Alvin Lee was born in Nottingham, Nottinghamshire, England on 19 December 1944. He started playing guitar when he was 13 years old. Two years later he started playing music with bassist Leo Lyons. In 1960 they formed a band that would eventually be known as The Jaybirds. In 1966 the band moved to London and changed their name to "Jaybird." The band then went through another name change to" Blues Trip, Blues Yard" and finally, in November 1966, "Ten Years After." The band signed with Deram, a subsidiary of Decca, and released their first, eponymous album in October 1967.
Ten Years After's second album was the live album Undead, released in 1968. Another studio album, Stonedhenge, followed in 1969. Not only did the album do well in the United Kingdom, but it produced the single "Hear Me Calling," which was later covered by Slade. On 17 August 1969 Ten Years After appeared at Woodstock. Their fourth album, Ssssh, was released the same month. Ten Years After's fifth album, Cricklewood Green, was released in April 1970. It would produce their only hit single in the United Kingdom, "Love Like a Man," which went to #10 on the UK singles chart.
It was in 1971 that Ten Years After signed with Columbia Records. Their first album for the label, A Space in Time, was released in August of that year. It broke with previous albums in being more commercial and less bluesy, as well as having a less heavy sound. The album produced their only song to hit the Billboard Hot 100, "I'd Love to Change the World," which peaked at #40 in 1971. The albums Rock & Roll Music to the World, released in 1972, and Positive Vibrations, released in 1974, were also more commercial than their earlier albums. Alvin Lee preferred the bluesy sound of their earlier records to the more commercial sound that Columbia Records liked, and as a result he left the band in 1974. As a result Ten Years After disbanded.
Throughout the late Seventies Alvin Lee released seven solo albums. His output slowed a bit in the Eighties, following the release of RX5 in 1981. He released the solo album Detroit Diesel in 1986. In 1989 he reunited with Ten Years Later for one last album, About Time. The band would record two more albums without Mr. Lee. From 1992 to 2012 Alvin Lee released five more solo albums, the last of which was Still on the Road to Freedom, released last year.
Alvin Lee was both a remarkable songwriter and a remarkable guitarist. "I'm Going Home," "Love Like a Man," "I'd Love to Change the World," and "Hear Me Calling" remain classics in the genre of rock. As a guitarist Alvin Lee was simply incredible. He could go from playing lead guitar to rhythm guitars in mere seconds and with seemingly no effort at all. Indeed, Alvin Lee could play exceedingly fast and exceedingly well. Few guitarists could change chords faster than he could, to the point that it is a wonder he is not better known. In truth, Alvin Lee should be ranked among the greatest of guitarists, alongside Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, and Eric Clapton.