One day my Dad came home and got all of the three Ball boys and said “You have to s listen to this guitar player, He is unbelievable”..”Yeah Dad”…..So he hands me this green double album from a English band named Heads Hands and Feet. He plays the first track and it is a really wild up tempo country song called Country Boy with just mind blowing stop break fills and solos. We wore it out. We could not believe this guitarist was English and played rippin’ country. That’s how I discovered Albert Lee.
So we couldn’t wait to see him live. They had to be touring. We checked the paper and low and behold Heads Hands and Feet were opening for Jethro Tull at the Los Angeles Forum. Martin Barre of Jethro Tull used our stuff so we were in with tickets. My Dad Took the three boys and we couldnt believe that Albert was playing a black SG and playing to a disinterested crowd. HH&F were a rock band but their last song was Country Boy. The crowd could have cared less…they wanted AquaLung….We didn’t get to meet Albert that night but saw the next night that he was playing the Whisky A Go Go…I had to see him again so I dragged a coupla buds and we went to the Whisky. The Whisky is a legendary club that was back then a wild scene and not a pay to play dump that I think it is today. It was really small and fun. I was sitting next to a girl that wearing a big black coat and when she took it off she was wearing an Ernie Ball T Shirt….I started talking to her and she said she was with the Guitar Player from Heads Hands and Feet…I told her that was wild as we were there to see him and that my Dad was Ernie Ball. She said Albert gave her the shirt somewhere. After the show she took us back to meet Albert.
He was as excited to meet me as I was to meet him. we talked guitars and I asked about the SG and he said that a friend was a roadie for Pete Townsend and that this was a guitar that Pete had smashed and that he pal rebuilt it and gave it to Albert as Al didn’t have a good guitar. The only problem is that he couldnt put any pressure on the guitar as the thing was glued together and it would go wildly out of tune.
I asked him how many more days he was in LA and if he would like to come to Newport Beach and see the factory and meet my Dad. He jumped on the invitation and drove down the next day. I couldn’t believe it. He stayed the evening for dinner with the whole family and we all played and sang. It was like he was in the family.
So the tour ends and he goes back to England. He gets a call for a session in LA and needs a place to stay so he writes me and asks if he can crash at my moms house, (My parents were newly divorced then) I said sure…He said just for a couple of nights..he stayed a month. We jammed and had a blast. I couldn’t play Country Boy back then as I would listen to his playing and lose my time….He ended up playing with my Band for my High School Winter dance….He played Wurlitzer electric piano most of the night. What was he doing at 28 playing with a 17 year olds high school band? He loved playing, still does. There are countless stories of him sitting in lobby bars or tiny pubs or playing so and so’s party.
One of the great things we did back then was drive to the northern border of the San Fernando Valley and go to a place called the Sundance Saloon. They had a Tuesday night Jam hosted by Don Everly. The band was Buddy Emmons, Byron Berline, and just about every legend at the time even Glen Campbell..everyone. I wasnt old enough but sometimes I would sit out front and sometimes they would let me in. I remember sitting outside one night and the kid next to me was a guitar from Oklahoma named Vince….Vince Gill.
At the time Albert was becoming one of my best friends but he was playing a Tele and Fender strings. He wouldn’t use ours at first but familial pressure won out and he has for over thirty years. I started workng with Leo and Tommy and told them about Albert. I told Albert that if he played his cards right I could take him to Leo’s secret lab where he was starting a new line and he could meet Leo. Albert fell in love with Tommy’s amp and was like a little kid meeting Leo. Leo was a country guy at heart and loved Albert’s playing. Albert still uses Music Man amps wherever possible.
When we bought Music Man Albert was a died in the wool Tele guy and he was watching with a lot of support what Dudley and I were doing. I think he was being a nice and supportive friend at first by giving the Silhouette a go occasionally and using it for a few tunes during a gig. He started to really like it because of the weight and balance and tone.
I finally figured out how to play Country Boy and Albert and I started doing some local gigs. I played bass but really wanted to get better at guitar so I started this band Biff Baby’s Allstars so I could be the guitar player…..I got my junior high and high school buddy John Ferraro who was with Larry Carlton straight out of High School and he got this amazing keyboard player named Jimmy Cox and I asked Freebo who was with Bonnie Raitt and we got a gig in a club called Sid’s Blue Beat in Newport Beach in June of 1984. My guitar playing lasted less than that gig because Albert said “you are doing a gig and you didnt ask me? I became the rhythm guitarist and played bass on the country stuff. My brother Sherwood sang.
We went on to do a bunch of the hot clubs like the Palomino Club in LA and the Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach. We were this really wild bar band that played everything from Sam Cooke to Jerry Lee Lewis. It was just the best time of my musical life. We went on to tour Europe, Japan and Australia (Most of those with Steve Morse too)…some twice. We used to also do double drummer gigs with Chad Whackerman from Zappa and Holdsworth. Even in the EVH days Eddie was an Allstar and we played a New Years gig with Albert, Luke, and Eddie Van Halen and the Malibu Inn….We would be hanging out and say lets do a gig tomorrow and call the Palomino or the Belly Up down in Solana Beach and say….”Pay the band that you have booked and tell them to come party with us we want to play.” Some of those gigs were pre You Tube priceless. The Allstars. Jay Graydon and Dweezil would sit in on the Palomino gigs. The All Stars still to this day play but usually for Casey Lee Ball Benefits or someone in the bands wedding, divorce or funeral. We can’t get hired anymore.
In the middle of 1986 I went to lunch with Dudley and said “lets design something whacky…I mean Jetson’s whacky ….50’s retro space age…but make it balance like a strat. Back then before computer drafting and design you actually had to draw it. He went to work and I loved the thing on paper. Dudley finished it in time for he Ernie Ball company Christmas party wher Albert and The Allstars were playing. I was so excited I showed it to Albert…..”Look what Dudley made for me!” Albert said “Oh Dear or Goodness me” and fell in love with it and I gave it to him on the spot. I owned it for 10 seconds. Dudley didn’t mind and Albert now played one of our guitars but it was called the Axis and it didn’t get put into production until 1993 as the Albert Lee model.
All of our artists are done with a handshake and no contracts. My third son is Casey Lee Ball and the Lee is after Albert. Funny enough I am Godfather to all of Albert’s Kids. I am also Godfather to Lukes new daughter Lilly Rose and Steve Morse’s son Kevin who is a teenage shredder. I was best man for Steve Morse, Luke and Albert. Not bragging just explaining that our relationships are way beyond normal and the friendship comes first.
I still consider Albert Lee to be my favorite guitar player. I love and adore the others but Albert is special to me. They all know it. Albert spends much of his time now in England and I don’t get to see him very much but we are in touch a bunch. I wanted to dedicate this posting to a great player and a better man. My friend Albert Lee.