Mar 13

Ten Years After: “Hard Monkeys” (In Memoriam)

Ten Years After -- A Space in Time

A band that was truly outsitting in their field: RIP Alvin Lee, 1944 – 2013.

The rock news coming in this morning is that Ten Years After guitarist Alvin Lee passed away yesterday at the age of 68, from complications during a “routine” surgical procedure. What an unfortunate way to go — a fiery guitarist such as Lee deserved something more definitive. Not that it’s a good way to go for anyone . . . but I think you know what I’m saying.

Admittedly, I never really got into Ten Years After, except for “I’d Love to Change the World,” which is inarguably a great song. Really. Sure, you could say you’re sick of it, but it’s hard to deny that it isn’t one of the most successful recordings of a blazing blues-rock guitarist. It truly captures the spirit of Alvin Lee’s playing, encapsulated in a relatively succinct song — no meandering 10-minute guitar workout here!

Of course, posting that song today would have been an obvious tribute — even if it is really the only song of Alvin Lee’s that I know well (other than “I’m Going Home,” as performed at Woodstock and shown in glorious Triple Vision in the accompanying film). So I figured I owed it to myself to explore a little more of Ten Years After’s catalogue, Many Years After the fact. So I went through some of their better-known work this morning, and confirmed for myself that while it’s by no means bad, it just isn’t really my cup of tea. A great guitarist he was, without doubt, but the songs, in most cases primarily frames on which to hang Lee’s guitarwork, just don’t do much for me. Nonetheless, a few stood out, and “Hard Monkeys,” about trying to stay clear of addiction, is what I’m going with. It’s from Ten Years After’s best-selling album, A Space in Time, from 1971, the same album that “I’d Love to Change the World” is on — the album that brought Lee’s guitar playing together with the best sense of tight song structure.

Reminiscent in its opening chords of the Marshall Tucker Band’s “Can’t You See” — but predating it by a couple of years — “Hard Monkeys” is a great combination of acoustic and electric guitar riffing, which Ten Years After did quite well throughout the album. And Forty Years After its release, this song still sounds very fresh — and Alvin Lee stands as one of the great blues-rock guitarists.

One Comment

  1. Russ says:

    We all truly regret Alvin’s passing. I must point out that your comparison the the MTB is way off. It is more ironic that it compares to Neil Young’s needle and the damage done. Both intersession to heroin (addiction) and the opening d chord riff.

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