Not-so-average Joe
An Interview with Ten Years After Guitarist Joe Gooch

By: Clyde Bradley 

Just after the dawn of the new Millennium, Ten Years After drummer, Ric Lee, had a vision while preparing classic Ten Years After albums for re-release; put the band back together and do some touring in support of the re-releases. This wouldnít be the first time this idea had been suggested. There had been other attempts at reunion after the initial break up of Ten Years After, including a short stint in 1989 that saw the release of ďAbout Time,Ē the first Ten Years After studio release of new material since 1974ís ďPositive Vibrations.Ē But all of these reunions proved to be short-lived. Unfortunately, this one would not even make it off the ground as Ten Years After front man and poster child, Alvin Lee, declined the invitation, saying he was sort of retired.   

A short time later, Ric Lee was contacted by an old promoter friend who was looking for a backing band to support an American guitarist on a 15-date tour. Ric then contacted the remaining Ten Years After original members, Chick Churchill and Leo Lyons and the gig was on. The tour went well and for the first time in Ten Years After history, the previously unasked question finally surfaced. Could there be life for Ten Years After without Alvin?  

The three remaining members set off on a quest to find out. After not being completely satisfied with the first two guitarists that auditioned, the trio decided to give Joe Gooch a shot. Gooch was a relatively unknown player except for on the local UK circuit. Perhaps even more surprising than Goochís  lack of notoriety outside of his hometown, however, was the small detail that he was also approximately 30-years younger than the Ten Years After trio he was about to join. 

Gooch may have been short on experience when it came to playing on the international big stage but he was long on musical chops and vocal ability and had little trouble taking full command of center stage, and Ten Years After was soon back in full swing. They have since toured extensively and released two albums. ďNow,Ē the first Ten Years After studio album ever to be recorded without Alvin debuted in 2004, followed by 2005ís live album ďRoadworks.Ē 

Gooch recently chatted with CRR about his newfound life with Ten Years After, the differences between the local circuit and the international stage and the pressures associated with replacing the legendary Alvin Lee. Hereís what Joe had to say.  


Clyde: Tell me a little bit about how playing with Ten Years After has changed your life? 

Joe: Itís a whole new experience. Well, I say itís a new experience but Iíve been doing it four years now. Obviously, before I was just working the UK, you know, semi-pro bands, just playing weddings and bar mitzvahs for the most part (laughing) Ö you know I was just doing club gigs and stuff. So it was a big transition, which is something I really wanted to happen. So it was great to get out and play all around the world, which is what a musician aspires to do, rather youíre a rock singer or any other kind of musician. 

Clyde: Were you a Ten Years After fan before joining the band? 

Joe: I wasnít a diehard fan, no. That would have been too good to be true. I was aware of the band. Obviously, Iíd seen the Woodstock movie. So I knew of them. But I didnít have any of their albums or anything like that. On the Woodstock film, I always tended to pay more attention to Hendrix, and people like that. But they were still a band I respected. And it was quite an experience to get to work with them. But I wasnít a diehard fan, no.  

Clyde: When I think about bands like Ten Years After, I immediately think of Woodstock and the historical impact those bands have associated with them for taking part in it. But that happened before you were even born. How does it feel as a young man to be playing with a band that has that kind of historical significance?

Joe: It was a big thing. But I try not to make it too much of a big thing because I think if I had blown it up in my mind, it would have become something I couldnít do. So I try to keep some perspective on it. I appreciate how Woodstock was so significant. And they were a big part of that whole thing. But for me, I was always influenced by bands of that generation, you know, the Ď70ís bands like Zeppelin, Hendrix, all those kind of bands. So I was aware of the musical historical significance of the whole thing but I didnít see it as some gargantuan, overwhelming task. It was a band I kind of liked, and I met the guys and we got along well and it kind of worked and we jelled so we just got on with it. So thatís the way I looked at it. Donít get me wrong. Iíve got a great deal of respect for the band, obviously. But I was never kind of totally in awe of the whole situation. I tried to keep it realistic. I think thatís the only way to really do it. Otherwise, I probably would have never been able to do it. I would have been too freaked out by it.  

Clyde: Speaking of blowing things up in your mind, was it intimidating at all to replace someone with the notoriety of Alvin Lee? 

Joe: That element is potentially there all the time. But, again, I try to keep it real and think this is a band Iíve jammed with and rehearsed with and they want me to play with them.  I just kind of went out and did as best I could and just thought about having a good time and do it for real and not really get caught up in the whole history of who Iím replacing. I just tried to think about it from a personal point of view and what I could do personally in this band. And I think thatís the way itís kind of gone. Obviously, people are always going to ask about Alvin. But for me- and I think for everyone- Alvin did what he did. He was a founding member of the band. And heís a very innovative guitar player and no one is ever going to take that away. And Iíll never come close to that. But this is a band that wants to keep working, and keep doing things. And I was just someone who enabled them to do that. But I never really focused too much on the Ďreplacing someone like Alviní thing because I think that could be a difficult thing to take on. So I just kind of tried to look at it like playing with any other band, if you can believe that.     

Clyde: Did you feel any pressure to duplicate Alvinís style or do you feel more like you were able to bring your own style to the band? 

Joe: Initially, it all came about quick. I heard they were looking for someone from a friend of mine. My friend said you should send a demo. Itís worth taking a shot. I had listened to ďGoiní HomeĒ and I banged down a version of it. It wasnít note for note. It was kind of my interpretation of it. And I stuck down another blues number, ďRed House,Ē I think it was. And I sent it off to Ric, the drummer, and it went from there. And they liked that. So I went down to Oxford and rehearsed with them. So it went so quickly, I didnít really have time to try and emulate Alvin because he never had been a player that I really studied. They could have gotten some kind of Alvin clone. There are a lot of guys Iíve seen that emulate Alvinís style personally down to a tee. They could have gotten someone like that. But I think thatís kind of what they didnít want. Maybe it worked because I came to rehearsal not knowing the songs. I kind of winged it. And out of that winging it came something spontaneous. And maybe thatís what the band was about originally, spontaneity and that kind of movement. And I think maybe thatís why it worked for them. Iíve never learned everything note for note. What Iíve done is, Iíve kind of interrupted on key songs like ĎGoiní Home.Ē I take some of what Alvinís done and I mix it up with things I do and other stuff Iím influenced by. But Iíve never sat down and tried to emulate Alvin. I think that would be pointless. And like I said, thereíd be better guys than me to do that anyway. Thereís a great Italian Ten Years After tribute band that Iíve met a couple of times. And Leo was in Italy recently and saw them. He said it was amazing. The guy played just like Alvin. Leo got up and jammed with them and he said the guy had every lick down. So there are guys like that who would have done a better job than me.   

Clyde: Is there a particular memory that stands out in your mind from the first time you took the stage with the band? 

Joe: Yeah. I was pretty scared at that one. I just went to the gig naively thinking Ďitís just a gig. It will be okay.í But then it kind of dawned on me at that point that there were a lot of people around paying attention and asking Ďwhoís this guitarist?í I never set out to say I was anything special. I didnít feel like I was anything special- I still donít. I just do my thing. But obviously with that, suddenly you think thereís an expectation. And that was initially quite daunting. And initially, that was kind of detrimental to my playing because I became very self-conscience about my playing. But I soon got over that because I realized thatís no way to go. So I got out of that mindset. I quit thinking about peopleís expectations and the replacement thing. I got that out of my head and since then Iíve become a much better, more confident player. I feel like Iíve freed myself to do what I want to do musically. But, yeah, that first gig was pretty much fear.     

Clyde: How big of a gig was it? Do you know roughly how many people were there? 

Joe: It wasnít too big because they wanted to try it out low key. I donít know exactly how many people but the first one was a small festival in Germany. And the next one was a club gig. There were a few hundred people. It wasnít anything massive. They obviously wanted to try it out and test the water a bit. They didnít want to get on some massive festival stage and fall on their faces and have me run off the stage screaming. Or get pelted with eggs or something. But it worked. It went down really well. That first gig, the audience reaction was amazing. And thatís when I think they realized, and I think it took me a little while longer to realize, but the guys obviously realized it was working. And itís really gained strength over the last few years. There are a lot of the original fans and a lot of new fans. The support is great. Itís been a great, great experience.     

Clyde: Now that youíve been doing this for about four years, what would you say your favorite Ten Years After memory to date is? 

Joe: Someone just asked me that the other day. I canít think. I should have that one down but I canít think. There have been a lot of good things. Every time we do a gig thereís something great for me.  We still improvise a lot. So every night you get on the vibe and some good stuff comes out. Thatís the big kick for me, just the spontaneity of it. We donít just go though the motions, we kind of change things, which I like. But when it comes to my best gig ever or best experience ever, I canít really think off the top of my head. 

Clyde: Was Ten Years After your first experience touring in America? If so, what was your impression of the US?  

Joe: Yes it was.  It was great. Again, I was a little apprehensive about the States, just because they had a lot of fans over there. So I was a little apprehensive. But the people were really great, just really positive audiences. So Iím really looking forward to coming back. 

Clyde: How would you compare American audiences to European ones?  

Joe: I think the Americans are a little more enthusiastic. They really go for it. Theyíre very vocal. But having said that, theyíre similar to certain European audiences, like Italy and France. Theyíre really vocal, and really into the music. And the Americans are also like that. Theyíre a very great, lively audience, Iíve got to say.  

Clyde: Letís talk about ďNow.Ē  Itís one of the few CDs I slide in the player and never hit the skip button. Every song on that disc is great. Tell me a little about its making. 

Joe: Well, it was pretty quick. I think we were only in the studio a couple of weeks. We had written most of the stuff, give or take a couple of tunes, in the previous months. I worked with Leo. And I worked with Ric. And we worked together as a band and weíd come up with various stuff. Then we went to search for a studio. First we tried a studio up north somewhere, I think it was Sheffield, but that didnít work out.  Then we went to the studio where we finally recorded at, which was, oh God, I canít even remember what it was called now but itís near Norfolk somewhere. It was a pretty daunting experience for me, initially. Again I was a little apprehensive because I had never gone to the studio with a band like that to do an album. Iíve done projects before but never to do an album so obviously there was a lot of expectations and pressure. But the guys were great to work with and they were really supportive. But still, I felt the pressure. But it was good. I learned a lot about working in the studio and Iím looking forward to the next studio album. 

Clyde: How would you compare your other studio experiences to your studio experience with Ten Years After? 

Joe: Like I said, it was always kind of semi-pro. There were no record companies involved or anything. It was always project type stuff. I remember one band I was in, we won a battle of the bands and won some studio time. I spent a lot of time in project studios doing demos and starting to find myself musically. But I never went in and did an entire album and spend several weeks in a studio before.  

Clyde: I tried to pick one or two songs from ďNowĒ that were my ďfavoritesĒ to discuss in greater detail but I just couldnít decide. I really do like them all about equally. Do you have a favorite?

Joe: I listened to a couple of tracks from the album the other day. And I hadnít listened to it in a long time and I thought Ďyeah, this is good. Itís got some moments.í  But ďA Hundred Miles HighĒ I like. I think itís because it appeals to my more progressive side. I like the different kinds of groove in there. And itís kind of spacey sounding and it sort of appeals to my musical personality. So for me, thatís probably the top song on the album.  

Clyde: Anything planned for the studio in the near future?  

Joe: Yeah. Iíve been doing a lot of writing and working with Ric. We will be doing another studio album. Iím not sure exactly when. The next thing that is happening is a live DVD which weíll be shooting in Europe in the next couple of months. But we will be doing another studio album. Weíve got quite a lot of songs written for that already. So weíre looking forward to getting that happening. And I think it will be a good, good record. 

Clyde: Any firm dates yet? 

Joe: I wish I could say. I donít know when weíre going into the studio yet. But weíre going to make sure weíve got a good body so we can just go in there and bang it out. But unfortunately, I canít say when. But itíll be this year. I can tell you that much.            

Clyde: Iím going to make you use your imagination for this last question. Where do you think youíd be today if you hadnít joined Ten Years After? 

Joe: Thatís very hard to say, isnít it? Iíd definitely be playing the guitar, thatís for sure. As to where, you know, who can say. But it [Ten Years After] was definitely a lucky break. Thatís for sure. It was being in the right place in the right time. I think there are a lot of guys that could have done it. So I was lucky in that respect. And there isnít a day goes by that I donít appreciate that fact. But Iíd be playing the guitar, probably doing something with my own band. You know, you just canít say. I might have won the lottery. 

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