When Ten Years After plugged in at Wood-stock, the Sunday monsoon had come and gone. We were all wet, tired, hungry, freezing and had to go to the bathroom. Plus, we sorta wanted to go home. It had been four days. But from the first notes of Howlin’ Wolf ’s 1960 “Spoonful” to the final cadenza of guitarist Alvin Lee’s iconic “I’m Going Home,” there are those who say it was the best set of the weekend.
Original TYA drummer Ric Lee has a new book out, From Headstocks to Woodstock. Ten Years After — with two original members in Lee and keyboardist Chick Churchill — have put out a deluxe edition of 2017’s A Sting in the Tale, complete with live tracks.
Quick timeline: Alvin Lee died at 68 in 2013. He had left the band to go solo in ’73, rejoining in ’89 to ’03, when he was replaced by Joe Gooch, who lasted until ’14. Enter Marcus Bonfanti, who sings and stings that guitar as frontman to this day. Bassist Colin Hodgkinson replaced original bassist Leo Lyons in ’14 and still holds down the bottom.
GOLDMINE: I don’t think I’ve ever seen Ten Years After when I wasn’t tripping.
RIC LEE: Really?
GM: Be it at the Fillmore East or The Singer Bowl in Queens, New York, on the site of the ’64 World’s Fair or at Woodstock, yeah. RL: Amazing. Well, you were young then.
GM: There was this one time I’ ll never forget. Alvin Lee’s hair turned into a lion’s mane as actual electric bolts of lightning emanated from his guitar all around me, and your drumming! Man, your drumming was like a locomotive breath of diesel steam. I saw the smoke come out of your snare! I couldn’t believe how fast you could drum. It must’ve been that version of Woody Herman’s “Woodchopper’s Ball” from your Undead album. Maybe it was “I’m Going Home.”
RL: It sounds like the Woody Herman cover we used to do because we used to play “I’m Going Home” much slower. I can’t play that fast anymore these days.
GM: You were like a runaway train, going out on a limb, but always returning to the beat. You blew me away and here we are talking about it 53 years later.
RL: Have you heard our Live at the Fillmore 1970 album?
GM: I don’t think so.
RL: You have got to get a copy of that! To my mind, that’s the band at its peak. I love the way Alvin and I were interacting. I never really realized how in sync I was with Alvin for all those years until 2001, when I found that album in the EMI vaults. I was getting fed up with them regurgitating all the old albums with nothing new for the fans. So we had a search. Found some tracks that were never before released. Found a whole live album, recorded at the Fillmore on February 27 and 28, 1970, just sitting there collecting dust. The reason it was never released is because we were plugging the Cricklewood Green studio album in 1970, so it got lost. (Producer) Eddie Kramer recorded it. He did a fantastic job. Chrysalis finally released it in 2018 on vinyl only. Pretty rare set, eh?
GM: Funny, but when I was a teenager, Ten Years After was MY band, but then when you guys got super-famous and had your biggest hit, “I’d Love to Change the World,” everybody loved it but me.
RL: That was Clive Davis. He signed us to Columbia after we had been on London Records at the time. Clive sits us down in his office and says, “I’m going to give you boys a gold record for the first time. But to do that we need a single.” So we do our sixth album, A Space in Time, in 1971, with that song and he turned it into a hit single making the album go gold just like he said. How about that?
I put the drums on that track after they already laid the tune down. I was ill. While I was away, they decided to lay down “I’d Love to Change the World.” Alvin strummed it on his acoustic. Dubbed his electric in later. We were in the same London studio where the Stones recorded. Studio #1 was huge because they did film soundtracks and needed to get whole orchestras in there. We were in Studio #2. I loved the sound there because of its natural ambiance. So it was just Chick, Alvin and Leo. Now, you have to realize, there were no click tracks in those days. Nowadays, they want everything to a click track so you only have to play one bar and then they use Pro Tools to cut and paste. Metallica does that. Lars Ulrich is a fine drummer, but all he ever plays on the records is one bar and it’s lifted for the duration of whatever track they’re doing. It’s just easier that way. We’ve done it ourselves on occasion.
Anyway, I show up and they tell me to play drums on this track they’ve already finished. I said, “Sure, I’ll have a go.” So I’m listening to the song’s fluctuation of tempo. I thought it quite nice, actually. But to put drums on something like that afterwards? I couldn’t figure out what the time signature was as it’s different on that song from the verse to the chorus. But all it took me was three takes! The drum kit was set up by the control room window, which was four steps down. I’ll never forget the sight of Alvin on the other side of that window egging me on and giving me the thumbs up. I can see him now. He had the biggest smile on his face. And I could barely hear him through the window yelling, “Yeah! You’ve got it!” I was always really proud of that.
GM: Is it true that you started in ’66 and named the band Ten Years After from its original name, The Jaybirds, because it was, indeed, 10 years after Elvis’s greatest year?
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