Sowell (born July 8, 1947, Memphis, Tennessee) is an American
musician, pianist and composer. He spent much of his early years playing
rockabilly piano in the late 1950s, playing organ in rock and roll bands in
the 1960s and playing piano in numerous country music bands in the 1970s,
1980s and 1990s. A Mid-South Fair Winner in 1966, Sowell was inducted into
the Rockabilly Hall of Fame in 2002. In 1994, he went out as a solo artist.
As a pianist and composer, Sowell has recorded 8 albums, crossing many
genres of music, from jazz, pop, rock and roll, honky tonk and blues to
country music, gospel and easy listening.
The following Memphis musicians were all part of bands with Sowell during
the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s or 1990s: Barry Sowell (Amazing Rhythm Aces), Bobby
Whitlock (Eric Clapton/George Harrison),
Bill Humble (Elvis Presley/Tom Jones), Danny Fitzgerald (Johnny Rodriguez),
David Miller (Bill Black/U2), Eddie Slusser (Jerry Lee Lewis/Hank Williams
Jr), Fred Prouty (Charlie Rich), Glenn Childress (Lonestar), Jack Holder
(Black Oak Arkansas), Jim Gammell (Eddie Bond),
Robert Johnson (The
Rolling Stones/ZZ Top), Ronnie Scaife (Neil
Diamond), and Roy Yeager (Crackerjacks/Lobo/Atlanta Rhythm Section/Ronnie
His birth name is Robert G. Lee Sowell. He was named after a famous Southern
Baptist preacher, Dr Robert G. Lee. When Sowell got drafted during the
Vietnam War, he dropped the G and became Robert Lee Sowell. In music, his
stage name has always been Bobby or Bobby Lee. Growing up in Memphis, Sowell
had a lot of diversified musical influences. Early influences included Hank
Williams, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins and Muddy Waters. But what really got
his attention were the piano players of that day, Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats
Domino, Ray Charles, Roger Williams and Floyd Cramer. Sowell met Floyd
Cramer when he was 16 years old and that experience really had a lasting
effect on his music. On the family side, his Father played harmonica and
piano by ear and his Mother sang, played the guitar and sung on the radio in
Chattanooga, Tennessee in the 1940s. They used to have regular family
sing-a-longs, inviting area musicians to join in. Those early rock and roll
years, along with being subjected to the sounds of rockabilly, honkytonk,
blues, gospel and his Mother's country music had an influence on Sowell's
music creativity and can be heard in his music style throughout his career.
About the time Sowell was 12 years old, honkytonk and rockabilly music was
really thriving in Memphis and he started playing in bars and nightclubs
with much older musicians. They used to sneak him in the back door and hide
him behind an upright piano where no one could see how young he was. Sowell
also played a lot of Sock Hops and actually joined his first band in 1959,
called 'The Red Notes'. They were an all instrumental group. His parents'
house hosted many jam sessions for area musicians. Many successful
professional musicians have come out of Frayser suburb of Memphis and Sowell
has picked with most of them.
Around the age of 16 the British Invasion meant Sowell had to adapt to a new
kind of music, in which the organ was a more prominent instrument than the
piano. Sowell played in numerous groups in the 60s. In 1966 Sowell won the
Mid-South Fair and was scheduled to appear on the Ted Mack Original Amateur
Hour on CBS Television, but before he could go there, he got drafted during
the Vietnam War and his musical career was put on hold. After the war and a
bout with alcoholism, Sowell got back on the right track. He returned to his
first love, the piano, playing and recording in an easy listening style
Sowell spent six decades performing music professionally from 1959 to the
present day. In 2010, he formed a new blues band 'Coldwater Revival' and
actively is performing and recording new music. He helps other new and
upcoming artists through association with New Deal Music, a Memphis based
artist and development company, specializing in new raw talent.
As a born again Christian and Vietnam veteran, Sowell also plays organ at
his local church and is active in veteran's organizations, supporting U.S.
troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.