Yesterday, I lost one of my heroes.
Alvin Lee was the dynamic personality fronting Ten Years After, one of the most underrated and forgotten bands of the Sixties. They started off as a blues/jazz fusion band (very similar to a joke in Spinal Tap) and then were pretty much 100% pure blues until 1969. That’s when they rocketed into world consciousness due to their amazingly intense performance of Alvin’s song I’m Going Home at Woodstock:
Alvin always ended his concerts with that song, and that night, it brought down the house. I know, because I was there in the fifth row, stage center, and it took 3 or 4 people to hold me down (I was seriously bopping to the music). When the Woodstock movie came out, it cemented his reputation as a superstar, but eventually that ego stuff got to his head, I think. But he never lost his blues roots.
In any case, those were the days. The days when even late in 1968, you could get a good seat for a Ten Years After concert for a whopping $1.50. The days when people really cared about guitar players. Everyone knew that “the best” was either Jimi Hendrix or Eric Clapton (it was kind of a religious issue, like Macs vs. PCs today), but there was a serious dispute over “fastest”, and for me that was a three-way tie between Alvin Lee, Johnny Winter, and Danny Kalb. Throw in some soulful players like Leslie West and Mike Bloomfield, and the best of the psychedelic/hard rock guitarists like Jorma Kaukonen, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, and James Gurley, and you’ve pretty much got the Top Ten of the 60s.
As a struggling guitarist myself, I was happy to play along with Alvin while blasting Ten Years After records in my bedroom. If I hit 20% of the notes Alvin did, it was a good day. And I did see them more than any other band in history (including their mind-boggling four encores at the Fillmore East in 1970). So I can’t properly tell you how much they meant to me, but yesterday, I couldn’t even write this, and toking wasn’t enough, so I actually drank three full shots of hard liquor, and that finally put me in the right frame of mind to get through it all.
Here’s a rarely-seen performance of Alvin singing, playing guitar, and blues harp in their real tour de force, Help Me:
And just for completion…here’s a 20 minute live performance of the song referred to in the headline (which was originally written by The Blues Project):
Rest In Peace, Alvin. And enjoy your all-star jam in heaven with Jimi and Mike Bloomfield and Duane Allman and Stevie Ray Vaughan!