“As we was drivin' down, you know, the highway that's close around Clarksdale…Just before we's get to Clarks-dale…There was all these trees, all these vines. Listen to me real closely, all these vines seemed to cover the trees, the trees looked like they're dead. They're like it's night time, the ghosts all hanging around ya'. It's just like old bluesmen from Mississippi all dyin' out, there's just a few left. That's what inspired this [Full Moon Lightin'].”
Floyd Lee is, in his words, an “old original knock down drag out bluesman.” And his latest record, Full Moon Lightnin', sounds as though it is from a time and place when most bluesmen were not just vines creeping around trees. It is full of that same sound and spirit which still haunts the woods of the Mississippi delta. Recorded in Clarksdale, MS, in the same studio where greats such as Sonny Boy Williamson, Robert Nighthawk, BB King and Elvis Presley once played live for DJ Early Wright's blues show on WROX radio, it echoes the spirit of those past masters. After Floyd and his band cut their record there in 2003, the building was turned into a museum, its walls having resonated the 12 bar form for the last time. “[It's called] Full Moon Lightnin' because the moon is shining on those trees, and those are the souls of the dead bluesmen – the people that love the blues so much…Boy, that's a heartbreaker.”
Like his most recent record, Floyd himself is a product of Mississippi; he was born back in 1933 in Lamarck. When he was three months old, his mother gave him away because she could not provide for him, and he left the Delta region. Growing up in Memphis, Tennessee Floyd often got into trouble and eventually the woman who cared for him put him on a train with a sign hanging around his neck reading “Chicago”.
Floyd first began singing in a doo-wop group in the 1940's, but it was the blues that always attracted him. As a boy, he would watch his father play guitar and witnessed first hand the power it had over an audience, especially the women. Floyd recollects, “When I saw him and he be playing that music, them women be sittin' on his lap and stuff. Whoa!…That must be nice. I was just a little kid.” When his father wasn't around, Floyd would venture down to the basement and play his guitars.
Eventually, in the 1950's and 60's, Floyd was playing with blues legends like Jimmy Reed, regularly filling in for his sideman Eddie Taylor. Of those days he says, “I was one of those guys, you know, if your guy don't show up your gonna get that old man Floyd Lee play the guitar for ya.”Floyd has always been a “money maker” – whether it be shining shoes, playing guitar or playing cards. However, his longest running gig was working for 27 years as a doorman at an Upper West Side apartment building in New York where he became acquainted with people such as Morgan Freeman and Chaka Khan. Though he has since retired, he still lives in New York City and still plays around town from time to time. New York has never been a big blues town like Chicago or Memphis; nonetheless Floyd Lee has managed to leave his mark on its music scene. Since his arrival in New York City nearly 30 years ago, he has been playing in its subways. Although today musicians are a ubiquitous feature of the underground, back then Floyd was among the first. In fact, in the early 1980's, he was one of the founders of the Music Under New York program.
Although Floyd has been playing the blues his whole life, it was not until recently that his music has received widespread recognition. Guitarist and Amogola Records founder Joel poluck saw Floyd perform on cable television in the late 1990's, and soon Floyd was “roped in” to record his songs. The pair, along with Brad Vickers on bass and blues legend Sam Carr on drums, now perform and record under the Floyd Lee and His Mean Blues Band moniker. Joel has released two Floyd Lee albums on Amogola prior to 2004's “Full Moon Lightnin',” and they have performed in blues festivals around the world.
Other than his band, Floyd also sings with his girlfriend and muse Clara Edwards. He says, “I stole her out of the church to sing with me.” Floyd credits her with helping him to “keep keepin' on” through the tough times. One memorable show for the two of them was at a blues festival in Moscow on Clara's birthday when the thousands of people in the audience joined together to sing her “Happy Birthday”.
“When you go overseas like that, they just love ya; they just wanna touch ya -especially if you been doin' your own thing. There's a difference between playin' someone else's music and playin' your own with your own feelings… If you're a real true bluesman you can close your eyes and play some music, play your own stuff and you be feelin' it. Your fingers and your heart go together. And when that baby, even when a little baby is born, that baby got the blues. And if you don't believe it, watch that baby cry for that milk. When that baby cry for that milk, that's blues baby, that's the blues all over. I don't care what color, where you come from…blues is in you, it's all part of you. And that's why people love me no matter where I go,because I loved them before I got there.
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