Ear of Newt reviews Alvin Lee in Vancouver, circa 1987

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ORIGINALLY POSTED ON STRAIGHT.COM, MARCH 6, 2013

Tonight, many Canadian music fans are grieving today’s loss of Stompin’ Tom Connors, and justifiably so. He’s about as close as you’ll get to a true-blue Canuck treasure.

But another artist left us in the past 24 hours, and folks who grew up loving bluesy rock in the sixties and seventies must be missing Alvin Lee pretty bad right about now.

As guitarist, vocalist, and main songwriter for Ten Year’s After, Lee was the epitome of the British guitar hero, not far down the ranks from Clapton, Beck, and Page. When I heard that he’d died from complications following a routine surgical procedure I was shocked and saddened. He’d lit up my teenage years with thousands upon thousands of fast, tasty licks–and that’s just on Recorded Live alone!

I was sure that I’d interviewed him somewhere along the way, but I can’t find the tape anywhere. I came across old interviews with Dave Alvin and Jake E. Lee, but no Alvin Lee. Maybe I was thinking of the guy who replaced him in Ten Years After in 2003, Joe Gooch. Not that anybody could replace Alvin Lee.

What I did find, though, was a concert review from when Lee played the old Expo Theatre on August 8, 1987, on a bill with John Kay and Steppenwolf. I figured I’d reprint it here, warts and all, in memory of my idol. Keep in mind that my reviewing abilities were over a quarter-century crappier than they are now.

There are a lot of rock and roll superstars that today’s average rock fan never had the opportunity to see live, either due to drug overdoses (Hendrix, Tommy Bolin), car crashes (Marc Bolan), plane crashes (Ronnie Van Zandt, Randy Rhoads), or other tragedies. Then there are those rock heroes that remain alive, but just fade into oblivion, either because their current material isn’t popular enough, or because they just don’t care. Fortunately for fans of classic British blues-rockers Ten Years After, the heart of that band is still pumping–and with the same fury it possessed 15 years ago.

That heart belongs to Alvin Lee, and last Saturday (August 8) at Expo Theatre it instilled real life into a crowd of 2,500 fans. When Lee ran onstage, bellowed “Are you ready to rock ‘n’ roll?”, and then headed straight into “One Of These Days”, it was like being transported back to Chillliwack Junior High, where we used to spend hours in the parking lot, playing air guitar to 8-track editions of A Space in Time and Ten Years After Recorded Live.

Lee hasn’t lost any of the dazzling speed that made him such a huge fave back then, and on “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” he showed that he can still use a mike stand to play slide. While introducing his version of “Hey Joe”, Alvin noted that “Everybody gets the blues–even on a sunny day.” Then he went ahead and blew those blues away with a killer solo that he played with a drumstick.

“I’m gonna bring out my old Woodstock guitar for this one,” he announced, before using his trusty red semi-acoustic (with peace symbol stickers) to knock off “I’m Going Home”, tossing in bits of “Blue Suede Shoes”, “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On”, and “Hound Dog”.

For the encore, Lee played his trademark show-closer “Choo Choo Mama”, as well as a rowdy version of “Rip It Up”. He never got around to doing “I’d Love to Change the World” or “Rock and Roll Music to the World”, but no one was complaining. There was nothing to beef about, except that Alvin Lee should have been the show’s headliner.

That honour went to John Kay and Steppenwolf, and though they also took minds back to the late ’60s/early ’70s, they didn’t do it with nearly the same authority as Lee. Oh sure, people danced in their seats to tunes like “Magic Carpet Ride”, “Born to Be Wild”, and “The Pusher”, but they do that every time the band hits town.

For his part, Kay did look good dressed all in black, with black guitar and shades, strutting slow and cool the whole time. And the group’s choice of Argent’s “Hold Your Head Up” as an encore went over well with the crowd. However, the new material they previewed from their upcoming LP Rock and Roll Rebels sounded pretty average–and not the least bit rebellious. I’d much rather invest in a new copy of A Space in Time myself.

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