Blues Bytes


October/November 2017

Alvin Lee & Co.
Live At The Academy Of Music New York 1975
Moondogg Records

Available for the first time on CD, the classic performance Live At The Academy Of Music New York 1975 marks a double Christmas bonus for Alvin Lee fans in the year which celebrates the 50th anniversary of the formation of Ten Years After. Last month also saw the release of that iconic band’s 10 CD box set which contains five never previously heard compositions by Alvin from 1972. The legendary blues rockers had broken up in 1974, signaling the beginning of guitar genius Lee’s long and illustrious solo career as he started rehearsals with a new band of exceptional musicians. The moniker he chose was Alvin Lee & Co.

The bass and keyboard players for their inaugural 1974-75 world tour were the sensational Steve Thompson and Ronnie Leahy, respectively. Who can forget Steve’s thumping, mesmeric riff on John Mayall’s classic blues/jazz number, "California"? Leahy, like Thompson, had found fame with Stone The Crows. The new line up also included iconic former King Crimson members Mel Collins on flute and saxophone and the late Ian Wallace behind the drums.

The set opener is "Got To Keep Moving" with Thompson and Leahy in perfect rhythmic synergy, followed by "Let’s Get Back" highlighting Ronnie’s exquisite keyboard skills. Not surprisingly, Alvin’s powerful vocals and trademark blistering and incisive guitar solos steal the show. However, standing out front, Lee also taps his foot gently and takes time finding the right notes, his fluid, versatile and inventive playing highlighting the difference musically between this band and Ten Years After. New versions of songs like "Time And Space" give a real sense that all of the players are going back to their roots, with Collins’ atmospheric flute playing and changes of tempo on his saxophone solo a tour de force. The mellifluous "All Life’s Trials" with its sumptuous flute accompaniment confirms Alvin’s status as a consummate wordsmith.

Lee is clearly at home when playing the music passed on to him by his blues-loving dad, Sam, none more so than "Every Blues You’ve Ever Heard" Pure rock and roll influences are evident in Elvis’ "Money Honey," albeit originally a Drifters’ recording which starts with a simple snare drum and hi hat rhythm before bass and vocals kick in. Alvin does not dominate the entire show, and on the 18 minutes of "Percy’s Roots" Mel’s lengthy improvised saxophone solo is reminiscent of John Coltrane, such is the musical freedom of the band. The full-on aural assault of ‘"I’m Writing You A Letter" is raw energy from start to finish, Alvin and Ronnie stretching their chops and dueling like Wild West gunslingers. The show ends with one hell of a rollercoaster journey, "Ride My Train," with its mesmeric rhythm, screeching vocals, crunching chords, bent notes and sinuous solos.

This amazing event was recorded on state-of- the-art equipment of its day, and a few of the songs were later broadcast on the ‘King Biscuit Flower Hour’. After rediscovering the original 16-track master tapes in his personal archive in 2012, Alvin arranged to transfer and professionally mix these recordings with modern technology, thus benefiting from combining the best of both eras. Thanks to the expert mastering, mixing, and Evi Lee and Jasmin Lee’s skillful executive production, the result is a crystal clear, high quality recording on Rainman Records which is far superior to most live albums from that period.

Above all, this show proves that his blistering guitar solo on "I’m Going Home" at Woodstock was not the pinnacle of Alvin’s career but just the beginning. He achieved so much more in his life, especially when surrounded by other world class musicians in the 40 years after TYA. As Suzanne, the third member of Alvin’s close family explains, "He perfectly captured a way of bringing his musical influences into his own distinctive way of writing and playing That's why he was so successful and very special."

--- Dave Scott


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