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March 8, 2013

Alvin Lee, guitar virtuoso with Ten Years After, dies at 68

At the Woodstock music festival in 1969, the British blues-rock band Ten Years After burst onto the U.S. music scene with a searing rendition of “I’m Going Home” featuring the fleet-fingered Alvin Lee whaling away on guitar.

When the “Woodstock” documentary was released the next year, the band’s 11-minute version of the song — and Lee’s guitar virtuosity — were regarded as a highlight. His speedy, taut playing would earn him the unofficial title of “the fastest guitar in the West.”

Lee, who also was a singer-songwriter and later pursued a solo career, died Wednesday in Spain following complications from routine surgery, said his manager, Ron Rainey. He was 68.

The “Woodstock” movie also marked the beginning of the end for Ten Years After.

Sudden fame from the film meant jumping from cozy performances in clubs to big arenas, and the band started sounding like a “traveling jukebox,” Lee said as early as 1973.

“We sort of auditorium-alized” was how Lee once put it as he explained the stylistic move away from the group’s British blues-jazz-rock roots.

“When they changed to a harder rock sound, they left a bit of their creativity behind,” said Domenic Priore, co-author of the 1960s music history “Riot on Sunset Strip” (2007).

Depending on the point of view, Ten Years After’s impassioned performance in the “Woodstock” film is either seen as a watershed moment for hard rock or “the ultimate example of the self-indulgence of classic rock” because the song goes on and on, Priore said Wednesday.

The band’s other well-known songs include 1970’s “Love Like a Man” and 1971’s “I’d Love to Change the World,” which received renewed attention when it was used in Michael Moore’s 2004 documentary “Fahrenheit 9/11.”

After releasing the album “Positive Vibrations” in 1974, the band split up. “We were overworked and overpaid,” Lee said in 1998 in USA Today, and “got tired and fell apart.”

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