Girl in the Golden Atom
I've been following Bert Lee as a song-writer for half a century. When he first showed up on the village scene I think he was all of sixteen, and he'd written a handful of very quirky little tunes that people just loved. He didn't have a lot of material or experience in front of audiences, but other musicians picked up on his originality, the quality of his guitar playing, and, as it developed, his really nice voice. He teamed up with a few other solo acts. I remember in particular a stretch where he had a duo with another very original dude named Ron Price. Then he teamed up with Richard Tucker and Cam Bruce, and these three brought a charming loosey-goosy style of rockabilly onto the scene and had quite a following. They recorded an album, toured around a little, but then sadly couldn't find a market niche and dissolved. Bert went solo again, and vanished away. When I asked him what he had done during this time he simply told me, "studying." And it was a fact his singing and guitar playing had gone up a few notches. Then he joined a western swing band called The Central Park Sheiks, and these guys became the hardest working unknown band on the New York scene for the next six years. They recorded an album on Flying Fish, and played just about every college on the Eastern seaboard. Again, however, they were just too original and uncategorizable, and the music industry was well on the way to becoming the boring numbered boxes thing that it is now. The Sheiks vanished, leaving many a saddened fan. Bert went to Key West and wrote and wrote. He played with every imaginable kind of ensemble you could imagine, from bluegrass to reggae. He teamed up with great players and just got better and better, a fact that he proved by releasing a self produced album every couple of years, something he's done ever since. The thing about Bert's albums, like his songs, is that there's no two alike. That really seems to piss off a lot of folks, but it doesn't seem to be something he's about to change. A few years ago he produced a lovely disk called Butterfly, a collection of cowboyish tunes that really made the rounds. On that disk were some fine originals and some re-imagined classics. In particular a tune of his called Cowboy from Boston tickled a lot of folks. This year (2006) he came up with something really exciting, a kind of explanation of who he is musically. Twelve original tunes, mostly brand new, that show his scope on the one hand, and what it is that makes all his different facets parts of the one gem that is his musical personality. If you really want to know who Bert Lee is, give a listen to The Girl in the Golden Atom. If he never does anything else, in time this will be something people will discover and it will make his place for him in music. But I have a sneaking feeling there's more to come. Joel Grimstead.