Renowned fingerstyle guitarist Albert Lee has certainly not gone unheralded in his amazing 60-year career. If the list is long enough and not tainted with the stench of commercial pandering, he is often cited as one of the best six-stringers on the planet; for five consecutive years, he was named Guitar Player’s Best Country Guitarist.
And yet he absolutely deserves to be enshrined in the pantheon of guitar greats, alongside peers like Scotty Moore, Mark Knopfler, James Burton and all of the genre-blending icons that routinely top such lists, such as Eric Clapton, who Lee accompanied for five years in the late ’70s and early ’80s.
Lee was born in Herefordshire, England and raised in London, learning to play piano at age 7. As a teenager, Lee became enamored of Buddy Holly and switched to guitar at 15; a year later, he dropped out of high school to play music full time. After knocking around with regional Rock, Country and R&B outfits, Lee joined British icon Chris Farlowe in his band, the Thunderbirds, raising his profile immeasurably. He left the Thunderbirds in 1968 to concentrate on his affinity for Country music, leading to his membership in Poet & the One Man Band, which morphed into Heads Hands & Feet, the stellar British Country/Rock band that opened for Deep Purple, Grand Funk Railroad and Humble Pie, among others.
After HH&F’s 1973 breakup, Lee became a guitarist for hire. His relocation to Los Angeles led to plenty of session work and eventually a 1976 offer to replace James Burton in Emmylou Harris’ Hot Band. Lee released his first solo set, Hiding, in 1979, which was followed by nine more albums, including his most recent, Gypsy Man, a tribute to Buddy Holly that was released earlier this year. Lee has also released studio and live albums fronting Hogan’s Heroes, an acclaimed Country band featuring steel guitarist Gerry Hogan, and his résumé is littered with astonishing guest appearances on albums by such luminaries as Jerry Lee Lewis, John Prine, Bo Diddley, Dolly Parton, The Everly Brothers (Lee was the catalyst for their 1983 reunion), Joe Cocker, Earl Scruggs and Holly’s backing band, the Crickets.
Albert Lee doesn’t need the validation of a “greatest guitarists” list; he’s better than a fair percentage of the ones who appear on them, and the proof is in every performance.
Albert Lee plays Newport's Southgate House Revival on Wednesday, Jan. 8 at 8 p.m. Tickets/more show info: southgatehouse.com.