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
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 -
Mama Thornton, Buddy Ace, Bobby Bland,
Gatemouth Brown, Ted Taylor, Al
Braggs, Junior Parker, O. V. Wright, James "Thunderbird" Davis and Joe
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
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."