This post will be a little different – about two artists with very similar names. Both were from the UK. They were born one year apart (Dec/1943 vs. 1944).
This all came about because I got the names mixed up a couple of weeks ago in a discussion with Russ. So let’s take a look at two great British guitar players that have similar first names and share the last name, LEE.
Albert Lee owns more than 25 guitars, including Don Everly‘s Gibson J-200. The Gibson Guitar Corporation made one for Don Everly and the other for Phil. The guitars have an all black, high gloss lacquered finish, and are equipped with twin Everly Brothers white pick guards. The Everly Brothers manager Wesley Rose had wanted the guitar to be presented to the Country Music Hall of Fame, but Everly informed him that guitars like that should be played, not kept sitting in a glass case. Don Everly presented it to Lee, along with his Gibson Everly Brothers model.
Eric Clapton gave Lee the Gibson Les Paul Custom that he played while with Delaney and Bonnie. Lee also plays his signature Music Man (the guitar shown in the photographs) and a 1950s Telecaster (both with custom B-Benders), a 1958 Stratocaster and a Martin 000-28 acoustic.
Partial Band List
- Mike Warner and “The Echolettes” (guest, March -June 1963 in West Germany)
- “The Fenders” (1963-1964)
- Chris Farlowe And “The Thunderbirds”
- “The Crickets”
- “Country Fever”
- “Green Bullfrog”
- Heads Hands & Feet”
- Emmylou Harris and “The Hot Band”
- “Hogan’s Heroes” (guitar and vocals)
- Bill Wyman‘s “Rhythm Kings”
- Biffbaby’s “All Stars”, featuring: Albert Lee, Eddie Van Halen, Steve Morse, and Steve Lukather. In association with Ernie Ball products
Featuring a one time session of great musicians: From right to left Udo Lummer (guit) Mike Warner (voc) Rudi Krüger (dr.) Werner “Ente” Vogt (bass) Georg Kochbeck (keys) & guest Albert Lee (guit)
Straight recording on Revox A77 in basement of music-shop in 1975
Albert Lee occupies an odd niche in music — British by birth and upbringing, he spent the mid-’60s as a top R&B guitarist, but in the 1970s became one of the top rockabilly guitarists in the world, and no slouch in country music either.
In England he’s a been household name, and in Nashville and Los Angeles he’s been one of the most in-demand session guitarists there is; but outside of professional music circles in America, he’s one of those vaguely recognizable names.
He is occasionally misidentified with his similar-sounding contemporary, ex-Ten Years After guitarist Alvin Lee — but where Alvin was a hero of Woodstock and a flashy guitarist, in the manner of British blues extroverts Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck, Albert is much more likely to be found playing in the background, behind the Everly Brothers or alongside Eric Clapton.
Albert Lee was born in Leominster, England, in 1943. His introduction to music came from his father, who played piano and accordion. His first instrument was the piano, which he took up at age seven — he was lucky enough to be more than five years into his keyboard study when rock & roll came along, and his first idol was Jerry Lee Lewis, which also marked his introduction to rockabilly music.
Within a couple of years, however, Albert had switched to guitar, and also discovered the music of Buddy Holly & the Crickets.
He started learning the guitar in earnest and studying their records very closely, and not long after graduated from an acoustic to an electric instrument, and was learning the lead guitar parts on records by Holly, Gene Vincent, Ricky Nelson, the Louvin Brothers, and the Everly Brothers — except that to him they were just as much records by Tommy Alsup, Jimmy Bryant, Cliff Gallup, James Burton, Chet Atkins, and Hank “Sugarfoot” Garland, among other guitarists.
At 16, Albert turned professional and joined the stable of musicians working for manager Larry Parnes, playing behind Dickie Pride, among other stars on Parnes’ roster. He later joined the backing band of R&B singer Bob Xavier, and later played behind Jackie Lynton, through whom he appeared on his first recording.
Albert twice succeeded Jimmy Page as a lead guitarist, first in Mike Hurst’s band and then in Neil Christian’s backing group. And Albert, in turn, was succeeded in the latter band by Ritchie Blackmore when he jumped to Chris Farlowe’s backing group the Thunderbirds.
Albert spent four years with the Thunderbirds, who became known in British musical circles as one of the best R&B bands in England, and all gained fame as Farlowe charted singles (including a number one hit) in 1966 and early 1967.
Albert finally left Farlowe in 1968, feeling bored after four years, and over next two years passed through several bands playing behind various visiting American country stars, including George Hamilton IV, Skeeter Davis, and Bobby Bare.
Albert passed through several groups, including Country Fever and Poet & the One Man Band, before finally reaching a semi-permanent berth with Heads, Hands & Feet, a progressive country outfit who were sort of England’s answer to the Flying Burrito Brothers or the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Albert first achieved public notice as a member of this group, which achieved some positive critical notice — and allowed him to expand his playing beyond the guitar — but saw little commercial success.
Heads, Hands & Feet split up after two years, so Albert made his living as a session guitarist for the next couple of years, and was also able to latch on to a piece of new recording action going on in England: In 1970, Chess Records had scored an unexpected chart success with The London Howlin’ Wolf Sessions, which had led to a spate of “London Sessions” albums by Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry, among others at Chess, and even a B.B. King album on ABC Records built along the same lines.
Albert got in on Jerry Lee Lewis’ London Sessions album, and that seemed to reopen his relationship of the early ’60s with American acts — except that this time one circle of his life seemed to close when he was chosen to replace Glen D. Hardin in the Crickets.
Albert toured with the Crickets and also cut sides with them in Nashville for a Mercury Records release, Long Way From Lubbock.
When the smoke cleared from his two years with the band, Lee had moved to Los Angeles, where he made contact with Phil Everly and Don Everly, who were working separately at the time. Lee joined Don’s band and even got his Heads, Hands & Feet bandmates to work on his Sunset Towers LP.
From there, Lee became a member of Joe Cocker’s band, which, in turn, led to the offer of a contract in 1975 to do a solo album with A&M Records, which was Cocker’s label at the time.
A gig playing (and recording) with Emmylou Harris delayed the completion of his own record for a couple of years, until the end of 1978, though when Home, as it was titled, finally appeared, it was not only a guitar virtuoso showcase but included Harris on it as a guest performer.
Albert was signed to Polydor as a solo artist, but by that time the session work and offers were coming in fast and furious, and he was seemingly everywhere, playing with everyone from Jackson Browne to Bo Diddley to Herbie Mann!
Albert’s most visible gig, however, was playing with Eric Clapton, first on Just One Night and then on the tour that followed. And when the Everly Brothers reunited for a concert, a live album, and a concert video, Albert Lee was there in the band.
Albert’s own solo career continued into the late ’80s with Speechless (1987) and Gagged but Not Bound (1988), both issued by MCA and both critical successes.
Albert was also later a member of Gerry Hogan’s bluegrass group Hogan’s Heroes, and toured and recorded with Bill Wyman’s band, the Rhythm Kings.
He has also played with Eddie Van Halen and Steve Morse in a supergroup called the Biff Baby All-Stars.
In his fifth decade as a professional musician, Lee was part of a rarefied fraternity as a virtuoso’s virtuoso, respected on three continents and pretty much living out a professional life that most of his colleagues, when he started out, could only dream of.
He continued to record in the 21st century, cutting the country/rockabilly album Heartbreak Hotel for Sugar Hill in 2003. That same year, Castle Records issued a Lee retrospective compilation, That’s All Right, Mama. A second Sugar Hill release, Road Runner, appeared in 2006.
Alvin Lee (born Graham Barnes, Mansfield, England) was an English rock guitarist and singer. He began playing guitar at the age of 13, and with Leo Lyons formed the core of the band Ten Years After in 1960. Influenced by his parents’ collection of jazz and blues records, it was the advent of rock and roll that truly sparked his interest and creativity, and guitarists like Chuck Berry and Scotty Moore provided his inspiration.
The Jaybirds, as Alvin’s early band was called from 1962, were popular locally, and had success at Star-Club in Hamburg, Germany (since that time lead guitarist Alvin Lee also took lead vocals), following The Beatles there the same year.
But it was not until the band moved to London in 1966 and changed its name, first to Jaybird, dropping ‘The’ and ‘s’ to make it sound more contemporary; then to Blues Yard (for one gig at the Marquee Club); and finally to Ten Years After (TYA), that international success beckoned.
TYA 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 debut album Ten Years After surprisingly received play on San Francisco, California’s underground radio stations and was enthusiastically embraced by listeners, including concert promoter Bill Graham, who invited the band to tour the United States for the first time in the summer of 1968.
Audiences were immediately taken by Alvin Lee’s distinctive, soulful, rapid fire guitar playing and the band’s innovative mix of blues, swing jazz and rock, and an American love affair began. TYA would ultimately tour the U.S. twenty-eight times in seven years, more than any other UK band.
Appearing at the Woodstock Festival, Alvin Lee’s performance was captured on film in the documentary of the festival and his playing helped catapult him into stardom. Soon the band was playing arenas and stadia around the globe.
Although Alvin later lamented that he missed the intimacy of smaller venues, there is no denying the impact the film made in bringing his music to a worldwide audience.
TYA had success, releasing ten albums together, but by 1973, Lee was feeling limited by the band’s style. With American gospel singer Mylon LeFevre and a host of rock talents like George Harrison, Steve Winwood, Ronnie Wood and Mick Fleetwood, he recorded and released On the Road to Freedom, a highly acclaimed album that was at the forefront of country rock.
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. An energetic mix of rhythm and blues and rock, with a tribute to Elvis Presley thrown in for good measure, Lee once, in his understated fashion, called this band “a funky little outfit”.
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 and acoustic 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 the trio Ten Years Later who also released two albums, Rocket Fuel (1978) and Ride On (1979) and toured extensively throughout Europe and the United States.
The 1980s brought another change in Alvin Lee’s direction, with two albums that were strong collaborations with Rare Bird’s Steve Gould and an extensive tour with the former John Mayall and Rolling Stones’ guitarist Mick Taylor joining his band.
Lee’s overall musical output includes more than 20 albums, including 1985’s Detroit Diesel, and the back to back 1990s collections of Zoom and 1994 (U.S. title I Hear You Rockin’ ). Guest artists on both albums include George Harrison. Their duet on 1994’s The Bluest Blues led one reviewer to call it “the most perfect blues song ever recorded.”
Alvin Lee in Tennessee, recorded with rock and roll legends Scotty Moore and D. J. Fontana was released in 2004 .
Lee’s most recent album, Saguitar, was released in September 2007.
March 6, 2013 – With sadness we report that Alvin Lee died at age 68. A statement posted on Lee’s official website said he died Wednesday unexpectedly from complications following a routine surgical procedure. This could happen to anybody. Lee’s manager, Ron Rainey, said the guitarist died in Spain.