By James Calemine
Born in Pontotoc, Mississippi, in 1937, Lee Gates moved to Milwaukee as a teenager where he’s been playing juke joints for over fifty years. Blues legend Albert Collins is his first cousin. After several rotations of this CD, it’s evident Gates’ playing evokes a genetic sound resembling his legendary cousin’s style.
Gates said of Collins, whom he met for the first time in 1974, “My daddy’s brother had a lot of kids out in there in Texas. I never met them as a child, but we all knew of each other. When Albert came to Milwaukee I showed him around and we did some gigs together. Every time he came to town we would go out and eat supper together. He was a good friend to me.”
This nine-song Music Maker recording stands as testimony to Gates’ fluid playing. One can only wonder why he’s remained undiscovered all these years. Last year, Tim Duffy, president of Music Maker Relief Foundation, became involved in helping Gates. Duffy’s organization assists over 70 musicians with instrument acquisition, tour support, life maintenance, medical, and emergency relief for poor southern artists.
Duffy explained in the liner notes the provenance of this Gates recording: “In October of 2003 Lee called me up and announced that he was coming to Hillsborough. I asked him what for and Lee replied, ‘to make a CD.’ I asked Lee if he didn’t mind going down to Alabama to record. Two days later Lee caught a greyhound to Huntsville, he missed a layover in Nashville and got in early the next morning and went straight to the studio with Ardie Dean (producer). Lee proclaimed the record done in three hours and was soon on the bus heading back home.”
The opening track, an instrumental, “Sweet Lucy’s Groove” sets the festive Friday-night tone for this forty-minute recording. Gates’ playing resembles his cousin in the high, wailing licks, heavy bottom beats, lyric-less jams like “You Gotta Love Me Baby”, “Lucy’s Voodoo”, “Lee’s Boogie”, “Lucy’s Crying” and “When Baby Got the Blues”.
Lee Gates & the Alabama Cotton Kings serve as another reason to seek out the indelible Music Maker Relief Foundation.