March 6, 2013 – Alvin Lee, born Graham Anthony Barnes on Dec. 19, 1944, was a truly inspired blues rock guitarist-vocalist, whose performance with Ten Years After during Woodstock 1969, catapulted him into superstardom. The song “I’m Going Home” became legendary and his speed earned him the title “The Fastest Guitarist in the West”. A lifelong search for freedom resulted in more than 20 albums of superb blues rock. Ten Years After would ultimately tour the US twenty-eight times in seven years – more than any other UK band.
He was born in Nottingham and attended the Margaret Glen-Bott School in Wollaton. He began playing guitar at the age of 13 and in 1960, Lee along with Leo Lyons formed the core of the band Ten Years After. Influenced by his parents’ collection of jazz and blues records, it was the advent of rock and roll that sparked his interest.
He began to play professionally in 1962, in a band named the Jaybirds, they began that year to perform in the Star-Club in Hamburg, Germany. After a couple of name changes by 1966 they had finally decided on the name Ten Years After. The band also secured a residency at the Marquee Club, and an invitation to the Windsor Jazz & Blues Festival in 1967 led to their first recording contract. The self-titled début album received airplay on San Francisco’s underground music radio.
The band and especially Lee’s performance at the Woodstock Festival in August 1969 was captured on film in the documentary of the event, and his ‘lightning-fast’ playing helped catapult him to stardom. Soon the band was playing arenas and stadiums around the globe. The film brought Lee’s music to a worldwide audience, although he later lamented that he missed the lost freedom and spiritual dedication with his earlier public. Lee was named “the Fastest guitarist in the West”, and considered a precursor to shred-style playing that would develop in the 1980s. en Years After had toured the US 28 times over a seven-year period.
Ten Years After had success, releasing ten albums together, but by 1973, Lee was feeling limited by the band’s style. Moving to Columbia Records had resulted in a radio hit song, “I’d Love To Change the World”, but Lee preferred blues-rock to the pop to which the label steered them.
He left the group after their second Columbia LP. With American Christian rock pioneer Mylon LeFevre, along with guests George Harrison, Steve Winwood, Ronnie Wood and Mick Fleetwood, he recorded and released On the Road to Freedom, an acclaimed album that was at the forefront of country rock.
Also in 1973 he sat in on the Jerry Lee Lewis double album The Session…Recorded in London with Great Artists, featuring many other guest stars including Albert Lee, Peter Frampton and Rory Gallagher. A year later, in response to a dare, Lee formed Alvin Lee & Company to play a show at the Rainbow in London and released it as a double live album, In Flight. Various members of the band continued on with Lee for his next two albums, Pump Iron! and Let It Rock. In late 1975, he played guitar for a couple of tracks on Bo Diddley’s The 20th Anniversary of Rock ‘n’ Roll all-star album.
He finished out the 1970s with an outfit called “Ten Years Later”, with Tom Compton on drums and Mick Hawksworth on bass, which released two albums, Rocket Fuel (1978) and Ride On (1979), and toured extensively throughout Europe and the United States. He was the quintessential peacenik of his time, interested in spiritualism and playing blues-rock, much in the same manner as his contemporary Peter Green of Fleetwood Mac fame, he walked away from the commerce angle in search of freedom.
Lee’s overall musical output includes more than twenty albums, including 1987’s Detroit Diesel, 1989’s About Time (Ten Years After album), recorded in Memphis with producer Terry Manning, and the back to back 1990s collections of Zoom and Nineteen Ninety-Four (US title I Hear You Rockin’ ). Guest artists on both albums included George Harrison.
In Tennessee, recorded with Scotty Moore and D. J. Fontana, was released in 2004. Lee’s last album, Still on the Road to Freedom, was released in September 2012.
He died on March 6, 2013 in Marbella Spain, while undergoing a routine surgical procedure and the world lost one of the most inspiring yet underrated guitarists in blues-rock. It was later revealed by Lee’s family that he had been hospitalized for a procedure to correct an atrial arrhythmia.