THE ALVIN LEE INTERVIEW
By Dave "The Bishop" Scott
Reprinted from Blues Matters Magazine
April - June 2004
I had spent the best part of two years tracking down Alvin for a rare face-to-face interview which he granted me at his home near The Algarve. It is well known that Alvin is a very private person who shuns publicity; he is also a man of great integrity in a business not renowned for that quality. Compared to contemporaries such as Ozzie Osbourne and Eric Clapton, Alvin is a reclusive legend although his forthcoming CD, Alvin Lee in Tennessee is so good that it will inevitably thrust him back into the limelight.
My admiration of Alvin as a musician started when I bought the SSSSH album in the late 60s; at that time I was a drummer with Seamus Beg in Nottingham, a band which rehearsed at The Jaybirds' old haunt, The Milton's Head. Chris Welch wrote in Melody Maker, "Notts fans rave over Seamus Beg," but only because we persuaded hundreds of our fellow students to write in to him! Such is the fine dividing line between success and failure which is why I am writing for Blues Matters! and Alvin is a superstar. Alvin's career has been well documented from the formation of Ten Years After to the zenith of that band's achievements, notably Woodstock and that 11-minute version of I'm Going Home played at 100 mph which stole the entire show. For this interview, I was less interested in the "What was it like in the 60s?" and "Did you or didn't you?" in relation to Janis Joplin, than I was in Alvin Lee the man, his music, artistry, life and hopes for the future. We spoke for nearly two hours about his early life, his views on the state of the world, contemporary music, Ten Years After and his long road to musical freedom. So is Alvin still on the road to freedom and love? In 1971, Alvin wrote: "The road I walk along is time, it's measured out in hours: And now I need not rush along, I stop to smell the flowers." I wanted to know where Alvin was Thirty-two Years After.
BM: This won't be an easy interview because it is easy to get tongue-tied when you meet your hero; however, there is no need for you to go shy on me or to be nervous! I am interested in your early life in Nottingham and your schooldays, especially your time at Margaret Glen-Bott where the headteacher Miss Lovett famously told you to "Smarten up and get rid of that guitar as you will never make a living out of it." Have you forgiven her yet?
AL: I was a rebel at school and I suffered the consequences; I was a James Dean fan and the bad guy who got blamed for everything. Miss Lovett said that I would never make any good out of anything. If anything ever went wrong at that school, I was called up to explain what I had been doing. I got the blame unless I could prove otherwise which made me even worse. Mine was a new school and the other schools around were pretty nasty so they weren't going to let that happen in Wollaton so anyone slightly out of the ordinary was watched very closely. One day, a new teacher came into the school and called me by name to stand up; he said, "Right, I will remember you" which is not very cool when you think about it. It might have been a chance to make a good impression but he had already done me in. My reaction was, OK I will give you something to remember me by. The schooling I had was memorising dates in history; I didn't care what the dates were, although I still remember 1066, the Battle of Hastings. It's the only one I ever knew and I never use it unless during Trivial Pursuit. I don't know the names of all the countries in the world but I have been to most of them and experienced being there. Anywhere you go in the world is what you make of it, not what you read in books. My teachers at my school were concentrated on making us behave and toe the line rather than bringing the best out of people. Actually, there was a woman science teacher and I actually became first in the class because I found her interesting and responded to her teaching. The headteacher thought I was cheating because I came top and so she switched teachers to this idiot who started writing down chemical formulas which I wasn't interested in, so I suddenly came last again. Teachers are more intelligent now and are more likely to see the sparks in their pupils and draw out their talents. I was in a secondary stream which was a dead loss. I mean I like music and the music teacher's idea of a music lesson was to write down the words of hymns. My class behaved so badly he made us write this hymn out 10 times, so cheating by using carbon copy paper I made it into a little book and said that owing to a shortage of good hymns this year we had decide to publish the same one ten times. He actually thought that was quite funny and kept the book. I went to see the careers officer and told him I wanted to be a musician and he said, "Oh dear, all we can offer you is the army" which is not what I had in mind.
BM: How supportive was your family at this time?
AL: They were great. There is a big age gap between my sisters Janice and Irma and myself so I didn't know them that well when I was younger although they have been very supportive in later life. One sister played guitar and sang and the other was into acting. It was a bit of an arty family; my mom and dad had a little group, The Singing Range Family and they did cowboy songs and stuff. By trade my dad, Sam, was a builder and Dot ran a hairdressing salon. I had an enormous amount of confidence that I would land on my feet no matter what I did. Strangely enough, through all those school years I decided at 13 or 14 I was going to be a musician and so school was just something to get out of the way, a waste of time and not to bother with it. Not a very good role model; hey kids ignore school and get out as quickly as you can.
BM: That is particularly self-deprecating and somewhat ironic as Nottingham council is keen to use you as an example of Nottingham's second famous citizen (pipped by Robin Hood) in an advertising campaign aimed at encouraging newly qualified teachers to teach in the city.
AL: I just couldn't take school seriously: I had this guitar neck with four frets which I kept hidden under the desk. It had strings on it so I would practice my chord shapes under the desk and that's about all I did at school. My parents knew that I was going to become a musician and after I left school I got a job for a few weeks in a light engineering factory and I cut my fingers on some lathe turnings and my mum said I shouldn't go back there.
BM: Is it true that you have been surfing the Friends Reunited website?
AL: Oh yeah, and this guy wrote and said he used to know me. There was one time and we were in this wood, a spinney which we used as a short cut to the school. Apparently this guy and his friends had bows and arrows, real ones and I came up and challenged them to shoot me; they tried very hard and I was dodging between the trees. He remembers that at one point they shot this arrow and I stopped running and it was going straight to my chest; they thought it was going to kill me but I brought my school satchel up at the last second and the arrow glanced off it. This of course was in my teenage years when we were all invulnerable.
BM: Can you tell us about your formative blues influences which led to songs like I Woke Up This Morning.
AL: My dad was always a blues fan and he had loads of 78s by Big Bill Broonzy, Lonnie Johnson and Jimmy Reed, and tons of ethnic stuff, artists I haven't heard of since. I listened to John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, Tampa Red, T. Bone Walker, all the Kings, BB, Freddy and Albert and many others. All those guys had the feel and were a great influence, but for me Big Bill and Lonnie Johnson were the best. They not only had the feel, they also had the dexterity and finesse which truly made them stand out as great guitarists. Freddy King was a big influence when it came to string bending, he was the master of that and Chuck Berry was also a great influence particularly when it came to playing solos using two and three strings at once instead of picking single notes. There was also the jazz players Barney Kessel, George Benson, Wes Montgomery and of course Django plus the country pickers Chet Atkins and Merle Travis. They were all great influences but I would never copy what they did, I would just emulate the sound but play my own licks in their style. I was brought up with that music and I always played it but in those early days you couldn't make a living out of it. I used to do some danceable stuff, but mostly R and B and early rock & roll, but I would get complaints from the dance hall managers that people couldn't dance to the band. But come the third set at 1 am with about ten people left in the club you could start playing blues and there would always be a heavy interest in it from a few people and that was enough to develop a pretty good blues set. We travelled 3000 miles a week in The Jaybirds van around Nottingham and up to Blyth and Selby, Leeds, Doncaster even as far as Scotland, London and the south coast. Blues was a minority interest back then but after John Mayall, well he made it all possible and suddenly there was a chance for me to do all these blues songs I knew and I thought that this is the way to go. Of course, my angle on it was that it was a bit heavier than that and I always figured that if you were going to play blues you would play it how you feel rather than how those guys feel because you can't copy them anyway. Big Bill Broonzy is too good and who wants to hear a white guy from Nottingham trying to sound like him. I did it my own way and my take on it was that it was a cross between rock and roll, blues and even a bit of heavy metal thrown in. To me blues music has always been the truth and that is what I have always tried to put over in my music. I do not like the show business bullshit like smiling and looking like you are having a good time even if you are not. When I am in a good mood everybody knows it and I share it and put everybody else in a good mood but if I am not in a good mood like if the bass is too loud and out of tune I don't try to hide the fact that I am not happy. I let people know. Some may say this is not professional but it's the truth and it's the way I am. As an artist I am a mirror of my environment and what goes on around me. If I can't do that honestly then playing on stage just becomes bullshit and I will not allow that to happen.
After a while your hits become your cross to bear and at one time I revolted against mine because I would walk out on stage and someone would shout out, "I'm going home" and I would say, "Go on then." It is kind of annoying because it is such a good song in its place at the end of the set, but if people want to hear it as the first song, give me a break. That's when I did that In Flight album with a whole different band; I wanted to change the feel, I did not want to get stuck in that bag of being a heavy rock and blues player and it was very good for me. It was very fortunate for me too because through doing that I got it out of my system and I came back to the rock and roll. Ian Wallace and Mel Collins were fine musicians in the band who could play anything but we played no TYA songs at all in the set and one night Ian said, "Come on, lets play I'm Going Home" and I replied OK then so we did it and it was great. I realised that the audience loved it and that I couldn't avoid it. I remember Hendrix hated Hey Joe for the same reasons but I thought it was a great song. I still play it in my set from time to time and people love it. Jimmy told me one time that he really regretted doing the "playing with his teeth bit" because people expected it and were disappointed if he didn't do it and it became a trap. I saw one of the last gigs he ever played in Copenhagen and he did none of the histrionics he just kept his head down and played great. I told him after the show that I thought that was the best I had ever heard him play and he agreed but he was still not happy because he had not got the same reaction from the audience as when he did all the show stuff. No matter how much of a muso you are you have to compromise and give a paying audience some of what it wants; you're obliged to in a way and you're a meano if you don't. It's like when I went to see Jerry Lee Lewis in Birmingham, he did all country and western songs and he didn't do Whole Lotta Shakin' and Great Balls of Fire and I walked out really upset and I realised then if people come and see me they will probably feel like this if I don't do Love Like a Man. As long as you can change your stuff around; I always change the playing within the songs so I might do the same song but the solos are never the same. Some guitarists complain that it is not the same as the record and my response is, "Thank God." If it was, that means I have been playing the same thing for 30 years. Going back to your original question, I prefer the decadent version of I Woke Up This Morning which is I Woke Up This Afternoon!
BM: What were the early days in London like?
AL: I used to hang around Denmark Street in Tin Pan Alley where all the music shops and studios were in London and someone's head would pop up from Southern Studios downstairs at the Giaconda coffee bar and ask, "Are there any guitarists in here?" You could jump in and grab a session and make fifteen quid if you were lucky which would pay the rent. On one occasion, this guy said to me, "You can sing as well so you can do this song and I will pay you and put it out as a single and it might be a hit." I refused in case it became a horribly embarrassing pop hit; it could have happened but fortunately I had a better plan. When you record you sometimes do a funny little song and the record company might think it would make a nice little single. I did a solo album with Chris Kimsey, who recorded Space in Time, and I remember doing Sea of Heartbreak, the old Don Gibson song. It was really good and sounded like a hit but I thought hang on a minute if this is a hit I might have to go on TV to sing this and that isn't what I do, so I stopped the release. When Love Like a Man got into the charts I wouldn't go on Top Of The Pops so they had to play the record and use a film. The rest of the band moaned about the fact that I wouldn't go on the telly. The record company called me "unco-operative" but it was because my heroes were blues singers and that's what I wanted to be. Look what happened to John Baldry; he was a good blues player and he did, That's When The Heartbreak Begins and turned into Engelbert Humperdink for the afternoon and it killed his career. And Cream's Wrapping Paper shows that everyone makes mistakes.
BM: You have been an admirer of music journalist Chris Welch for a long time, haven't you?
AL: Yes, he always starts with a story which seems irrelevant, like a train journey which ends at the studio. We had this long phone call about the sleevenotes for the Anthology album and the quote I liked the best I had forgotten about until I read it later. Talking about the sixties I said we all thought we were changing the world; we did change the world, I went on to explain, the only trouble is that it changed back again while we weren't looking.
BM: Let us talk about the post TYA era and the start of your solo career with successful 70s albums such as In Flight and Pump Iron, moving on to the 80s era and Rocket Fuel.
AL: I have always been a solo performer to be honest, even with TYA. In the 80s there was this punk thing and I put a blues/rock band together with Tim Hinkley on Keyboards, Andy Pyle on bass and Bryson Graham on drums. It was a great band and before we started touring we did some gigs up north to try things out, billing ourselves as "surprise guest artists." Because Johnny Rotten and the Sex Pistols had been banned from nearly every venue that is how they billed themselves too, and when I looked out at the audience there was all the safety pins in their noses and it was quite funny. So I went out and took a swig of beer and spat it all over them because I heard that is what they do; quite sad really. They were shocked and horrified because they are just young kids dressing up really, they weren't real punks. That was a bad time because it was going back to bad punk music and suddenly the "legendary rockers" like us were regarded as old farts, so I just sat that out; you can only push a boulder up a hill so far as it gets harder and harder and you have to let it rest for a while because all things change. As George Harrison said, "All things must pass" and all things go round in circles, particularly in music. Led Zeppelin are still strong and what has happened to Johnny Rotten? At one time Led Zeppelin were the old farts and the punk bands were the new wave; I used to say that I was the permanent wave!
BM: Who do you appreciate most on the contemporary music scene?
AL: I listen to all of it and learn from all of it but I tend to still like the old stuff that got me started in the first place. It's my birthday tomorrow and I shall wake up playing Whole Lotta Shaking as I do on every birthday as that song just gets me going. To me that is music because it has the feel, it has the vibe, it's got the energy and it's got the words which means a lot to me, "Come on over baby, there's a whole lot of shakin' going on." This is poetry to me, you can keep your Bob Dylan, I prefer Jerry Lee Lewis any day.
BM: A lot of people reading this interview will want to know about your relationships with other members of TYA and how you feel about them using the name for their recent tours and recordings.
AL: I think it is very sad that they are using the name so they can get work, I don't begrudge them trying to make a living playing my music but they should change the name. They are not TYA and they are confusing and upsetting a lot of the original fans many of whom are turning up to concerts expecting to see me playing. When I found out about it I asked the band to change the name slightly to let people know it was not the original TYA but they refused. Very sad.
I know I was always referred to as the dominant member of the band which is very ironic really because I didn't even want to be the front man, I just wanted to play the guitar. When The Jaybirds first went to Hamburg the singer had left the night before we went so I got the job as I was the only one who could sing. My ideal was to be a blues player and to stand at the back of the stage playing my solos with my pint on the amplifier. When things took off with TYA, by being the front man I got bad vibes from the rest of the band which was a shame because in the early days we were very close. The reality is that I never wanted to be singled out but when you are the lead guitarist and the singer you get the spotlight whether you want it or not. Woodstock didn't help when the movie came out and I was on all three screens. After Woodstock I wasn't enamoured by the kind of gigs we were playing because we started off as a kind of underground band and I loved the whole vibe of that; it was blues and R and B with very little compromise to being commercial but after the Woodstock movie came out in 1970 we crossed over into the teeny-bopper scene and I remember doing these ice hockey arenas and baseball stadiums, with little girls running to the front of the stage and screaming and dropping their ice-creams. I thought, what am I doing here, this is not part of my plan. I wanted to de-escalate this and get back to some real playing which is why I started the solo ventures. Management wanted me to keep the name TYA and change the band members the same as Ian Anderson had done with Jethro Tull but I did not think that was an honourable thing to do so I tried to keep the original band together. I valued the early days but it all got lost in egos and jealousy as it does. Eventually it got so painful and miserable I had to let it go and move on. My next touring band was so much better, they appreciated the opportunity and we just had a great time on and off stage. It was like a breath of fresh air and renewed my faith and enthusiasm for making music.
BM: Turning to your current lifestyle, how do you spend your time in this beautiful location overlooking the sea?
AL: Mainly being creative, which is the legacy from the sixties. When I get bored I pick up a pen and draw something or write something or paint or make music; I can't imagine a world without music. Art wise, I won't be doing any shows but I am a big Salvador Dali fan and I went to his museum and got inspired and tried to paint like him. I will never be able to but I enjoy trying; I have some great ideas it's just that I don't have the technique. I use my imagination, the ideas in my head; I might stand on the balcony overlooking the sea and paint mountains that aren't there; people ask me what I am looking at! I am serious about the creative process but not the paintings themselves: I don't call myself a painter but I love the involvement and the process.
BM: It is perhaps premature to talk about epitaphs but what might yours be. Chris Farlowe wants, "Finally, out of time."
AL: I like Spike Milligan's "I told them I was ill." I have got nothing to say when I am dead and to boil it all down to one little phrase to put on a stone when you're dead is a tough one. I think I will settle for "Bollocks." Seriously, I have always been On The Road To Freedom and I have been searching for it all of my life and when I think I have found it, I find that I haven't and the road continues and that is what it is all about. I tell my friends, put me in the dustbin when I die because it's all over. I am not interested about what the history books say; I live for the present. Enjoy life while you have it as it's a very precious thing to have, waking up in your own body. I just hope nobody does my life story and does something terribly embarrassing like these movies such as The Beach Boys life story where Hollywood does a new cheesy version.
BM: Tell us something about the forthcoming album with ex-Jordanaires Scotty Moore and DJ Fontana entitled, Alvin Lee in Tennessee.
AL: It started, oh I'm terrible with dates, 1999 I think, when I was asked to go to a gig Scotty was doing at Air Studios in London with DJ. I had met Scotty in Nashville in about 1995 just as a fan and I had asked him about a certain guitar solo in Hound Dog which was one of those classic guitar solos from Elvis's band. I told him that everyone had been trying to get that off for years and he said, "Well, so have I, I just grabbed a handful!" He did some great guitar solos on those early Elvis tracks and they're all singable solos which is a great thing about them although they are also clever and dexterous. My solos aren't really singable, I kind of jam and blast around and play from the hip as you probably know, and not many people could sing that kind of thing. Anyway, Gibson guitars were putting out a Scotty Moore guitar and it was a little gig at Air Studios to announce that so I went along there. I saw Gary Moore on the way in and Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page were there. When it came to jam session time I was first up; I don't often jam but this was different because of Scotty and DJ. Scotty said "What are we going to play?" and I replied, "Oh a lot of tunes you know well." We started with Rip It Up and I turned round to DJ and sounded out the drum rhythm and he said, "Oh yeah, I had forgotten." We did a medley that also included Mean Woman Blues, Blue Suede Shoes and Hound Dog. It was great and also a real buzz; it was one of those events that was over before it started and you don't really think about it. As I was driving back afterwards I was still hearing all those great drum fills in my head and all those great riffs were bouncing around in my memory. DJ doesn't do a lot of fills but when he does them he makes them count. It occurred to me how great it was because it was all the kind of stuff I had been brought up on. It literally hadn't hit me until that moment how cool it was that I had actually been playing with those guys as I had always been just a fan. So that is where the idea came from; I thought if I can get these guys together to cut some tracks I will start writing some songs that I figured would be in that vein.
It took a couple of years of writing before I felt I was ready and I phoned up Scotty and asked if there was any chance of getting him and DJ in the studio. He replied, "Oh yeah, sure." I asked if he could recommend a studio he knew in Nashville but he offered us the use of his place, his own house. "Great!" I exclaimed immediately as I just couldn't believe it. I went there and sat with Scotty, DJ and the double bass player, Pete Pritchard, a lovely guy who had flown in from England as he does all Scotty's stuff. Pete has been a Bill Black fan for years and he can play all that kind of material on the double bass. DJ is fantastic; he is the only drummer I know, apart from Simon Kirke, who will play through a turn-around at the end of a verse; most English drummers, come the end of a verse when you want to do a guitar lick, will do a drum fill and suddenly everyone is jamming in at the same time which is not how it works with these guys. The other member of Scotty's band was Willie, the pianist who is a good old boy. I played all of my demos and asked them if there was any that they didn't like but they liked all 28 songs I had taken out, from around 100 which I had written. I also had a host of Elvis songs up my sleeve just in case mine didn't work but fortunately they did. I had a pretty good idea which were going to work with those guys so we cut it down to 12 tracks.
Then we had a jam session and me and Scotty sat down, Pete was there too, and I started asking him about all these solos; it was schoolboy time as I asked how he played the solo in Shake, Rattle and Roll. He showed me and the solos aren't that impossible to play its just that you have got to know whereabouts they're starting, what position and what shapes they are working. Scotty plays standard almost jazz style with jazz scales so his first finger is always below the root note which I don't do. Blues players usually play their first finger on the root note and bluff it from there. Scotty plays the proper way. Once I had sussed that, a lot of his solos started falling together and we had this great session which included Lawdy Miss Clawdy; Scotty practically told me off for playing it too fast, "Everybody does that, you've got to hit the pocket." Sadly, this bit of the session wasn't recorded but in a way that was probably for the best. The one that got away.
The next day was the recording session and DJ had his drums set up; he plays surprisingly loud actually. Scotty's studio is just a house, what was his living room is the studio and he extended his front porch which is where DJ and Pete were, so they could watch and hear each other and keep it tight. I was kind of through the window looking at them and able to see the control room through another window. I played my first demo and the guys made notes and then we just played it, not perfectly but great. We never did more than three takes and usually it was my fault if it ever went wrong. They were so professional; I never had to ask them to move it up or to give it a bit of life as it was there straight away and we got 11 tracks down in just two days. The twelfth track got forgotten in all the excitement, another one that got away. There was a funny incident with Willie. I had this piano part, as some of the songs I write on a computer piano, so I do a boogie-woogie riff with two bars then loop it and that is my basis of the song. Willie couldn't actually play the riff and play right hand as well but he explained as he looked over his shoulder that he could play that on his left hand and overdub the right hand but Scotty didn't like overdubs because he prefers it to be all done at once. That really is the best way and its fine if you have Elvis as a singer of course but I am not that good and I would prefer to overdub my vocals, so I told him I would talk Scotty into it. I concentrate on my guitar when I put the track down and do a rough vocal so that everyone knows where we are and then usually I get a better vocal later on, although some of the tracks are live. I did some of the vocal overdubs in Dan Penn's studio. Tim Hinkley, one of the best English keyboard players and now living in Nashville had introduced me to Dan. The studio is called the Memphis Rooms and it is done up like a 1950s Chevrolet; all of the interior is leather with buttons and for the recording light he has the tail light of a chevvy which makes it very atmospheric. He has a microphone that Elvis had used, a 1956 RCA mike, which I said we definitely had to use because it was one of those big chrome things about the size of your head which was brilliant. I did all the vocals in an afternoon. I had figured that it was something to be going on with but in fact I didn't get them any better. To complete the recordings, I used the El Cortijo studio in Spain which belongs to Trevor Morais, ex Peddlers, and which attracts such divas as Mariah Carey and Kylie. Anyway, that is how it all panned out; I didn't have a grand plan but it all went superbly. The main horrors were getting the tapes transferred and brought over to England as I had to have safety copies all over the place, some were sent by post, others by courier, the rest in my suitcase. Whatever happened I knew that I would get something back safely.
BM: Talk us through some of the tracks on the CD
AL: It's all pretty straightforward, based on the boogie, called "Shake it baby" music by Scotty's girlfriend, Gail. It was Gail who got all the old guitars out and she knew all about them. She is Scotty's right hand man and if it wasn't for her I don't think the session would have ever come together. She helped organise the whole thing and also treated us to some Great Southern cooking. I borrowed a Gibson 335 out there which was a bit risky but I figured that taking a guitar to Nashville was a bit like taking coals to Newcastle and I know this guy out there called Mickey Butler who runs this great shop called Valley Arts Guitars with over 600 guitars to choose from and he told me just to help myself.
Lets Boogie is a straight boogie; Rock and Roll Girls is a good one because that is about all the girls like Dizzy Miss Lizzie, Peggy Sue and Lucille and how I love them. I was listening to Jerry Lee Lewis this morning and I still love that stuff as you just can't beat it. Take my Time is an interesting track; Scotty has this ear problem in that he is deaf in one ear which is a terrible thing to happen to a guitarist because you lose more than half of your hearing, you lose about three-quarters of it. On some tracks he asked to do his guitar later but he played on that one and boy was it good; we did some swapping of licks.
I'm Gonna Make It is one of my favourites, really grooving and one of the live ones on the album, just as it was recorded; it felt so good I didn't want to stop so I just carried on soloing which you can do with CDs as it doesn't matter how long it goes on for. It's a Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry type of number which is perfect for a double bass played in front of a mike which gives such an organic sound. In fact, this is the first time I have recorded with double bass and it is brilliant because the drums don't play solid bass drum. DJ uses a very light bass drum and he uses the hard bass drum as a push thing like a cymbal crash and then he'll bash the bass drum but a lot of the time he is just back-pedaling because the bass is providing a lot of the percussion through the clicking and slapping sound they get. I'm Going To Make It was a pivotal track because I must have done about 11 solos and that inspired the other musicians from then on in as they liked that vibe. Normally, they have songs of a set length of about 3 minutes or less with clearly defined starts and endings but I said if it sounds good we just keep playing. I don't think Dolly Parton would like to have a lot of solos on the end of her single but I do!
Something's Gonna Get You is a slinky kind of song, very different with a weird bass line and hardly any drums at all, it's got a shaker and other percussion such as maracas that DJ played. Why Did You Do It is straight ahead rock and roll. Getting Nowhere Fast is a nice little song I recorded on acoustic guitar with bass and drums and I put another acoustic on it and other gadgets and echoes but then I decided that it was best left organic as it was originally recorded. The themes like Take My Time are very Nashville in that there is not too much rushing around.
We could have got a double CD out of the songs I took there but I intend to go back and record more of a blues/rock album next time. I play much more tasty these days; I mean you have got guitarists like Eddie Van Halen and Steve Vai who are high-speed technical guitarists and even I am starting to say these guys are too fast and it's daft because you can't tell what they are doing and after five minutes you have heard it all and there is too much sameness. The more you learn, the more you play and the more you learn to leave out and so the spaces become more important; you become more simplistic and go for the essence because once you have the technique anyone can fly up and down the fretboard. Although I use speed in my arsenal, it is best if you can do the light and shade, something mellow followed by a Tommy gun type burst has much more effect than playing flat out all the time. The best Jazz musicians are good at playing it simple and saving the clever bits and chucking them in sparingly here and there.
Tell Me Why is another basic rocker and Lets Get It On is another track with Scotty on, a mellow one on which we swap solos. The last track is the national anthem I'm Going Home which I wasn't going to do but Pete the bass player insisted that we did it as it was one of his favourites. I played them a version of it and they started making notes so I explained there was no point because I never play it the same ever. Scotty observed, "Why would anyone want to play that fast?" and I said that he would and in fact did so on Shake, Rattle and Roll. His response was, "Well that was a long time ago." You get an adrenaline rush, you want to impress people and that is how you end up playing fast and it still happens to me even though I tell everyone I am playing cooler these days. The bass playing on Going Home is brilliant and so is DJ. We did about three takes because I kept changing the arrangement; I never had it fixed and couldn't remember it if it was, and it is quite long anyway so I was worried that it might wear them out, but no way! Those guys can rock!
The album should be out by March on the Repertoire label in Europe and Rainman in the USA/rest of the world. Strangely, the cover photograph shows me sitting down, as it was taken when we were jamming, whereas in fact I never sit down when I am recording. I am thinking of putting a disclaimer on the CD cover. "Alvin Lee wishes it known that at no time during the recording of this album did he sit down to play the guitar."
Copyright Alvin Lee Ltd.
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