ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, JULY 11, 1986
By Steve Newton
In the world of music, jolly old England is famous for a number of things. The Beatles for instance. And rock guitar heroes like Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, and Jeff Beck. But country music is not one of Brittania’s specialties, and it never has been. Luckily for Albert Lee, who grew up in London, there was just enough country on the radio to keep him interested. Today he’s one of the most sought-after country pickers around.
“You didn’t hear it every day,” says Albert.”But it was there. It was enough to stimulate you so that you’d run out and try and find records.”
Country artists like George Jones and Buck Owens were the first people to really influence Lee, who started out playing piano but switched to guitar at the age of 15. Today, the 43-year-old is playing lead with a couple of his other childhood heroes, the Everly Brothers. Lee will be in action this Sunday (July 13) at the Expo Theatre, where the Everly’s will be performing two shows (at 3 and 7 pm), as part of the Legends of Rock ‘N’ Roll series.
Since moving from London to Los Angeles in 1974, Albert Lee has recorded or toured with the likes of Bo Diddley, Jerry Lee Lewis Joe Cocker, Jackson Browne, and Joan Armatrading. He really proved himself when he took the job of former Elvis guitarist James Burton in the Emmylou Harris band.
“That was a little daunting” he admits. “But I managed it. There was no way that I was going to replace him, but I did bring something of my own to the gig.”
Although he has played a lot more than just country in his career, that is basically what Lee is noted for. He wrote the song “Country Boy”, which was a number one hit for Ricky Scaggs. And he was voted Best Country Guitarist every year for the past five years by the readers of Guitar Player magazine.
“Well country-rock is my favourite music,” he says. “I like the blues, but I don’t think I play it as well.”
Maybe not, but Lee was handy enough with the blues for Eric Clapton to hire him on as second guitarist in 1979. Lee toured extensively with Clapton, and sparked him into playing some of his finest guitar ever. The interaction between Lee and Clapton was captured for posterity on the double live Just One Night album, which they recorded in Japan.
Lee says there’s quite a difference between touring with Clapton and touring with the Everly Brothers, giving up the private plane and playing two gigs a night instead of one. “It’s a little tiring sometimes.”
As well as playing on the latest Everly Brothers album, Born Yesterday, and the upcoming trio album by Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris, and Dolly Parton, Albert Lee has his own album out as well. Titled Speechless, it’s one of the first releases on the high-quality MCA Masters Series. As well as hot guitar, Lee plays mandoin and piano on the LP. He wrote five of his own songs for Speechless, arranged two traditional fiddle tunes (“Salt Creek” and “Arkansas Traveler”), and pulled an Art of Noise trick by covering Duane Eddy’s “Cannonball”.
“That was just something that came up on the spur of the moment. Someone said, ‘Well have you ever thought of doing this?’ So we messed around with it for five minutes, and I think that was the first take.”
Although his solo career is going well, thanks to Speechless, the Everly Brothers tour is Lee’s main concern these days. He’s been playing with the two of them for three years now, and used to play with Don Everly during the ’70s when the brothers were apart.
“It was natural that I should want to do the gig if they ever got back together again,” says Lee. “I’ve always liked them. They had big hits when I was in school.”