So Long, Alvin Lee

RIP, Alvin Lee. The guy could play.

I’ve often said a good guitar player makes me want to pick up my guitar and play but a great player makes me want to put it down forever and do something else. When I was a teenager, I was a pretty good player for a kid. I got a pretty early start and had some decent dexterity and in the rarefied atmosphere of Scotia-Glenville High School in 1968, I was THE guitar player in THE band. There must have been at least 8 or 10 local bands who could at least put together a decent set of covers but the big gigs went to us. We were six pieces and vocally driven. Two up front singers-one male, one female-set us apart from the bands who could do everything but sing. We hauled a big ol’ Hammond B-3 to every gig and humped it up a lot of stairways along with a backline that could fill a stadium. No roadies. Just the band. Two singers, keyboards, bass, guitar and drums.  I had been playing in bands since I was 13 and really believed my career was going to be that of musician. There were certain players I looked up to whom I felt I could emulate and not have to push beyond the limits of my talent. George Harrison, Pete Townsend, Keith Richards and a few others managed to be great players without being so scary good that I never wanted to pick up a guitar again. I loved their playing but they never seemed to step out beyond what seemed humanly possible-I believed I could be that good with some years of practice. Then a guy named Hendrix came along and then another guy named Lee and everything changed. Those two players showed me the limits of my skillset and for that, I should be grateful. The life of a musician would have taken its toll, I’m certain. When I first heard Jimi, I knew I couldn’t make my guitar do what he did. But I was able to convince myself that some of it was because he was a lefty playing upside down. His notes didn’t flow like the rest off us and I accepted that. Then, I heard Alvin Lee. They called him “the world’s fastest” at a time when that actually mattered. As players began pushing the limits of the instrument to new highs, velocity became more important-probably more important than it should have been. Instead of inspiring me to work harder, Alvin Lee showed me my limits. I would never play like that. He wasn’t my favorite player-that goes to Harrison and Clapton but he was the one who opened my eyes to the fact that the guitar is just the vehicle. The player is the driver. When I heard “I’m Going Home” the following Summer, I was still playing but Alvin Lee took away a lot of my confidence. I knew, at the moment I heard the Woodstock recording, that I was never going to be that good. Not ten years after, not in a million years. And that’s a good thing to know. It gives you perspective and direction. My direction went elsewhere but I didn’t put the guitar down. I just put it into perspective. So long, Alvin Lee.

One Response to “So Long, Alvin Lee”

  1. chuckNC says:

    Alvin was the first ES-335 player that caught my attention. What a
    tone–especially in the neck position! Everything from jazz to blues to psychodelic hard rock was in there.

    As a young guitarist who wished he had the gift of speed, I had a special appreciation for the fast players. Ritchie Blackmore, Terry Kath, Johnny Winter and, of course, Alvin Lee were big favorites. But I realized later that I didn’t enjoy ALL fast players. My favorites added the extra ingredient of a distinctive musical personality. Alvin Lee certainly earned his place in my list of rock guitar greats…and many others’ lists as well, it seems.

    Thanks for putting him up on your site, Charlie!

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