the twin handicaps of being white and from the Midwest, Bryan
Lee was born with the blues in his soul. That event occurred
in Two Rivers, Wisconsin, in 1943. Lee's eyes were damaged
at birth, and he was completely blind by the time that he
was eight years old. That didn't stop his musical education.
Presented with a guitar as a gift from his mother, he became
a diehard blues fan as he woodshedded along with tunes he
heard on the radio at night.
By the time he was eleven or twelve, he was staying up most
of the night (and sleeping through school the next day) to
listen to WLAC out of Nashville. He ordered records from the
station, and practiced along with them, too. By the time he
was thirteen, Lee was good enough to play in bands with older
musicians. In high school he worked with local cover bands,
and later began fronting his own group doing one-nighters
throughout the Midwest.
After school, Lee's burgeoning career took him to Washington
state, Milwaukee, and Chicago, but New Orleans was always
his spiritual home. After a 20-year road odyssey, he finally
made it to the Crescent City in 1982, exchanging second-hand
New Orleans blues for the real thing Bourbon Street.
formed his Jump Street Five, and began working at the Old
Absinthe House in the heart of the fabled French Quarter on
March 16, 1983 (his birthday). Playing five nights a week
for the next 14 years, they built a loyal following of blues
lovers in the intimate, dimly-lit room. Such music luminaries
as Eric Clapton, Johnny Winter, Sting, Robert Plant, Jimmy
Page and James Cotton dropped in at various times over the
years to jam with Bryan. The band has appeared at the Jazz
and Heritage Festival since the early 1980's, and has inspired
critical raves at the Montreal Jazz Festival as well. The
director/producer of the Jazz and Heritage Festival, Quint
Davis, called Lee and his band "one of the greatest blues
institutions that New Orleans has ever known."
1991, representatives from Justin Time Records dropped by
the Old Absinthe House bar to check out the music. As Bryan
recalls, "There was a seminar down here of independent
record companies and, of course, after the meetings everybody
went out and walked around the French Quarter. Bourbon Street
still holds that mystique for a lot of people. Anyway, the
folks from Justin Time were walking down Bourbon Street, heard
me playing, came in the club, and were just really knocked
out. A lot of people have approached me in the club about
recording, but these were the only ones who called me when
they said they were going to call me." Bryan debuted
on Justin Time with 1991's "The Blues Is ...". He
followed that up with "Memphis Bound" (1993), "Braille
Blues Daddy" (1994), and "Heat Seeking Missile"
Unfortunately, the current owner of the historic Old Absinthe
House has opted to lease the space out for conversion to a
pizza and daiquiri pub with a Hawaiian theme, complete with
plastic hula girls on the bar and thatched rooves over each
table. Lee is understandably upset about losing the connection
to his old stomping grounds.
a historical building that's been open since 1806 being turned
into some kind of theme bar to attract tourists," he
says. "There were all kinds of historic artifacts in
the place. Back in the 1800s, sailors would leave money up
on the wall with their names on it because they didn't know
if they would have any money when they returned. There are
business cards from people who challenged other people to
duels. All kinds of characters drank in that bar. Andrew Jackson
drank there, Jean Lafitte drank there. W.C. Fields left a
walking cane there. Mae West left a pair of her panties there.
There's a rich legacy connected to that place, and now its
gone. They came in with jackhammers, chopped up the bar, the
floor, everything. It's sacrilege. For me, it hurts because
I helped build that business."
the closing of the Old Absinthe House Bar, Bryan Lee and
his Jump Street Five have relocated to the Tropical Isle,
down the block on Bourbon Street, where they can be heard
Wednesday through Sunday. They are also gearing up for a
nationwide tour in support of their most recent album, "Live
At The Old Absinthe House Bar ... Friday Night." "I
think my playing has gotten better," says Lee, consistent
work always makes you stronger." As a result, to borrow
from one of Lee's own lyrics,"The blues IS Bryan Lee
and the Jump Street Five".
I cannot comment on this CD as I have yet to recieve a copy
for review, but I can assure you that if it's anything like
his previous efforts then it's got to be a killer.
Tracks; Palace Of The King, Louisiana Woman, Can't Get Enough,
Crawfish Lady, Why Did You Do It?, What You Gonna Do?,Noize
With The Boyz, Sweet And Beautiful Lady, Something's Wrong,
Winehead Woman, Chitlin's, & Kiss My Ass For A Change
at the Old Absinthe House Bar ... Saturday Night"
With Live At The Old Absinthe House Bar...Saturday Night,
New Orleans-based bluesman Bryan Lee has stepped up and
delivered an electrifying reminder of the power of live
blues. Like its companion ...Friday Night (Just 100-2),
...Saturday Night encapsulates Bryan at his best; bonding
with a raucous crowd, leading a crack band of some of New
Orleans' finest musicians, and storming through a set of
Chicago and Louisiana-stamped shuffles and slow burners.
Lee's enthusiasm is infectious; when he plays the Jerry
Beach-penned standard I'll Play The Blues For You it's a
burning declaration of his life's calling. One of the highlights
of this recording is the guest appearances from Mahogany
Rush guitarist Frank Marino, and rising Louisiana six-stringer
Kenny Wayne Shepherd. Shepherd is no mere hired hand for
this recording; Lee has been a mentor to the young star
since Kenny Wayne was a teenager. One listen to their heartfelt
interplay on Look On Yonder Wall is an audio snapshot of
two generations feeling the power of the blues.
at the Old Absinthe House Bar... Friday Night"
"Real blues people can really appreciate this album,"
says Bryan Lee of his fifth album for the Canadian Justin
Time label. "At least we aren't selling out like some
of the so-called blues records today that are so watered
Far from it. From its scorching opener, "Braille Blues
Daddy," to his passionate cover of Elmore James' "The
Sky Is Crying", to a mean version of Albert King's
"Crosscut Saw", and the freewheeling jam on B.B.
King's "Rock Me Baby" that closes out the sizzling
set, this spectacular live album documents Bryan Lee and
his Jump Street Five in full flight on a Friday night in
the heart of the French Quarter. Recorded at the Old Absinthe
House Bar on Bourbon Street, where Bryan and his band presided
five nights a week for the past 14 years, it captures the
great guitarist and vocalist at the peak of his powers.
He's also in some special company; with his Jump Street
Five grooving behind him, he's joined by Louisiana blues
rock guitar prodigy Kenny Wayne Shepherd, guitar chopsmeister
Frank Marino (from the '70s rock band Mahogany Rush) and
blues legend James Cotton, who adds his signature Chicago
honk to covers of "Five Long Years" and "Ain't
Doin' Too Bad."
Blues Is ....
Braille Blues Daddy
Heat Seeking Missile
Live at the Old Absinthe House Bar ... Friday Night
Live at the Old Absinthe House Bar ... Saturday Night
Six String Therapy