Alvin Lee Is Going Home: 'Ten Years After' Guitarist Dies

Mar 7, 2013

Guitarist Alvin Lee, whose incendiary performance with the British band Ten Years After was one of the highlights of the 1969 Woodstock festival, has died.

He was 68. Lee's website says he "passed away early this morning [Wednesday] after unforeseen complications following a routine surgical procedure." An assistant to his daughter also confirmed the news to NPR.

His band's biggest hit — "I'd Love to Change the World" — came a couple years after Woodstock. We'll embed a clip from that.

But for those of us of a certain age who wished they could play a guitar well, it's Lee's furious fretting on "I'm Going Home" — famously memorialized in the Woodstock movie — for which he'll be most remembered. Some have called it "guitar excess." This blogger can tell you that many, many teenage guys thought it was great.

Guitar Aficionado put it this way in a piece published last year:

"For a full-on blues-rocking experience, there's no beating Ten Years After's adrenaline-fueled reading of 'I'm Going Home.' The performance, an intense nod to vintage blues and '50s rock and roll, featured the lightning-fast fretwork of Ten Years After frontman Alvin Lee. 'The solo on the movie sounds pretty rough to me these days,' Lee told Guitar Aficionado late last week. 'But it had the energy, and that was what Ten Years After were all about at the time.' "

If you haven't heard "I'm Going Home" in a while, click here.

According to the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, a good source for Woodstock history, Ten Years After's set on Aug. 17, 1969, came right after the performance by Country Joe and the Fish and right before The Band.

Update at 8:15 a.m. ET, March 7. From Morning Edition:

Our friends on Morning Edition have more on Lee, including clips of him playing. According to host Steve Inskeep, Ten Years After never played "I'd Love to Change the World" in concert, preferring to stick to the blues.

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Let's take a moment, now, to remember the man who made this sound when he strapped on a guitar.


INSKEEP: That fast finger-work belonged to Alvin Lee, heard there at Woodstock in 1969. The British guitar player has died. His family says he suffered complications from a routine operation in Spain.


Alvin Lee was born in Nottingham, England. Like a generation of future British music stars, he grew up on American music, listening to jazz and blues in his parents' collection.

INSKEEP: He made a name for himself in a band called Ten Years After, where he became known for his work on a cherry-red Gibson guitar.


INSKEEP: Alvin Lee got his start in the years when radio disc jockeys could make a new artist.

MONTAGNE: His band's first album caught the ears of D.J.s in San Francisco. And a radio listener, the promoter Bill Graham, was impressed enough to sign the group. Ten Years After went on to record this hit, "I'd Love to Change the World."


INSKEEP: "I'd Love to Change the World" made money for the band. yet they never played it in concert. In arenas with his fans, Alvin Lee preferred to play the blues and rock on which he'd made his name.

Before his death yesterday, at age 68, he would work with some of the giants of his craft, playing sessions with Bo Diddley and Elvis guitarist Scotty Moore - artists who would have had a place among the records Alvin Lee heard, growing up.

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

MONTAGNE: And I'm Renee Montagne.


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