“There are many forks on the road to freedom and the road to nowhere is one of them” – Graham Alvin Barnes
Alvin’s post Ten Years After career moves must have been a jolt to his fans from the Woodstock days. He shredded all over two continents and worked his tail off but pulled up in 1972. “I was in danger of joining the dead before 30 club” he said in his last albums liner notes. Those liner notes from Still On The Road To Freedom are a wonderful final thought to his tried and true fans that hung his posters and played his music not only for themselves but to others as often as they could. He wanted freedom from long tour schedules playing every night in huge arenas where “the sound echoed like a freight shed” and “security was armed police with cotton in their ears”. He wanted a life outside of all that and I’m happy for him and his family that he orchestrated that for himself.
As a player you want your audience as quiet as possible so they can hear the nuances of your singing, playing and tone. You’re putting your heart and soul into it you don’t want someone blabbing about how drunk they got last week down front. Then there are the managers who view you as a commodity. Alvin wanted freedom from “satisfying other peoples greed” as well as the freedom to make his own music. He didn’t want his music to be “commercially premeditated” and he has in the vault twenty more tunes from the past four years in some various form of finality. The thirteen on his last album he said he liked the best.
Alvin wanted the music to speak for itself and I can totally get behind his attitude of playing what he wanted whether it was his mad love affair with 1950’s rockabilly or even a little fiddle music. Far from the flat out shredding which I personally loved and he obviously enjoyed his post TYA career is a musical menagerie as if listening to a satellite or college radio station mixing one format after another. His post TYA carrer is perfectly bookend by his first album On the Road to Freedom and Still on the Road to Freedom. Drop these two discs into any player and you will have a cornucopia of solid sounds, peaceful tunes, back porch picking, wonderful lyrics and as always some serious shredding flying from all manner of fret boards.
For new fans or old fans to get a grip on an output that went unnoticed by most but included at least forty one albums (at last count) I’m going to offer up a short suggested Alvin Lee Catalog.
Shhh – Ten Years After
Undead – Ten Years After (2002- Decca Records)
Cricklewood Green – Ten Years After
Essential Ten Years After – (Chrysalis E2 21857) (the one with the flaming guitar)
On The Road To Freedom
The Best of Alvin Lee (Rep 5257) (the one where he looks like a 1950’s greaser)
Still On The Road To Freedom
Shhh is right up there with Cricklewood Green – I love this album its gritty, it floats, there’s a tremendous version of Good Morning Little School Girl, there’s a John Lee Hookeresque tune called The Stomp that will make you sit up and take notice. I Don’t Know, That You Don’t Know is that soft quiet acoustic number that always fits so well juxtaposed to his high energy singing and playing. Two Time Momma sounds like something Canned Heat would have done (Goin Up The Country). Its a great album recorded in 1969 a year before Cricklewood Green.
Undead is a live album that they rushed out because of fame and fortune and well I’m glad they did. It is a snap shot in time of Ten Years After recorded live in front of a small audience. It swings, it shreds, its the raw blues, it jams, its the young voice, its the excellent drumming and bass work, its the essence of rock n’ roll with all its rolled up sleeves, attitude and energy. Get the reissue because it includes four additional tracks from the show. How Alvin just rolls through those live licks is astounding. It includes the tunes Spoonful, Summertime, Woodchopper’s Ball, and Crossroads. The lads are just in their mid-twenty’s, and great liner notes from drummer Ric Lee.
Cricklewood Green is such a great album I’ve devoted another article to it on a previous post. The two collections Essential and Best of neatly wrap up the Ten Years After catalog and his post TYA career respectively. If you need help working out or cleaning the house put Essential in and power through it immaculately. Essential is a tour de force of high energy Ten Years After spanning their catalog and blistering your speakers. Alternatively Best of is an outstanding double disc with a breadth of playing styles that will not disappoint. His cover of I Want You (She So Heavy-Beatles) is phenomenal, crunchy and just plain impressive. It will grab you right away. Of course The Bluest Blues is here a song with his neighbor George Harrison to which Alvin was especially proud.
Pure Blues pulls together tracks from his entire career opening with an all acoustic number including both TYA tunes and Alvin Lee solo project tunes. Thirteen choice cuts across various labels that’s a must have and a complete no brainer when it comes to appreciating Alvin’s talents and completing your catalog.
And then there is 2012’s:
Still on the Road to Freedom what a wonderful farewell to his friends, family and fans. There’s multitude of riffs and formats represented here but it all hangs together wonderfully. Shades of Mark Knopfler come to the top in the opening cuts and then a blues riff that Little Walter would have been proud of dove tails into a 1950’s bop Elvis and Carl Perkins would have fought over. Walk on Walk Tall is another slight gear shift acoustic finger style number followed by a blues finger style number and then quiet horns introduce Song of the Red Rock Mountain. Song of the Red Rock mountain is just a beautiful number no lyrics, but stylish playing, that evokes a little spanish/western feel to me with shades of Leo Kottke. He could have put out a whole album like this and the acoustic, new age folk fans and labels would have had an epiphany. Still on the Road to Freedom closes out with Love Like a Man Pt. 2 and Alvin unmercifully, unleashes his trade mark power guitar to our delight. But wait as if to say goodbye there’s a surprise and a beautiful quiet hidden track takes a bow at the end.
I’ll miss Alvin Lee but I’ll never stop listening to his music. His Crickelwood Green Poster has followed me from home to home, studio to studio and will always have a presence where I create and where I live and remind me what to bring on my road to freedom.
To the End
Be my Friend
(It’s a deal Alvin)