ALBERT LEE (By Steve Walker)
Born 21 December 1943, Lingen, Herefordshire, England
Who's this then? "He has influenced a generation of Nashville pickers with his amazing blend of country, rockabilly and western swing. His lightning-fast speed has earned him a reputation as the guitarist's guitarist - hardly surprising that readers of Guitar Player magazine voted him "Best Country Guitarist" five years running." Well, I suppose the subject heading of this thread is a bit of a giveaway, but it's nice to think that a lad who grew up in south London could be the subject of such an accolade, even if it is from the intro page of a website dedicated to the frizzy-haired finger-picker. Albert's story runs like a thread of gold from the late 50's through to the present day. The roll-call of famous names with whom he has played reads like a who's-who of rock'n'roll, yet he remains a modest and unassuming character. Albert Lee was born on December 21, 1943, in Lingen, Herefordshire, England. He grew up in Blackheath, London, where his father played pub music on piano and accordion. At seven, Albert took up piano and studied formally for two years, delving into the classics, learning pop tunes, and in later teen years, coming to love rock and roll in part through the music of Jerry Lee Lewis. In about 1958 he got his hands on his first guitar, a Hofner President acoustic arch -top. Taking an immediate liking to the music of Buddy Holly and The Crickets, he learned all he could from their records. For a time the acoustic guitar served its purpose, but soon Albert progressed to an electric guitar - a Grazioso which was the forerunner of the Hofner Futurama.
Albert diligently studied recordings by Jimmy Bryant, Gene Vincent & The Blue Caps (featuring Cliff Gallup on lead guitar), the Louvin Brothers, Ricky Nelson (James Burton on lead), and especially the Everly Brothers. An important milestone was guitarist Hank Garland's masterwork "Jazz Winds from a New Direction", the 1960 LP that shattered the barriers between jazz and country. Contemporary British guitarists who made an impression on the teenage Albert Lee were Colin Green (who made his name with Georgie Fame), Bob Steel (who went to Paris to join Vince Taylor), Mickey King (who was in Cliff Bennett's Rebel Rousers) and Harvey Hinsley. At age 16, Albert quit school when his band turned pro, touring Scotland with stars from Larry Parnes' stable (Dickie Pride and Sally Kelly). Various day jobs followed but it wasn't until 1961 that his luck turned when he was approached by Bob Xavier to join his band. Bob Xavier was West Indian, and the band was modelled on Emile Ford and the Checkmates. However, in summer 1962, Xavier left and the group became the house band at the 2I's. At weekends they would go out of town doing one-nighters backing Vince Eager, Keith Kelly and Jackie Lynton (who were all managed by Tom Littlewood - owner of the 2I's at the time).
Albert's first record was cut when he was with The Jury backing Jackie Lynton on "All Of Me"/"I'd Steal" (Piccadilly 35064 - September 62). Albert is only heard on the "A" side. As The Nightsounds, Albert and the boys went to Hamburg for three weeks in 1962 playing the Top Ten Club at the same time as The Beatles were playing The Star Club. It was his first trip abroad...in the days when every musician had to pay his dues in Hamburg - nightly, dusk to dawn. There were subsequent visits to Germany with Don Adams' band and the German band Mike Warner & The Echolettes. Back in England again, Albert found work touring with Neil Christian and then with Mike Hurst (replacing Jimmy Page) on a package tour with Gene Pitney and Billy J. Kramer & The Dakotas. Back in Neil Christian's band The Crusaders, Albert again replaced Jimmy Page and was then himself replaced by Ritchie Blackmore when in 1964 Albert joined Chris Farlowe And The Thunderbirds, a seminal R&B/rock and roll band that was somehow overlooked in the U.S. during the British Invasion of the mid-60s. He recorded and toured with Farlowe for four years during this period.>From 1968 to 1970, Albert played throughout England in various club bands, often supporting American country artists on European tours. One such band was Country Fever who were together for about 18 months and played U.S. air bases in Britain and Germany. Country Fever toured with visiting U.S. stars like George Hamilton IV, Bobby Bare, Skeeter Davis, Connie Smith, Jody Miller, Guy Mitchell & Nat Stuckey. Albert was now singing for the first time and had begun to get calls for playing sessions.
When their record company, MGM, went bust, Poet & The One Man Band were forced to fold - later surfacing as Heads Hands & Feet. Jerry Donahue and Pat Donaldson were replaced by Albert and Chas Hodges, who had been collaborating on a Lee solo album for Bell. (Only a single came out: "That's Alright Mama" /"The Best I Can", on U.S. Bell). Their self-titled debut album 'Heads Hands & Feet' (Island ILPS 9149 - May 71), featured the original version of the now classic "Country Boy". Co-written with band members Tony Colton and Ray Smith, it was a showcase for Albert's dazzling picking style. Two albums followed - 'Tracks' (Island ILPS 9185 - Mar 72), and 'Old Soldiers Never Die' (Atlantic K40465 - Jan 73). Shortly after the group's demise, its rhythm section was signed on in the U.S. as the core of support for what would become Jerry Lee Lewis's "The London Sessions" album. Although sometimes a bit tattered around the edges due to the Killer's penchant for minimal rehearsals and foot-to-the-floor arrangements, the record still crackles with energy, thanks in part to Albert Lee's daredevil rock and roll magic. The double album also featured guitarists Alvin Lee (of Ten Years After), and Irish blues legend Rory Gallagher.
In 1973 Albert began occasional touring and recording with The Crickets, journeying to Nashville to record the album 'Long Way From Lubbock' (Mercury 6310007 - Apr 74). After a second UK tour, Albert left The Crickets and moved to Los Angeles for good. His career took a turn upon his arrival in Los Angeles. Somewhat disappointed in efforts to gain recognition through touring, he pursued the difficult course of L.A. session work. Through his association with the Crickets he met musical idols, Phil and Don Everly. At the time Don was gigging informally at the Sundance Saloon, in Calabasas, near L.A.. Albert accepted Don's invitation to sit in along with pedal-steel titan Buddy Emmons. Their reputation as a monster group spread quickly, and their Tuesday night gigs became legendary. Albert and the nucleus of Heads Hands & Feet played on Don's second album 'Sunset Towers' and a tour was in the pipeline when Albert got the call from Joe Cocker. After Albert left, Lindsey Buckingham was chosen to take his place. (Lindsey toured with Don and got to play with his idol Merle Travis, while still building up a following with Buckingham/Nicks who were later snapped up by Fleetwood Mac). Albert's reputation was growing, and his talents led him to more studio and road work. Albert and Pete Gavin (ex HHF drummer) got the S.O.S. call from Joe Cocker's manager, Reggie Locke (ex HHF boss). and joined up. They toured America twice during last half of 1974. After considerable personnel shuffle, they toured Australia and New Zealand (March '75), after which Albert left. The only Cocker album Albert contributed to was 'Sting Ray'. By this time, A&M had approached him to do a solo album on which he now concentrated.
Before the album was finished, however, Albert came to another crossroads. He saw Emmylou Harris at a club called the Laguna Bowl in early 1976 and Emmylou planned to ask him to join the band when James Burton left. This plan was accelerated when Burton fell ill with 'flu. An old acquaintance from the Crickets days, veteran session pianist Glen D. Hardin, asked him to fill in. Burton was committed to Elvis Preley's road group while maintaining his slot with Emmylou, but when scheduling finally became too hectic for him in the spring of 1976, Lee was asked to become a permanent Hot Band member. Albert first played with The Hot Band at The Branding Iron in San Bernadino in February 1976. "Luxury Liner" was Emmylou's first LP to feature Lee's accompaniment, and its brisk title track amply displayed his amazing agility. (Frank Reckard replaced Albert Lee two years later and stand-ins over the years for once-off gigs have included Bob Warford, Jay Lacey and Vince Gill).
Lee chose this time to complete his postponed solo album, with the assistance of producer Brian Ahern and the Hot Band, 'Hiding' (A&M, AMLH64750) was released in February 1979. It included Albert on vocals, piano and guitar and offered perhaps the definitive rendition of "Country Boy", with Ricky Skaggs helping out on fiddle and Emmylou on backing vocals. Although Albert's solo career led to his departure from the Hot Band in 1978, his guitar work has graced many of Emmylou Harris's LPs since "Luxury Liner", including the Grammy award-winning "Blue Kentucky Girl", and "Evangeline". In December 1978, Albert came home to London for Christmas and while there played on a Marc Benno session (for 'Lost In Austin'), where he met Eric Clapton who invited him to join his band. He toured with Eric Clapton and performed on Clapton's double album, "Just One Night". Recorded live at The Budokan theatre, Tokyo, the album featured Albert on lead vocals for a cover of Mark Knopfler's 'Setting Me Up'. He also added his touches to Eric's LPs "Another Ticket" and "Money and Cigarettes". Albert continued to work with Clapton for five years before Eric decided to change his entire band. Around this time Albert played a role in Paul Kennerley's musical documentary album, "The Legend of Jesse James", and continued to work closely with the Hot Band. In spring of 1982 he signed a deal with Polydor who released his second solo album "Albert Lee" (POLS 1067 Aug'82). In 1983 he was an instigator in the Everly Brothers reunion when he was chosen as guitarist/musical director for the Everly's first concert in 10 years at The Royal Albert Hall in London. He continued to tour with The Everlys in subsequent years, spending up to four or five months on the road with them each year. Two instrumental albums were released on the MCA Masters series - "Speechless" 1986 and "Gagged But Not Bound". In 1987 Albert was approached by Gerry Hogan to headline at a steel guitar festival in Newbury, England. Although daunted at first by the prospect of fronting his own band, the gig was a success and Albert now tours Europe with Hogan's Heroes. In 1993 Albert released his first vocal-oriented album in years - "In Full Flight", was recorded live at Montreux with Hogan's Heroes (website: http://www.albertleeandhogansheroes.com)
Through his association with The Ernie Ball Co. (website: http://www.ernieball.com/mmonline/specs/instruments_albertlee.html), Albert has appeared occasionally with The Biff Baby All-Stars - a celebrity supergroup who's members include Eddie Van Halen, Steve Morse and Steve Lukather. More recently Albert has toured with ex-Stone Bill Wyman and his band The Rhythm Kings. The band is a veritable who's who of British rock - Albert shared the stage with Bill, Peter Frampton and Georgie Fame.
Website (from which most of the above was adapted): http://homepage.eircom.net/~albertlee/
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