Albert Lee is a living legend, the consummate guitar sideman, and now a bandleader finally doing things his own way. Lee occupies an odd niche in music. British by birth, he spent the mid-'60s as a top R&B guitarist, but in the 1970s became one of the most sought after rockabilly and country guitarists in the world.
In England he's a been household name, and in Nashville and Los Angeles he's been one of the most sought after session guitarists; but he remains one of those vaguely recognizable names, occasionally mixed up with his similar-sounding contemporary, ex-Ten Years After guitarist Alvin Lee (with whom he did share a berth once, in Jerry Lee Lewis's band). Where Alvin was a hero of Woodstock and a flashy guitarist,, Albert was more likely to be found playing behind the Everly Brothers or Emmylou Harris, Joe Cocker or alongside Eric Clapton.
Born in Leominster, England, in 1943, his introduction to music came from his father, who played piano and accordion. His first instrument was the piano, which he took up at age seven His first idol was Jerry Lee Lewis, which also marked his introduction to rockabilly music. Within a couple of years, however, Lee had switched to guitar, and also discovered the music of Buddy Holly & the Crickets. He started learning the guitar in earnest and studying their records very closely, and not long after graduated from an acoustic to an electric instrument, and was learning the lead guitar parts on the most popular recordings of the day.
At 16, he turned professional, playing behind Dickie Pride. He later joined the backing band of R&B singer Bob Xavier, and later played behind Jackie Lynton, through whom he appeared on his first recording. Lee twice succeeded Jimmy Page as a lead guitarist, first in Mike Hurst's band and then in Neil Christian's band. From there he moved to Chris Farlowe's band, the Thunderbirds. He spent four years with the Thunderbirds, who became known in British musical circles as one of the best R&B bands in England, and gained fame as Farlowe charted singles (including a number one hit) in 1966 and early 1967. He and Farlowe parted ways in 1968 and over the next two years he played behind various visiting American country stars. Lee played with Country Fever and Poet & the One Man Band, before finally reaching a semi-permanent berth with Heads, Hands & Feet, a progressive country band who were England's answer to the Flying Burrito Brothers or the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Lee first achieved public notice as a member of this group. When they split up after two years, Lee made his living as a session guitarist for the next couple of years.
In 1970, Lee played on Jerry Lee Lewis' “London Sessions” album. He was chosen to join the Crickets and he toured and recorded with them in Nashville. After two years with the band, Lee moved to Los Angeles, where he made contact with Phil Everly and Don Everly, who were working separately at the time.
Lee then became a member of Joe Cocker's band, which, in turn, led to the offer of a contract in1975 to do a solo album with A&M Records, which was Cocker's label at the time. A gig playing (and recording) with Emmylou Harris delayed the completion of his own record, until the end of 1978. When “Home,” finally appeared, it was not only a guitar virtuoso showcase but included Emmylou on it as a guest performer. Session work and offers were coming in fast and furious, and Lee was seemingly everywhere, playing with everyone from Jackson Browne to Bo Diddley to Herbie Mann. His most visible gig, however, was playing with Eric Clapton, first on “Just One Night” and then on the tour that followed. And when the Everly Brothers reunited for a concert, a live album, and a concert video, Lee was there in the band.
Lee's own solo career continued into the late '80s with “Speechless” (1987) and “Gagged but Not Bound” (1988), both critical successes. He has continued to record solo material in the 21st century, cutting the country/rockabilly album “Heartbreak Hill” for Sugar Hill in 2003. A second Sugar Hill release, “ Road Runner,” appeared in 2006.
Along the way, Albert has won two Grammys, one each with Brad Paisley and Earl Scruggs, and has garnered 3 additional nominations. Albert was also a member of UK-based Hogan's Heroes, continues to tour and record with Bill Wyman's band, the Rhythm Kings and leads his own US-based band. In his fifth decade as a professional musician, Lee is part of a rarefied fraternity as a virtuoso's virtuoso, respected on three continents and pretty much living out a professional life that most of his colleagues, when he started out, could only dream of.