But that time when I thought he was incredible – that time was, of course, at Woodstock. That time was this performance.
And I’m transported back – every time I watch that clip. I was 12 years old. Actually, I’d just turned 13. Woodstock was being played on TV for its 20th Anniversary; my parents suggested I watch it. I told them we had to record it. I watched as much as I could – school night. Then up early the next morning to watch the tape.
Woodstock is a flawed document. Fittingly. Because it was a flawed event. But there were a handful of performances that meant the world to me. The young Michael Shrieve from Santana, Sly & The Family Stone, Country Joe, Hendrix. Joe Cocker. And Alvin Lee. With his band Ten Years After. Chasing the notes on the guitar – hurling them out into the world. A mess of energy, a furious fight to become (at) one with the guitar.
I can see a lot of things wrong with it – I can hear mistakes across the records (I bought a bunch of Lee/Ten Years releases after seeing Woodstock at that impressionable age). But I also see and hear the emotion.
I was spellbound. And some days I still am.
So I’m having my coffee, scrolling about online and I read a few tributes. I’m back watching Ten Years After at Woodstock, Alvin Lee killing it; I’m Going Home. Well, he’s finally going home I think – and then read that thought over and over online, Facebook and Twitter, YouTube and various quickly-plotted tributes.
That moment defines him. That one moment. A near-quarter-hour of blistering guitar workout. Some days – down the track – I would almost laugh at it. But there’s no denying he had his moment. He nailed it.
Not that many musicians get to have a moment. Really. And Alvin Lee did. You don’t often see him mentioned in lists of influential players. But he was formative for me – as a fan of the electric guitar.
I bought awfully titled compilation albums, White Boy Blues, because of Alvin Lee and Ten Years After and I’m Going Home. Because of Woodstock and the late-night Milo and the VHS tape. Because of my parents suggesting I watch a cultural happening; a part of history.
Alvin Lee was part of that happening. Part of what made that happen. You watch and listen to him tearing it out on I’m Going Home. And he played, as the cliché suggests, like a man possessed. The noise might be horrible to some, inexcusable and/or indescribable but to me it was a thing of beauty. Oh, it was my world. I lost myself inside those notes; following his lead, as it were. I have found myself in many other guitar workouts over the years. So many of them seem to come from that moment. That moment Alvin Lee had.