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Meet Albert Lee, ‘Greatest Guitar’

By Jason Irwin

When you are pegged “The greatest guitar player in the world” by someone like Eric Clapton, you must be pretty darn good.

English musician Albert Lee is well-known for his work as a live and session guitarist for artists including The Crickets, Jerry Lee Lewis, Jackson Browne, Eric Clapton, Joe Cocker, Emmylou Harris, Rosanne Cash and Bill Wyman.

Mr. Lee also organized the Everly Brothers’ famous reunion concert in 1983 — and was musical musical director of the show, following which he had a 25-year stint as guitarist with the group.

Now 75 years old and in his fifth decade of performing, Mr. Lee boasts a solo career boasts that includes 14 studio albums — and he continues to tour worldwide.

His latest releases include “The Highwayman” CD and the live “70th Birthday Celebration” DVD.

His recognition includes winning five consecutive times as Guitar Player magazine’s “Best Country Guitarist.”

Guitar great Albert Lee plays Wednesday, Jan. 9, at the Strand Theater in Hudson Falls.

In 2002, Mr. Lee appeared at the Concert for George (Harrison).

That same year, he received a Grammy Award for Best Country Instrumental Performance for “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” from the album Earl Scruggs and Friends. He won again in 2008 with Brad Paisley for “Cluster Pluck.” Over the years, has been nominated three additional times.

HF concert is Wednesday

Albert Lee will perform live this Wednesday, Jan. 9, at the Strand Theater in Hudson Falls.

I had a chance to speak on the phone with Mr. Lee this past week. We discussed some of his accomplishments, thoughts on music past and present, and his plans for Wednesday’s show.

‘Embarassed’ at title

Jason Irwin: How do you react to being called one of the best guitar players in the world?

Albert Lee: Well, with embarrassment, really. I know that I’m competent in what I do, but there are so many great guitar players out there of different styles. There is no “best guitar player.”

It’s nice to be recognized in the field that I cover, I suppose. I’m best known for country rock, but I feel like I can cover a little more ground than that.

Solo vs. sideman

JI: How do you like performing as a solo headliner versus a sideman for other artists?

AL: I feel like I was forced into becoming a solo artist, reluctantly at first.

I’ve been doing it for 25 years now, but before that, I had always played with others. I’m glad I started headlining, because it opened up a whole new career for me.

Fortunately, in the 80’s, I somehow plucked up the courage to get out there and front a band, and it’s paid off. I’ve developed a following and have been lucky to have been able to play music for a living for my whole life. There’s a certain amount of luck in this business, but you also make your own luck.

Guitar influences

JI: What experience significantly shaped your sound?

AL: Like a lot of my contemporaries, I grew up listening to my early rock and roll heroes, like Scotty Moore with Elvis Presley, James Burton with Ricky Nelson, and Cliff Gallup who played with Gene Vincent.

These were major influences on young lads in England in the late 50’s and early 60’s. We kind of developed our styles around these guys.

Eric Clapton and I both had the first same album — The Chirping Crickets by Buddy Holly. A lot of guys went on a more rock and roll route, with influences like Freddie King and B.B. King. I listened to that, but was also very interested in country players like Chet Atkins and Jimmy Bryant. Then of course, over the years, we developed our own paths.

Played with several ‘greats’

JI: What was a standout humbling musical moment in your career?

AL: Well, because of my association with Ernie Ball and Music Man, I’ve met and played with some really good players on their roster. (Mr. Lee is endorsed by Ernie Ball Music Man guitars, and has his own signature model.) I’ve been onstage with Eddie Van Halen, Steve Lukather and Steve Morse. If I can hold my own with those guys, I’m doing pretty well. It’s certainly humbling listening to those guys, but our styles are much different.

Pianist, too

JI: What can we expect at the upcoming show?

AL: People that aren’t very familiar with me think of me as just a guitar player. But I also sing, and I play the piano, and that’s something that people don’t usually expect. The piano was actually my first instrument.

I find that those who come to see a “guitar shredder” are usually pleasantly surprised to hear some really good songs.

I think people will be pleased with what they hear. I’ll carry on doing it.

I just turned 75 — and I think I’m a young 75. Seventy-five is the new 60.

Ticket details

Only a handful of tickets remained for Albert Lee and his band, all-ages show at the Strand Theater in Hudson Falls this Wednesday, Jan. 9, at 7:30 p.m.

Get info and tickets in person at The Strand box office, at 518-832-3484, and online at www.mystrandtheater.org.

Visit Albert Lee at www.albertleeofficial.com

Contact Jason Irwin at jasonirwinrock@gmail.com.

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