Albert Lee was born on December 21, 1943, in Herefordshire, England. He grew up in Blackheath, London, where his father played English 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 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 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 longed for an electric:
"My first real guitar was a Grazioso which was the forerunner of the Hofner Futurama. I paid £85 second hand for it, so it was really expensive...but I always used to wish that I'd bought a Fender instead."
Albert quit school in Christmas of 1959 (only 16) when his band turned pro:
"We got a job touring Scotland with stars from Larry Parnes' stable - but after two tours (Dickie Pride and Sally Kelly), I jacked it in. We each got £20 for 12 days - but we had to pay our own hotel bills out of that. Even so, I still saved enough money to put a deposit on an amp when I got back! That would have been Jan '60...my first taste of the road."
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.
"By 1961, I'd been through various day jobs (including making blueprints, working in a laundry, and paint spraying) but still hankered after being able to earn enough playing in a group...and I was in Selmers one day (helping a friend choose a Les Paul Junior, which he then used to lend to me) when I ran into this bloke called Bob Xavier, who asked me to join his band. So I wore a variety of open necked silky shirts and worked American airbases and London clubs for over a year.
"Bob Xavier was West Indian, and the band was modelled on Emile Ford and the Checkmates. Most other groups around town were still doing rock'n'roll, but we were into Drifters/Brook Benton sort of stuff...but in summer '62 Xavier left and we became the house band at the 2Is [paid 18 bob a night].
"We'd play in the cofee bar 5 or 6 nights a week - backing whoever wandered onto the stage...and at weekends we 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 2Is 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 7n35064 – sept 62...just on the A-side, produced by Les Reed).
"Trying to make it as a rock musician was a very haphazard business in the early sixties - and it was pretty dangerous too...you could get caught up in all manner of things. I was lucky because I could always go home to my parents - it was just a question of hopping onto the tube. I often wonder if I'd ever have become a professional musician if I'd been living somewhere like Cornwall, because I wasn't the sort to move into some sleazy digs and endure all that suff...even though I was soon spending a lot of time living in small cupboards adjoining unsavoury clubs spread around Germany!
"We [The Nightsounds] went to Hamburg for three weeks playing the Top Ten Club - the same time as The Beatles were playing The Star Club. It was my first trip abroad...in the day when every musician had to pay his dues in Hamburg - nightly, dusk to dawn.
"Towards the end of 1962 I joined Don Adams' band and went to Germany again - in a little A35 van. It was that really cruel winter, and there was no heater in the van; we had to huddle round a little tiny Primus stove in the back! Bloody hell, we almost froze to death - and almost wrote ourselves off when we turned it over on the ice! It was the usual thing - pumping out Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, Eddie Cochran and Little Richard for 6 hours a night, 7 days a week - I was glad to come home again after that one...but the weird thing was, I flew straight back out there to play with this German band Mike Warner and the Echolettes for 3 months.
"Neil Christian provided a few months of stability, paying me £15 a week whether we worked or not, which was pretty good. It was going out to clubs all over England in this old ambulance he used as a gig wagon. The 'Stones had come along by then and it wasn't cool to wear matching uniforms anymore. The rage was a grey shirt with rounded collars and a knitted tie, and you had to comb your hair forward like The Beatles - but I didn't go for all that...I've always been about 10 years behind everybody else in fashion. Anyway, for some strange reason I quit Neil and went back to Germany to play in Mike Warner's band again, which turned out to be a foolish move - he dumped us and it took me ages to scrape up my fare home. Then I was hanging around town again until I got a gig with Mike Hurst [replacing Jimmy Page] and went on a package tour with Gene Pitney and Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas."
Albert again replaced Jimmy Page in Neil Christian's band The Crusaders and was replaced by Ritchie Blackmore when in 1964 he 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.
"In May 1964, I joined Chris Farlowe and I stayed with him four years. I thought it was a great band - the best in Britain at what we did...but we never got much in the way of recognition or public acclaim. It was very frustrating; we'd support bands like The Animals, who were terribly ragged in comparison, with very little feeling or finesse - and they'd go down a storm while we got a smattering of applause from the few punters who weren't in the bar. I've got tapes of some of our gigs and they still stand up - some of our stuff was killer! Farlowe was a dynamite singer! But there was practically no crowd reaction. We worked solidly for years...tours, one nighters, all nighters, doubles, trips to Germany and Scandinavia - we went all over the place, but we never cracked it beyond a certain level.
"By the end of '67, Farlowe had decided to revamp the band - so it was him backed by a trio, with Pete Solley (aka Pete Shelley & Pete Sheridan) playing bass pedals as well as the usual stuff on his organ...but by this time I was getting a bit bored with r&b and the way the rock scene was going. Everyone was into huge Marshall stacks and maximum power, and that sort of thing held no appeal for me."
"I was spending more and more time sitting in with a country group (The Flintlocks, later to evolve into Jamie John & Gerry), at the Red Cow in Hammersmith - and we decided to form a new band together...Country Fever."
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.
"In America, country rock was only just beginning and it was unheard of here - but we were trying for it...mixing rock'n'roll and c&w, much as the Burritos did a few months later - but nobody wanted to know. The audiences just wanted the same old Johnny Cash and Jim Reeves imitations – and we usually got a pretty hostile reaction. In the end, it was just too frustrating, so I went into session work."
For more info on this era, check out the sleeve notes on the following albums:
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). The band did get to tour the U.S. but as the last LP's title implies, a sense of frustration had set in over the group's lack of acceptance; they disbanded before its release.
"I bummed around London for a while, doing the odd session and feeling a great sense of relief; I hadn't really enjoyed it too much".
"I happened to meet Ric Grech at some press reception and he was about to go on the road with the Crickets...he persuaded me to do a couple of gigs with them since Glen D. Hardin was finishing up some dates with Elvis. I ended up doing the whole tour - and played with them on the next one too.
"Not long after the first Crickets tour, they flew me out to LA because they'd got a record deal...and then we drove the 2000 odd miles to Nashville - all at one go! Drove there non-stop in three and a half days! Blimey...I don't ever want to do that again!."
The album was 'Long Way From Lubock' (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, and their friendship remains to this day. 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).
"He was drinking a lot and doing a lot of other things too. We had to protect him, it was hard work. People would just give him stuff...he would take it or drink it. Third or fourth song into the set, he would hit a note that would be too much for him...he'd run behind my amp and throw up. Then I'd get a two or three chorus guitar solo until he reappeared. This went regular as clockwork every night. But I'm so glad he survived...he totally cleaned himself up on his own, no rehab or anything."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.
"I worked on my album, on and off, for the rest of '75 - flying in Chas Hodges and Dave Peacock and using them along with Pete Gavin and J.D. Maness - but it didn't really turn out the way I wanted it to...which was my fault entirely: I didn't really do enough preparation and made the mistake of trying to produce it myself. The results were shelved until 1978, when I did most of it again - with Brian Ahern producing. Only 2 tracks survive from the earlier sessions, the rest is new."
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 Cricket 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.
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).
More recenlty Albert has been touring with ex-Stone Bill Wyman and his band The Rhythm Kings. The band is a veritable who's who of british rock - Albert shares the stage with Bill, Peter Frampton and Georgie Fame. "I recorded about a dozen tracks for him [Bill Wyman] last year ['96] and thought no more about it until I got a call from his office telling me an album was coming and would I like to do some gigs. We only did three cities; Hamburg, Amsterdam and London. It was great fun and I hope we do it again next year".
To be continued...
Return to Main Page