An Interview with Albert Lee
By: Casey Pukl
Albert Lee is one of the most accomplished guitarists of our time, yet also one of the least recognized. Eric Clapton called him, “The greatest guitarist in the world.” Emmylou Harris once declared Lee, “a brilliant guitar player. His sound is unmistakable—often emulated, never equalled. When Saint Peter asks me to chronicle my time down here on earth, I’ll be able to say (with pride if that’s allowed) that for a while I played rhythm guitar in a band with Albert Lee.”
But the guitar legend remains as humble as ever. I had the chance to speak with him about his upcoming show here at Anthology tomorrow night, as well as his grueling upcoming tour schedule for 2012. This 69 year old is still hitting the road hard, and wait until you hear what’s next!
CP: What’s in store for 2012?
AL: Well, it’s more of the same, really. I work a lot in Europe with my own band, and I also work with Bill Wyman’s band in Europe. When I get back here to California, I do what I can, but this particular stint at home has been great! I’m actually home for two months this time, which is quite unusual. I’ve got a lot of gigs and sessions and all kinds of things going on, which is exactly what I wanted. I have to stay around California more. But after about a month, I’ll be going back to Europe again, and I’ll be working all over Europe with my band. I’m doing more work now than I’ve ever done.
CP: Certainly sounds like you’re keeping busy!
AL: Yeah, definitely.
CP: Are you working on any new records at the moment?
AL: I started a record with my band a few months ago, my English band, but we haven’t had a lot of time to finish it. But we will be doing that. I’m also going to start a solo record in the not too distant future with a good friend of mine. That’s part of a project that we’re working towards. December of next year will be my 70th birthday. I’ve been on the road now for 52 years, so there’s a lot of history there. So we’re going to tie it in with a record and a documentary for BBC in England, and we’re going to just aim high. If you don’t aim high, you’ve got to aim somewhere. It’ll be a big concert, and hopefully involve people I’ve been involved with over the years like Joe Cocker, Emmylou Harris, The Everly Brothers, Clapton, so I’ll try and round up as many of those people as I can. If I can’t get some of them to England, then I’ll certainly try to do a similar concert in the US.
CP: I certainly hope you will!
AL: Yeah, there’s a lot of interest out there, which I’m really happy about! As I said, I’ve been doing this a long time. You never know. Things are cyclical in this business. One moment you’re flavor of the month, and then people kind of forget about you for a while and then they rediscover you. But this month in particular, I finally put together a small rhythm section, so this is something I’ve been meaning to do for a while— going out and doing my own show rather than being someone else’s guitar player.
AL: We did a show last week, and it went really well, so we’re hoping this week will be as successful.
CP: Well that’s awesome. I’m so happy to hear that you still have so many projects happening now that we can look forward to.
AL: Yeah, it looks like a busy busy time. And I have to deal with all of that while being on the road with my band in England and probably some gigs with Bill Wyman again too later on this year. I don’t get much time off at home, but as I said, it’s good to be busy.
CP: It certainly is. Now I have to ask though, what do you like to do when you’re not on the road?
AL: Well, you can imagine that being on the road so often, there’s always just so much to do around the house. There’s always something to catch up on. I have some old cars that need attention and the house needs attention. There’s always stuff to do. I actually enjoy doing that, you know, I like doing mechanical things that are within my scope. I’m not an expert at anything aside from guitar playing possibly, but I like to tackle things.
CP: What have you been listening to lately?
AL: You know, I actually don’t listen to a lot of new stuff. I listen to people that I’ve known for a long time. I’m a big fan of Jimmy Webb and Glenn Campbell. I particularly like Glen Campbell’s new record. I like the music of Don Henley and Bruce Hornsby. I love that style of music. There aren’t a lot of people out there doing that kind of stuff. But I guess mostly, I listen to a lot of classical music. I’ve always had a great love of classical music, and I’ve been collecting classical records for about 30 years. It’s really nice to get away from what I do and listen to things like that. I get inspiration from other music. I think it helps my approach to the music that I do.
CP: Absolutely. Sometimes you need to branch out and hear something else to jog a melody or harmony that you didn’t hear before.
AL: Yeah, I should listen to more of the newer stuff. I get turned on to it by my kids actually. They know more about what’s going on now than I ever will. They can certainly keep me informed.
CP: Are you doing a lot of composing these days?
AL: Not recently. I’ve been a bit lazy recently, I must say. But I certainly think about it a lot, and I do want to get back into it. I get inspired every now and again, mostly at sound check when I sit down at the piano and start playing. That’s always when I wish I had an hour or two so I could work on something, but there’s not enough time.
CP: Not enough hours in the day.
AL: Not for me. It’s all traveling, sound check, dinner, gig, hotel, get up and do it all over again.
CP: And it certainly doesn’t sound like you’re slowing down anytime soon!
AL: No, no, they won’t let me slow down! The phone is ringing all the time, I’m glad to say.
CP: That just means that you’re still in demand. It’s a good thing.
AL: Yeah. Playing with other people too is also good.
CP: Any highlights from 2011 you’d like to share?
AL: I did a lot with my band, and I did a 7-week tour of the UK with Bill Wyman. We had Mary Wilson as our special guest on that tour, and that was great fun. But I guess the last high profile thing that I did was Crossroads for Clapton in 2010. But I’ve certainly been doing lots of theaters and clubs all over the UK.
CP: Going back to Clapton for a moment, what are your thoughts on him reportedly calling you the greatest guitarist in the world?
AL: I wonder about that. Eric and I joke about it. I read it somewhere, and I know he likes my playing. I have a biography out, and he wrote the forward for it, and he said some really nice things about me. But I keep seeing these things on the internet about me being Clapton’s favorite guitarist, and I saw him not so long ago and I said, ‘Eric, I have to apologize. I keep seeing all of this written in interviews and so on saying that I was your favorite guitar player in the world. I know you like my playing, but I can’t imagine, I mean, I know you feel the same way I do. There are no best guitar players in the world! There are so many styles and great players, so who can say who’s the best?’
Eric is a real joker, and he said, “Well, I might’ve said it.” (Laughs). He wouldn’t commit to it, so we kind of joke about it and leave it at that.
CP: (Laughs) So he won’t confirm or deny it then.
AL: No! But things get twisted around and such. We’ve been friends since like 1965, so we’re good friends and we know each other very well. We might not see each other very often, but we’re still very good friends.
CP: What are you most looking forward to about coming back to Anthology?
AL: Oh, well, I’ve played there a couple of times, and it’s just a great audience. It’s a lovely club. The people are very nice, and they really take care of us. It’s going to be a great show.
Thanks to Albert for being so delightful to chat with. Be sure to get down here and see him tomorrow night! In the mean time, we’ve got a wicked playlist to hold you over!