This week we will take a break from the book I am writing on these pages titled AMAZING TALES From The Record Biz—You Can’t Make This Shit UP! so that we can spend a few moments remembering the great Alvin Lee.
We will have a memorial page set up soon on the site with photos and a nice obituary that was done for him.
I first met Alvin Lee sneaking into The Los Angeles Forum. He wasn’t sneaking in–I was, to meet him. And let me tell you something—sneaking into The Forum is impossible (well, nearly).
Clive Davis had signed Ten Years After to Columbia Records in the early 70’s and being a guitar guy, I was in heaven!
During early college years a bunch of us were into The Blues Project who featured Danny Kalb playing lead guitar, and at the time he was known as the fastest guitar player going. Later someone played me “Woodchopper’s Ball” by Ten Years After, and I was positively floored! Who the hell was THIS guy?!! For that matter, who was this whole band? They were all like musical gymnasts, playing at lightning speed (I wonder if the guys in Slayer ever listened to those records??).
At any rate, by 1973 Alvin had left Ten Years After looking to branch out musically. As I recall, Alvin was opening for The Who at the Forum with his new band and had Mylon Lefevre , a young gospel rock singer (and very funny guy) with him at the time. I eventually struck up a nice friendship with the both of them, but I also want to tell my story about sneaking into The Forum here because I don’t think anyone else ever has due to their legendary tight, Fort Knox like security, and I did it in the name of meeting one of my all time guitar heroes, Alvin Lee. In fact, our very first meeting was pretty funny.
I was the local album promotion man for Columbia Records and was going to the show. I didn’t have a ticket because the place was completely sold out. The plan was for me to get in backstage, meet Alvin, and then go out to the audience where the head of singles promotion, Terry (“The beauty is on duty!”) Powel, would give me his seat after seeing Alvin’s set and a Who song or two.
So, I go to the backstage entrance (load-in dock) with my credentials, and of course, wouldn’t you know it, my name is not on the list. Happens to the best of us. In fact it happened to Bob Dylan once and it was HIS show! Believe it or not, the guard wouldn’t let Bob in!!! Didn’t believe he was Bob, or didn’t care as he was under strict orders—no name—no get in. That guy got fired of course. Anyway, I decided to go to The Forum offices to explain my case. Easy-peasy right? I’m a Columbia exec coming to see my band. No, not so easy—“Sorry your name’s not on the list.” No luck there, so I went to The Forum Club and met all the big honchos, showed them my Columbia credentials, and…still no luck! No one, wanted to let me into The Forum! I walked around the whole building trying to open the many doors that are available and they were mostly all locked except for the ones who had security guys posted as soon as that particular door opened—no way I’m getting into this buttoned-up joint!
After two hours of futile attempts, I decided rather than give up, to make it MY MISSION to talk my way into this place and to meet Alvin Lee!
I finally went back to the guard at loading dock and said, “LOOK, here are my Columbia Records’ credentials. I’m carrying a briefcase for God’s sake—do I look like a groupie?!!! I pleaded with him to just call the promoter or someone in Alvin’s camp to let them know I was there. But, “Hey sir, IT’S THE FORUM, your name’s not on the list”—no go.
Finally I took a page out my father’s book (he was a very bigger than life character who grew up in Brooklyn, moved to California and dressed like a cowboy but still retained his New York “personality”—had his own creative ways of convincing people). I got creative.
I said to the guard, who’s name was on his badge, “I REALLY need to get in to have a business meeting with Alvin Lee (which was kind of a white lie at the time cuz I just really wanted to meet him), and if you don’t call someone to let them know I’m here, tomorrow I am going to take out a full page ad in the Los Angeles Times and it’s going to say that YOU, with your name listed, did not let ME, a bona fide Columbia rep into The Forum to see my own act! You and The Forum will be roundly embarrassed! In fact, I think I’ll make it a double truck ad—two pages! Can you see it?! YOUR NAME in GIANT LETTERS on a fold out spread in the Los Angeles Times!!!” Do you think The Forum honchos will like that???! And don’t think I won’t do it, because I am one crazy mother f*cker!!!”
Now, I’m not fond of people who throw their weight around, and I was not particularly proud of myself for treating the guard that way—but it worked! He got a little scared, called back to the inner sanctum and sure enough someone knew me and told him to let me in. F-i-n-a-l-l-y! First part accomplished, but at The Forum, that’s just the beginning of the security—there are two more checkpoints backstage before you can get into a band’s dressing room. I waited ‘till the security guys were dealing with other problems and somehow sneaked past them. When I got to Alvin’s dressing room, I just had to talk my way past his private security guard. I can’t remember what cock and bull story I told him, but I think carrying my briefcase helped.
After a full three hours of running around the whole building, begging, pleading, and sneaking, I was finally let into Alvin’s dressing room. By that time I was all hot and sweaty, pretty disheveled and just spent, but there he was sitting in a chair, warming up with that big red guitar—I finally was going to meet one of my all time guitar heroes!
I relaxed for a moment, got myself together, took a deep breath, walked up to him and began to speak, “Hi Alvin, my name’s Paul Rappaport, and I’m with Columbia, and I just want to say…” Before I could finish, he looked up, promptly waved me off, and said “Talk to me manager mate, talk to me manager!” That was it! After all that hard work—all the running around, the begging, the sneaking, the pleading–I was completely blown off with the wave of a hand—simply dismissed–my big moment dashed in a matter of seconds. Ha, ha! The truth was, at the time he had absolutely no interest in meeting anyone from his record company!!!! After all that!!! I really had a good chuckle at the time–I’m even smiling now as I remember him laughing good-naturedly with me, as I walked away shaking my head, to meet…his manager.
Another funny part of this story is when I walked out into the house and went upstairs to meet Terry. The Forum is also notorious for everyone having to have a seat—no standing room. But there were NO EXTRA SEATS because the place was totally sold out, and the security guards couldn’t figure out how one extra human had gotten into the building (because of course that was impossible)—there was absolutely NO place to seat me! They were bugged beyond belief and finally they just gave up and let Terry sit in my lap for a few songs (which was hysterical in and of itself!).
Well, of course, I finally did meet Alvin again and got to spend some quality time with him and Mylon (who we used to call “nylon” for fun). The pair of them together was like watching Laurel and Hardy! Maybe more like Abbott and Costello, as Alvin was the more serious, and always trying to reign in Mylon who was always cutting up but also trying hard to show Alvin that he was responsible. In fact, Mylon and I, and his band once got stuck in a cave in Topanga Canyon after getting high as kites and then realizing we had to walk back over a very scary ledge over looking the canyon. We had to be on time for a recording session with Alvin so Mylon told us all to hold hands so if one of us fell over the cliff the others would pull him back—yeah right! Eight totally stoned musicians holding hands on a dangerous cliff all the while with Mylon leading the chant, “We can’t be late for Alvin, we can’t be late for Alvin!”
The thing about Alvin Lee is, it was always about the music and the guitar. He didn’t care much for the star-maker-machinery, in fact, I’d say he railed against it which is why he probably was nonplussed that first day I tried to meet him. But, he was one of the good guys, and what a great player he was! Some folks think that he was a one trick pony–that he became famous and well respected for his speed on the guitar alone, but that’s not true. Alvin could play guitar like nobody’s business, and in all kinds of varied styles and tempos.
In fact, part of why Judy and I are so stunned about Alvin’s sudden passing is that we have been, and are still are promoting his new album as I am writing this. We just had a round of fun radio interviews a couple weeks ago and the day Alvin passed I was actually setting up another blockbuster with Jim Ladd from SiriusXM! I will try and see if we can post those interviews, on the website here because although it may be a bit eerie, I think you guys would dig to hear what this rock icon had to say.
I will tell you this—if you want to hear a really great and entertaining album, get this new one titled “Still On The Road To Freedom.” You will have a blast listening to it, the songs are all really good, and Alvin covers many different guitar styles and nails each and every one! And, he is singing better than ever!
Isn’t it interesting that of all the bands that played Woodstock and all the images we have of Santana, Country Joe, John Sebastion, Jimi Hendrix, etc., etc., the one that sticks in our minds the most is Alvin Lee and Ten Years After doing “I’m Going Home” and after, he walking off the stage with that big watermelon on his shoulder!
Rock icon and one of he all time greats. Alvin Lee, is finally going home. I’d say rest in peace, but knowing Alvin he probably has a full head of steam on and trying to hook up with Jimi Hendrix and George Harrison for a jam session in Heaven!
Let’s not be sad because we’ve lost Alvin, let’s smile because we were lucky enough to have him.
Once again, thanks for reading and next time we will return to more Columbia Record’s antics and the art of how to flip butter patties and make them stick to the ceiling. PS. Not good when you’re at Le Bernadin, the famous five star French Restaurant in midtown Manhattan!
© Paul Rappaport 2013