion of the British invasion of the U.S. took place. In fact, it was forty-three years ago this month that Mr. Lee and the band made their history-making six song performance at the Woodstock festival. It was there that he famously introduced the bands song, I’m Going Home, by saying, “I’m going home . . . by helicopter”.
Since those days, there have been many tours, bands and albums. How many albums? Alvin told me, “I honestly don’t know. Twenty or thirty, I guess.”
Whether it’s the 20th or the 30th, Lee’s soon-to-be-released album, Still On The Road To Freedom, delivers the same level of musical excellence that he did when first landed on our shores those many years ago. It was because of this album that I had the privilege and opportunity to ask Lee a few questions about the album and music in general. I found it especially interesting that the interview with this rock and roll icon marks the 100th interview for Boomerocity as well as the weekend of the 43rd anniversary of Woodstock. Neither was planned. It just happened that way.
I mentioned to Alvin that, in the liner notes he wrote that the thirteen songs were taken from a batch of 33 songs he had written since the release of his last album, Saguitar. I was curious as to what the decision-making process to cull out those great tunes from such a body of work that, undoubtedly, contained equally as great of work.
“It’s a process of evolution. As I work on each track, I will maybe try another vocal, another bass or guitar, maybe change the words - whatever I feel it needs. Some of the tracks improve as I do this, some don’t, and some are best left in their original form so as they evolve it becomes apparent which ones are going somewhere. Apart from having a good basic song that is saying something, I am looking for a rhythm or feel that inspires me to play interesting solos and fills.”
With so many albums under his belt, I asked Alvin how was this album different for him to record than his first album, Ten Years After, and what is easier and harder now.
“What’s easier now is I just do what I feel and don’t have to explain or justify to anybody what I’m trying to do. The only harder thing is deciding what it is I want to do. With Ten Years After, it was a story of lies, deceit, clashing egos, and backstabbing but you wouldn’t be interested in that.”
Artists can never (or won’t) pick a favorite song from their work. It’s always seen almost like a parent picking a favorite child. I knew that Lee couldn’t pick a favorite song from this album but I asked him if he were to pick one as a “calling card”, if you will, that would sell people on wanting to buy the whole album, which song would he pick?
“I suppose it would be the title track, but I don’t think there is any one track that represents the whole album. It’s all about variation and visiting my influences over the years.”
With a career that spans seven consecutive decades, Alvin has seen and weathered a lot of changes in the music industry. What have been the biggest changes, positive and negative, in the music business, which he has witnessed?
“From my perspective, I miss the major record companies from the good old days (late 60’s). They used to send limos for you and shower you with gifts and generally show you a good time. That was when there was lots of money flying around and everybody was happy. Also there was an element of adventure. It was all new and there were no rule book to follow. You had to make them up as you went along.
“FM radio stations used to have one usually stoned out guy doing the whole thing and we would walk in and start playing our favorite records and rapping for hours. These days it’s got so corporate they have administrators and programmers and the DJs can’t even play what they want. It’s all about advertising and making money. Where is the groovy DJ who just plays good music?”
One question I’ve asked many veteran artists is: If you were made the music czar, what would you do to change the business, or would you? Lee’s answer didn’t surprise me in the least.
“To be honest, I have never been interested in the business side of music. To me, they just don’t mix. I’ve met with Clive Davis and Ahmet Ertegun and the further I am away from all that the better.”
With the wealth of accomplishments behind him, I wondered what hasn’t Alvin Lee done or accomplished yet that he still would like to do. His response was short and to the point.
“Go to south India and make an album in Chicago with local musicians.”
Lee has jammed with some of the biggest names in music history. I was curious if there was anyone who he hasn’t jammed with whom he wishes to.
“Not really, I’ve been very lucky and jammed with most of my heroes and great players. I’ve even jammed with Damon Hill. Chuck Berry is someone I’ve never jammed with but it’s often disappointing meeting your heroes and with Chuck it could be damn right dangerous. They said the same of Jerry Lee, but I got on with him real fine during the London sessions.”
As we were wrapping up our chat, I asked the Woodstock and rock and roll veteran what was up next for him this year and in the next few years.
“I’ve got a few festivals and I’m already writing new material for whatever my next project turns out to be. The songs will lead me in the right direction although I still don’t know where they come from.”
And the next the next five years?
“To continue surprising myself and to write the world’s greatest riff.”
I had time for one more question so I asked Alvin how he hopes to be remembered and what he hopes his legacy will be.
“Who knows? Who cares? I only hope somebody doesn’t make a cheesy movie of what they think was my life with Justin Bieber playing me as a young boy.”
Then, in an ever-so-slightly more serious tone, he added, “Remember me as a guitarist who raised a few eyebrows, that’s good enough.”
You can keep up with Alvin Lee as he “travels the road to freedom” by visiting his website, www.alvinlee.com. Of course, you’ll want to be sure and catch Alvin live when he appears in your city so check his website often for tour updates.