People are drawn to Wes Lee’s personal brand of blended traditions and many styles, they know that music does not come from the head, but from a deeper place. And they know that this music moves them. They see it—no, they feel it—when they are in the presence of Wes Lee performing at any of his various venues. They might not be able to tell you exactly what it is about Wes Lee’s music that touches them, but they can tell you that they like it. Whether the person is caught by his self-taught guitar skills of string bending inspired by some of the forefathers of blues, or if his classic themes of loss, women, and drinking pull them in, a person simply feels the passion that drives the man to do what he does.
Imagine what it’s like today to hold fast to the soul-driven pursuit of performing music in the competitive market and the age of technology. Knowing that more promoting can be done sitting at a computer screen learning to stream live music from one’s living room into the homes of people around the world, yet also knowing a nudge from deep inside says something else. The soul’s voice says to get out there with the people and sing the blues. That’s what today’s musicians are up against. The audiences are tougher, as fewer and fewer people are relying on soul-felt music choices and are instead erroneously following the mainstream and media which consistently tells everyone what is “good” music, and what is not.
For musician Wes Lee and his nearly life-long expanse of generating music, he admits, “I didn’t choose to play the blues, the blues chose me.” Late night song writing, countless shows across the country, driving city to city, and a thousand empty bottles, all the while holding tightly to the realization that he is supposed to do this.
“It’s almost like a calling,” Wes Lee admits, “because there’s nothing inside your head that would say, ‘Yes, get on the road and do what you love’ because that’s not where the blues reside. Not in your head, but more like in your soul.”
Admittedly he says it’s hard to keep up with a lot of the musicians on the scene and yet he manages to play over two hundred dates a year. What sets him apart from those others is his drive to make a personal connection. He is always looking to reach that one person in the next audience that makes the whole thing worth it because he knows that what flows through him is alive and well within others.
His early start as a trombone player, following his dad’s lead, established a stage presence that is not easily forgotten. After years touring as Mr. Tone with the Blues Funk Revival (1997-2002), he segued out of Mississippi and into St. Louis following the call of the music. After three years and a suitcase full of lyrics born from those experiences, he returned to Mississippi to reignite what sustained him before, only this time, he showed us Wes Lee, the man.
Playing in a variety of venues alone or with as many members of the band for which occasion calls, Wes Lee is a man of many talents. He admits that he pulls from not only blues and funk, but also such diverse genres as rockabilly, and shyly admits behind his hand in a whisper—disco. Many events call for him to deepen his breadth and widen his range to reach the masses. He candidly states that if he could belt out the top forty, he might try that, but it’s just not in him. He has to stay the course.
In addition to such huge names as BB King as inspiration, he turns to life around him as well. Wes Lee states that music can be made from and found all around us. His song “Angel Eyes” which was written following the 9/11 tragedy, is the one that caught the recent attention of the American Cancer Society, who then commissioned him to write a survivor song, “The Dance,” as well. Both songs were performed in Meridian, MS during the Luminaria Ceremony, which is the essence of what the major fundraising event Relay For Life is all about: a time to honor those who lost the cancer battle and to uplift those who continue to fight the battle.
They call it blues for a reason.
Many of Wes Lee’s original lyrics echo the timeless themes of the human condition. “Such and Such” is a new song that reminisces of easier times long ago where things were more carefree; “Help Me Up” reminds us all that we are so much stronger when we have the people we love on our side, and “Backbone Slip” takes us right back to the whole reason that Wes Lee writes and performs music—soul to soul—with the lyrics, “… Music fills her soul / You know she ain’t on no trip / She just wants to let her backbone slip …”
Lyrics alone cannot explain the passion Wes Lee puts into his music, but if you are in his audience, you know exactly why you are there: He reaches a place so deep within, it’s no wonder he was chosen to play the blues. He is truly one of the few original blues singer/songwriters of this time.