Ten Years After — “50,000 Miles Beneath My Brain”: Brace for the Obscure (60s rock)! — May 12, 2023


822) Ten Years After — “50,000 Miles Beneath My Brain”

“Love me 50, 000 miles beneath my brain.” A cool number from Ten Years After (see #607) with insanely trippy lyrics. Guitars Exchange — or is it Guitar Sexchange? — calls it “classic psychedelica that floats on the TYA jam approach, which is intensely moody. . . . a trippy song ,definitive of the day.” (https://guitarsexchange.com/en/unplugged/382/ten-years-after-cricklewood-green-1970/) Jim Newsom says that “50,000 Miles” is a “classic[] of TYA’s jam genre, with lyrically meaningless verses setting up extended guitar workouts that build in intensity, rhythmically and sonically.” (https://www.allmusic.com/album/cricklewood-green-mw0000650879)

“50,000 Miles” comes from the album Cricklewood Green, which Newsom says is the “best example of Ten Years After’s recorded sound. . . . [T]he band and engineer Andy Johns mix studio tricks and sound effects, blues-based song structures, a driving rhythm section, and Alvin Lee’s signature lightning-fast guitar licks into a unified album that flows nicely from start to finish.” (https://www.allmusic.com/album/cricklewood-green-mw0000650879)

TYA needs no introduction, but let me quote Mark Deming anyway:

A storming blues and boogie band from the U.K., Ten Years After rocketed from modest success to worldwide fame in the wake of their performance at the Woodstock Rock Festival in 1969, where their nine-minute rendition of “I’m Going Home” showed off the lightning-fast guitar work and howling vocals of Alvin Lee, the unrelenting stomp of bassist Leo Lyons and drummer Ric Lee, and the soulful support of keyboard man Chick Churchill. While the group was also capable of moody pop and acoustic-based material (as heard on 1971’s A Space in Time, whose single “I’d Like to Change the World” was their greatest American hit), it was the group’s raw blues-based music that remained their trademark . . . .

[The band’s name] refer[s] to the fact they launched . . . in 1966, ten years after Elvis Presley’s career breakthrough opened the doors for rock & roll.

[They] gigg[ed] steadily, including holding down a residency at London’s Marquee Club, and in 1967, after an appearance at the Windsor Jazz Festival earned praise in the music press, the quartet signed a record deal with Deram . . . . It would cement their reputation for decades to come when their rendition of “I’m Going Home” appeared in the 1970 documentary about the [Woodstock] festival . . . .


You owe it to yourself to read Hugh Fielder’s hilarious and heartbreaking article on, and series of interviews with the members of, TYA. Here are some excerpts:

Ten Years After had been in the vanguard of the second (heavier) invasion of the US by British groups, touring relentlessly and rapidly reaching top-of-the-bill status. “We had this thing – and looking back I’m a bit ashamed of it now – that we had to sting any band that went on after us,” Alvin recalls. “We used to go out of our way to blow them off and make them look bad. It wasn’t so much playing well as going down well; we’d learnt that from our years on the club circuit. And there were a lot of bands in America who wouldn’t go on after us. At Woodstock, Country Joe whipped his equipment on before us because he’d played after us at the Fillmore East and died a death.” . . .

Leo[] . . . reveals the secret of TYA’s vigorous live shows: “Ric and I egged each other on when we flagged. I’d yell: ‘Hit ’em, you bastard!’ And he’d shout back: ‘F*ck off.’” Leo would also spur Ric on by spitting at him – anticipating the punk movement by a decade – but the drummer never minded “because he always missed”. Riding the crest of this high-energy wave, Alvin would sneer and pout outrageously as he tore through solo after solo. Even on the slower songs his bursts of notes seemed faster than mere human fingers could manage. . . .

But behind the bravado . . . was another, more insecure Alvin who couldn’t handle the superstar status that the Woodstock movie had bestowed on the group: “We’d been playing for the heads, the growing underground audience,” he recounts. “But then it got bigger, and people had to come to ice hockey arenas and stadiums to see the band. And we lost any contact with the audience. . . . I often wonder what the rest of our career would have been like if the Woodstock movie had used another song.” . . .

In June 1968 Ten Years After started a seven-week US tour at the Fillmore West: “That first tour was great,” Alvin recalls. “We had such a good time out there. We lost around $35,000, but we got asked back so we knew we were on the way. The strange thing was that we had gone to what I considered to be the home of the blues but they’d never heard of most of them. I couldn’t believe it – ‘Big Bill who?’ We were recycling American music and they were calling it the English sound. . . .

Led Zeppelin also turned up to check out the competition. In Richard Cole’s notorious Stairway To Heaven . . . the former Zeppelin tour manager relates how Jimmy Page was awestruck by Alvin’s playing. Much to the annoyance of an inebriated John Bonham who suddenly lurched forward and threw a glass of orange juice over Alvin’s guitar, slowing up his fingerwork as the strings and fretboard got stickier.


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