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Albert Lee has been around the block

“There are no pensions in this game…Fortunately I enjoy what I do. If the travelling is easy and I eat and drink, I’ll keep doing it.”

At 74 years old, Albert Lee isn’t a man without experience, stories and prestige. The legendary guitarist known for his improvisation and hybrid picking technique has been in the game since the ‘50s, and his tales are countless.

“I’m in Japan at the moment with Peter Asher,” Lee says. “We do a show of stories between two acoustic guitars and we came to the conclusion we have 100 years of stories between us – of course, we’re well into our 70s.

“We do a lot of old songs associated with the two of us and we tell stories around the songs, which of course is a little more difficult in Japan – you’re not sure if they’re really understanding everything.”

And Lee is still touring, drumming up even more stories to tell as he traipses around the world, playing venues all over in year-long celebrations to mark his 75th birthday. “I always tell everybody, there are no pensions in this game,” Lee jokes. “Fortunately I enjoy what I do. If the travelling is easy and I eat and drink, I’ll keep doing it.”

It’s not like Lee is short of material. Indeed, his improvisation skills are revolutionary; he still has the creative spark for performance. “There are a lot of guys that play like me now. But, you pass on the baton. I still enjoy playing, it’s still exciting, and every now and then you surprise yourself.”

The figurative baton will likely be passed onto attendees and musicians at the Melbourne Guitar Show, where Lee will make an appearance. With so many people citing him as an influence on their own playing, it’s always nice for the guitarist to remember he was once in the same position. “I’ve had a lot of influences over the years,” he says, “My big hero James Burton is still out there, a few years older than me, gigging all the time. I like to think I still have something to offer, even though there are so many great players out there now.

“There are far more guitar players in the world now than when I started playing in the late ‘50s.”

When Lee tours and gets back in touch with the current scene, he uses it as a time to explore and discover shifts and changes in the scene. Within the realms of acoustic playing, there are some on the bill, some who have approached him, who Lee is impressed and intrigued by. “There are a lot of good players out there,” he says. “I started out loving country music but country has changed a lot and I can’t say that I really like a lot of the stuff coming out of Nashville now – they’re good players, good singers – but the kind of music I like is called Americana.

“It was always country music until about 20 years ago when it became more pop. You don’t seem to hear a clean guitar on those Nashville records any more, it’s more of a rock‘n’roll guitar,” Lee says.

“When I got involved with it I had something to introduce to country music, because I came from an English rock‘n’roll background and people seemed to like what I was doing – now it’s gone completely that way.

“The guys who play on those records owe more to Eric Clapton than they do to Chet Atkins. It’s a different kind of music, to me anyway.”

No thoughts of retirement, no thoughts of going out and playing golf (“It’s a bit late for that, really”), Lee is adamant he’ll keep playing as long as he can. “I’ll always play the guitar. I’d like to slow down a bit and spend more time at home, but the gigs are there, and I remember when they weren’t always there. I’m working more now than I’ve ever done. I’m grateful for that."

 

Albert Lee will feature at Melbourne Guitar Show, taking over Caulfield Racecourse on Saturday July 4 and Sunday July 5.