Albert Lee has been in the music business since 1959. He’s played with everyone from The Thunderbirds to Eric Clapton to Emmylou Harris to the Everly Brothers. But you’ve probably never heard of him, let alone seen him live. Well, you’ve missed a treat, because he just might be the greatest living guitarist, certainly if you take his range of music into account.
Lee, almost unbelievably self-effacing, would likely decline WC’s characterization. But it’s true. Over the course of a one and a half hour set, he performed blues, ballads, rock and roll, rockabilly, country and pop. Sure, the rockabilly was the most fun. His cover of Paul Burlison / Dorsey Burnette’s “Tear It Up” and his own “Country Boy” rocked down the house, with absolutely spectacular playing. But it was his cover of Emmylou Harris’s “Luxury Liner” – those are his licks in the opening to Emmylou’s classic – that had the audience up on its feet, stomping and cheering the loudest. And his astonishingly beautiful cover of Hoyt Axton’s “Evangelina” was subtle, lovely and nuanced.
His backing band was very good. Since the concert last year, Lee has added J.T. Thomas on keyboards and the man can play, with riffs and runs that rivaled Lee’s guitar work. All three band members sing well, harmonizing with Lee on a couple of Everly Brother tunes that made you look to see where Don and Phil were..
The venue; well, Cinder Winery is a wine warehouse, with acoustics just slightly better than you’d expect at a wine warehouse. Seating was cramped, and the chairs were those bargain basement Sam’s Club stackers. But it didn’t matter that much. WC would put up with a lot worse to see Albert Lee.
Lee’s a gifted keyboardist, too – his music training started on the piano. It’s baffling to WC that Lee isn’t better known, especially in the U.S. He truly is the “Master of the Telecaster” – the Music Man Telecaster guitar that’s his primary instrument, has a sweet voice that reminds you of Don Everly’s, and a charming stage presence.
Emmylou Harris worked with Lee for a number of years when he was the guitarist in her Hot Band. She said Lee is “a brilliant guitar player. His sound is unmistakable—often emulated, never equaled. 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.”
She’s right. If you have the chance to see him live, grab it. Electric guitar at its very best.