Leo Lyons is the legendary bass player from the high energy blues band, Ten Years After. After hearing Jimmy Rodgers and Leadbelly in his father's record collection, he decided to take up the guitar. He found himself playing the bottom four strings and eventually switched to the bass. In the mid to late 60's, he met up with guitarist Alvin Lee and formed the blues based band Ten Years After. They played the music they liked from the old American blues masters and wrote their own rocking blues songs in a signature "Ten Years After" style. This would lead to playing large clubs, theaters, and eventually major festivals such as Woodstock and The Isle of Wight. They scored major hits with songs like: "I'm Going Home", "Choo Choo Mama", "Good Morning Little School Girl", "I'd Love to Change the World", and many others. Leo still plays with TYA on occasions and also has a new band called "Hundred Seventy Split". After meeting Leo back stage at a New York concert, I corresponded with him.
R.V.B. - Where did you grow up and what music were you exposed to at a young age.
Leo - grew up in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire England. The town was a mining town and most of my male relatives worked in the mines. My Uncle and Aunt had a wind up gramophone. I played all the discs they had in their collection. The first guitar record I heard was Jimmy Rodgers 'He's In The Jailhouse Now '. That record got me started. I've always loved country music. In its purist form, I think its white man's blues. In later years I recall Howling Wolf once citing Jimmy Rogers as an influence. The other popular disc they had in their collection was Leadbelly singing ''Goodnight Irene'.
R.V.B. - Did you start playing guitar first or bass? what was your first instrument?
Leo - I wanted a guitar but could not afford one so I started out playing an old banjo which belonged to my grandfather. When I finally got a guitar I took lessons but never played in a band. I met some guys at my guitar teachers and we played together. I played bass on the bottom four strings of my guitar.
R.V.B. - Who were your influences? Who did you try to emulate?
Leo - I listened to all the rock 'n'roll records and tried to emulate the bass players. I was a big fan of Bill Black, Elvis's early bassist during the Sun records era. I play doghouse bass and still like that style. Later on that I listened to Jazz players. Scott La Faro, Ray Brown and many more. There we no teaching videos or You Tube to learn from in those days and the process of discovery took much longer.
R.V.B. - What was your first band and How did your first gig go?
Leo - The guys who were introduced to me by my guitar teacher formed a band. We rehearsed every week but probably only played four or five gigs in all mostly someone's wedding or similar . We entered a local talent contest and at that show the manager of a popular local band "The Atomites", asked me to join them with a view to turning professional. I was sixteen years old. My first gig with "The Atomites" was a local dance Hall. I was knocked out. They even had the girls screaming during the show.
Leo - The guitar player in The Atomites left shortly after I joined. Alvin answered the advertisement when we put it in the local newspaper for a replacement. We changed our name to the Jaybirds some time later and in 1961 left our hometown to go to London to seek our fortunes. We failed to find success and most of the original band members left one by one. Five or six years later Ric Lee joined us. Our previous drummer was his drum teacher. Ric was our third drummer. Chick joined about a year later. We had been a three piece band for around five years but promoters wanted as many musicians as possible in the band to feel they were getting their money's worth. Alvin and I thought we might get more gigs.
R.V.B. - What are some of your favorite memories from the road?
Leo - Far too many to mention but it would be every night the band locked in musically and the audience were enthusiastic to what we were trying to do.
Leo - Yes. I met a lot them. BB King, Muddy Waters, Big Mama Thornton, Buddy Guy, John Lee Hooker, Albert King, Nina Simone and many more. The great black American Blues players were not appreciated by a wider audience in the States at the time. To my embarrassment on our early tours some of my idols were our support acts.
R.V.B. - How was your Woodstock experience? Did you watch any other acts there?
Leo - I saw a few bands there but we'd already played with everyone on the bill at least once or twice before. We flew in from a gig the night before in St Louis and left the festival as soon as possible after our set. The drive back to New York took so long, I'd lost my hotel room by the time we hit town and ended up sleeping on a table in an office.
Leo - Genz Benz amps, Avalon DI, Mesa Boogie cabinets, Leo Lyons Woodstock signature basses.
R.V.B. - Do you have any other musical projects? What do you like to do in your off time?
Leo - I write songs and engineer and produce other acts. My big project right now is a collaboration with Joe Gooch TYA's guitar player. Aside from our work with TYA Joe and I have another band ' Hundred Seventy Split' We are just about to release our second record. The band is a power blues rock trio formed to play music outside of the TYA Box. Readers can check out our music on www.hundredseventysplit.com.
Interview conducted by Robert von Bernewitz
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For more information on Leo Lyons visit the Ten Years After website www.tenyearsafternow.com
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