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Music Review: Lee Gates – Touring With Lucy

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Lee Gates has Mississippi Mud running through his veins. He also has blues genes, since he’s a first cousin to Albert Collins. If Lee isn’t a true-blue, Mississippi Delta bluesman, then nobody can carry that moniker.

But Lee isn’t just a bluesman. He’s also a Luther Allison-style blues rocker from Pontotoc, Mississippi. Lee hasn’t had any of the breaks that many other less-skilled blues-rockers have had in spite of his blazing guitar work and good writing skills. He’s had several brushes with greatness, coming close to the golden ring, but never quite reaching it. But he’s most certainly not lacking the talent to still reach it. Maybe this time around.

Lee took a liking to the blues while still quite young, seven or eight, to be exact. He regularly listened to BB King, John Lee Hooker, and Muddy Waters, and to a show out of Memphis called Randy’s Record Shop, picking up a lesson here and there from all the other blues players of the day. On top of that he got musical instruction from his parents, both of whom played blues and country blues. He also occasionally hung out with a group of white guys who played country music, so Lee learned that as well.

Lee moved to Milwaukee in his early 20s, and has lived in that city for most of his life, other than a couple of absences. He’s played all throughout the Midwest, plus he’s played in California, Kansas, Europe, Alabama, and a few other places. While in Milwaukee, he also played with Sonny Boy Williamson, who also lived in Milwaukee at the time.

The Lucy in the CD title is Lee’s guitar, and Touring With Lucy is Lee’s third CD with Music Maker, which is based in North Carolina. Touring With Lucy has nine tracks totaling 54 minutes and change. It starts out with up-tempo blues shuffle, “Meet You on the Other Side of Town.” His second selection, “I Can Hear Blues in My Head,” is a similar tempo with a long instrumental lead-in. “I’m Leaving You Woman” follows in an easygoing, slow blues with a familiar theme, and also with a lengthy instrumental lead-in. The tempo picks up little in the next cut, then slows down in the fifth track, a long, loping instrumental moan, six-and-a-half minutes. The pace picks up when Lee gets on “Highway 94,” a Chicago-style blues, which is appropriate since Highway 94 leads to Chicago.

Lee’s voice seems to have lost some of its strength and mellisonant timbre, but I can personally vouch for the strength of his usually dulcet voice the last time I heard him play live, about two years ago in Milwaukee. When not playing paying gigs in the area, you can always find him at one or two of the many weekly Blues Jams going on around town, as well as many outlying towns. For a “small-market” town, about a half-million, Milwaukee has an amazingly active and vibrant music scene, with hundreds of establishments offering live entertainment seven nights a week. Name your musical poison and you’ll find it here.

Lee’s latest CD is currently available through Music Maker Relief Foundation, which offers a wide variety of benevolent services to over a hundred roots musicians, plus it offers a large line of musical treats.

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About Lou Novacheck