New Orleans-based blues man Bryan Lee plays in Wolcott Sunday
Vail CO, Colorado
Curtis Loew may have spent a lifetime playing the black man’s blues in the Lynyrd Skynyrd classic “The Ballad of Curtis Loew,” but Bryan Lee has spent a lifetime playing the blind man’s blues. Blind from the age of eight due to complications from damaged retinas during birth, Lee started playing guitar at the age of 11 in the small town of Two Rivers, Wisconsin, and eventually began playing gigs in Chicago. But in the end, Lee found a home in New Orleans, where nobody seemed to care that he was a white, blind guy playing the blues.
Now in his mid-’60s, Lee has released 10 studio albums (with another planned to drop next year), played the Jay Leno show with fellow blues guitarist Kenny Wayne Shepherd, and toured America and the world with his Chicago-style brand of blues.
We talked with Lee at the beginning of a two-week stint in Colorado. He plays the Wolcott Yacht Club Sunday. He talked about the state of music in New Orleans after two hurricanes and the advantages of being a blind musician.
Bryan Lee: The first time I came through here I was kind of surprised because people told me ‘well you know, there’s a lot of nice venues but there’s not a lot of blues.’ Well, I don’t know if it’s just our group and there’s something that we do that they like, but when I was working on Bourbon Street I’d see people from Colorado and they would always say ‘man, you got to come out there, it’s beautiful country and people would love to come and hear you play.’ And I mean we have been successful everywhere … I’ve been really lucky out here.
BL: Good music has taken a while to come back. I mean the first music that was really being played again live was top 40 and headbanger kind of stuff, hip-hop. But jazz and the blues was really kind of not there at all hardly. Over, I would say, this last year from about right around Jazz Fest time it started to pick up and the economy in the Quarter was doing a lot better and I found that we had more success … people come together in times of hardship like this. Say what you want to say about politics and everything, but when the gauntlet falls down, people come together.
BL: It’s a melting pot of cultures. You have the influx of Africa, Caribbean Islands, the Spanish, the French, the Native Americans, the slaves, it’s just melded together and there’s so much cool music. I’m kind of a history buff, but also I like good food, and I don’t like snow and cold weather, I never did … the neat thing about New Orleans, it’s like a love/hate thing because there’s always something going on. It’s a very soulful city. It’s old, and a little dirty, but it’s cool and the thing down there that I like (is) it doesn’t matter who you are, people don’t care if you’re a little weird.
BL: I think it was being blind and being alone a lot, because kids, they don’t want to play with somebody who’s different. I couldn’t ride a bike, I couldn’t play baseball and I couldn’t do a lot of the things kids do, so I gravitated to music. It was like the radio was my friend. My mother was a little musical and my grandmother, and I just kind of took it from there. They let me sit in my room and bang away on the guitar, nobody cared, it was okay to make that noise.
BL: Yes. I am because the fact that my skin isn’t black and yet this music seems to be so natural for me, that has been a problem. It’s never been the performers, not the players, because we all go to the same church … there’s so many things in this art form that would really be hard to explain. It’s just there. It’s a beauty, it’s a divine music. What’s cool about it is it was created from pain and suffering, but it brings you joy.
BL: That’s a real hard one. I would say everyone should hear the original T-Bone Walker recording of ‘Stormy Monday Blues’ because that’s been a song that’s withstood the test of time … there was this album that came out in the early ’60s by B.B. King and it’s called ‘Blues is King’ … another great record that I love is the Luther Allen live album from the Chicago Blues Fest, that is killer.
BL: Ear-wise, yeah, I think I have an advantage because I can hear something and I got it, it’s good in the studio. You need to develop your ear anyway … now, as an entertainer out on the stage, I think I have a real advantage because if the place is empty or if the place is full, my whole thing is I just want to play my music as good as I can. I can imagine that the place is full, that’s easy.
High Life writer Charlie Owen can be reached at 970-748-2939 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
What: Bryan Lee and the Blues Power Band.
When: Sunday at 11 a.m.
Where: Wolcott Yacht Club in Wolcott.
Cost: Call the Yacht Club.
More information: Call 970-926-3444 or visit http://www.wolcottyachtclub.com.