Woodstock Performers: Ten Years After
Ten Years After had a fine career going before Woodstock. They were regularly playing in 3,000-5000-seat concert halls. After Woodstock, they were regularly playing in sold-out arenas.
This series of articles—32 in all—covers each of the artists who performed at the original Woodstock festival August 15-18, 1969. Country Joe & The Fish had just managed to rouse the mud-soaked crowd with the "Fish Cheer." And after a blistering finale from Ten Years after would come roots-rock greats, The Band.
Ten Years After
Ten Years After were not overnight sensations by any means. Their roots lay in the Nottinghamshire area of the English Midlands in 1960 as Ivan Jay and the Jaycats. Typical of the time, they were an English beat band playing American blues and early rock'n'roll, with Alvin Lee (born Graham Barnes) and Leo Lyons both in the lineup in those days.
In 1961, they left their hometown for London seeking fame and fortune. When that didn't happen overnight, vocalist Ivan Jay and original rhythm guitarist Ray Cooper both departed in 1962, and Alvin Lee became the lead vocalist. They were now just the Jaybirds. Original drummer David Quickmire left the band in 1965 and was soon replaced by Ric Lee (Quickmire was Lee's drum teacher). The trio (now called the Jayhawks) soon landed a gig as the backup band for the Ivy League. The Jayhawks then returned to being a four-piece outfit, when keyboardist Michael "Chick" Churchill joined them. Promoters felt they were getting their money's worth when there were more members in a band, and the guys figured they would land more gigs.
They soon caught the attention of budding band manager Chris Wright, who booked them into gigs around London under the names Blues Trip and Blues Yard. Alvin Lee idolized Elvis Presley, and suggested the name Ten Years After, as 1966 was ten years after Elvis’ first LP was released and he went from regional to international fame seemingly overnight.
In 1967, Wright landed them a residency at London’s Marquee Club, where they generated a lot of buzz and honed their loud blues style. In August 1967, they played the Windsor Jazz Festival, where scouts from Deram Records (a subsidiary of Decca) caught their set and were blown away by the band and by the audience's reaction. They were signed right away, and without even having released a single before, they went into the studio to record their self-titled debut album in September 1967.
They embarked on their first big tour in 1968, playing various cities in Europe and then venturing to the US. Their second album, Undead, was released in August of 1968. This live album was recorded during a show in London in May 1968, and included what became their closing number, “I’m Going Home.” They continued touring relentlessly and managed to lay down some fresh tracks when they weren't on the road. Stonedhenge, released in February 1969, contained songs that were mostly penned by the band, the majority of them by Alvin. The album peaked at the #61 spot on the US album charts.
The year 1969 was an extremely busy one for the band. They recorded another new album, Ssssh, with “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” being the only song on the LP not written by Alvin Lee. They were also one of the first rock bands to play the Newport Jazz Festival, and also played the Seattle Pop Festival in July. They flew in from a gig in St. Louis the night before just in time to appear at Woodstock.
The Late Great Alvin Lee
Ten Years After's Woodstock
These guys did their earthly best to put on an amazing show. They battled their way through a 60-minute set that was plagued by technical issues at every turn, but ended on a very high note.
The rain that had fallen earlier had soaked their equipment, meaning that electric shocks were prevalent. The high humidity also played havoc with their instruments, especially their guitars, which went out of tune very quickly in the damp air. Even the guys recording the set ran into technical issues, including a failed pick-up on Ric Lee's drums.
They opened the set with a cover of Willie Dixon's "Spoonful," a song from their 1967 debut album. They then moved on to a cover of the classic "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl" from their third studio album Ssssh, and had to halt the song twice to re-tune their guitars. They never really got it off the ground.
It was Ric Lee who came to the rescue with the drum-heavy "The Hobbit," a song written by Ric that never appeared on any of the band's studio albums. Another great blues cover followed, Al Kooper's “I Can’t Keep From Crying, Sometimes.” Alvin Lee was finally able to let loose with the kind of guitar work he was known for, even taking a drumstick to the strings. The crowd were all on their feet by now, roaring their approval. The band returned to their debut album again for the next song, a hot cover of Sonny Boy Williamson's “Help Me.”
It was time to bring it home with what had become their signature closing number. The band's adrenaline-fueled finale, written by Alvin Lee, was "I'm Going Home," from their 1968 live album Undead. Alvin Lee shone as he and the band delivered ten of the hottest minutes of music heard during the entire festival. Breakdowns during the middle of the song included bits of “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On” and "Boom Boom." It was a masterpiece! The Woodstock crowd hollered for more. Ten Years After had overcome every glitch thrown at them and still managed to deliver a legendary set.
This is a thing called "I'm Going Home"...by helicopter.— Alvin Lee introducing the final song of their set
Ten Years After Performing "I'm Going Home" at Woodstock
Life After Woodstock
Such was the power of the 1970 Woodstock movie and soundtrack that if you were in it, you became a star. The clip of the band performing "I'm Going Home" made them international stars.
In 1970, this busy band had two albums chart in the US, Cricklewood Green (named after a roadie's stash) and Watt, the last albums they would release on the Deram label. In 1971, they released on the Columbia label (on the Chrysalis label in the UK). If you haven't listened to it in a while, or ever, check it out. It reached the #17 spot on the Billboard chart, and the song "I’d Love To Change The World" was the band's only Top 40 hit. It was a bit of a departure for them musically, but contains some beautiful acoustic guitar work as well as some fine electric bits. The song was later used in two movies, 2008's Tropic Thunder and 1995's The Last Supper. The song was also heavily sampled by rapper Chris Webby in his 2012 release "Change The World." A Space in Time
They released two more studio albums, Rock & Roll Music To The World and Positive Vibrations, and another live album Recorded Live, before disbanding in 1974. Dwindling commercial success, road fatigue and pigeonholing as the band that played “I’m Going Home” at Woodstock wore them down. A few reunions took place over the years, and they even recorded a reunion album, About Time.
Alvin Lee continued to appear as a solo artist and record on his own until his untimely death in 2013, due to complications resulting from surgery to correct an irregular heartbeat. In 2010, bassist Lyons formed a new band called Hundred Seventy Split, dividing his time between that outfit and TYA. He was finally forced to resign from TYA, and has focused his musical efforts on HSS, which has built up a pretty sizable fan base. Original members Ric Lee and Chick Churchill still appear on the circuit as Ten Years After.
Five Musical Facts
In 1967, band manager Chris Wright met future partner Terry Ellis in London, and the two decided to share an office to save money. The two former university social secretaries soon became full partners, and the Ellis-Wright agency was born. Chris was only 22 years old. In those early days, their clients included Ten Years After, Jethro Tull (then called The John Evans Band) and a couple of others.
In 1968, the two decided to not only manage bands, but to model their company after Berry Gordy's Motown and provide publishing and other services as well. The two signed a licensing deal with Island Records, the deal being that should the Ellis-Wright acts achieve an agreed number of hits, the agency would get its own label. The agreed number was reached within a year, and a new independent label was born. That label was Chrysalis.
- After their Woodstock set ended, Alvin Lee was handed a celebratory watermelon—spiked, no doubt.
- Unfortunately, the rain and associated technical issues meant that only the band's final number was captured on film and tape. The pick-up on the drums had failed during their set, so a session musician by the name of Larry Bunker had to overdub the drum bits for the movie. An alternate version of the story claimed that Mountain’s roadie and future drummer Corky Laing did the overdubbing, but Laing himself denied that years ago in an interview with The Independent.
- TYA had previously played with pretty much every one of the Woodstock acts at least once or twice before, so they didn't hang around after their set. The drove back to New York, the trip taking so long that their hotel rooms had been given away by the time they arrived.
- Alvin Lee was known as "Captain Speedfingers" and "the Fastest guitarist in the West," and is considered by many to be the godfather of shred-style playing. He didn't make Rolling Stone's 100 Greatest Guitarists list in 2011, an oversight that shocked more than a few industry names. Rock and metal legends including Geezer Butler, Slash, Bill Ward, Joe Satriani and Glenn Hughes have all cited Lee as being a huge influence in their careers.
© 2019 Kaili Bisson