By ERIK OFGANG
Special To The Courant
February 5, 2014
It was the early 1960s in England and like most teenagers in the United Kingdom Albert Lee was drawn to American music.
While his peers in bands like the Rolling Stones and the Beatles listened to blues and rock 'n' roll, Lee was interested in music with a bit more twang.
"There were a lot of people that gravitated towards the blues, and I did like that music and still do, but I got to hear country records around that time and I just loved the feeling and the sound of country," recalls the virtuoso guitar player. "It was happy music. So I wanted to play that style."
And play it he did. The boy from London grew into an unlikely Grammy-winning country star known for his lightning fast, yet still melodic, guitar riffs. Lee, now 70 and a longtime resident of Malibu, Calif., has performed with Eric Clapton, The Everly Brothers, Joe Cocker, and many others. He also helped write the classic country anthem "Country Boy" and he has enjoyed success as a solo artist. On Saturday, Feb. 8, he'll perform an afternoon show with his backing band at 1 p.m. at Infinity Hall in Norfolk. Opening will be funk soul band Atlas Gray.
"People know me as a guitar player, but I like to think that people are pleasantly surprised when they learn that I'm singing all the songs and will also be playing some piano. People walk away experiencing something that they haven't expected," he says. "I play some older songs and I do a lot of covers of the kind of music that I like – country rock, and I do ballads."
Born in 1943, Lee started taking piano lessons at age 9, but soon was inspired to play the guitar by the music he found himself listening to. Ultimately, he'd become known as "the guitar player's guitar player." With no formal training on the guitar Lee learned from listening to the music of artists he loved including Jimmy Bryant and Elvis Presley's guitarist, Scotty Moore.
"I just learned by trying to copy guitar solos from the records I was listening to. That's how I really developed my style," he says.
In the 1960s Lee had his first taste of commercial success playing with Chris Farlowe and The Thunderbirds. Later he'd play with Heads Hands & Feet, Hogan's Heroes, and engage in a variety of high profile solo projects and collaborations.
It was with Heads Hands & Feet that Lee composed the classic song "Country Boy" with Tony Colton and Ray Smith. The song was written in the early 1970s but a decade and a half later Ricky Skaggs would use it as the title track of his 1985 album and the song would become a number one hit.
"Country Boy was a collaborative effort between three of us," recalls Lee. "It was our first album and we needed a good vehicle for my guitar playing and that's how that came about. That song is about 44 years old. It's one of those songs that I never dreamt would still be around."
Though he's had success with it, songwriting does not come easy to Lee.
"I haven't written anything for a while now," he says. "Writing has always been difficult for me. I can find a melody that I really like and an approach to a song and then I'll play it to death before I get anywhere near having some good lyrics that I like."
On the other hand, playing guitar has always come naturally to him.
"In the beginning you get home from school and you couldn't wait to pick up the guitar," he says. These days he doesn't practice as much at home but gets all the practice he needs on the road. "I feel like I'm luckier than guys who have been far more successful than I have, because they might not pick up their guitar for weeks on end because they don't have to, and then they have to get their chops together for their tour. I'm a different case, because I barely go a week without doing a gig and that's where my practice comes from."
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