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Ric Lee of Ten Years After has written one of the great rock memoirs

February 24, 2021
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Sometimes a book can surprise you. I recently finished reading “From Headstocks to Woodstock,” the autobiography of Ric Lee, drummer for venerable British blues rockers Ten Years After. I’ve read a bajillion rock memoirs – some great, some half-baked and some that should still be in tree form. Lee’s is certainly in the first category. The man has led a fascinating life and he writes a riveting tale that is startlingly rich with detail.

No ghostwriter for this rocker, Lee says he spent the better part of 10 years writing, editing and perfecting his book. The stories within come alive thanks to Lee’s engaging writing style, the clarity of his memory, the research and interviews he undertook on his own, and the fact that he maintained diaries and journals through these years which lend authority to the text.

Lee recalls the joys and struggles of his youth along with the musical exploits of his formative years in Nottinghamshire, England, near Sherwood Forest. He chronicles the formation and evolution of Ten Years After, from the group’s fledgling early gigs to their watershed moment at 1969’s Woodstock festival, with the sort of attention to detail you would expect from a seasoned archivist or museum curator. Add to that his brushes with the era’s most memorable figures all make this one of the most compelling rock-reads I’ve encountered in some time.

The original lineup of Ten Years After, featuring the turbo-charged leads of late guitarist Alvin Lee (no relation) saw their career explode in the wake of the 1969 Woodstock festival, and its resulting film, which immortalized the band’s “I’m Going Home,” a song that Lee confesses he’s always had mixed feelings about.

In one of his book’s revelations, Lee reveals that “I’m Going Home” was created in an attempt to prevent Fleetwood Mac from stealing the show with their crowd favorite “Shake Your Moneymaker,” when Ten Years After were booked to follow the band, and its dazzling leader and guitarist, Peter Green, on the same bill.

“Alvin called a rehearsal, which was very unusual, especially on tour,” Lee said during an interview. “He said ‘I’ve got this song I want to play,’ and we could tell it was kind of an attempt at doing something like Fleetwood Mac’s big show-stopper.”

The song was much slower at first, Lee recalls. As Alvin began inserting quotes from classic songs into the structure of “I’m Going Home,” the tempo gradually increased along with the song’s length.

“At first, I don’t think any of us were particularly taken with “I’m Going Home,” Lee recalls. “And it didn’t do the job Alvin wanted it to do, sadly. Fleetwood Mac was a hard act to follow in those days.” After a year or so of on the fly tinkering and finesse during the band’s live shows, the song would get the job done.

The members of Ten Years After had no way of knowing that “I’m Going Home” from Woodstock would do for them what Monterey Pop did for Jimi Hendrix and, in a sense, what Live Aid would do for U2. It became a shining take-away from that storied weekend of love, peace, music, and mud, exposing the group to countless millions and affording its creators a giant leap toward larger venues (sometimes to the chagrin of the band’s mercurial guitarist) and a payday to match .

Lee believes “I’m Going Home” to be the only complete song from their Woodstock set committed to celluloid. “The cameras kept jamming from the dampness after the storm,” he recalled, adding the group chose to stop several times to retune their instruments because of the thick, humid air.

According to Lee, Ten Years After’s Woodstock set will be released by Chrysalis Records this summer, freshly remixed and complete, including false starts. “I approved the audio a couple of months ago,” Lee said. “I’m very impressed, it sounds really good.”

On March 19, Deko Music will release a deluxe version of Ten Year’s After’s 2017 LP “A Sting in the Tale.” The release will include four bonus tracks recorded on tour in Erfurt, Germany with the group’s current lineup, which features original members Lee and keyboardist Chick Churchill, along with guitarist Marcus Bonfanti and bassist Colin Hodgkinson, both onboard since 2014.

Also expected this year, Lee said, is a 50th anniversary expanded edition of Ten Year’s After’s 1971 LP “A Space in Time,” an album that added found the band adding acoustic texture to their sound, landing them on the American Top 40 with “I’d Love to Change the World.” A live version of that song is one of the bonus tracks on the newly expanded “A Sting in the Tale.”

With all of this activity surrounding Ten Years After, Lee says it’s more than a little frustrating that his band is unable to play live to support it.

“It’s ironic that we have all of these releases and we can’t get out and play at the moment,” he said, adding he hopes that changes. “I spoke with our US and UK agents a week ago and they don’t think any live shows will be possible until 2022, but I’ve heard that Live Nation plans to open some of their venues with social distancing. Maybe if they do that, things will change.”

During his lockdown, Lee says he’s been studying jazz piano, expanding his cooking prowess and is keeping fit with high intensity interval training.

An E-book version of “From Headstocks to Woodstock” is in the pipeline, Lee says, along with an audio-book edition, and he’s already begun a second volume of his memoirs that picks up after Woodstock and continues through the 1970s and ‘80s and includes his adventures in the movie industry.

“I wanted to tell the story as I knew it,” Lee says of his book. “There will be people who probably disagree with me on certain issues. Everyone has their own truth but I tried very hard to stay true to the story as I knew it.”

(Ric Lee’s “From Headstocks to Woodstock” is available from numerous online retailers and directly from Lee at http://www.ricleetya.com.)

Last modified on Wednesday, 24 February 2021 07:48

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