“I’ve always liked to keep an open mind about things,” explains legendary British guitarist Alvin Lee, of “The Rapper,” a hip-hop influenced track on his ninth solo album, Saguitar (Rainman).
“The reason I called it that was to shock a few people. I mean, the reaction of some bluesers and purists is one of being horrified, to say the least. A lot of old rockers who can’t make that cross have told me, ‘It’s terrible. You shouldn’t be doing that king of thing.’
“I think that’s great, “he adds with a self-satisfied laugh, “because I’m almost famous for always doing what I shouldn’t be doing.”
Before too many of Lee’s longtime followers start worrying that the revered musician is planning on trading his renowned long, blond locks for an Emimen styled “do,” backwards baseball cap, oversized T-shirt, baggy jeans and lots of bling, rest assured: Most of Sagituar’s other cuts trade on the blues and boogie-styled rock that has made him one of those genre’s most sought-after players for more than 40 years.
Lee composed all 11 new songs and plays nearly all of the instruments. Modestly, he offers in a clipped British accent, “I’m no Stevie Wonder, but I kind of play the kind of rough rock and roll and blues that I like. I’ve always been keen on studios and doing my own engineering and producing, but it took me about six months to master the whole computer-recording concept.
Because of this, one of the first things I did was (the Elvis-styled) ‘Midnight Train.’ I thought, ‘If I’m gonna use a hi-tech computerized digital studio, I want to make it sound like a good rock and roll one from the ’50s.”
Born Dec. 19, 1944 in Nottingham, England, the mythical home of a different type renegade, Robin Hood, Lee’s discovery of the blues came via his very cool parents, especially his father whose impressive collection of 78s included the likes of Lonnie Johnson, Ralph Wills, Lead Belly and Big Bill Broonzy. Lee had a chance meeting when he was age 12 with Broonzy that made a life-altering impression on him.
“My mom and dad used to go this local pub called The Test Match. Chris Barber and Lonnie Donnegan used to play there, but Broonzy was their favorite, and one night they brought him back to the house. They woke me up and said, ‘You’ve gotta meet this guy.’ It was an amazing experience for me. Just to have a black man in the house was pretty amazing. He was a huge, towering guy, and he picked up the guitar and played for us.”
“There was no hope for me,” Lee jokingly admits. “My fate was sealed. I had to be a blues guitarist.”
With support and encouragement from his parents, Lee began his musical journey on the guitar. Combining the jazzy styles of Django Reinhardt, Tal Farlowe, Barney Kessell, the finger-pickings of Merle Travis and Chet Atkins, the multi-stringed leads of Chuck Berry, and the string-bending technique of Freddie King, he was soon evolving a personal style that would later bring world fame.
While blues formed the foundation for his music, he was surprised to later learn how unaware Americans were of their own music roots.
“ ... when I came to America, I assumed everybody there was aware of people like Muddy Waters, because it’s the American heritage, and I found out that wasn’t so. A lot of people would come up to me after I became known and ask, ‘Where’d you get this English sound from?’ And I’d say, ‘Just recycled American m