British guitarist and singer Alvin Lee, whose blues-rock band Ten Years After catapulted to stardom following a searing performance at Woodstock, died Wednesday morning. He was 68.
According to a family statement posted on his website, Lee unexpectedly succumbed to complications following routine surgery. “We have lost a wonderful father and husband,” the brief statement read. “The world has lost a truly great and gifted musician.”
A Nottingham native, Lee gigged around England and Hamburg, Germany, before officially forming Ten Years After with Leo Lyons, Chick Churchill and Ric Lee in 1966. An immensely fleet-fingered soloist, Lee was the frontman, lead songwriter and key attraction of the band, whose music ranged from simple blues-rock and rockabilly to jazz and psychedelia.
Releasing its first records for the Decca subsidiary Derman label starting in 1967, the band was a touring workhorse, making frequent jaunts to the United States. A gig at the Newport Folk Festival in July of 1969 increased the group’s profile, but it was Woodstock a month later that cemented its reputation.
Sandwiched between Country Joe and the Fish and the Band on the fest’s final night, Ten Years After put in an energetic set, with a ten-minute rendition of “I’m Going Home” — most of it comprised of Lee’s inspired vocal and guitar vamping over a basic drum beat — provoking pandemonium. Footage of the song was prominently included in Michael Wadleigh’s hit 1970 documentary on the festival, and it markedly boosted the band’s visibility.
1970 album “Cricklewood Green” notched the band its highest chart place, reaching No. 14 on the Billboard album chart. 1971 follow-up “A Space in Time,” the group’s first record for Columbia, featured Ten Years After’s highest-charting single, the Vietnam-themed “I’d Love to Change the World,” which hit No. 40. The band split up in 1974.
Lee had already begun to explore solo projects — his 1973 album with Mylon LeFevre, “On the Road to Freedom,” featured guest spots from George Harrison, Steve Winwood and Mick Fleetwood — and he continued recording and touring steadily under his own name or as leader of the Alvin Lee Band after the breakup. His final studio record, “Still on the Road to Freedom,” was released in summer of 2012.