Hello Albert, welcome and thank you for this interview. How are you doing?
You’re very welcome. I’m fine thank you, I was sitting here wondering why my computer doesn’t work. Anyway, very busy. Lots of different gigs you know…
Three years have passed since “Highwayman”, which, as you said, is the album you’d always wanted to record. What is the next goal out there you are still dreaming to achieve… if there is any?
You know, at my age I’m happy to be working anyway. A lot of people have long-since retired, but I love what I do, so I’m happy to tour and to record. I’m going to do another album in a few weeks, another semi-acoustic album, somewhat like the “Highwayman” album. Now I’m only just looking forward to that. It’ll contain some of the old times vibes, maybe Buddy Holly and the Everly Brothers. You know I had a long association with both of these artists. I played with the Everly Brothers for many years, I also played with the Crickets after Buddy Holly died, of course. I like to mix it up, I like to do a bit of everything if I can and play with different people. I have a UK band and I have an American Band and when they’re not available I can get another player to slot in, so I have a lot of musicians to choose from.
Still back in 2014 you celebrated your 70th birthday with an amazing series of shows in London. How does is feel, for a life-long performer to share such an important event with your public? Does it feel like a sort of extended family?
All of the guests on that shows were friends of mine, old friends. I thought it would be nice to kind of celebrate my 70th in some way or another and a friend of mine, suggested putting together a concert and maybe doing a video of the event and I have to say that he put a lot of work into it, to put that show together. I’m really glad that we got to do it. Of course I would have liked some other artists to be there, but this was impossible, but we managed to get videos of Clapton and Emmylou Harris and the others.. They were also interviewed as part of it.
Could be this incredible bond with your audience that still brings you on the road, after all these years? Or perhaps do you still obey to a kind of urge to express yourself through your music?
Well, it’s both really. I feel very fortunate to still have an audience. A lot of people that come to see me play are from my era; they were listening to music in the 60s and 70s and so they feel like they’re having some kind of trip back in memory while they’re listening to me playing some really old songs. But I also see younger people that come too. And I can see they’re all kind of surprise to learn that I sing and also play the piano. In general, all people leave the show really happy with what they’ve seen.
Back to the present now: your new tour, “Alive And Well” will reach Italy on the 20th of October. It is such a strong and assertive title. What is the message you are the most keen on delivering to the people you will get in touch with thanks to your shows?
I’ve always loved coming to Italy and I’m never able to come as often as I would like. I love the Country, the food, the wine, I love the cars too! I have an old Ferrari, a 1961 Ferrari that I bought a long time ago, when they weren’t so expensive. But now, as all the old cars, it’s quite expensive to maintain. I’m glad that I’m able to keep it running myself, I’m not an expert, but I manage to keep peit running. So, I love Italy and I’m sad that my wife won’t be able to join me because she loves your Country too. I hope the response that I’ll get from the audience will be as good as it always is in Italy. I’ve got a lot of fans that come along. I hope to see a lot of them and I hope they’ll be pleased with what we’ll give them.
I have really enjoyed your show at Crossroad Festival, where you played with the elite of guitar players. What did you enjoy the most of such a great experience?
It’s always amazing playing with a lot of artists like them, because we rarely get to see each other. And to be on a show like that is really satisfactory, also because you’re included with so many great players. Playing with this kind of guitar players is really gratifying. It’s nice at my age to not be forgotten, because tastes change and people keep moving on to something else, so it’s nice that people still want to come.
You played in Eric Clapton’s “Just One Night”, which is considered one of the 100 best lives ever. I’m wondering: when you play in shows like that, do you have the feeling that something big and different is happening? Or do you just feel no difference from a show to another once you get on stage?
Well, I think you certainly appreciate the moment and the importance of gigs like that. That was pretty early on in my time with Eric and it was quite amazing, I am really glad I was able to do that. It’s just incredible to be in the middle of that huge band and making such great music in honour of someone who gave so much to music.
Based on your experience, how has the art of performing evolved in the last decades?
Well, I don’t think I’ve changed much in what I do. I still play the same kind of guitars and stuff… I had the opportunity of playing in big bands and huge arenas, but my life has always been relatively simple. I travel with a four or five piece band, one or two vehicles, we don’t have a big crew. We try to do it as economic and simple as we can. We still enjoy it! And the people enjoy it. I think you have a better contact with the audience in a small venue. When I went to see Clapton, a couple nights ago here in Los Angeles, he was performing in a huge arena and it seemed kind of impersonal, you know. I suppose you have to do it if you know that you can sell many tickets.
You own a remarkable collection of guitars. Is there one instrument you do feel closer to? If so, why?
It’s more than one really. I have my signature guitar, a Music Man, manufactured. An Albert Lee guitar, so that’s my favourite guitar to play on stage. I have a number of those. I never really called myself as a collector but I have played guitar for 60 years and you seem to manage to require if you’re along the way and of course in the early days it was hard to justify having more than one guitar. Most musician went through this, you know. If a wanted to buy I new guitar I had to sold an old one. Fortunately, I don’t have to do that anymore, so you end up collecting a few. I have a couple given to me that I really treasure: Eric Clapton gave me his Les Paul Custom, that he used with Delaney and Bonnie and with Cream; Don Everly gave me one of his Gibson J-200, which is quite an iconic guitar. I have also bought a guitar that Elvis Presley had used in a couple of occasions.
In your opinion, what was the turning point on your career, the event, or the moment that triggered your breakthrough?
I had a number of them actually. I started playing guitar, it was an acoustic guitar, in the sixties, maybe ’61. I acquired a really nice Gibson guitar and then I realized that I was improving very quickly. Another turning point for me was starting to sing in front of the band. I think in 1987 I first put together and English band and toured for many years, 25 years or more. Now I have a US band and I really enjoy it. It gives me a real deal of satisfaction to be able of having my own shows and to sing and play, to do piano songs, which I didn’t normally get to do.
Have you ever wondered how your life would have been far from the stage?
Oh gosh! I don’t know what I would have done! I’m not really qualified for anything else.
… collecting Ferraris maybe?
Well, I suppose I could maybe have learned to be a mechanic. But that’s difficult because whenever I work on a car I need a few days for my hands to heal and I can’t play guitar! See? I couldn’t have done anything else!
Thank you so much for your time. Would you like to leave a special message to your Italian fans and to our readers?
I want to thank my fans in Italy for the continued support. I have a few friends in Italy that always really support me and I’m hoping they’ll continue to do so and continue to come to my shows.
Articolo, in collaborazione con il collega Federico Barusolo, precedentemente comparso su Spaziorock