Alvin Lee (Dec 19, 1944 - Mar 6, 2013)
British rocker Alvin Lee of Ten Years After has died earlier yesterday from complications stemming from a recent surgery, according to a message on his website. He was 68.
“With great sadness we have to announce that Alvin unexpectedly passed away early this morning after unforeseen complication following a routine surgical procedure,” reads the message.
Although his reputation – at least here in the states – had dwindled down after their late ‘60s- early ‘70s heyday, his lasting impression will not soon be forgotten once you take a look back at his impressive career.
Born in Nottingham, England, Lee played with the Jaybirds in the early ‘60s until forming a new band a few years later in 1966. The band would later be known as Ten Years After. When the band played the Newport Jazz Festival in 1969, they were the first rock band ever to be featured in the event. They also played the inaugural Woodstock festival that same year. And despite the scope of the 500,000 strong crowd beneath the Catskill Mountains, Lee maintained at the time that he was un-phased by the situation.
“It was just another day on the date sheet,” Lee once said about his experience at Woodstock. “We’d already played huge festivals [Bath, Newport, Maryland], and once the crowd reaches a certain size, it makes no difference – the horizon just goes back further.”
But their cool nerves began to let up once the band realized they may have to perform in the middle of a storm. Sensing their anxiety, other artists on the bill such as Janis Joplin, Joe Cocker and Country Joe McDonald had a little fun with the band.
“Everybody was saying: ‘Tough luck – looks like you’re going to be electrocuted,” Lee recalls, adding that he would merely reply, “Yeah. And think how many records we’ll sell if I die.”
But even in the midst of playing on a huge stage during less than perfect weather, there was another – more urgent – problem at hand: “They’d run out of ciggies backstage so I volunteered to go out in the audience and blag some. The first people I met were two coppers who said: ‘We haven’t got any, but you can have these joints.’ I said: ‘You’re police!’ Their answer was: ‘If you can’t beat ’em…’ I came back with 30 joints, so I was quite popular.”
As part of the original British Invasion of hard rock blues groups, Ten Years After were among the top, although as history later showed they never did maintain a lasting legacy comparable to more notable acts such as Cream, the Jeff Beck Group or Led Zeppelin.
Still though, when the Woodstock movie of the festival came out a year later, TYA’s biggest hit “I’m Going Home” thrust the band towards mainstream success, even though the studio version had flopped when released as a single from the excellent Undead live album.