b. John Arthur Lee, 24 May 1915, Mt. Willing, Alabama, USA. Few post-war country blues tracks merit the description ‘masterpiece’, but John Lee’s July 1951 recording of ‘Down At The Depot’ deserves the accolade. In essence a standard train blues, it is elevated by his propulsive slide guitar playing and keening vocal. Lee came from a musical family, in which all seven brothers, a sister and both parents played guitar. However, the significant influence on his playing was Uncle Ellie Lee, renowned in Evergreen, Alabama, as its finest exponent of slide technique, using a knife rather than a bottleneck. Both ‘Down At The Depot’ and the equally impressive ‘Blind Blues’ bear witness to his tutelage. Lee was also influenced by Brewton musician Levi Kelley. He supplemented practical instruction with the records of Blind Blake, Blind Lemon Jefferson and Leroy Carr. Moving to Montgomery in 1945, he soon had, by his own estimation, ‘the town sewed up’ when it came to playing at house parties and suppers. In 1951 he heard talent scout Ralph Bass advertise for talent on WMGY radio; four of the six songs he recorded were released on two Federal singles, representing some of the last instances of country blues being issued on a major label. Lee retired from active performance in 1960. He was rediscovered in 1973 after a three-year search and recorded sessions in Montgomery and Cambridge, Massachusetts, at which he revealed an equally individual piano style.
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