Albert Lee Returns to The Strand Theatre Tuesday, January 21st
Eric Clapton gave him a guitar he played when he was in Cream, one of more than 40 guitars Albert Lee owns – he’s lost count. They include Don Everly’s Gibson J200 and the guitar Elvis Presley played in “King Creole,” G. I. Blues” and “Loving You.”
Singer/songwriter and guitarist Albert Lee plays The Strand Theatre in Hudson Falls Tuesday, (January 21st). He left home at 16 in 1960 and never looked back. You may not have heard of him or, if you have, you may be confusing him with Alvin Lee of The Years After, but at 75 he’s a road warrior whose enormous creativity has touched the muse of artists as diverse as Clapton (He played Clapton’s Guitar Crossroads in Dallas in September, Elvis Presley’s guitarists James Burton and Scotty Moore, country legends Vince Gill and Ricky Skaggs, Emmylou Harris, Cindy Cashdollar and scores more. He spent 24 years on the road with the Everly Brothers and 13 with Bill Wyman of the Rolling Stones.
I caught up with him at his home in Malibu, just back from a tour of his home country England and just before his last performance at the Strand in July. When I called him, he couldn’t find any of the four landline phones in his house and had to call me back on his cell.
“I’m still unpacking here. It’s tough to do. I’m looking out the window now. We just replaced the refrigerator, and there’s a refrigerator in the driveway. Thankfully, the neighbors can’t see it, but I’ve got to organize a pickup to drag it away.”
He says he maintains a schedule that could kill a man half his age because he has bills to pay and two managers, one in the States and another in Europe, both of whom keep him so busy, he has little time to breathe. I first saw him in January, and he was a human jukebox with breathtaking skills in every style of rock and country, rockabilly and pop ballads. I had a seat at the back of the balcony at the Strand, and his delivery was so strong he projected to me as if I had a front row seat and he was playing directly to me.
Ask him about any of the stars he’s played with and he has a story. His “Country Boy” was a top-10 country hit for Ricky Skaggs in 1982. Its use of traditional country guitar on a mainstream country hit changed the way the industry looked at the genre. Skaggs plays on Lee’s version of the song that appeared on Lee’s first single album Hiding. “That was the second or third time I recorded that song,” Lee explains. “I first did it with Head Hands and Feet in 1970, and then when I got a deal with A&M in the mid-70s, I cut it again. That one wasn’t released. Then, when I re-instigated my deal with A&M and got more money to go back in the studio, and I did it again with our band, and Emmylou Harris and Ricky Skaggs, and that’s the version that’s one that Hiding album.
“(Ricky Skaggs) loved it all, really. I mean he’d come from the bluegrass background and, after playing with Emmylou Harris, he (was up) for playing more electric country, and I think he will probably give me credit for getting him to play the Telecaster for a short while in his band, and same goes for Vince Gill, you know. Vince wasn’t really a Tele player until we got there.
“The version of “Country Boy” by Heads Hands and Feet got played on the radio a lot, so people got to know me here (in the states), and then when I moved to L.A. in ’73,’74, I was playing local bars with Vince Gill. He was quite young then, and I think he will readily admit that I was an influence at that time. Then Ricky and I were in the Hot Band (with Emmylou Harris) for a short while together, and I got to play on a few records of his around that time.”
Guitarist Magazine calls him “the only Brit to be regarded as a bona fide legend of American country music.” His credits include Joe Cocker, Carlene Carter and did three albums with Buddy Holly’s Crickets. He has a new Buddy Holly tribute album for sale on this tour.