In 2007, I was lucky enough to interview the great blues rock guitarist Alvin Lee from the band Ten Years After. I am very sad to learn of his death today. He was an inspiration to me. I saw him play live in London when I was about 18 and he blew my mind.
Cliff Smith: So you have a new album out, ‘Saguitar’. I can hear a lot of Elvis there, who are your other influences?
Alvin Lee: I used Trevor Morais on the first track ‘Midnight Train’ and that’s maybe where the ‘return to Sun Records’ feel came from. I keep leaning back to the fifties but I also I revisited some of my 70’s stuff and Ten Years After stuff like ‘The Squeeze’ and ‘Change The World’. I also recorded a rap song which some people are up in arms about. I don’t particularly care for rap but I like some of the rhythms used. I did it just for fun as an instrumental to experiment with my drum loops but then I thought “This sounds pretty rocky and controversial” – and that’s what Rock ‘n’ Roll is supposed to be.
Cliff Smith: Any plans for a full blown ‘gangsta rap’ album?
Alvin Lee: No but I may do one more track.
Cliff Smith: Where did you record the album?
Alvin Lee: I recorded it at my home in Spain. This album was an experiment for me to learn to use Logic on the Mac and it took 2 years to record. I recorded about 50-60 songs and some other bits that I never finished. It’s a contrast to my ‘In Tennessee’ album which I recorded with Scotty Moore in 2 days – that’s live music for you.
Cliff Smith: And you played the bass and drums too?
Alvin Lee: Yes, Trevor Morais put down some snare drum and Tim Hinkley played some keyboards but everything else is me.
Cliff Smith: These songs would work well live, are you playing in the UK anytime soon?
Alvin Lee: No plans as yet, but I hope to be. I try not to play too much as I have a fear of over playing, if you play every night for 3 weeks it becomes automatic and that’s not good. When Rock ‘n’ Roll becomes boring you’re in trouble.
Cliff Smith: The song ‘Motel Blues’ from your new album is very moving – was life on the road really that depressing for you?
Alvin Lee: It was that night – I never wanted to see an airport again. I sat down with the guitar and the song was written in about 15 minutes. I have a love hate relationship with touring – the week before I’m going out I wonder if I’ll ever get back in one piece. If I’m away playing for 2 months I can’t wait to get back home but if I’m home for 2 months I cants wait to get out there!
Cliff Smith: You were known as ‘the fastest guitar in the west’ and you’re still lightning fast – what’s your practice routine?
Alvin Lee: I just fiddle about, I’ve never played scales and I’m very much self-taught. I look for nice phrases and patterns and practice them until I can get in and out of them easily. Good things often happen if I jam with somebody who has only been playing for 6 months or so – I think that you can learn a lot from someone who is not set in their ways. I play for about an hour a day normally, if I’m recording or playing live then about 2 or 3 hours a day – I sometimes need to get the callouses back on my fingertips before a tour, they get a bit soft here in Spain with all the swimming…
Cliff Smith: What music have you been listening to recently, which new bands do you like?
Alvin Lee: I can’t think of any new bands I like off the top of my head. I listen to what I’ve always listened to – Blues, R ’n’ B; Big Bill Broonzy, Django Reinhardt, George Benson. I love Flamenco too, I have a guy that comes round and gives me lessons – he has an incredibly strong thumbnail! I can play a bluff fandango…
Cliff Smith: Anything else you’d like to say?
Alvin Lee: I’m hoping that as many people as possible will listen to and enjoy the album. It’s a very selfish album; I didn’t sit down and say “What’s commercial? What’s going to sell records?”. I just made some music.
‘Saguitar’ is out now on the R.A.R.E Repertoire label. www.alvinlee.com