Asked by me in 1970 to name his favourite guitarist, Ritchie Blackmore didn’t hesitate. “Albert Lee,” he replied. Pressed further Ritchie, never the humblest of men – “I can play the ass off most guitarists around today,” he once told me – admitted that Lee, Hendrix and Jim Sullivan, who’d given him lessons in the fifties when they lived in the same street in Hounslow, were the only UK guitarists he considered to be superior to himself.

        I ought to have known about Albert Lee but I didn’t, not then. I was new to Melody Maker in 1970 and while I knew all the guitarists in the spotlight – Clapton, Beck, Page, Townshend and the like – I wasn’t familiar with Albert Lee. So, I made enquiries and discovered that at the time he played in a band called Head Hands & Feet that was signed to Island. A call to their PR, my friend David Sandison, and their LP arrived on my desk at MM. It contained Albert’s signature song ‘Country Boy’ and after I’d played it a few times I realised what Ritchie was on about.

        I saw Head Hands & Feet three times in the next couple of years, supporting Mott The Hoople at the Albert Hall in July 1971, and in the final paragraph of a review devoted almost entirely to Mott, wrote: “Head, Hands & Feet opened the show, spotlighting Albert Lee’s guitar mastery to the full. His country sounding solo on ‘Country Boy’ was one of the best guitar solos I have heard in a long time.”

        Now a fan, further exposure to Albert occurred at the Weeley Festival near Clacton-on-Sea that same year and at the Lincoln Festival a year later. Each time my attention was glued to the guitarist.

        He was a skinny little guy with a big grin and a mop of dark curly hair that looked like it had never seen a comb. He bent over his butterscotch Telecaster and played like an American, like the session cowboys of Nashville or his hero James Burton. His solos were dazzling, his licks phenomenal, his runs as quick as lightning, his fingering as accurate as a pocket calculator. He seemed modest too, for while he played like a demon he was never showy, never one to ‘make it cry or sing’, as Mark Knopfler put it, never one to screw up his eyes as if in agony or otherwise invite his audience to look at him and him only. He was restrained when someone else was soloing, content to strum chords and fade back into the rhythm section, and it seemed to me that he shrugged off his skills as if it was nothing, really nothing, just what he did, that’s all. He was what was known in the trade as a musicians’ musician, secure in his skills, a master craftsman. 

        I wanted to meet Albert but never got the chance, not until 1976 when I was doing a story for MM on Emmylou Harris. She was performing at a club on Long Island near New York where I lived at the time and in the afternoon of the show I interviewed her in the dining room of the hotel where she was staying with her Hot Band, their newest recruit Albert. Seems he was asked to replace Burton who’d gone off to play in Elvis’ band, so he was following in the footsteps of his idol, hot on his tail in fact. 

        I learned from her that Albert hadn’t even rehearsed with her band before their first show together. “It came to a stage where we needed a firm commitment from James (Burton) but an Elvis tour came up right at the time we needed him to do some dates with us, so we needed a new guitar player real fast,” Emmylou told me. 

        It was Emory Gordy, the Hot Band’s bass player – he’d seen Albert playing with a latter day line-up of The Crickets – who introduced Lee to the fold. “He came down to see us at a place in San Bernardino and joined in to play every song,” said Emmylou. “He didn’t miss a lick all night.”

        The Hot Band were sat at an adjacent table, polishing off a very late breakfast. Emmylou beckoned Albert over to join us and I shook hands with him for the first time. “I was supposed to go along to two or three gigs and watch James playing, but actually I’d listened to the records so I knew most of the things they were playing anyway,” he said, with the calm ease someone who knows his business. 

        “I’d been living in California for about a year after having worked with Joe Cocker but that had finished so I was looking for a new gig. I was asked to go down to some gigs and if I’d like to do it and I knew even before I saw the band that I would love to. Actually, James got the flu so I was rushed into the band faster than I expected. I went down to a gig to watch and thought I’d bring my guitar just in case. I ended up playing all night.”

    “Someday this band is going to have a rehearsal,” added Emmylou. “Just to see what it’s like.” 

Over the next few years, Albert befriended James Burton  the two can be seen playing together on YouTube  and joined Eric Clapton’s stage band but the next time I saw him was at Abbey Road Studios in 1981. He was there with Chas (Hodges) & Dave (Peacock), both veterans of the UK rock scene from which Albert emerged as a guitarist in the sixties with, among others, Neil Christian & The Crusaders and Chris Farlowe & The Thunderbirds. Chas & Dave were recording a live album in Studio One which had been refitted as a pub for the night and theyd asked Albert along to beef things up. Hodges had played bass in HH&F and both he and Peacock appeared on Albert’s first solo LP, Hiding, released in 1979. 

I chatted with Albert that night, and over a pint or two between sets asked him a bit about his long career. I used this information for his entry in my book A-Z Of Rock Guitarists, in which I recognised his dilemma, writing: “If ever there was a British guitarist who deserved fame and fortune in equal doses, it is Albert Lee. Shy, non-pushy and often indecisive, he has remained in the background while his peers have reaped the rewards that fate has bestowed on them. Without a doubt he is the finest country and western picker in the UK and his feel for the blues can rival Clapton. The truism that it takes more than talent to become a rock star is amply demonstrated in Lee’s case.”

Two years later Albert was on stage at the Royal Albert Hall with The Everly Brothers for their comeback concert, not only as their lead guitarist but as their musical director, not that you’d know it from the Ev’s Reunion Concert CD I have in my collection. None of the backing band – among them pianist Pete Wingfield – are credited in the flimsy liner notes, though Don does introduce them from the stage. As ever Albert’s guitar work is exemplary, mostly fills that replicate run for run the well-known Every Brothers’ recordings, though he takes a stinging blues solo on Jimmy Reed’s ‘Baby What You Want Me To Do’ (titled, oddly ‘Blues [Stay Away From Me’] on this CD), and stretches out on the rock’n’roll 12-bars that close the show.

The last time I saw Albert was in June 2012 at a Guitar Master Class in Guildford promoted by Anderton’s, the city’s guitar store. To an audience I judged was 99% guitarists and 1% my wife, Albert, his hair now white, talked about his career, answered questions and, of course, dazzled everyone with a few songs, interspersed with immaculate solos, played on a Music Man guitar with whom he had a sponsorship deal. During the questions, someone asked him why he resigned from Eric Clapton’s band. He played the chug-a-lug riff from ‘Lay Down Sally’ and asked: “Would you want to play that every night?”

A more poignant moment occurred when Albert, who nowadays lives in Los Angeles, talked about being shown around the Paramount Film Studios and finding himself in a storeroom that housed old props. “In there was the guitar that Elvis played in Loving You,” he said. “A lovely Gibson J200 acoustic, blonde. I picked it up but it was in terrible conditions. Its strings were rusty, its neck was warped. No one had cared for it. It was Elvis’ guitar. I wanted to weep.” 

        So big was the crowd that swarmed around him at the end that I was unable to fight my way through and say hello but it didn’t matter. I was simply happy that Albert was being acclaimed by those who recognised a master at work. A snippet of the Master Class can be seen on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K0sfQJ7_7_M        

        The next day I bought the CD Albert Lee & Hogan’s Heroes Live At The New Morning, recording on December 1, 2003 in Paris. I’m listening to it right now.

        In 2016 Albert teamed up with Peter Asher to tour the world performing songs by Peter & Gordon, The Everly Brothers and Buddy Holly. Now 78, Albert is touring the UK right now and the week after next will be at the Half Moon in Putney. See you there. 



Last Sunday The Who in their 2022 composition performed in Cincinnati, the US city where the burden of expectation is intensified by the events of 1979. This review of the show was sent to me by Glenn Burris, one of many Who fans who connected with me via Facebook and this blog which, over the years, has featured more about The Who than any other rock act. I’m more than happy to post it here on Glenn’s behalf. 

You’d be hard pressed to argue that any major concert in Cincinnati was ever more keenly anticipated than The Who’s show there this past Sunday night. Over the years, there might have been as much build up among rock fans for stadium shows in the city by The Rolling Stones or Paul McCartney or even some guy in a cowboy hat, but this was clearly a different situation. Of course, this would be The Who’s first appearance in the Queen City since the infamous tragedy of December 3, 1979, so both local and national media brought extra attention. This ensured the show would be a true event, not just a Sunday night concert. 

        Circumstances, too, combined to up the ante. The tour stop was originally set for April 2020, the month that showed the world that a pandemic is not a two-week Netflix binge. The following two years saw the construction of soccer-dedicated TQL Stadium, which was chosen as the new venue for this show over the original indoor site in neighboring Kentucky. Now The Who would play in Cincy proper, outdoors, in a burgeoning and elated neighborhood, and in a facility that did not exist two years prior, hosting its first-ever music performance. Mix that with the warm mid-spring weather and the relaxed Covid threat, plus a promise by The Who to give every away every net nickel of their appearance, and it seemed like all hopes for this night might be realized. By and large, they were. 

        For their ticket money, the crowd was given an elegant formula for rock and roll joy and a community-binding experience. But one person seemed to leave the stadium with a pale aura of bitterness and frustration about him. One man walked away looking weary. And he was the auteur for the entire thing, the genesis figure of both the 1979 and 2022 concerts. Pete Townshend left the stage Sunday looking not relieved, nor released. He just looked bruised. The day’s work he had just completed seemed to end with a sour taste, more of a dry thud than a celebratory firework despite the good vibes that seemed to fill the air right next to him. Pete’s complexities, his fraught relationship with Roger Daltrey and with touring (again and again and again) pitted against his love of his own music, were put in a new light by the tenor of the evening. And come the curfew time, he looked like he’d had enough. 

        The two-hour-plus show that preceded what appeared to be a moment of dismay was textbook 21st Century Who. Give that phrase a moment to settle in if you can. This late-model concert, like that of most artists in their class these days, is designed to satisfy the patron that sees The Who one time in their lives. Very little is left to chance in either performance (especially with a platoon of orchestral musicians parked behind a rock band) or the set list. Only one song was gleaned from their most recent album, and it elicited only polite response from the throng. As a matter of fact, you’d be forgiven for imagining a promoter contracting the band to stick a new song right in the middle of the set, so they are sure to sell more beer at that time. 

        Who ’22 looks like just like Who ’19, no matter the silly re-branding of an identically formatted tour as ‘The Who Hits Back’ (At what, you are welcome to ask). There are a few more wrinkles, sure, but other than that, it’s a sequel with a script identical to its precedent, sold to a marketplace with no ceiling on price and who don’t ask for much more than background music for a night out. As always seems the case now, the sound of music is cluttered with the noise of conversations all around you, almost all the time. 

        Still, there is a reason to set aside the cynicism and give our loyalty to The Who room to breathe. There is something impressive and encouraging about the feat of playing big loud music at the ages Roger and Pete have reached. In his recent Audible podcast, Townshend ruminated on the notion of near-80-year-olds presenting this kind of music while at least appearing to have a bang-up time doing it. He correctly stated that this deserves to be seen as a life-affirmation, and asked, “Is this not a celebration of what being alive is?” It was a relief to hear him pose the rhetorical question, even if he added the caveat that he really isn’t enjoying himself on the road. He has said that for years.

        The par-for-the-course Cincinnati concert should certainly get credit for properly pairing the memorial to the eleven who died in 1979 with a professional “Rock and Rollllllll!” concert, which must be no easy task – has any rock band faced this situation before? The names of those lost in the crush were on display all night long as part of the stadium’s electronic bannering system, where you would expect to see the names of car dealers and the crypto currency of the week. Keeping the scroll on these displays at the periphery and not behind the stage did indeed give you the feeling that the spirits of the victims of 42 years past – lives lost as much through the gross behavior of their fellow concertgoers as to the arena’s management – were floating among the living. Other mentions of the missing by Pete and Roger themselves were more than gracious as each walked a tight wire between tribute and entertainment. A video message from Eddie Vedder, who had hoped to make a cameo at this show, was shown before the headliners walked on, but went mostly unnoticed in the chattering of the crowd. 

        The opening act slot was given to a good local band called Safe Passage. Its members were among the survivors of the ’79 calamity. Whoever gave them the gig really deserves a hand. A montage of photos of those who never came home on that cold December night was presented over the piano intro to ‘Love Reign O’er Me’, and for ‘Baba O’Riley’, local high school orchestral musicians and singers, with connections to the fine P.E.M. Memorial Scholarship Fund, were given the thrill of an on-stage appearance. You couldn’t help but smile at their glowing young faces. All of this was memorable, well-timed, and evenly balanced. It never felt sticky, it was served in just the right amount. 

        But then such a staged remembrance fits well with a boilerplate performance. One or two choices did veer from the norm: for the hardcore, ‘Relay’ made a welcome band-only appearance, and ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ erupted in a mid-set electric version where we usually get it in acoustic duo mode, before the orchestra returned for the third act of the show. 

        The most exciting moment, though, came in the form that it usually does, with an instance of crash-but-not-burn. Just like in a Formula One race when one car scrapes another and then lurches forward to win the next curve, a Townshend brain skip in ‘Eminence Front’ caused him to momentarily forget a verse then rush-read the line to get back on schedule. Experienced Who fans relish these gaffs, because a moment later, without fail, the band will try to make up for them in aggressive fashion. In this case, Pete next unleashed his hottest burst of electric guitar all night. That was not good enough to make up for the fact that the sound of his Stratocaster was consistently buried in a murky mix (so much so that the orchestra could have stayed home for all the good they did). 

        Cincinnati’s new stadium was made for soccer before music and local laws apparently conspired with the venue’s design to, song by song, erode The Who’s literally-carefully-orchestrated performance. Empty metal seating at the end opposite the stage was said, by Pete, to be unavailable for sale simply because that area is not made up of true seats but long benches where people might crowd together. In other words, there is still a legislated local fear of “another Cincinnati”. So, the band played to a giant steel reflector, and it was one of the unwanted ingredients of a concert that never really peaked and included a moment of real buzz kill only at the close of the night. 

        In the final part of the show, as rock- and classically- trained musicians lumbered through a stack of Quadrophenia selections, the giant monitors revealed a Townshend that looked more haggard by the minute. You got the feeling that the complex emotion of the show was manifesting as fatigue and frustration. Up there was the Pete that thinks too much, trying just to get through the work plan. But he kept his cool, playing well enough through his most complicated music, Quad’s instrumental penultimate ‘The Rock’, strategically placed to rest Daltrey’s voice for the last furlong. And Pete made yet another grateful announcement as he welcomed the local kids on to play and sing his phrase-coiner about the “teenage wasteland” turned cop show theme. ‘Baba O’Riley’ is now a flag raised not by Pete or Roger but by the pretty young violinist who dervishes through a perfect reading of Dave Arbus’s Who’s Next solo center stage. But let’s give the 1971 warhorse its due here. The line “Let’s get together before we get much older” likely resounded stronger with this age 60-plus crowd, in place of those not there, than it might at other Who concerts.

        On the back side of that show closer, Roger stepped up to offer his usual benediction. This time it would come with the added component of the gravity of the occasion. But he wandered off script and began to complain about the bounce-back sound he dealt with all evening thanks to the rows of empty metal bleachers. Now, Daltrey is a great philanthropist, and not careless when it comes to charitable and meaningful events. He had an end game in mind, eventually saying that while he suffered from hearing ‘another band’ playing in echo to him all night, at least that band “was better than the one on stage”. But Pete wasn’t in on the joke, and just before Rog could reach the punchline, changing complaint to comedy, Townshend rushed to interrupt his singer, with a look of “What the hell are you doing?!” on his face. It echoed another comment from Pete’s Audible show where he recalled wincing at Roger’s opening remarks in Buffalo, New York, on December 4, 1979, a show that Pete now says The Who should never have played. 

        Local photographer Jon Calderas perfectly captured the moment, a classic on-stage Who misunderstanding, and it can be seen among the many photos from Sunday night at Cincymusic.com: Pete motioning to the off-stage area and apparently trying to tell Roger that it was time to end this monologue. When Roger continued mopping up, Pete hot-footed it for stage left, only to be coaxed back by Daltrey who was awkwardly working toward a conclusion in a long list of thank-yous. 

        Seeing Pete lose a little patience with Roger in public (or vice-versa) is nothing new. It’s one of the charms of Grumpy Old Men. But on Sunday night, beneath the graceful appreciation of lives lived and lost, their physical aches and the strains of their relationship seemed burdened by the cold pains of forty years past. And all of it framed by an elusive terminus for a rock career: a show that never quite stops. For Townshend, it must feel like being on treadmill, while reminding yourself that it’s better to be up on this thing than prone on the floor next to it. When Pete did finally amble off stage with the rest of the gang, nothing in his body language said he reached ‘closure’, a clichĂ© that so many articles this week have used. He just looked like he was stuck in his own past. Again. 

        Cincinnati was longing for The Who’s return, and the duo manned up, no doubt. Roger and Pete are gamers, and they have big hearts. They, and Bill Curbishley and the rest of the management team and the supporting musicians, deserve any blessing this visit to Cincinnati could offer. But you must wonder if at least one of The Two left town this time feeling any less beaten than he had in 1979. 

- Glenn Burris, May 18, 2022, glenn_burris@earthlink.net

Glenn is a corporate communications producer and documentary filmmaker who lives in northern Ohio. A life-long Who fan, the December 3, 1979, was on his fifteenth birthday. Glenn didn’t make it to Cincinnati’s Riverfront Coliseum that night, but has seen The Who dozens of times over the last 40 years. 



Fifty years old this week, the double album Exile On Main Street is being rightly celebrated as the Rolling Stones’ greatest ever LP. The hits compilation Forty Licks aside, it is the Stones’ LP I have listened to the most; released as a single CD in 1994, I doubt any six-month period has passed since when I haven’t played it at least once at home or in my car, a great big smile erupting as ‘Rocks Off’ blasts from my speakers, Keith’s guitar swinging into action as Mick sings ambiguously about sex and, possibly, the perils it can bring. 

        It’s a downhill, helter-skelter ride from there, not a duff track among the 17 that follow, a smorgasbord of hi-energy rock, spirited gospel, honky country and soupy blues. Never again would the Stones sound so confident, so convincing, so energised, so prolific, so eclectic, so wrapped up in their musical ideals in the space of one LP, albeit one that occupied four sides of vinyl. When I play it now I sense a sort of musical claustrophobia, as if the group was cramming as much into it while they could, perhaps even making a final grand statement before the money ran out and they imploded into a mess of Mick’s upwardly mobile ambitions, Keith’s drug addiction, Charlie’s ambivalence, Bill’s gloom and Mick Taylor’s inexperience. 

        We could be forgiven for thinking that ‘All Down The Line’ and ‘I Just Want To See His Face’ were produced by different bands. The former – which was actually recorded 18 months earlier in Los Angeles – ranks alongside any of the Stones’ great Chuck Berry rewrites, a Grade-A rocker that demands repeated plays, while the latter is a swampy voodoo chant in the style of Dr John, the sort of thing that might be heard at a gospel church in Mississippi where the congregation speaks in tongues. 

        No two songs on the entire record are less alike than this pair, and they are matched by the incomparable ‘Tumbling Dice’, with its layer after layer of sinewy guitar lines, or the country campfire vibe of ‘Sweet Virginia’, in which Gram Parsons surely had a hand, and its companion piece ‘Torn And Frayed’, or the relentless, almost punk, pace of ‘Rip This Joint’, or Keith’s own ‘Happy’, virtually a one-man band creation. 

        Everywhere you look there’s something to gorge on: the James Moore cover ‘Shake Your Hips’, aka ‘Hip Shake’, given a sensuous Southern twist; the OTT tribute to Angela Davis that was ‘Sweet Black Angel’; the down-home blues of ‘Stop Breaking Down’, rearranged from Robert Johnson’s original with Mick Taylor on slide; the sumptuous gospel of ‘Loving Cup’ with Nicky Hopkins’ cascading piano; even the throwaway ‘Turd On The Run’, another pacy sprint with Mick’s harp howling in the wind.

        What have I missed? Bobby Key’s sax in ‘Casino Boogie’; the sleazy ‘Ventilator Blues’; the emotion-packed, choral majesty of ‘Let It Loose’; and the swaggering finale ‘Soul Survivor’, the cue to start again at the beginning, as I so often have. 

In Keith’s book, Life, the Stones’ guitarist says the title of the album came from the group’s tax-imposed exile in the South of France where the LP was recorded, the main street being the Riviera coast road that stretched from Cannes to Monte Carlo. Being cooped up in NellcĂ´te, the 18-room mansion built in the 1890s in the hills above Villefranche Sur Mer, the Stones and their entourage of wives, crew and additional musicians like Keys, Jim Price, Parsons and Hopkins, had nothing else to do but eat, drink and make music, urgently, and result still sounds spectacular. 



Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Inductees, 2022

Disappointingly but predictable in the light of my previous form, only one of my nominees to the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame will be inducted later this year. From the list of 17 nominees, the permitted five I chose were Beck, Eurythmics, MC5, The New York Dolls and Rage Against The Machine, but of the five only Eurythmics were given the nod by the rather mysterious – some would say sinister – committee that decides these things. 

        This is not the first time that MC5, the Dolls and Rage have been passed over, as have a few others from the list of nominees for whom I did not vote, among them Kate Bush. Aside from Eurythmics, the lucky inductees are Eminem, Dolly Parton, Duran Duran, Lionel Ritchie, Pat Benatar and Carly Simon.

        Dolly’s inclusion is controversial insofar as she recused herself from being inducted on the grounds that she’s not rock’n’roll, which is true and which is why I didn’t vote for her myself. As I opined in my post on 11 March, she’s a great performer but she’s country with a capital C and does not therefore belong in the R&RHoF. She evidently agrees but the committee ignored her wishes and voted her in anyway. It remains to be seen what the outcome will be.

        I am angry that the New York Dolls have been overlooked yet again. If ever a band held true to the spirit of rock’n’roll, the defiance, the casual disregard for civility, the sticking two fingers up to authority, it was the Dolls. Their output was small but their impact was massive. In many ways the Dolls were the American Sex Pistols, certainly as shocking and almost as influential, and the same applies in many respects to MC5, who kept a few ghastly Republican politicians awake at night. For both these groups – and The Smiths for that matter – to have been dismissed in favour of an act like Duran Duran is a disgraceful action that brings into question the very meaning of rock’n’roll in the eyes of those who administer the Hall of Fame. 

        Then again, it’s not the first time their judgement has reeked of duplicity. I have nothing really against Duran Duran beyond the fact that their music was not to my taste and much of their appeal seemed to rely on how they dressed, but heaven forbid that the decision to induct them rested on the fact that all five of their original line up are still alive – as opposed to only one from the Dolls – which means Duran and their record label are likely to buy far more costly tickets to the induction ceremony in November. Surely not? 

        Each year I question why I continue to vote. Nowadays the acts nominated produce music that more often than not passes me by but, with a few exceptions, lack the attributes required to be inducted into an institution that, when it was originated in 1968, rewarded genuine excellence. It all boils down to a simple question: do Pat Benatar and Duran Duran really belong alongside Elvis, Chuck, Beatles, Rolling Stones, Dylan, Who, Jimi, Neil Young, Led Zep, Bowie, Springsteen and the like? Do the New York Dolls for that matter? Maybe I’m just too bloody old.