Deconstructing Pop Culture

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Alvin Lee RIP

March 6th, 2013 by David Kronemyer · No Comments

I noted with regret the passing of Alvin Lee, guitarist/vocalist for Ten Years After.  I was a huge fan of the band when I was attending Point Loma High School in San Diego.  I saw them several times, I specifically recall two performances, one at Balboa Stadium at San Diego City College and another at Golden Hall at the Civic Center.  This was before the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, all they toured with were several Marshall stacks.  Lee played straight into the amp, no intervening foot pedals or other folderol.  Just his incredibly fluid (and fast) guitar playing.  He probably was the fastest guitar player I’d ever seen at the time.  For some reason Chick Churchill’s organ playing always was inaudible in the front-of-house mix, unlike (say) Jon Lord’s in Deep Purple.

TYA just had released “Ssssh” with their definitive version of “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl.”  Shortly thereafter they released “Cricklewood Green,” which also had some great songs like “Sugar the Road, “Working on the Road” and “50,000 Miles Beneath My Brain.”  I was inspired to check out their two earlier albums, their eponymously-named debut and its successor “Stonedhenge.”  Both were pretty good; all of them well-produced for their time.

With the possible addition of “I’m Goin’ Home” after the Woodstock movie, their set list changed very little over the entire time I saw them.  The core was “Help Me,” “I Can’t Keep From Crying, Sometimes,” “Spoonful” (all from their first album!) and “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl, from “Ssssh.”  After the Woodstock movie came out it also included “I’m Going Home,” which actually wasn’t that great of a song.

After I moved to Berkeley I saw them a couple more times, if I recall correctly once at Winterland in San Francisco and another time at a fairgrounds outside of Sacramento.  This latter concert was pretty rowdy, a (literal) riot broke out amongst the attendees.  They released “Watt,” which had one or two good songs but overall wasn’t that great.  The mix also suffered, it was denser and lacked the clarity of “Ssssh” and “Cricklewood Green.”  Their contract with Decca Records expired and they signed with Chrysalis Records, then distributed by Columbia in the U.S.  They released “I’d Love to Change the World,” which although commercially successful was pretty insipid.  By then I’d moved on to other things and basically stopped following the band.  Good times while they lasted.