Dream Lucky Blues : Julia Lee©2008JCMarion


Julia Lee was born in October of 1902 in Boonville, Missouri. She grew up in the Kansas City area and was versed in music early on in her life beginning with a vocal role with a string trio led by her father. Her piano playing was also a plus, and one of her first professional jobs was as an intermission player at a local movie theater. After gaining a bit of notoriety singing at neighborhood gatherings and parties , she became a vocalist with another family member, her brother George. Originally George also led a trio but in the early twenties expanded the group into a full orchestra. George E. Lee and his Singing Novelty Orchestra was a territory band in and around the Kansas City area in the nineteen twenties and thirties. In 1923 the band recorded for the Okeh label but their efforts were never released. Four years later they recorded for the area label called Meritt Records with the songs "Meritt Stomp" and "Down Home Syncopated Blues". Both George and Julia shared the vocal chores with the band.

By the late nineteen twenties Lee had expanded the band to thirteen members. In 1929 and 1930 the band recorded for Brunswick Records. In 1934 Lee merged his band with another top Kansas City band, that of Benny Moten. By 1935 the Moten band had backed out of the association and they were taken over by pianist Count Basie. That year Julia Lee left the band after fifteen years and went out to try and succeed as a solo performer. George E. Lee soon retired from the music business as Julia began to find an audience in the Kansas City area. Through the late thirties and into the war years Julia Lee was a fixture on the K.C. music scene. One night in 1944 she was heard by Dave Dexter who was then a talent scout and producer for the relatively new Capitol Records label based in Los Angeles. He recorded Julia's version of the tune "You Can Come Over To My House Baby" as part of a "History Of Jazz" series. The song created such a positive reaction that she was soon signed to record for Capitol. Before her time at Capitol Julia recorded two sides for Mercury in Kansas City in early 1946. The musicians used on the session included Efferge Ware on guitar and Baby Lovett on drums under the leadershipof Tommy Douglas. "If It's Good" and "Show Me Missouri Blues" on # 8005, and "Lotus Blossom" with the Tommy Douglas band and "Dream Lucky Blues" with the trio on # 8013.

The first hit record for Julia Lee on the Capitol label was in late 1946 with the song "You Gotta Gimmee What 'Cha Got" on # 308. It was the first of many double entendre jump tunes that Lee became noted for. The song "Lies" was on the other side of the record. This is followed by "Julia's Blues" and "When A Woman Loves A Man" on # 320, and "Oh Marie" (a hit for Louis Prima) and "On My Way Out" on # 340. In the spring of 1947 Capitol issues "I'll Get Along Somehow" (later a hit for Ruth Brown) and "Young Girl Blues" on # 379. Capitol comes up with an offshoot label called Capitol American and Julia Lee is assigned to there and records "Since I've Been With You" and "A Porter's Love Song To A Chambermaid" on # 40008. That summer Julia gets her first pop music chart hit with "My Sin" featuring Red Norvo and Red Nichols. The record released on Capitol American on # 40056 was a top twenty five seller in the nation. Later in the year she topped that with "Snatch And Grab It" ("I Was Wrong" on the flip side) which sold more than five hundred fifty thousand copies and was a top twenty seller on the pop charts and a long standing number one on the R & B charts. Another release on Capitol American on #40028, it made Lee a recognized rhythm performer.

In early 1948 Julia Lee hit paydirt again with the tune "King Size Papa". The tune featuring Benny Carter and Dave Cavanaugh on saxes raced to the top of the R & B charts for the second consecutive number one for Lee. It also did quite well on the national pop charts reaching as high as number fifteen. The flip side song was the standard "When You're Smiling" and issued on Capitol American # 40082. Back on the regular Capitol label in the spring of the year "Crazy World" and "That's What I Like" is released on # 15060. "Wise Guys" and "All I Ever Do Is Wrong" on # 15106. In late August Julia records "Until The Real Thing Comes Along" and "Tell Me Daddy" on # 15144. In time for the holidays "Christmas Spirits" and "Lonely Christmas Blues" are released by Capitol. A high point for Julia Lee was a command performance at the Harry Truman White House along with her usual partner Baby Lovett. Starting out the year 1949 "Cold Hearted" and "Living Back Street" are released on # 15300. For most of the year Julia would remain in Los Angeles where she played many club dates at places such as Ciro's and The Tiffany Lounge. In April Julia hits the pop charts again with "I Didn't Like It The First Time", subtitled "The Spinach Song" to resist the censor's ire. The flip side features the song "Sit Down And Drink It Over" and is on Capitol # 15367. The record gets into the top twenty five sellers in the country. That was the last time that Julia cracks the pop charts, but there are many more recordings for Capitol. In September "Tonights The Night" and "After Hours" is recorded for Capitol on # 70013. This is followed by "You Ain't Got It No More" and "Oh Chuck It" on # 70031.

In early February of 1950 "Ain't It A Crime" and "Don't Save It Too Long" (subtitled "The Money Song" ) is issued by Capitol on # 838 (another new numbering system). This is followed by "Decent Woman Blues" and "Do You Want It?" on # 956. Confusing listeners a bit more was a re-release of "Snatch And Grab It" with "Cold Hearted Daddy" on # 13323. In May of the year Miss Lee offers the old standard "Nobody Knows You When You're Down And Out" coupled with "Nobody Knows My Heart" on # 1009. In July "My Man Stands Out" and "Don't Come Too Soon" is released by Capitol on # 1111. "My Man" becomes a solid R & B hit but does not dent the pop charts. In September Julia is back at it with "Pagan Love Song" and "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles" on # 1148. In November "Bleeding Heart Blues" and "It Won't Be Long" on # 1252 is issued.

In February of 1951 Capitol released a new version of "Lotus Blossom" with "Pipe Dreams" on # 1376. Drummer Baby Lovett, Julia Lee's long time partner in music also had a new Capitol record out that month with Joshua Johnson - "Days" and "Ramblin' Woman" on # 1396. In March "Ugly Poppa" and "I Know It's Wrong" on Capitol # 1432. That June "Mama Don't Allow It" and "The Breeze (Blowing My Baby To Me)" on # 1589 is available. In October "Scream In The Night" / "If You Haven't Gone Away" on # 1798. Early in 1952 Capitol releases "Charmaine" and "Out In The Cold Again" on # 1896. In May of 1952 Julia begins an extended engagement at the Cuban Room in Kansas City. In September "Last Call" and "Going To Chicago Blues" are released by Capitol on # 2203. The song "Last Call" might have been a bulletin announcement for Julia Lee as she recorded very little after 1052. She was still a very viable musical performer as shown by the May 1953 Pittsburgh Courier reader's poll of musical performers. This famous poll places Julia Lee as a runner up in the category of Female Blues Singers to number one Ruth Brown. For most of her recordings for Capitol Records the backing band was known as her "Boyfriends". This group contained many accomplished veteran jazz players on different sessions including Benny Carter and Dave Cavanaugh on sax, Vic Dickenson on trombone, Red Nichols, Ernie Royal, and Bobby Sherwood on trumpet, Jay McShann on piano, Nappy Lamare and Efferge Ware on guitar, bass players Red Callendar, Harry Babasin, Walter Page, and Billy Hadnott, Red Norvo on vibes, and of course, Baby Lovett on drums.

For the rest of the mid fifties Julia Lee performed at many clubs in the Kansas City area, often at the Cuban Room. In 1958 she went out to the West Coast again, and in December of that year she passed away in San Diego at the age of fifty eight. She was an early star of the R & B years during the late forties and an engaging pianist and vocalist. Following in her path were Hadda Brooks, Camille Howard, Nellie Lutcher, and so many others. Her music is available on cd recordings that keep alive the energetic and bouncy music of this remarkable performer.

Many of the available cds cover the same ground and period of time. "A Proper Introduction" on the label with the same name has 20 tracks, "Kansas City Calling" for Jasmine in 2005 with 23 tracks, "Snatch And Grab It" on EPM Musique with 22 tracks, and "Gotta Gimee What 'Cha Got" on President in 2003 are in that category. More specific are two cds on Classics R & B. "Julia Lee : 1927-1946", and "Julia Lee : 1947". The best collections covering the overall career of Julia Lee are "Kansas City's First Lady Of The Blues" for JSP in 2002 with 48 tracks on two cds. The ultimate set is by (as usual) Bear Family from Germany. "Kansas City Star" is a five cd box set with 109 tracks covering the entire career of Julia Lee. Through these recordings this wonderful performer shines on brightly.

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