The British band Ten Years After are often lumped in with other Yardbirds-like blues-rock bands of the '60's, but that categorization doesn't do them justice. Led by the late guitar hero Alvin Lee, Ten Years After eschewed much of the nonsense that plagued many other bands' music at the time. The band earned a sizable following in the U.S., especially after their performance at Woodstock; their 11-minute performance of "I'm Going Home" is one of the documentary film's high points. The band reportedly toured America an amazing 28 times in eight years. Although the band has many admirers, Alvin Lee was less venerated than many other guitarists who were less talented. The band's lineup remained constant until their initial breakup in 1975: the quartet was rounded out by bassist Leo Lyons, drummer Ric Lee (no relation to Alvin), and keyboardist Chick Churchill. In 2002, Ten Years After reunited without Alvin Lee, replacing him with a much younger musician named Joe Gooch. Meanwhile, Alvin Lee continued his solo career until his unexpected death in March 2013 at the age of 68.
Several recordings by Ten Years After are out of print in the U.S.
The self-titled 1967 album was a stunning debut. It was in a definite blues-rock vein, but it was set apart from other such albums of its time by its subtlety. The band avoided psychedelia and other indulgences that many of their peers fell prey to, and made a solid effort marked by genuine talent and love of the music. The album is no-nonsense from start to finish; even during the closing ten-minute jam "Help Me", Lee and company never lose control. Ten Years After is as soulful as any rock and roll album to come down the pike.
1. I Want To Know
2. I Can't Keep From Crying, Sometimes
3. Adventures Of A Young Organ
5. Losing The Dogs
6. Feel It For Me
7. Love Until I Die
8. Don't Want You Woman
9. Help Me
The 1970 album Watt, the band's sixth, has the type of cover art that suggests psychedelic leanings. However, they were still generally avoiding such indulgences. Although Watt does contain occasional strange passages, it's still a fairly straightforward -- and fairly impressive -- rock and roll album. Besides their trademark blues and jazz basics, Watt also contains a good funk number ("I Say Yeah"), a spaghetti-western instrumental ("The Band With No Name"), and a slightly Beatlesque pop song ("She Lies In The Morning"), the latter of which hinted at the direction of the coming Columbia albums. Watt closes with a decent performance of Chuck Berry's "Sweet Little Sixteen" from the 1970 Isle Of Wight festival. Not their best work, but still respectable.
1. I'm Coming On
2. My Baby Left Me
3. Think About The Times
4. I Say Yeah
5. The Band With No Name
6. Gonna Run
7. She Lies In The Morning
8. Sweet Little Sixteen
Shortly after Watt was released, the band was signed to Columbia Records, and it was perhaps inevitable that their music would become more mainstream and commercial. They even scored a Top 40 single in 1971 with "I'd Love To Change The World".
The 1972 album Rock & Roll Music To The World is definitely more conventional than their early work. But, despite the band's diminished individuality, Ten Years After were still a solid band. "Religion" is really the only track that steps too far into studio gimmickry. Otherwise, the band still shows considerable chops in this polished setting. This album seems undistinguished in comparison to their earlier albums, and it would not be a good starting point. Still, "Turned Off T.V. Blues" and "Choo Choo Moma" showed evidence of the old fire.
1. You Give Me Loving
2. Convention Prevention
3. Turned Off T.V. Blues
4. Standing At The Station
5. You Can't Win Them All
7. Choo Choo Moma
8. Tomorrow I'll Be Out Of Town
9. Rock & Roll Music To The World
In 1972, the Deram label issued an album titled Alvin Lee And Company, consisting of early Ten Years After demos. Some artists' early-demo collections are interesting, but this isn't one of them. The better tracks ("Portable People", Robert Johnson's "Standing At The Crossroads") are merely listenable; the rest are almost embarrassing. These recordings meander much too often, especially during the 14-minute "Boogie On". The CD contains three bonus tracks, all of which are unremarkable single versions of previously released songs.
1. The Sounds
2. Rock Your Mama
3. Hold Me Tight
4. Standing At The Crossroads
5. Portable People
6. Boogie On
7. Spider In My Web - single version (CD bonus track)
8. Hear Me Calling - single version (CD bonus track)
9. I'm Going Home - single version (CD bonus track)
By 1974, understandable fatigue had set in from the band's prolific touring and recording, and the band's official breakup was announced. The title of their 1974 album Positive Vibrations was probably sarcastic; Lee appeared to have his mind on his solo career. However, it's not a bad parting shot. The ten songs (nine of them Lee originals) are not among his greatest musical achievements, but all of them are reasonably engaging. In fact, "Without You" and "It's Getting Harder" lean in a poppier direction than you would expect. On that note, maybe it wasn't a bad idea for Ten Years After to call it quits at that point.
1. Nowhere To Run
2. Positive Vibrations
3. Stone Me
4. Without You
5. Going Back To Birmingham
6. It's Getting Harder
7. You're Driving Me Crazy
8. Look Into My Life
9. Look Me Straight Into The Eyes
10. I Wanted To Boogie
Although 1974 was the official year of Ten Years After's breakup, the band toured the U.S. again the following year, reportedly due to a contract dispute. In later years, Lee occasionally reunited with the band for concerts; one such performance occurred in 1983, and the last one took place in or around the year 2000. They even recorded a new studio album in 1989 (see next review). But fans should be aware that no such reunion took place in the late '70's. The albums Rocket Fuel (1978) and Ride On (1979) are sometimes mistakenly referred to as albums by Alvin Lee and Ten Years After, but the band on these albums was actually called Ten Years Later. This was a trio comprised of Lee, drummer Tom Compton, and bassist Mick Hawksworth (who previously played with a British psychedelic outfit called Andromeda). In essence, the two recordings are Alvin Lee solo albums.
That said, it seems unlikely that anyone listening to Rocket Fuel would indeed mistake it for a Ten Years After album. Where TYA was a full-bodied band whose individual members each offered something unique, TYL merely come across as Lee's functional sidemen. Lee's playing on this album is adequate, but much of the material is hollow and unexciting. The second side is the better one, containing two agreeable blues rockers ("Ain't Nothin' Shakin'", "Baby Don't You Cry") and a 10-minute experiment with art-rock conceptualism.
The more enjoyable Ride On is divided between a studio side and a live side. The first side contains five studio tracks, which are likable, conventional hard rock songs with a Lynyrd Skynyrd feel. The second side contains four decent live cuts, including "I'm Going Home". The only thing wrong with these performances is that they pale in comparison to Ten Years After. Lee's rendition of the much-covered "Hey Joe" is clearly based on Hendrix's.
1. Rocket Fuel
2. Gonna Turn You On
3. Friday The 13th
4. Somebody Calling Me
5. Somebody Waltz
6. Ain't Nothin' Shakin'
7. Alvin's Blue Thing
8. Baby Don't You Cry
9. The Devil's Screaming (Part 1)
10. The Battle
11. The Devil's Screaming (Part 2)
1. Too Much
2. It's A Gaz
3. Ride On Cowboy
4. Sittin' Here
5. Can't Sleep At Nite
6. Ain't Nothin' Shakin'
7. Scat Encounter
8. Hey Joe
9. Going Home
The 1989 reunion album About Time was released in a year rife with reunions, comebacks and 20th-anniversary-of-Woodstock hoopla. But while other bands seemed intent on cashing in on their fans' nostalgia, Ten Years After made a good, straightforward album, exactly the one you would expect them to make in 1989 after changing with the times. The music of Ten Years After translated well to the digital age, certainly updated but not diluted. Terry Manning's clean-and-loud production made them sound a bit like ZZ Top, but nothing was really compromised. Lee was still not the greatest lyricist -- the most memorable lyrics here are about "Working In A Parking Lot", a song that Lee had no hand in writing -- but his distinctive voice and guitar playing are unmistakable. Only the keyboard-dominated "Bad Blood" sounds uncharacteristic, but not in a negative way. If all reunion albums were as good as About Time, such albums would not have a bad name.
1. Highway Of Love -- (Lee/Gould)
2. Let's Shake It Up -- (Lee/Gould)
3. I Get All Shook Up -- (Lee)
4. Victim Of Circumstance -- (Lee)
5. Going To Chicago -- (Lee/Hinkley)
6. Wild Is The River -- (Lee/Gould)
7. Saturday Night -- (Lee/Gould)
8. Bad Blood -- (Lyons/Crooks)
9. Working In A Parking Lot -- (Lyons/Nye/Crooks)
10. Outside My Window -- (Lee/Gould)
11. Waiting For The Judgment Day -- (Lee/Gould)
At least two of the reunion concerts that Ten Years After have occasionally performed have been released. One of them, a recording of an August 1983 performance at the Reading Festival in England, was released in 1990 by the Raw Fruit label. Live At Reading '83 was originally recorded for broadcast on the BBC's Friday Rock Show, and was released as part of a series that otherwise mostly spotlighted heavy metal acts. It's a rousing set, with excellent sound quality. All four members of the band shine, but Lee (as usual) is positively on fire here.
1. Love Like A Man
2. Good Morning Little Schoolgirl
3. Slow Blues In 'C'
4. Suzie Q
5. I May Be Wrong But I Won't Be Wrong Always
6. I Can't Keep From Cryin' Sometimes/Extension On One Chord
7. Going Home
If anyone needed further proof after About Time that the reunited quartet hadn't lost their lustre, the Live 1990 album (released in 1993) ought to have settled the issue. It captures a '90 concert in Nottingham in which Lee and company play eight of their old standards and three songs from About Time with equal enthusiasm. The band's playing is as strong as ever; they sound like their old selves but don't sound dated at all. Live 1990 ought to cement Lee's place among the great rock guitarists, as it proves he could withstand comparison to the Claptons and Vaughns of that day.
1. Let's Shake It Up
2. Good Morning Little Schoolgirl
3. Slow Blues In C
5. Love Like A Man
6. Johnny B. Goode
7. Bad Blood
8. Victim Of Circumstance
9. I Can't Keep From Crying (including Scat Opening and Extension On One Chord)
10. I'm Goin' Home
11. Sweet Little Sixteen
In September 2002, Ten Years After reunited yet again, but this time it was without Alvin Lee. This marked the first time that the TYA name was used without all four original members involved. And what an original member to be the one missing! The man who defined the TYA sound was replaced by a twentysomething singer-guitarist named Joe Gooch. Gooch is talented in his own right, but he bears little musical resemblance to Lee. As a result, this TYA lineup almost sounds like a different band altogether, even though three-fourths of the usual quartet (Churchill, Lyons, and Ric Lee) are present. This lineup has been touring Europe repeatedly ever since, and have released at least four CDs -- two live, two studio -- in the years since.
The live One Night Jammed captures them during a February 2003 German concert (one track, "Big Black 45", is from a March 2003 night in Italy). Lyons handled the production duties, and added no overdubs. Most of the songs are TYA standards. Gooch's guitar playing is less like Alvin Lee's than like Stevie Ray Vaughn's; in this setting, his singing voice sounds somewhat weak. As a result, One Night Jammed often sounds like it was recorded by a decent TYA cover band instead of TYA themselves. They do best with songs from the Cricklewood Green era ("Love Like A Man", "50,000 Miles Beneath My Brain") and with the longer jams ("Going Home" and Jimi Hendrix's "Red House" allow Gooch to strut his guitar stuff). The medley of famous classic rock riffs incorporated into "Jammin' On One Chord" will either amuse or annoy you, depending on your point of view. Not a bad night of jamming, but this CD is no substitute for any TYA live album that Alvin Lee played on.
Now is a studio album of all-new material. It bears some resemblance to TYA's more commercial albums from the early-'70's, but it owes more to other mid-'70's hard-rock bands (i.e. Bad Company, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Thin Lizzy). Gooch's vocals resemble those of BadCo's Paul Rodgers; his guitar playing is still reminiscent of (but not equal to) Stevie Ray Vaughn's. Now is an enjoyable album, benefitting from Lyons' good production values and the band's all-around enthusiasm. If nothing else, one could argue that the lyrics are an improvement over Alvin Lee's, although lyrics are still not this band's strong point. If you don't expect this to sound like an Alvin Lee album -- and if you don't expect anything new -- Now doesn't disappoint. Now was released in the U.S. in 2005, on the Fuel 2000 label.
ONE NIGHT JAMMED
1. I Woke Up This Morning (4:18)
2. Hear Me Calling (5:58)
3. I May Be Wrong But I Won't Be Wrong Always (5:28)
4. Bad Blood (3:51)
5. Love Like A Man (7:09)
6. Big Black 45 (3:22)
7. Red House (10:13)
8. I Can't Keep From Crying, Sometimes (1:47)
8a. Jammin' On One Chord (8:10)
8b. I Can't Keep From Crying, Sometimes (1:28)
9. Going Home (8:53)
10. 50,000 Miles Beneath My Brain (7:00)
11. Roll Over Beethoven (4:36)
1. When It All Falls Down
2. A Hundred Miles High
3. Time To Kill
4. I'll Make It Easy For You
5. The Voice Inside Your Head
6. King Of The Blues
7. Long Time Running
8. Reasons Why
In 2005, the new TYA released another live set, a double-CD called Roadworks. It's superior to One Night Jammed in every way, with better packaging, sound, song selection (including four from Now), and improved chemistry between Gooch and the three vets. This is actually the first TYA live album ever to feature a performance of their one U.S. hit single, "I'd Love To Change The World". Gooch seems to have grown more comfortable in his position, though he is still quite a different musician than Alvin Lee. Where Lee was primarily influenced by the blues, Gooch sounds like he grew up on a steady diet of classic-rock radio. On "I Can't Keep From Crying Sometimes", he once again inserts a medley of familiar hard-rock guitar riffs. And he gives "Hear Me Calling" a lot more juice than the original studio version had. Purists may object, but this is the new blood of Ten Years After -- and judging from the energy displayed on Roadworks, this band is not planning to throw in the towel for some time.
1. King Of The Blues
2. Hear Me Calling
3. Good Morning Little Schoolgirl
4. (When It) All Falls Down
5. Working On The Road
6. Big Black 45
7. The Hobbit
8. Living It Up
9. Love Like A Man
10. I'd Love To Change The World
11. Time To Kill
12. I Can't Keep From Crying Sometimes
13. I'm Going Home
14. Reasons Why
15. Choo Choo Mama