Featured Album – Undead – Ten Years After

Mick Fleetwood summed up the atmosphere, not just at Klook’s Kleek but all over London thus, “Ah, Swinging London – if one could only re-create that lost, heady air of freedom and opportunity that was sweeping over sleepy, stuffy London town during the mid-sixties.”

If you read a bio of just about any ’60’s British band, the name Klook’s Kleek frequently comes up. The club – at the Railway Hotel, West Hampstead, North West London – was started in 1961 by a jazz enthusiast named Dick Jordan. Drummer Kenny “Klook” Clarke had released an album called Klook’s Clique. Jordan – thinking of Kodak – felt that ‘K’s really stood out, hence, Klook’s Kleek.

The club started out as strictly a jazz emporium. But after a couple of years, it became evident that its survival depended on bringing in the crowd that dug the increasingly popular rhythm and blues. To Jordan’s surprise, some of the jazzers actually liked R &B.

In fact, there is a veritable Who’s Who of musicians that played at the club (which was right near Decca Records) – Little Stevie Wonder, Reg Dwight before he was Elton John, Cream, The Nice, John Mayall, Brian Auger, Fleetwood Mac, Christine Perfect. Several bands recorded albums there.

But the album I know best from that small, smoky little club that had “side tables with red gingham tablecloths with table lamps and orange colored bulbs” is Ten Years After’s Undead.

Ten Years After was another one of that legion of ’60’s British bands that trafficked in blues ‘n boogie. They were easily one of the highlights of the Woodstock Music and Arts Fair with, among other tunes, an insane version of “I’m Going Home.” But where did that song come from?

Well, it was written by ace guitarist Alvin Lee and first appeared on Undead. Released in 1968 about a year before Woodstock, Undead was one of those albums you heard about by word of mouth.

What do I like about this album? Well, it sounds like it was recorded in a small club. I almost expect to hear the sound of ice tinkling in glasses tinkling in the background. And it’s jazzy and bluesy and very often exciting.

The first song is called, “I May Be Wrong But I Won’t Be Wrong Always.” The writing credit on the album goes to Alvin Lee but it’s actually a Count Basie song. I don’t think Lee ever played this jazzily again. In fact, the whole band swings, with a nice organ solo by Chick Churchill, all driven by Rick Lee’s (no relation to Alvin) drums:

Spotify link

The biggest criticism leveled against Lee in his lifetime is that he was flash, speed, blues scales – and no soul. I disagree. Yeah, he was hung up on being the fastest gun. I remember reading somewhere that he used to just practice playing fast. And yeah, he was sometimes sloppy. But I really loved his playing. If I want precision I’ll hire a robot to play. Can’t say he didn’t throw himself into it.

“I was a young guy with young energy, and that’s just the way I played,” Lee told Guitar Player magazine. “I decided to use my fast licks like a machine gun, with the effect of devastation. I kind of enjoyed that, and it seemed to get the audiences up.”

Next up – a nice slow blues, “Spider in my Web.” I don’t get it when someone tells me they’re not into blues. At least a little bit. To me it’s like you’re saying you’re not into sex. You could explain it me all day long. I’ll never understand:

Spotify link

Some of the guys had played together previously in a band called The Jaybirds. Supposedly they got the name Ten Years After, from forming the band ten years after Elvis Presley’s appearance on the scene. That could be apocryphal too, don’t know.

Alvin Lee’s parents were into the big band era stuff and so he grew up listening to that stuff. For a while there, Ten Years After were a nice mix of jazz and blues, only later moving on to rock. So after hearing this stuff and then hearing “I’d Love to Change the World?” For me, just not the same. I mean, it’s ok, but it doesn’t do much for me.

For your consideration, TYA’s version of Woody Herman’s “Woodchopper’s Ball.” A great number. Lee gets into a lick about 6:32 or so and keeps it going for the better part of a minute. If you want to watch the band blaze through a shorter version at the Marquee in London, check it out here.

Spotify link

Ten Years After broke up in 1974, right around when blues-rock was starting to lose its luster. They went their separate ways, doing side projects and reformed for a few shows in the Eighties. Lee left the band for good in 2003. I lost touch with what was happening with him and only heard his name again when he died in 2014.

The band re-formed with original members Chick Churchill and Ric Lee. In fact, they’re playing this Saturday night at the Rory Gallaher International Festival in Ballyshannon, County Donegal, Ireland. Wonder if I can still get a ticket?

Klook’s Kleek closed in January 1970. Its legend lives on.

  • Alvin Lee – guitar, vocals
  • Chick Churchill – organ
  • Ric Lee – drums
  • Leo Lyons – bass

Sources: Decca Studios and Klook’s Kleek: West Hempstead’s Musical Heritage Remembered. Dick Weindling, Marianne Colloms; Guitar Player Magazine; Wikipedia. 

23 thoughts on “Featured Album – Undead – Ten Years After

  1. I thought I was the only one who appreciated this record, Jim. It’s fantastic. You’re right, it’s got that smoky, small-club feel about it. Similar to the Yardbirds’ “Five Live Yardbirds,” but bluesier. “Woodchopper’s Ball” is amazing, and Lee was very courageous to take on a big band tune. While the music is top-notch, TYA’s early records also had great sleeve art, including this acid-soaked photo. Nice choice.

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    1. Yeah, I kinda looked around at a few blogs and couldn’t find mention of it anywhere. Some bloggers might have mentioned it but maybe earlier when I wasn’t blogging and maybe missed it. This is a gem of an album and I would for people who are into this kind of stuff to miss it.

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      1. It certainly is a gem. Kinda transports one to that time and place.

        BTW, well done on the Sgt. Pepper quiz. I’ll wait a while before I “approve” your comment, in case any others (CB??) jump in with their own answers.

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        1. Sure. I overlooked the “open book” part on first read-through. But you had advised me previously that mine was to be closed book. 🙂 I agree with your comments about “Please Please Me,” etc. Given the choice, nine times out of ten I’d listen to “Hard Day’s Night” over “Sgt. Pepper.”

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        2. Pete, I made a couple more comments on your Sgt. Pepper post. Writing here because they for some reason both say “awaiting moderation.”

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  2. Nice piece Jim. I have (and like) Stonedhenge but don’t know Undead at all well. I do know that I like the early stuff much more than the later predictable blues rock. A bit o’ psychedelia please!

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  3. Cool album and the perfect type of music to enjoy in a bar. While Lee’s high-speed playing can get a bit overwhelming after listening to it for some time, there is no question this guy was an outstanding guitarist. “I’m Going Home” is an absolute killer number.

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    1. And it’s cool that there are some breaks from his playing, with organ, bass solos, etc. But those solos keep the energy level up, just like his. I’ve been spinning this album quite a bit since I rediscovered it. As to “I’m Going Home,” that and Sly Stone’s contributions to the Woodstock album were the absolute highlights of that record. They both just tore it up.

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  4. Even after almost 50 years, this first live LP is still a jewel of rock music. But the most versatile and probably best album from Ten Years is for me still “Stonedhenge”.

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    1. You know, a couple of people have mentioned that. I don’t think I know (or remember) it well enough. I’ll give it a spin. ‘Ssssh’ is a good one too. I like their version of “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl.” Thanks.

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  5. I guess I just found a lost classic. VC did the same with a John Mayall album. Listened to ‘I May Be Wrong..’ and listening to ‘Woodchoppers’ as I type. Right up my alley Doc. I air guitar-ed to ‘Coming Home’ and I’m doing it right now again to this tune. I have lots of TYA how I missed this I don’t know.
    Great stuff! 11/10.

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  6. I kinda figured CB would dig this. Is this great shit or what? It swings like mad. It’s funny how some of this great stuff just gets lost in the shuffle. It makes me happy to do what I can to keep it alive.

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    1. “Swings” is the word and a lot of other old school chops. I think it’s great when these bands tip their hats to their influences. After reading your take on Alvin’s parents and the big band stuff it makes sense. Who would have thought, Basie and Herman? Why I tune in. (Falda was over on the weekend and got me set up on Spotify so I’m like a pig at the trough. Thanks to you, catchgroove and Falda I’m officially in 2017).

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      1. Glad to hear you’re on Spotify. I find that sometimes the links I post will take me to Spotify but then only play the last song I was listening to. In that case I log out. Then I go back to the post, click on the link and it works. BTW, now that you’re on Spotify, if you get tired of being in 2017, you can search my site for my Indispensable 150 Spotify list. It’s good for what ails ya.

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  7. Great album choice. I must own 10 Ten Years After albums. “Undead” and “Stonedhenge” are my favorites. The later albums just didn’t do to much for me. In the late 70’s Lee had a three piece band called “Ten Years Later” and they rocked.I was able to see them right after the album “Ride On” came out.

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    1. Several commenters recommended ‘Stonedhenge.’ I’ve since listened to it and while I liked it quite a bit, I still have a preference for ‘Undead.’ I think the younger me would have preferred ‘Stonedhenge”’ ‘coz it’s heavier and bloozier. But the good news is it will make for some terrific driving music.

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  8. Don’t forget their 1975 US ReUnion Concert tour…… one of these was at Union City NJ’s Roosevelt Stadium Lynrd Skynrd, embarrassingly drunk for the most part, led off..then some local comic “Dirty Uncle Ernie” did an unfunny monologue..then TYA, who most everyone came for, entered the stage (NOT the headline act here) and absolutely blew the place apart, with people screaming for as many encores as the band could muster…was 2 or maybe 3..then headliner Rod Stewart came out..with 10 cellists (!!?)..and people started filing out 5 minutes into it . That was my last time seeing Alvin Lee and the band live” …and can never forget it.

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