All the way from Nottingham, England, Ten Years After had a date with a well-behaved EP audience that got a heavy dose of British-styled blues rock.
But first, the opening band.
Here was a nondescript trio that appeared like local regular guys. Sort of. The lead singer and guitarist wore a sports coat and jeans, his glasses resembling the classic round frames that John Lennon wore in his later years. The bass player had a beard and wore a modest beige-colored cowboy hat. The drum kit brand was Fibes, and rested on a riser that was draped with a colorful sarape.
The logos on the speaker boxes had a small palm tree with the words: Rio Grande.
Without any introduction, the moment they hit their first few notes these three guys punched out some boogie blues music that immediately turned heads and shut up the small talk around me.
Harmonizing on tunes like Francine and Chevrolet, they rocked the house with others like Backdoor Love Affair and Just Got Paid. We were witnessing the early look and stripped-down awesome sound of ZZ TOP.
They played such a memorable set, the promoter booked them six months later to headline another EP show, with local band “Gorilla” opening. Tickets for that show were $2. That is not a typo.
It would be the beginning of a decades-long relationship between the little ol’ band from Texas and countless Coliseum audiences (including the Civic Center crowds in 1974, for the Fandango tour.)
The first time I heard Ten Years After’s live version of “I’m Going Home” from the Woodstock soundtrack, I thought I had peed my pants. Alvin Lee’s one minute and five second pyrotechnics in just the intro alone, is nothing short of a guitar clinic.
This 12 minute rock classic is a relentless and frenetic 4/4 time rocker with a ridiculous 119 beats per minute; and entertains the most hardened music critics still out there.
So after witnessing a hot little no-name band light-up the Coliseum stage, one wondered what Ten Years After had in store. It was something entirely different.
Taking a page from their album at the time, Cricklewood Green, the band walked on and started nice and easy with “Love Like A Man”, creating an ethereal, bluesy atmosphere in the cow barn. Maintaining the vibe into their set with several other slow numbers, the band took their time getting to the rough stuff.
Then, “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” and “I Can’t Keep From Crying”, turned up the volume to eleven. During one solo, using the mike stand as a slide, Alvin Lee showed the audience his prowess with his trademark Gibson ax.
After killing it at the end of the show with I’m Going Home, the crowd rose to their feet for the encore as TYA gave the lone star state a nod with “Sweet Little Sixteen” ( “Deep in the heart of Texas, and round the Frisco bay”).
The Coliseum had welcomed and cheered on two new acts that had not played EP before, and thanks to the promoter TYA returned two more times. Once more at the Coliseum ’71 and another at the Civic Center in ’74.
The lights went on and as I walked up the ramp from the main floor to the corridor that separated the stands from the exits, I stopped and looked left after something had caught my attention.
At the end of the corridor was a makeshift barrier in front of the dressing room door. From a distance I saw Ric Lee and Leo Lyons leaving. I got closer and waited.
After a minute, Chick Churchill walked out, then Alvin Lee. I reached out to shake his hand and he stopped for a moment. I thanked him for an awesome show and he humbly and quietly said, “Thank you”.
And the little ol’ band from Texas? They continue touring to this day. Those boys were born to boogie!
Next: an impromptu meeting with Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath!
José Oswaldo Rico, Guest Contributor