"David, the saxophone may not be your instrument."
With those gentle words, Lee Allen convinced me to try playing guitar or harmonica or piano or kazoo, anything but the tenor sax. I was about 15 and Lee had already given me a couple of sax lessons when at the end of our last lesson he made his pronouncement on my saxophone abilities. I was a bit crushed to have my sax hero tell me that I stunk but seeing how Lee was one of the greatest R+B/rock and roll sax players ever, how could I argue with him. Eventually I found my way to the electric guitar and have been happy ever since.
For those of you who've never heard the name Lee Allen, you have certainly heard his saxophone artistry for the past several decades on the radio and anywhere else music is played. Lee played the wonderful, melodic sax solos on most of the classic hits by Fats Domino and Little Richard as well as legendary recordings by R+B luminaries like Professor Longhair, Dr. John, Huey "Piano" Smith, Lloyd Price, Smiley Lewis, Big Joe Turner, Etta James, Amos Milburn, Shirley & Lee, and just about anyone else who passed through New Orleans in the 1950s and the early 60s. Along with fellow saxmen King Curtis and Sam "The Man" Taylor, Lee was one the founding fathers of rock and roll saxophone. If there's any justice, Lee Allen will someday be inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame where he deserves to be as much as any of the other inductees.
In honor of my old saxophone teacher, I recently went into Craig Parker Adams' Winslow Court Studio in Hollywood and recorded a guitar version of Lee's 1957 sax instrumental hit, "Walking With Mr. Lee." Besides the always tough Guilty Men rhythm section of Steve Mugalian on drums and Gregory Boaz on bass, I was very happy to be joined on the recording by keyboard whiz Skip Edwards (some of you may know Skip from his work with Dwight Yoakam, Johnny Rivers and on my King Of California CD). I tried my best to do a note for note version of Lee's song but in a couple of spots a few of my own licks popped up but I don't think Lee would be too upset. If you dig this song, I highly recommend searching for Lee's original recording as well as checking out the many tracks he recorded with countless artists over the years. You'll hear the art of a true American Music original.
It's a very long story, that I don't have space to go into here, about how Lee came to be living in Los Angeles and then how he became a mentor, role model, teacher and life-long friend to my brother Phil and me. From our early teenage days through our adult years, when we were blessed to have him as a member of our band The Blasters, Lee did his best to instruct us not only musically but also in the hard realities of surviving the treacherous music business. For all that I'm forever in his debt. I'm also eternally in his debt for getting me to stop trying play tenor sax. Lord knows where I would have wound up if I followed that road. Probably pumping gas somewhere.
- Dave Alvin, Jan 6, 2009