Alvin Lee was born Graham Alvin Barnes on December 19th 1944, in Nottingham England. By the time he was 13 he was playing guitar & would develop into one of the best blues/ jazz rock guitarist of all time.
Lee was inspired by Scotty Moore & Chuck Berry on the guitar, eventually forming his own style with his band Ten Years After.
The band began playing the Star Club after the Beatles success there in Germany in 1962.
By the height of the late sixties San Francisco sound, Ten Years After began getting noticed there by underground radio stations in 1968. They caught the ear of legendary promoter Bill Graham, getting billed at the Filmore & a US Tour. This lead them to playing Woodstock in the summer of 1969.
In one of the best most powerful performances at Woodstock, Alvin Lee belted out the lyrics while playing an incredible lead guitar on the song "I'm Going Home". The band hit the stage in the wee hours of Saturday Night into Sunday morning, electrifying the crowd out of the darkness of the sea of a half a million people. The twelve plus minute performance became legendary & gave the band instant fame.
It was Lee that made the classic remark; "I'm Going Home.....by helicopter" at Woodstock in reference to the helicopters that were flying in the musicians, since the roadways were too jammed up & were closed down.
And what was the story of that watermelon that Lee carried off stage with him after his performance in the Woodstock movie?
According to an old interview I found, Lee says the watermelon just rolled onto the stage at the end of his set & he just picked it up, then walked off with it. After the film came out, the crowds would always bring watermelons to their shows & cover the stage with them at the end.
In the summer of '69 their album SSSSH hit #20 on the Billboard album charts but the it wasn't until A Space In Time that they achieved their biggest commercial success. Alvin Lee didn't like the commercial side of his music & with the exception of the classic "I'd Love To Change The World" chose not to go that route.
This eventually led to a decline in their fame & Lee never getting the recognition as a guitarist that he should have. Ten Years After albums : Rock & Roll Music To The World (1972) & Positive Vibrations (1974) which followed in the early seventies, were excellent albums as well.
I had the pleasure of seeing Alvin Lee & Ten Years After at the Day In The Garden concert, in 1998 on the original Woodstock site. Needless to say it was an incredible performance, especially on that sacred ground.
Lee passed away this week, at age 68 due to complications following a surgical procedure. He will be missed.