Frankie Lee, one of the leading singers of our time, belongs with the ranks of O.V. Wright, Otis Redding, Little Johnny Taylor, and Bobby Bland. His Blind Pig release, Going Back Home, finally brought Frankie the recognition he deserves.
Born Frankie Lee Jones in 1941 in Mart, Texas, he began singing in church. "I was raised up in a religious household, and the blues was the devil's music." But Frankie fell in love with the blues he heard on the radio. As a teenager he used to sneak out to clubs to hear the likes of B.B. King.
After high school he moved to Austin, where he met and worked with Sonny Rhodes. One night Ike Turner heard Frankie in a club and hired him as a featured vocalist, giving Frankie his first road experience and first chance to perform before large crowds. Of the experience, Frankie says, "I'll never forget it. I dug the music and the way they performed. Tina in particular just knocked me out. It was amazing how she would go out and grab an audience - that's what I wanted to do. So I would just sit back and take notes. I learned a lot."
Shortly thereafter, Frankie moved to Houston. During this early period in Texas, Frankie worked with the people he admired most - Big Mama Thornton, Buddy Ace, Bobby Bland, Gatemouth Brown, Ted Taylor, Al Braggs, Junior Parker, O.V. Wright, James "Thunderbird" Davis and Joe Hinton.
Don Robey, the legendary owner of the historic Duke and Peacock labels, heard Frankie in a Houston nightclub and offered him a contract. In 1963, as Little Frankie Lee, he made his first recording, "Full Time Love". The song was an answer to Little Johnny Taylor's "Part Time Love". Frankie's next record was "Taxi Blues," which was to become a smash hit, as well as Frankie's signature song.
He started working with guitarist Albert Collins, and the two became good friends. "Albert was like a big brother to me," says Frankie. They left Texas together in 1965, and Frankie stayed on the road and sang with Albert's band for the next six years. By 1971, Frankie Lee was in Los Angeles, working with his cousin Johnny "Guitar" Watson. Frankie recorded for Elka Records, with Johnny "Guitar" producing.
In 1973, Frankie moved to Oakland, the West Coast home of the blues. In the late 70's, a young guitarist by the name of Robert Cray played in Frankie's back-up band. After touring up and down the West Coast, Frankie landed a contract with Hightone Records, for whom he recorded The Ladies And The Fees, an album which received high critical acclaim.
Frankie Lee relocated to New York in 1988 where he performed regularly at clubs such as the Ritz, the Lone Star, and Tramps, and worked in similar clubs from Boston to Florida. He recorded his next album with Doug Newby and the Bluzblasters, featuring a guest performance by Lucky Peterson. Entitled Sooner Or Later, it was released by the Flying Fish (now Rounder) label in 1992.
Frankie's career has been revitalized in the last few years with the resurgence of interest in the blues and as more young people search out the roots of rock and roll. Frankie has performed at most of the major American blues festivals, and has always found an appreciative audience in Europe, touring successfully there seven times. He's also had a number of successful tours of Japan. Frankie observes, "The cultural attitudes towards the blues are really different from country to country, but the music always appeals".
Going Back Home demonstrates that Frankie's equally adept at smooth uptown soul material as well as tough back-in-the-alley blues. He's backed by a superb musical cast, including old friends Bobby Murray of the Etta James Band and Jim Pugh of the Robert Cray Band. Frankie, whom the New York Daily News called "one of the most energetic blues voices of any time or place," stated, "It's one of the best things I've ever done."