Personalities | Alvin Lee | Titan of Ten Years After | Guitar Heroes

Blues-rock guitarist Alvin Lee was born Graham Barnes in Nottingham in 1944. Inspired by rock’n’roll guitarists Chuck Berry and Scotty Moore, Lee began to play at the age of 13, and formed his first band, Ivan Jay & The Jaymen, in 1960.

Lee became lead vocalist in 1962 when the band changed their name to The Jaybirds and played Hamburg’s Star Club. They moved to London in 1966, eventually settling on the name Ten Years After. A residency at the Marquee Club led to an invitation to play at the Windsor Jazz and Blues Festival in 1967, which in turn led to a record contract with Deram.

Debut album Ten Years After (1967) showcased Lee’s soulful, nimble-fingered guitar-playing and the band’s trail-blazing mix of swing jazz, blues and rock, earning them a cult following in America, where they toured on the first of many occasions in 1968. An appearance at the Woodstock Festival in 1969 provided their breakthrough in the States. Lee’s virtuoso guitar on what would become his signature tune, ‘I’m Going Home’, was featured in the film and hailed as a highlight of the event. The band also played the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970, the year of their only British hit single, ‘Love Like A Man’. After nine studio albums, Lee’s dissatisfaction with the group’s limitations prompted him to disband Ten Years After in 1974.

Lee’s career outside the band had already begun with On The Road To Freedom (1973), a country-rock collaboration with Mylon LeFevre that boasted George Harrison, Ronnie Wood and Steve Winwood amongst its superstar guests. In 1978, he put together a new version of Ten Years After, and he toured under the name again in 1989. In between, he worked with Steve Gould of Rare Bird and former Rolling Stone Mick Taylor. In the 1990s, he recorded with rock’n’roll pioneers Scotty Moore and D.J. Fontana. Lee’s last album, Still On The Road To Freedom, was released in 2012. He died from complications following surgery in March 2013.

Lee’s favourite guitar was his long-serving Gibson Custom Shop 335, affectionately dubbed ‘Big Red’. As it was too valuable to take on the road, the company made him a copy of it.

Essential Recordings

Ten Years After: Ten Years After

Various Artists: Woodstock: Music From The Original Soundtrack And More

with Mylon LeFevre: On The Road To Freedom

Solo: Still On The Road To Freedom

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