Alvin Lee - Still On The Road to Freedom
Alvin's newest CD, Still On the Road to Freedom
has been released on Rainman Records in the
USA and in Europe on Repertoire Records.
We've printed a few of Alvin's most recent
interviews discussing Still On
the Road to
Freedom ...but please remember
to visit the
websites of the interviewers.
And don't forget
to catch some of the reviews.
The Alvin Lee Interview
Discussion about guitar heroes from the 1960s
typically revolves around Jimi Hendrix, Eric
Clapton, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, with an occasional
shout-out to Pete Townshend, Duane Allman
and Jerry Garcia. Of course, there were many
other able-bodied guitarists from the era
who could swing with the best of them. One
man who regularly topped the polls and still
commands a hefty penance of reverence is
As the guitarist, voice, songwriter and focal
point of Ten Years After, Lee’s furious
playing propped up by a no-nonsense, semi-rockabilly
approach was key to the band’s live
performances. Nowhere is this more apparent
than by the 10-minute scene from the Woodstock
movie featuring Lee and TYA blazing through
“I’m Going Home.” By the
time the band made its way to the mainstream,
Lee had decided to switch gears and make
his first solo album (with Mylon LeFevre)
boosting a title that more or less summed
up his feelings at the time — On The Road To Freedom.
In the years since, Alvin Lee has not become
a superstar solo act, but he’s cranked
out over a dozen albums of varying styles
and disciplines, and worked with people like
George Harrison, Mylon LeFevre, Ron Wood,
Scotty Moore and D.J. Fontana. His 2012 release,
Still On The Road To Freedom, is simply, as he told me during the following
interview, a reassertion of his independence,
making “free music for the soul.”
At 67, living comfortably in Spain, playing
as fluidly and furiously as ever —
Alvin Lee is on a road to freedom most certainly
paved with gold.
Hi Alvin. It’s great to be speaking
with you today. How’s it
I’m doing fine. Thank you very much.
How is it in Spain today?
Oh, it’s warm as usual. Pretty much
like California. Where are you exactly?
I'm in Long Beach, California.
Great. I only ask because I was talking to
a guy yesterday for about 20 minutes, and
he said, “Well, if you’re ever
Detroit‛&” And I said, “Oh,
you’re in Detroit?” And we went
on for another half an hour, talking about
Detroit. That’s a rock ‘n roll
city. Long Beach Arena‛&I remember
I saw you there in the late 70s with Ten
Oh yeah? Cool.
So, let’s get into Still On The Road To Freedom, the sequel to your 1973 album, On The Road To Freedom.
It’s not really a sequel. It's just
the title track. I wrote the title song,
"Still On The Road To Freedom.”
It's not meant to be a sequel. I think someone
said that in the anecdote. It doesn’t
matter. It’s an extension‛&no,
it’s not even that (laughs). The only
link is the freedom to write music I want.
On The Road To Freedom was about that, and Still On The Road To Freedom is about that too.
You don’t have the same musicians as
the first one. You have bassist
drummer Richard Newman, and keyboardist
Hinkley, who played on the first
That’s right. Tim has playing keyboards
with me for years since ’72. In fact,
me and Tim had a band together called the
Gits — with Tim, me, Ian Wallace on
the drums and Mel Collins on the sax. We
didn’t actually do any touring; we
just recorded, played and had fun.
You’re covering a lot of ground and
different styles on the new record
blues, country, rock, even a
Well, you could call it that. I prefer to
call it Spanish-influenced melodies.
Tell me how you came to write the title track.
I always liked the first solo album. It was
a bit of a landmark being my first solo album.
So I thought I’d write a song about
still being on the road to freedom. And I
go back and see the same guy there 40 years
ago. It’s the same rhythm as the original
song. That’s the main connection really.
And of course, freedom, as I said earlier.
I mean, freedom is a very relative thing
— it depends of where your situation
is in life. We’re always searching
freedom, but it’s not always the same
freedom you’re searching for.
Song of the Red Rock Mountain” is a
up on the spot while testing
I assume you were also playing
at the time.“
That’s the one I was talking about
when you said “world music.”
I was in the studio, waiting for my tech
to come around and I’d bought a new
microphone. So I just plugged it in and thought
I’d check it out. I started to play
anything that came to my mind, and that beautiful
little song came up. I like it when that
happens. We just put it down in around 10
minutes, wondering, “Where did that
come from?” And it’s not premeditated.
Sometimes it’s like you grab it out
of the ether. You just reach up and, “Oh,
there’s a song. Let’s pull that
You have “Love Like A Man 2,”
a remake of “Love like
which you recorded with Ten Years
the band’s 1970 album Cricklewood
What prompted you to redo that
I was just toying around with this cool rhythm,
kind of an R&B rhythm, an oldie, along
the lines of Smiley Lewis, “I Hear
You Knocking.” And I thinking I like
this rhythm, what can I put to it. And that
just kind of came up. I didn’t think
much of it at first actually, but as I worked
on it, it got better. So it’s on the
Going back to 1973, On The Road To Freedom certainly showed a different side of the
Alvin Lee people knew with Ten
Was that your intention?
Yeah, absolutely, that was 100 percent my
intention. I needed to make a change and
get away from what I thought at the time
was us repeating ourselves over and over
again. It’s funny because even the
lady who runs my website, she’s a big
fan. When she first got On The Road To Freedom, she gave it away because she was expecting
something like Ten Years After. Quite a few
people felt like that, but strangely enough
over the years that particular album has
probably sold more than any of the other
ones. It’s a long seller (laughs).
And you had Mylon LeFevre on it. Do you still
talk to him?
I do, yeah. He’s actually a minister
who runs a ministry out of Texas now. He’s
just written a book, which includes some
of the wild times we had.
Did you ask him to be on the new record?
I thought about it, but he’s living
an entirely different life. He doesn’t
actually sing anymore. He’s dedicated
himself to this church.
How about some of the other people who appeared
on the original? Mick Fleetwood?
No, there wasn’t a plan to do that.
It probably would have been a good idea,
but it was never my intention to make another
On The Road To Freedom. Just kind of nodding to the original On The Road To Freedom and saying I’m still on it. It’s
all different stuff. It’s not supposed
to be the same as On The Road To Freedom. It’s free music for the soul.
I read you actually got to know George Harrison
when Mylon brought him to your
house to make
I’d met George before. We’d met
quite a few times and had a few jam sessions.
But him being a famous Beatle and me being
a bit shy, I would never have dreamed of
asking him to come and play on an album.
It would have been a bit cheeky, really.
He’s got millions of fans. But Mylon
didn’t mind (laughs). He went over
and said, “Oh George, we want you to
play on the album.” Of course, George
was a musician and he didn’t think
twice about it. So he came.
The funny story is about the song “So
Sad,” which George wrote. Mylon said
to George, “I’d really like to
do one of your songs on this album.”
And George said, “Well, I’ve
done thousands of songs. I have the Beatles
songs and songs on my solo albums you could
do.” And Mylon, very cleverly, said,
“George, you played them so well. I
need to do one you haven’t done yet.”
And George said, “I’ve got this
one song I’ve been working on, which
I think might be a hit.” And Mylon
said, “I’ll take it!” (laughs)
That night, I finished building the studio
and actually, I was a bit late with that.
I had the whole band down and I had them
all putting up acoustic panels in the studio
to finish it off. When we finally finished,
Mylon, “Well, where do all the musicians
hang out?” And I said, “Speakeasy.”
So he put his zoot suit on and went down
to Speakeasy and came back three hours later
and said, “I got us a band, man.”
You obviously struck a chord with George
because you two recorded several
Do you have a favorite you did
Yeah, “The Bluest Blues.” The
first guitar solo is George and it’s
really beautiful‛&one of the best
slide guitar solos I’ve ever heard.
I said, “I got this one that needs
a bit slide on it George.” and he said,
“I’ll be right over.” And
he played this beautiful, melodic solo. George
doesn’t jam like me. I’m a jammer,
I fire from the hip. But George writes a
song when he does a solo, he writes a tune
that becomes the solo. So he had this beautiful
melody and a really nice touch. It kind of
put me on the spot because I had to come
up with something to match it. I think I
did pretty good.
Back in the day, you were often cited as
one of the fastest guitar player
Most definitely up there with
Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page.
Do you hear
your influence in any of the
have come along since then? ;
Yeah, quite a bit actually‛&the
odd licks. That’s a compliment in a
way. I don’t mind that at all.
You listen to someone like Eddie Van Halen,
and you think he must have been
to Alvin Lee.
I don’t know who he was listening to
(laughs). When I first heard Eddie Van Halen,
he was the one responsible for getting me
to start practicing again. I first heard
Eddie do a solo, and I thought, “Whoa‛&I
better get my guitar out and start practicing.”
You have a song on the new record called
“Back in ’69,”
and I wanted
to ask you about a particular
Sunday in 1969
when you played this gig in upstate
This little gig called Woodstock.
Yeah, that was a nice little gig..
I understand you had technical problems,
but when it came to “I’m
Home,” everything sort
of fell in place
and they were able to film the
That’s right. We just went right on
after the rain storm. There was a lot of
humidity in the air and all the guitars went
madly out of tune and we actually had to
stop. The song was “Good Mornin’
Little School Girl” and I had to stop
it and say, “Sorry‛&excuse
me‛&I want to get us in tune here.”
At that point, it was looking like a disaster.
But as you see from the movie, we manage
to get back on course.
Did you have any idea that that would be
a game changer for you?
Well, nothing happened for a year. We continued
to play the Fillmore and the Boston Tea Party‛&two
to three-thousand seaters. It wasn’t
until the movie came out that suddenly we
found ourselves playing Houston Coliseums
and Madison Square Gardens.
I was watching the Blu-ray last night and
relived your Woodstock performance.
you’re done, you pick up
Where on earth did that watermelon
It just sort of rolled on. I didn’t
see where it came from. It just rolled onto
the stage. I don’t know why or what
was going through my mind. I just casually
threw my guitar into the drum kit and picked
up this watermelon (laughs). At all the gigs
after the movie came out — we were
playing big festivals and stuff like that
— and (during) the last number, about
200 watermelons were all bobbing away in
the audience. And by the end of the last
number, the whole stage is covered in watermelon
You obviously had great success with Ten
Years After, and have played
off and on with
the other guys over the years.
Do you foresee
a time when you might play with
It’s not really likely. We tried it
a few times. And it usually ended in —
what shall I say — discontent (laughs).
We put the band together again in 1990 and
did a world tour, and we’ve done it
two or three times since then. It’s
a bit like going on tour with four ex-wives.
It’s great at first, but then you have
one little bitch and then everyone’s
going, “There you go again. This is
the trouble with you.” All the baggage
comes out, you know.
Outside of Ten Years After, you have played
with some of the greatest musicians
planet. There were all the guys
on your first
album — Steve Winwood,
Boz Burrell, Ron Wood, and George
And then in 2004, you got together
Moore and D.J. Fontana (members
Presley’s original backing
made Alvin Lee in Tennessee.
That must have
been a great experience.
It was fantastic. Scotty and D.J. were playing
in London, promoting a new album or something.
Every guitarist I know got invites. Gary
Moore was there. We had a jam session and
I was first up. I did this medley of Elvis
hits. It was great fun. I went back to being
like 14, 15-years-old when I was listening
to those records. Suddenly, there was those
guys playing behind me and it gave me such
a buzz. I said, “Is there any chance
I can get you guys in the studio and make
an album?” And they said, “Yeah,
So I went off and wrote some appropriate
songs. I called up Scotty and said, “I’ve
got some songs ready — and where would
you like to record?” And he said, “Well,
we’ll record at my place,” which
was fantastic. I couldn’t have wished
anything more. He has a house with a built-in
studio. Actually, it’s a studio with
an adjoining kitchen and bedroom. He’s
got all his Elvis memorabilia there and all
his great guitars. I was like a kid in a
Did they tell you any secrets about Elvis?
Tell you any good stories?
Oh yeah. There were a lot of great stories.
You guys did “I’m Going Home,”
which is really fantastic. How
did you like
revisiting that one?
That was fun. Pete (Pritchard) the bass player‛&it
wasn’t on the plan, but Pete said,
“Let’s do 'Going Home,' it'll
be great.” And I said, “Ok, we’ll
give it a shot.” And we played it once,
and it was fantastic. D.J. Fontana might
not be the cleverest drummer, he might not
be doing all the drum fills, but he’s
got such a rhythm going. He’s like
a train behind you. He just pushes you along.
Not too fast, not too slow. He’s got
the beat, he’s got the pocket.
So getting back to you Still On The Road To Freedom, do you have any plans to play some shows
or do a tour behind it?
I’m hoping to. There’s no plans
as such yet. I don’t actually tour
anymore in the old sense of like doing 12
weeks on the road. I’m more likely
to show up at the odd festival. That’s
the kind of thing I like to do. There’s
always a good chance of that. I like to do
open air festivals these days. It’s
just a nice vibe to look up and see the sky.
It’s much better than being inside.
You don’t have the acoustics to battle
When was the last time you played here in
That would be 1999. It would have been the
Woodstock anniversary gig at Bethel Woods.
“I’d Love To Change The World”
has a certain relevance in these
Always. It’s never lost its relevance
actually. It’s harder to change it.
Every year, it gets harder and harder.
Would you still love to change the world?
Well, that’s the point of the song:
I’d love to change the
world, but I
don’t know what to do and
leave it up to you. I’m
the world does need changing.
to do it, but I haven’t
got the talent.
I don’t think I’m
a world changer
Musoscribe with Bill Kopp
Off the Road Yet On the Road: A Talk with
Guitarist Alvin Lee first rose
prominence with his band Ten
The band's performance of I'm
is a highlight of both the Woodstock
and the accompanying soundtrack.
enjoyed a number of hits - most
I'd Love to Change the World.
In 1973 Lee
stepped out for a solo album,
On the Road
to Freedom. He has remained active
leaving TYA, with a relatively
string of solo albums. His latest
bears echoes of his first solo
showcases his mastery of a wide
styles. Recently, Alvin spoke
with me from
his home in Spain. - bk
Bill Kopp: The first thing I notice when
listening to Still On the Road
is perhaps the most obvious,
but it's also
remarkable: Your voice. Your
as heard on this new album: it
a bit different from the way
on I'd Love to Change the World
or I'm Going
Home, forty years ago. Do you
to keep your voice in shape?
Alvin Lee: No. I'm afraid I haven't
to divulge about that. That's
just the way
it is; genetics, probably.
BK: There's always been a strong early rock
to your original songs. I'm a Lucky Man, on
the new record, for example,
be a cover from 1957.
AL: It almost could have been
1957. I tried to get the authentic
on that one; I was quite pleased
BK: On songs like that, do you
set out to
write in a particular style,
or do you just
write a song first and then apply
style to it?
AL: The style generally comes
the song. That one has pretty
much of a rock'n'roll,
"Whole Lotta Shakin" rhythm.
So I get the
rhythm going, and then I think,
I going to say in this one?"
BK: One of the trends that I notice among
many artists who came to prominence
60s and 70s is a tendency to
- how can I
put it - stop rocking. One can
go too far
in one direction or another:
you could get
all acoustic and mellow, or you
out 100% of the time and come
off a bit ridiculous.
AL: That's always been the dilemma,
it? That's why I did Still On
the Road to
Freedom, because I'm right in
between the two.
BK: You balance the two extremes nicely on
this record. You have contemplative,
tracks like "Walk On, Walk
but they sit nicely alongside
Was that mix, that variety, by
AL: I've always been keen to
not be obsessed,
to not get stuck with styles.
Because I like
so many different styles of music.
things by Chet Atkins, Scotty
Berry, Django Reinhardt, Wes
All those guys have been an influence.
BK: On 2009's Saguitar, the cover art shows
that iconic Gibson that's become
associated with you. Do you still
ES, and - besides acoustic guitars
other guitars do you use?
AL: I don't use that one, any
is quite sad: unfortunately,
up in a vault. Ever since somebody
me half a million dollars for
it! I wrote
in the song "Once There Was a
Time" [on Ten
Years After's 1971 LP A Space
in Time] that
I'd never sell my guitar. And
I've kept to
I've got several guitars. Gibson
anniversary replica of the Woodstock
they made a hundred hand-built
then they put it into production.
quite a few kicking about. But
I like to
use off-the-shelf guitars; if
to one, you can replace it easily.
Some of the bands I've seen,
they take fifteen
guitars on the road. A hundred
worth of guitars onstage; it's
all very well, but I prefer to
one guitar, and try to make it
do as many
things as I can.
BK: What sort of gigs are you doing in support
of the new album?
AL: I did a gig about a month
ago in Holland,
at a festival. It was really
great; the Dutch
people are really cool. The festival
a huge arts section, with paintings,
A lot of stuff going on. Before
that, I was
busy finishing the album, so
I hadn't had
a gig - and the band hadn't played
– in eight months. And of course
at a festival,
there's no sound check; there
are bands playing
all day. So went onstage cold,
played for eight months, and
then we actually
played one of the best gigs in
any of our
I think that's because, when
you play every
night, you can start to go into
thing is to play as much as you
to still enjoy it. And of course
in the 1970s,
Woodstock having been a big deal,
I was playing
five, six, seven nights a week.
You do that,
and you can start becoming a
stand us up, plug us in, and
out the same old set.
Bill Kopp: The title and cover art of your
new album Still On the Road to
reference your 1973 collaboration
LeFevre. Beyond the text and
is the connection between the
Alvin Lee: There's not really
The only connection is that in
1972 I wrote
the words to "On the Road
and what I'm saying now is that
on that road. I still haven't
There’s only that one song that's
[to the old record]. The rest
of the album
is new music, the sort of things
out as my music today. I'm not
do a sequel, a follow-up.
BK: If someone asked me to describe
on Still On the Road to Freedom
a single genre label to it, I
it. There's country rock, blues,
style rock, quiet acoustic numbers,
on. Do you think that - in an
- that the end of the record
we used to know it has meant
are free to follow their muse
where it takes
them, rather than being expected
to turn in twelve songs in a
AL: It's a nice thought, but
To get that freedom- and I went
for it in
1973 - I was giving up a lot.
I was giving
up the road to fame and fortune.
to freedom was for my health,
But record companies today, if
you sign with
a big record company, they practically
the artist. They tell them where
to go, what
TV [shows] to do. It's actually
it's ever been. But of course
there are more
bands playing on a smaller level.
record companies that will pretty
something out if they like it.
dealing in hits any more. And
spending $200,000 on promotion.
So, yes and no. There is more
bands to record; it's something
fought for. The record company
says, "We want an album
that's the same
as the last one," and I
I'm gonna send you one that I
like. And I
hope you like it. If not, don't
BK: When I was a kid, I often heard the label
"fastest guitar in the west"
to you. I don't remember now
where I heard
that. But while you don't always
do so, you
can play really fast, like on
the new track
"Back in '69." Back
in the day,
do you think that there was an
- when people came to see and
hear you with
Ten Years After - that you'd
have to play
like that? To show just that
one side of
your talent, the flash side?
AL: To a degree, that was a part
of the freedom
I was searching for, too. They
used to call
me Captain Speedfingers, too;
I didn't take
all that seriously. There were
and are many
faster guitarists than me. People
McLaughlin and Django Reinhardt:
nimble. But with me, I think
of the way I play. Light and
play it cool, and then I'll hit
riffs. And that makes the rocket
I've been to see some great guitarists
I won't mention any names - who
practice twelve hours a day.
But after ten
minutes, you've heard everything
BK: On Saguitar you played most of the instruments
yourself. On this latest, you
still do a
lot of the work, but you have
players for most tracks. How
do you think
that changed the nature of the
AL: I think the new one has a
feel. On Saguitar, I was "concocting"
feel. I used computer drums and
most of the instruments myself.
I have always
had a fascination with Les Paul,
he used to overdub his guitar
So it was partly that: trying
to see how
real a sound I could get by myself,
it on the computer. And I think
it was pretty
good; I spent a lot of time and
get the right feel, to capture
of the various instruments. On
the new album
I've got Pete Pritchard on the
Richard Newman on drums. So it's
of a live feel to it.
BK: Are there any plans at all
for some North
American dates in support of
Still On the
Road to Freedom?
AL: None planned as of yet, but
anywhere someone wants me. It's
You''ve got to get visas, air
a big deal. You can't just pop
over and do
one gig. That's what I do in
I do a festival on a Saturday
night - or
any night, basically - and keep
my hand in
that way. But those tours of
five or six
nights a week, I'm not up for
that any more.
It kills off the fun of making
with a rock 'n' roll band becomes
and then you've got a big problem
hands. I never really wanted
to be a rock
...Actually, I don't want to
lie. When I
was really young, I wanted to
be a big star
and make lots of money. But it
the reality doesn't ever quite
match up to
the dream. Once you get there,
it's not just
about having fun. It's a lot
and a lot of pressure. That builds
you, and sometimes you turn to
drugs. And those don’t make things
BK: Your discography notes that you "do
not play with the band currently
as Ten Years After." Is
this one of
those situations where ownership
of the band
name is contested, or is it something
something more cordial?
AL: Well, it could have been
I was really not happy with what
It was behind my back, and all
But those guys spent as much
time on the
road all those years ago as I
did, so they
have some right to do it. I just
had called it something else,
like Ten Years
After II, or something like that.
BK: Maybe Forty Years After…
AL: I think that's what it is
August 20th, 2012
By Damian Fanelli
From a guitarist's perspective,
Woodstock film, which documents
and lows of the August 1969 Woodstock
has several highlights.
There's Jimi Hendrix's immortal
take on "The
Star-Spangled Banner"; a
performance by newcomers Santana;
Townshend's high-flying Gibson
with The Who, to name just a
But for a full-on blues-rocking experience,
there's no beating Ten Years
reading of "I'm Going Home."
performance, an intense nod to
and '50s rock and roll, featured
fretwork of Ten Years After frontman
"The solo on the movie sounds
to me these days," Lee told Guitar
late last week. "But it had the
that was what Ten Years After
were all about
at the time."
The performance made stars out
of the British
band, which led to more festivals,
change and their biggest hit,
Love to Change the World."
the band still tours, they do
Lee, who has found happiness
as a solo artist,
carefully choosing a handful
performances per year.
Lee is releasing a new studio
On the Road to Freedom, August
27 via Rainman
Records. The title is a reference
1973 album with Mylon LeFevre,
On the Road
Lee recently took some time to
new album and his gear over the
his famous Woodstock-era "Big
GUITAR AFICIONADO: How often
do you pick
up a guitar and play these days?
Pretty much every day. I write
all the time; it's my hobby and
I have a Spanish gut-strung guitar,
resonator and a Line 6 Variax
the wall, and they all get played
The new Variax is very impressive.
Your new album covers a lot of
the past, looking to the future
a myriad of different sounds.
Was that intentional?
It kind of evolved from luck
as if it were trying to get out
on its own.
I originally had 33 songs to
As they developed and evolved,
I picked out
the ones that showed the most
I continued to work on them,
I realized they
pretty much went through most
of my musical
influences and styles over the
from then on it became a time-warp
What gear did you use on the new album?
Mainly a Gibbo [Gibson] ES-335
and a Martin
acoustic. I used a Wal bass and
baritone guitar for bass, as
well as Pete
Pritchard's Music Man and a doghouse
bass called Charlie Boy.
Amp-wise, I used a Wem 15 Dominator
very old Yamaha I bought from
I also used the original Pod,
which is better
than the new ones, as a pre-amp
into a Fender
Champ and Mustang. Plus Guitar
Rig and Amplitude
and too many others to mention.
On "Listen to Your Radio
I used the Metalizer pedal Leslie
me. It's quite radical and has
to be tamed,
as the slightest finger twitch
through the amp. Leslie came
up to me at
the Night of the Guitars sound
said, "Alvin, you're a damn
but you're not loud enough."
proceeded to give me loudness
like Leslie's playing. He has
and roll phrasing.
What is some of your more prized gear, the
things you’'d rush to save from
a fire, for
My Martin acoustic. I bought
it in New York
in 1970, and the guy gave me
a receipt for
$150 for the customs. I walked
into the "something
to declare" channel and
showed the guy
the receipt. He opened the case
"A Martin guitar with Grover
heads for $150?" I had only
musical instrument expert customs
Four hours later, I walked out
with my Martin
having paid a fine, a penalty
had to buy it back. Ever since
used the "nothing to declare"
On the album opener, the title track, you
can immediately tell it’'s Alvin
Lee on guitar
- not just because of your note
also your sound. How would you
say your sound
has evolved over the years? Are
using that Woodstock ES-335?
I've still got the original Woodstock
but, sadly, I don't use it these
it has become too valuable. She's
a vault since some loony offered
a million dollars for her.
Sound-wise, I never use pedal
stage and seldom in the studio.
to get my overload sustain from
Marshall cranked up high, then
the guitar down to 5 or 6, you
get a nice
clean jazz sound. The crunch
comes in around
7 or 8. What else do you need?
How involved were you in the creation of
Gibson's Custom "Big Red"
That all came about because of
at Gibson. He asked me if I’d
and I said of course, it’s a
So he came over to England to
and measure Big Red, and Gibson
took it from there. I had no
until I got the first prototype.
Then I made
a few changes, which resulted
in my getting
several more prototypes. Now
I’ve got a whole
bunch of them — a gaggle of Gibsons.
Who were your favorite guitarists
were growing up?
My favorite country blues player
Bill Broonzy. City blues was
but I liked them all — Muddy
Lee Hooker, Ralph Willis, Lonnie
Brownie McGhee and the three
Albert and Freddie. Jazz-wise,
to Django, Barney Kessel and
Charlie Christian, Benny Goodman’s
was a great influence on my swing
My all-time favorite rock and
were Scotty Moore, Chuck Berry
Beecher, and I listened to the
of Merle Travis.
Did you admire the other great
of the time, Johnny Winter?
Strangely enough, I wasn't into
I preferred Peter Green's subtle
saw him with John Mayall's Bluesbreakers
at the Marquee Club in London
and was very
impressed. He was the only guitarist
ever seen to turn the volume
control on his
guitar down during a solo.
What kind of delay/reverb, amp and overdrive
did you use on the solo on "I'd
to Change the World"?
As far as I remember, it was
a Wem Dominator
used as a pre-amp into the old
I had the Wem 15-Watt power amp
to guitar input level. The echo
was an EMT
The first time I saw the Woodstock film,
I was completely knocked out
by Ten Years
After's performance of "I'Going
remember thinking I'd never seen
guitarist play that fast before,
in the context of 1969. And then
the intensity of the band. It
was a bit chaotic
yet completely hemmed in by a
beat. Where did that come from?
You’re obviously a man of very
Seriously, though, I never really
play fast. It kind of developed
adrenalin rush of the hundreds
of gigs I
did long before Woodstock. They
but I didn't take it seriously.
many guitarists faster than me
Barney Kessel, John McLaughlin
and Joe Pass
to name a few.
The solo on the movie sounds
to me these days, but it had
and that was what Ten Years After
about at the time. However, I
what would have happened if they
"ICant Keep From Crying"
movie instead of" I'm Going
Anything else you'd like to add?
Rush out and buy Still On the
Road to Freedom!
A Conversation With Alvin Lee
Mike Ragogna: Hello Mr. Alvin
god from Ten Years After and
your own solo
career. You've got a new album,
the Road to Freedom, the title
being a play
off of one of your classic albums.
Alvin Lee: I'm fine. How are
MR: Dandy. And no, you're not
part of Canned
AL: No, but that's okay, they're
band. We used to play with them
in the early
sixties in Golden Gate Park,
and they came
to England and they were good
MR: Right. Remember any of those
AL: I can remember Golden Gate
it was a free concert. It was
in the height of the sixties
and all that.
I went back to The Bear's house
and he had this great collection
of '78 records
and we spent the whole evening
to the John Lee Hooker, Muddy
Big Bill Broonzy and the likes.
got along well with those guys.
in touch with Fito the drummer.
He is one
of the best shuffle drummers
in the business.
MR: Alvin, who are some of your
people who inspired you?
AL: I was really lucky, my dad
was an early
inspiration. He was an avid music
of ethnic music. He had things
like an album
called Murderous Home, which
was prison work
songs. He also brought Bill Broonzy
to the house one time after he
played a gig
in Nottingham. Big Bill was a
on me. Once when I was 12 years
old, I sold
my clarinet and bought a guitar
day. Big Bill, Ralph Lewis, Lonnie
Ledbelly, Muddy Waters, Brownie
King...I liked all those guys.
I also liked
the jazz side of Johnny Christian,
Barney Kessel, Django (Reinhardt).
course, rock 'n' roll. Scotty
Moore is my
big favorite. Chuck Berry. Also,
a bit of
country I used to listen to like
and Merle Travis. They were all
There are probably a lot of others,
I've played a little classical,
as well. All around influences.
MR: When you're playing live
new projects, do you ever find
out a classical guitar or doing
AL: I do little vignettes of
it between the
numbers. I play a little bit
Me A River" and country
like a Merle Travis kind of thing.
kind of throw those in for fun.
I don't actually
do any jazz songs as such in
the sense that
I keep nodding my head and playing
bits like that. (laughs)
MR: Let's talk about the new
on the Road to Freedom. In order
context, is it best to talk a
tiny bit about
the original, On the Road to
AL: It's not as much a sequel.
It's a new
album. The word "freedom"
out of the one song. I wrote
that one song,
"Still on the Road to Freedom,"
so that became the theme for
the album, and
then I thought it would be cool
to have a
cover that looks a bit like the
and let people know I'm still
on the road
to freedom. It's always been
been searching for--freedom.
It's a very
relative thing. It means different
to different people. Musical
always been very strong for me,
to strive for, to be able to
play the music
you enjoy playing rather than
that other people want to hear,
which I find
rather shallow and unrewarding.
So I make
albums I like and I put them
out and hope
other people like them and that's
of freedom in itself.
MR: Given you're talking to me
at KRUU, the
Midwest's only solar-powered
to throw that in--I especially
to Your Radio Station."
AL: Thought you might like that
the coolest music across the
good stuff and all for free,
it must be cool
if they're playing me."
I have a feeling on. These days,
people have iPods and tend to
to their favorite music but it's
music over and over again. I
listening to the radio to hear
you haven't heard before. It's
a very healthy
thing to do. It's strange, unless
your iPods every couple of weeks,
listening to and recycling the
all of the time. I'm serious.
Listen to your
radio station. One thing that
me with radio stations, I hear
and think, "Oh this is good,
this?" And I wait for the
end of the
record, they give the station
ID and the
time. I know that, but they don't
who the artist is. I find that
MR: At our radio station, we
plus you can see all of the titles
AL: God bless the digital age.
Must be a
cool radio station.
MR: Indeed, sir! Let's get the
story on "Song
of the Red Rock Mountain,"
inspired you to write it?
AL: I'm actually getting good
that one. It's off the wall.
It's not rock
'n' roll by any means; it has
a Spanish flavor.
Strangely enough, I was sitting
in the studio
waiting for my tech to come and
I had to
sort out some wiring or something,
so I thought
to test this new microphone.
I stuck the
microphone up, picked up my Martin
and, basically, it practically
came out instantly.
I got that little rhythm going
and the very
simple tune. "That was quite
I thought. Then I thought maybe
I'd go back
to it and try to do it properly.
I went back
to it about twenty times and
it never got
better than that first time.
It's one of
those magic moments.
MR: Where does your creativity
AL: I don't know. That's the
beauty of creativity.
It comes from the ether. I like
sometimes, it's like I haven't
it's more like I just reached
up and grabbed
it from somewhere. That song,
of the Red Rock Mountain,"
is one of
them. I recorded it and thought,
did that come from?"
MR: And there's "Back in
AL: "Back in '69" was
kind of a
Bo Diddley rhythm I had that
worked out with
the band as a backing track.
I wasn't happy
with the words, they were too
was like, "My baby been
done left me
and left me waiting at the station."
So I looked through my book of
that actually was a poem I wrote
fit the song perfectly, back
MR: Now for those Ten Years After
AL: It was great. The sixties
were a great
period. I love the early days
of Ten Years
After playing around the clubs
I remember we first came to America,
about 1968. We visited Haight-Ashbury
everywhere. I was actually really
I loved James Dean and American
American music, so I was really
to get there. Great memories
up until, strangely
enough... A lot of people say
movie made Ten Years After. But
it was the beginning of the end
for me because
we stopped playing clubs like
East and The Fillmore West, The
and The Boston Tea Party, those
kind of rock 'n' roll gigs with
two or three-thousand
people. After the movie came
the concert but after the movie
we were catapulted to Madison
Sam Houston Coliseum and hockey
worst places to play in the world.
just dreadful places to play.
The fun came
out of it for me there, and I
didn't want to be a rock star,
I wanted to
be a working musician. So that's
one of the
roads to freedom I took right
there and then.
MR: Nicely said.
AL: At first, it was great. The
for eight years, and it was a
and I really enjoyed it. But
a time to move on and do other
MR: One other part of your history
you were in The Jaybirds, of
Jaybirds were in that same circuit
AL: We played The Star Club in
was quite a trip. I just turned
old and found myself in the land
drugs, rock 'n' roll, prostitutes,
It was a crash course in rock
'n' roll, I'll
MR: Has much changed since then?
AL: In Hamburg? Well, a lot actually.
have different prostitutes and
but they're all still there.
MR: Let's get back to your solo
had a few solo albums and some
guests on those projects such
as George Harrison.
You guys were pals?
AL: Yes, George was a good friend.
a very lucky guy. I knew him
and I used to
hang out with George quite a
lot. We were
very good after hours friends,
He would make serious music and
serious music and when all those
gone home, we'd get together
and just have
fun playing nonsense and playing
we felt like. He had his studio
all set up
with all of this amazing gear
We'd go in and try to get it
have a lot of fun. (laughs) George
musician; he liked to play, just
So one time, I asked, "Any
a slide guitar on this song?"
"I'll be right over."
AL: Good man.
MR: One of your more beloved
tracks is "The
Bluest Blues," that a popular
called, "The most perfect
AL: That's very nice. I kind
of think B.B.
King's "The Thrill is Gone"
a little ahead of that, but I
MR: There's your project Alvin
Lee in Tennessee
from back in 2004. How did it
AL: Scotty Moore and D.J. Fontana
over to England. They were playing
of an album gig at Air Studios
They invited me to come down
and have a jam,
and I wasn't going to miss that
Scotty is the boy for me. I got
I did a rock 'n' roll medley,
Suede Shoes," "Rip
and "Hound Dog." It
was just great.
What particularly thilled me
was D.J. Fontana
playing behind me. I turned around
said, "Let's start with
'Rip It Up,'"
and they all sat there. And I
yeah!" and he started playing
That's because D.J. started it!
It was great
just hearing that music, those
and those rhythms that I cut
my teeth on
all those years ago, and there
I was playing
with these guys. Afterwards,
I said, "Any
chance to get you guys in a studio
an album together?" They
love to." So I shot off
writing songs for that project.
MR: I think I have a sense of
what the word
"freedom" means to
you. It's the
freedom to express yourself creatively,
AL: That's right. Yes, that pretty
it in the bucket.
MR: Alvin, what information or
you have for new artists?
AL: New artists? Actually, these
advice is to throw away your
and pick up an instrument. I'm
a bit of a
PlayStation junkie myself, but
had I had
a PlayStation or a computer as
I probably would have never played
If you put the time into playing
that you put into playing on
you could be playing in a band
within a year,
and that, it seems to me, is
a much better
way to go.
MR: That's wonderful advice.
The same might
be applied to spending time on
AL: Yes, absolutely. And surfing
net and all that. There are many
that these days. I was lucky
when I was younger.
There were only records, that
was it. Records
and films were the only thing.
so big. You'd buy a record, you'd
you'd treasure it and play it
again and again.
It's kind of a bit sad these
days that it's
almost like a disposable thing.
is lock up your PlayStation and
pick up your
MR: People seem to be moving
from thing to
thing so quickly, maybe searching
AL: Yeah, it's getting faster
MR: Yeah, no savoring. Some last
your new album. It basically
with Pete Pritchard and Richard
AL: Yes, and I have Tim Hinkley
He's been with me for many years.
on the original On Road to Freedom
and with me on my second In Flight
He is one of my favorite keyboard
He's in Nashville now. He came
Nashville to play on the album,
MR: The way you recorded Still
on the Road
to Freedom, was it you all playing
with just a little overdubbing
AL: Some of it was that. Some
of it was just
me and Richard on the drums.
On some of the
songs, I find it great just to
the drummer because then you
can change the
chords as you go. You can stick
in a chorus
when you feel one is due and
stuff like that.
So I did quite a lot, just about
just the drums and me, and had
Pete put the
bass in afterwards. But some
of the more
rock-y ones, they were pretty
MR: You'll be touring, right?
AL: Yep. Hopefully. I'll play
will have me. I won't be doing
tours these days. I love to play,
just not into that mad kind of
anymore. I've done a few million
MR: Alvin, you are a guitar hero
many people. Are you aware of
AL: Well, kind of. I don't necessarily
it. I've got my heroes and other
their heroes. I consider myself
cool guitarist but not really
brilliant. But that's not for
me to say.
If other people like it, that's
I thank them very much.
MR: Beautifully said. Alvin,
thank you so
much for the time, this was special.
AL: Thank you very much, Mike,
it. Keep on pumping those watts.
Interview: Alvin Lee talks about
album, Ten Years After, and how
love to change the world
At age 67, guitarist Alvin Lee still has
faster fingers than a pickpocket. For an
example of Lee’s dexterity, listen
to the title track of his new album, Still on the Road to Freedom. Over the space of four minutes, the guitarist’s
fingers hopscotch across the fretboard for
several exciting, blues-based solos in which
he shows off his formidable technique of
stinging vibrato, wailing bends, and nimble
pull-ons and pull-offs.
But then, Lee always was a fleet-fingered
fellow. When the Nottingham-born guitarist
founded Ten Years After during the British
Blues Boom of the mid 1960s, his virtuosity
was remarked on even back then. Yet, when
modern rock writers recall that halcyon era,
they sometimes neglect to mention Lee’s
name alongside the likes of Jimmy Page, Eric
Clapton, Jeff Beck and Peter Green. The sleeve
notes to Still on the Road to Freedom offer one possible explanation for why that
is. “In 1972 after Woodstock had catapulted
Ten Years After into the Rock Arenas, I decided
to take the road to freedom rather than the
road to fame and fortune,” writes Lee.
It was a courageous move. Between 1968 and
1974, the blues-rock band released popular
albums such as Undead, Stonedhenge and Cricklewood Green and scored hits such as “I’d
Love to Change the World,” “Hear
Me Calling,” “Love Like a Man,”
and I’m Going Home” (the latter
immortalized during the band’s star-making
performance at Woodstock). But Lee was less
than enamored by record company pressures
and the more pop-oriented direction the band
was pursuing. In 1973, Lee stepped away from
his day job to collaborate with southern
gospel singer Mylon LeFevre for a country-rock
record On the Road to Freedom, an album that featured guest players such
as George Harrison, Ron Wood, Mick Fleetwood,
Jim Capaldi and Steve Winwood. On the Road to Freedom heralded the end for Ten Years After, though
the band did release Positive Vibrations in 1974 and, later, during one of its handful
of short-lived reunions with Lee, it attempted
a comeback album in 1989 titled About Time. (Since 2003, the remainder of Ten Years
After has continued to record and tour without
Following his tenure in Ten Years After,
Alvin Lee has released over 20 albums, most
notably Zoom, I Hear You Rockin’ (a.k.a. 1994) and Alvin Lee live in Tennessee, a 2004 recording that included a guest
appearance by Scotty Moore, the guitarist
whose work with Elvis Presley inspired Lee
to become a musician. (Ten Years After was
established in 1966, a decade after Elvis’s
breakthrough—hence the band’s
Still on the Road to Freedom, released August 28, isn’t exactly
a sequel to On the Road to Freedom. Though the album touches on that album’s
country blues on “Save My Stuff,”
the new record’s 11 tracks are truly
diverse and reflect Lee’s wide-ranging
musical interests. It spans from the flamenco-tinged
instrumental “Song of the Red Rock
Mountain,” to the traditional ’50s
rock ’n’ roll of “I’m
a Lucky Man,” to the funk of “Rock
You,” to the 21st century techno-blues of “Listen to
Your Radio Station.” Much of the album
will appeal to fans of Mark Knopfler and
J.J. Cale. On songs such as “Midnight
Creeper” and “Nice and Easy,”
Lee’s sweet-twang guitar sashays gently
to the shuffling grooves of bassist Pete
Pritchard and drummer Richard Newman. Still on the Road to Freedom also includes a vibrant remake of Ten Years
After’s “Love Like a Man,”
during which Lee plays several fluid guitar
solos that will leave listeners foaming at
In the sleeve notes, Lee accounts for the
record’s diversity by explaining that
he had 33 songs to choose from. “I
am never sure which direction my music is
going to take,” writes Lee, “but
I do know that to be worthwhile it has to
be a natural progression. It has to evolve
freely. For me it has to be instinctual and
not commercially premeditated.”
Rock Square contacted the guitarist via email to ask
him about Still on the Road to Freedom, his career with Ten Years After, and how
he’d love to change the world by bringing
back the values of 1969.
Still on the Road to Freedom is striking for its wide stylistic diversity—how did the record shape up that way?
As the 33 songs I had written developed and
evolved, I picked out the ones that showed
the most promise. As I continued to work
on them, I realized that they pretty much
went through most of my musical influences
and styles over the years.
So the time warp concept just appeared out
of the blue with no premeditated plan.
Still on the Road to Freedom is a very disciplined record in that it
clocks in at 42 minutes—almost vinyl length—rather than the sprawling length of 80 minutes
of so many CD albums. Given that
33 songs written, was it difficult
to the discipline of releasing
album rather than cramming as
many of those
33 songs onto a CD?
For me the CD has a beginning a middle and
two ends and works as an entity from start
to finish. I never even timed it until it
was finished, it just seemed the right length.
Guess I was born to make vinyls.
Elvis and early rock ‘n’ roll
was such a big inspiration for
“I’m a Lucky Man”
Line Rock” revisit that
sound—who were the guitarists who most influenced
you early on and which of today’s
do you most admire?
Big Bill Broonzy, Muddy Waters, John Lee
Hooker, Ralph Willis, Lonnie Johnson, Brownie
McGhee and the three Kings—B.B., Albert
and Freddy. Jazz wise, I listened to Django
Rheinhardt, Charlie Christian, Barney Kessel,
and Wes Montgomery and a bit of Segovia’s
classical and Juan Serrano’s Flamenco
on the side. I listened to the country playing
of Merle Travis and Shit Hotkins [Chet Atkins],
and for Rock and Roll it was Scotty Moore,
Chuck Berry and Franny Beecher.
These days I like to listen to J.J. Cale,
the king of laid back, and Mark Knopfler—he
has a unique style. Tommy Emmanuel, who has
obviously been practicing far too much and
there’s a new guy Jeff Aitchison, who
is doing amazing things on the acoustic guitar.
Stanley Jordan deserves a mention, he has
an amazing style which is more related to
keyboards than guitar and I also like George
Benson’s jazz work, but not the muzak
for swinging secretaries. Check out Billie’s
Bounce with Billy Cobham on drums and Herbie
Hancock on piano.
“Listen to Your Radio Station”
has a surprisingly contemporary
its drum loop sample by the late,
Crimson drummer Ian Wallace—where did you find that loop and did the
song evolve out it?
This is a kind of cross between blues and
hip hop. Blues-hop or Hip Blues if you will.
The original recording was done to a click
track, and I later found Ian’s drum
rhythm which fitted perfectly. Myself, Ian
Wallace, Boz Burrell ,Tim Hinkley and Mel
Collins had a jamming band we called “The
Gits.” This was from one of the many
jams we did between ’71 & ’75
The album was recorded in Spain—is that why the improvised “Song of
the Red Rock Mountain”
has that Latin
classical guitar sound to it?
That tune is another one that just came out
of the blue. It has a Flamenco leaning as
I have been studying Flamenco guitar.
“Nice and Easy” has a laid-back, J.J.
Cale sort of shuffle to it was Cale an overt influence on the song?
Yes, I was definitely in Bradley’s
Barn mode when I recorded this.
What’s the lyrical message of “Back
in 69” about?
What happened to Peace & Love?
You’ve roped in the great keyboardist
Tim Hinkley on the album. What
your go-to guy for keyboards
since the early
He is the best, he has the right feel for
me and he does not play too many notes. It’s
all about understanding the groove and he
understands and understates.
What inspired you to re-record “Love
Like a Man” for this album?
I liked the rhythm and the song fitted, just
jumped out of my head.
Are there other Ten Years After songs you
look back on and wish you could
them with today’s recording
I haven’t really thought about it but
it’s a definite maybe for the future.
“Working on the Road” springs
to mind. I’ve always liked the line,
“I’ve seen the world and it’s
seen me/ In a strange kind of way I guess
In the liner notes, you wrote that you “decided
to take the road to freedom rather
road to fame and fortune.” Have
you encountered any bumps in
down the road?
There are many bumps holes, forks and snakes
on the road to freedom but freedom is a relative
thing and it means different things to different
people depending on the circumstances. Think
of your own form of freedom and how to achieve
it, and you will find there are a lot of
sacrifices to make which are not easy. But
it’s worth it if you follow your instincts
and find the flow.
When you parted ways with Ten Years After
almost a decade ago, was that
your journey down that road—and what’s your assessment of the band’s
I actually parted with TYA in 1975. There
were a few reformation gigs which did not
add up to much. Any legacy that exists for
me, is on the recordings between 1967 and
the release of the Woodstock movie in 1970.
After that the spark was lost when it all
got too corporate and commercial.
To the best of my knowledge, Ten Years After
never performed its biggest hit,
Love to Change the World,”
Why was that?
It’s a great recording but it’s
no fun to play live, it’s too restricting.
Duplicating songs live has never been something
I wanted to do.
There are songs I like to listen to, songs
I enjoy creating and recording and songs
I like to play live. The live songs must
have room to expand and evolve….and
Finally, do you reckon Spinal Tap ripped
off Ten Years After’s Stonedhenge?
No, I was never into the mysticism of the
henge, I just liked the “stoned”