Frankie Lee
@ Famous Dave's BBQ & Blues, March 14, 1998

Frankie Lee
Famous Dave's 3/14/98
Photo © 1998 by Ray Stiles, All rights reserved
Energetic, lively, fun, talkative, are words that describe Frankie Lee's show. He is an R&B singer that draws heavily on the sprit and tradition of a Sam Cooke or Otis Redding performance. Frankie Lee, like many of the great soul/R&B singers before him, sings with bushel baskets of emotion and feeling. He really gets "into" his performance, just loves what he is doing, and sings right from his heart. Famous Dave's was packed as the band opened with several funky numbers led by bass player Tonee "hit man" Calhoun. Frankie then came on stage and said "we're going to party ALL night long - 'tell the cows come home" as he jumped right into a spirited version of "Funky Broadway." From smooth uptown soul to down in the alley blues, Frankie Lee's vocals cover the spectrum from suave sophistication to rambunctious shouts to growls, that start from his gut and explode throughout the room. To the delight of everyone there he even threw in some fine Texas style yodeling.

Frankie Lee
Photo © 1998 by Ray Stiles
All rights reserved
One thing for certain at a Frankie Lee show is his determination to make sure he gets his audience involved. So watch out if you don't like to be picked on. During the first set he was down in the audience, with mike in hand, singing a soulful Sam Cooke medley of "Sentimental Reasons" and "You Send Me." He was really playing up to the crowd, even jumping up on a chair at one point. At the end of the first set he said, "you got a groove I like, so I'm going to change my show a bit to suit this audience. When I come back after the break we're going to have a butt shakin' seminar, sho 'nuf." True to his word, at the end of the second set Frankie was pulling ladies out of their chairs and hauling them up on stage.

Butt Shakin' Seminar
Famous Dave's 3/14/98
Photo © 1998 by Ray Stiles, All rights reserved
He then proceeded to have about a dozen women making fools of themselves on stage, all shaking their "butts" to his orchestration - and loving every minute of it! Not to be outdone he then did the same with the men. I think the first group did much better though...end of seminar.

The musicians in Frankie Lee's band were guitar player Donald D.D. Dunn, bass player Tonee Calhoun, and drummer Larry Ross. Dunn played a funky version of "Hideaway" at the start of the third set and broke a string starting out the second set. I like it when that happens. You get to see how the band responds under pressure and also get to see some improvisation from some of the other musicians as they pick up the slack. In this case bass player Calhoun stepped right in and strutted his stuff with panache.

Born Frankie Lee Jones, April 29, 1941, in rural Mart, Texas, Frankie said his early influences included Sam Cooke, but before that he sang in church groups. His grandmother encouraged him to sing when he was about 6 years old. "Missionary and gospel singing is what we did. My grandmother considered blues, to be the devil's music." So Frankie had to sneak out to the clubs to listen to the music he loved.

Out of high school he teamed up with Sonny Rhodes who has remained a life long friend. While he and Rhodes were playing in Austin Ike Turner heard his performance and asked Frankie to join the Ike & Tina Turner Revue. This valuable road experience exposed Lee to a whole new side of the music business. He did some recording with Frank Scott and then Duke Records in 1963.

While in Houston he teamed up with Albert Collins. Lee said Collins was just like the big brother he never had. They moved to California and Frankie ended up singing with Albert for the next six years. It was during his time with Collins that Lee first met Big Walter Smith who now lives in the Twin Cities. By 1971, Lee was in Los Angeles, where his cousin Johnny "Guitar" Watson helped produce a record for him. In the late 1970's he recruited a young guitarist by the name of Robert Cray for his band. Robben Ford and Bobby Murray were also a couple of other fine young guitarists he had backing him while on the West Coast. Bobby Murray has been playing with Frankie Lee off and on for the past 20 years now, when Murray is not on the road with Etta James. Murray was a big part of Lee's most recent Blind Pig record "Going Back Home." In the later 1980's Lee moved to the northeast and just recently he has moved back home to Texas to be with his aging mother. He has a new record coming out later this year and if you like high energy soul and R&B music don't miss his next Twin Cities appearance. Lee knows how to chaise away the blues and leave his audiences with a memorable experience. Maybe you can even get your company to pay for your attendance at his "seminar."

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Copyright © 1998 by Ray M. Stiles
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, or any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author.