British blues rock great Alvin Lee, a guitarist and singer whose scorching performance at Woodstock propelled his band Ten Years After to wide fame, died on Wednesday of “unforeseen complications” from a routine surgery, family members announced on his website. He was 68.
“We have lost a wonderful and much loved father and companion,” said the statement from his wife and daughters. “The world has lost a truly great and gifted musician.”
The UK band’s intense 11-minute performance of “I’m Going Home” at Woodstock in 1969 was immortalized in the documentary about the festival, with director Michael Wadleigh focusing almost exclusively on Lee the entire time. With the film’s success, the band’s popularity ballooned and they began playing larger venues around America.
Formed in 1966 in Nottingham, Ten Years After were most active until 1974, scoring four hit singles on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, including one top 40 hit: “I’d Love to Change the World” (No. 40).
Like many of their peers in the late ’60s and early ’70s, the band found more success with their albums. The band logged 12 entries on the Billboard 200 chart, including five top 40 albums: “SSSSH” (No. 20 in 1969), “Cricklewood Green” (its highest charting album, No. 14 in 1970), “Watt” (No. 21 in 1971), “A Space in Time” (No. 17 in 1971) and “Recorded Live” (No. 39 in 1973).
Two of Lee’s former bandmates in Ten Years After released statements to Billboard following the news on Wednesday.
“We are all stunned. All of us,” drummer Ric Lee, no relation, said. “I don’t think its even sunk in yet as to the reality of his passing. We are all thinking of his family and friends today, and offer our own condolences.”
Bassist Leo Lyons called Lee the “closest thing I had to a brother” and said he was in shock upon hearing of the guitarist’s death.
“We had our differences, but we shared so many great experiences together that nothing can take away,” Lyons said. “I will miss him very much He was an inspiration for a generation of guitar players.”
After leaving the group, Lee launched a prolific solo career with 1973’s “On the Road to Freedom,” a collaboration with Mylon LeFevre that featured guest spots by George Harrison, Steve Winwood and Ron Wood.
Seven of his 14 solo efforts charted on the Billboard 200, with the highest being 1975’s “In Flight” (No. 65).
Lee’s most recent entry on any Billboard chart was in 1986, when the album “Detroit Diesel” hit No. 124 on the Billboard 200. It’s title track also reached No. 24 on the Mainstream Rock airplay tally that same year. His final album, “Still on the Road to Freedom,” was released last year.
Additional reporting by Keith Caulfield.