Saturday, December 29, 2007

Singing The Praises Of An Unsung Genius...Tha Artivist Reports...

Video: Larry Lee - Mastermind (Unreleased Woodstock Performance)

Video: Larry Lee - Gypsy Woman (Unreleased Woodstock Performance)

The Unsung Genius Of A Memphis Guitar Legend

Larry Lee (right) and Jimi Hendrix get in sync. Their music ties extend to their band days in Nashville.

Memphis Guitar Legend Larry Lee Was The Link Between Jimi Hendrix & Al Green.

Hendrix, Lee And Green By R2C2H2

Underappreciated genius traveled the streets of Memphis in the form of Lawrence Harold “Larry” Lee Jr. Some say he had the raw talent of a star, but chose to remain in the background with his rhythm guitar.

To say that Lee was the link between music icons Jimi Hendrix and Al Green is simply telling the truth about one of the many great “unknowns” who have called Memphis home.

Lee, 64, knew he had stomach cancer, and he died on Oct. 29 after a long bout with it.

“Larry should have a brass note on Beale Street,” said Memphis businessman Mabra Holeyfield, who once played trumpet alongside Lee.

“He was not a person who sought recognition. He helped other musicians. He was a very giving person. He was always content to stay in the background but everybody knew he was a great musician…He does deserve a lot more than he has received.”
Rev. Ronnie Williams, one of Lee’s thick-and-thin friends, is convinced that now is the right time for Lee to start getting his recognition.

“The real greatness of a man starts coming the day when he passes,” said Williams. “Larry’s greatness is now blooming.”

The years yielded many happy moments for Larry Lee and his wife, Jackie.

In The Beginning

Lee started as an ambitious and talented songwriter at Stax when he was just a teen attending Hamilton High School in South Memphis. “What Can It Be” and “A Woman Needs The Love of Man” are among the hit songs he penned for Stax’s popular vocal group, The Astors

Tennessee State University in Nashville beckoned when Lee decided to continue his education. In his senior year, Lee walked away from TSU to find his musical voice in the club venues and chitlin’ circuit of Nashville.

He formed a band that eventually drew the interest of an eccentric, skinny, Seattle, Wash., kid who joined the band as the second guitar. The kid was Hendrix, a recently discharged member of the legendary military parachute unit, the 101st Airborne a.k.a. Screaming Eagles stationed at Fort Campbell on the Tennessee-Kentucky border.

Lee and Hendrix performed often at legendary Nashville venues such as The New Era Club together. When Aretha Franklin and other popular musical artists toured the Nashville area, Lee and Hendrix often performed backup.

The Woodstock Experience

The bond between Hendrix and Lee proved strong enough to withstand the challenges of longevity. Several years beyond Nashville, Hendrix, who had formed his own band, asked Lee to join him in upstate New York for the Woodstock Music and Art Fair of 1969, a four-day event that drew 450,000 people and became a cultural icon.

Lee had just returned from the Vietnam War two weeks earlier when his old Nashville music-running buddy invited him to join his Gypsy Sun and Rainbows band. Hendrix’s performance is now the stuff of legend and Lee was on rhythm guitar.

The band was short lived. Lee did record and perform on a few memorable tracks, including singing leads on the soul ballad “Mastermind,” as well as the hypnotic and melodic “Gypsy Woman” – a song originally written for The Impressions and which Hendrix and Lee had learned to perform from the soul master Curtis Mayfield when Lee and Hendrix toured with The Impressions and The Marvelettes (Motown’s first female group) in their Chitlin’ Circuit days.

Larry Lee took the stage with many groups and musicians.

A Friend’s View

Mabra Holeyfield went to Hamilton High School with Larry Lee. They met playing WDIA Baseball. Lee played for Elliston Heights; Holeyfield played for Castalia Height.

In addition to baseball, both loved music. Holeyfield, who played trumpet, recorded several times at Stax as a studio session musician when he was 15 and 16. He continued his music interests playing in the Tennessee State University band. Lee, a gifted athlete as well as talented musician, played baseball at TSU

“Larry was self taught and a very, very good musician,” recalls Holeyfield. “Larry was the lead guitarist in a band that played in the clubs of Nashville in the early sixties…This band would go on the road on the weekends to places like Clarksville,Tn., Huntsville, Ala.; Paris, Tenn. and other place. . . .

“Jimi would come down from Fort Campbell, Kentucky to play with the band from time to time. After the service he joined the band…He played behind Larry…We called him little Jimi.”

Hendrix was a good musician but Larry was the musician at the time,” said Holeyfield.

“Larry got drafted during the Vietnam War and left town. . . .Jimi decided he wanted to go to New York and be famous, that is what he told us. . . .Jimi obviously got to be very famous,” said Holeyfield

“When Larry came out of the service Jimi was very huge internationally… .Larry teamed up with Jimi at that point, toured with him and he was at Woodstock with Jimi… .For some reason Larry left the group at that point and came back home to Memphis… .Shortly after that Jimi died.”

Elmo & The Shades, including Larry Lee (right), on Beale Street

The Al Green Connection

Back in Memphis, Lee hooked up with Al Green becoming Green’s music director and personal guitarist at the Willie Mitchell-led Hi Records. The association would last for more than 30 years.

Green covered one of Lee’s original compositions “Judy” among others. With Green, Lee was able to perform all over the world and on television, including “The Johnny Carson Show.”

“We Lost A Great Soldier.”

Memphis music legend Howard Grimes said Lee kept a smile on him all the time

“He was very business about his music, playing his guitar. He was one of the finest guitar players that I had ever worked with…I loved him as a friend as well as working with him on stage because he was like no other guitar player…He had his own style.”

Grimes recalled his last visits with Lee, who told him that he no longer had enough strength or life in his fingers to pull the strings of his guitar.

“We lost a great soldier, great guitar player… I always like to remember someone by not looking at the life passed but at the life that was,” said Grimes. “And I will always remember him the way the rest of his colleagues, friends that he worked with will. It was always a joy and lots of fun. . . .

“I know he’s in the right place playing for “The Mastermind,” the angels….They can use him there because his work is done here,” said Grimes.

“He was a great man, a great human being, a great musician and that’s the way I like to leave it.”

(Ron Herd II, also known as R2C2H2 Tha Artivist, hosts the Internet radio show “Tha Artivist Presents... W.E. A.L.L. B.E. Radio” at His Web site is

See Also W.E. A.L.L. B.E. News & Radio Special...

If Memphis Could Talk Part 3~Singing The Unsung Genius Of Larry Lee: Memphis Soul Music Legend & Jimi Hendrix's Best Friend

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