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Moving Forward with Lisa Lee

I normal years, I manage to run into Lisa Lee performing quite a bit. She’s busy, all around the area as one of the clear favorites. The last time I ran into Lisa Lee I was on a “couples” date at a sushi joint with my good bros, Richie Melito, Phil Smith, and our lovely ladies. It’s always nice to be able to catch up with music pals outside of the green room, so-to-speak.

Since that time Covid has made its presence felt and I haven’t seen very many friends at all. For Lisa Lee, this subject becomes a personal one. Nonetheless, it remains a temporary one as it all gives way to the bigger, more important subject of the fact that she’s ready to rock — with bookings on the calendar and an original album in the works.

Lisa Lee is hard to miss. She’s the vivacious redhead with the sultry, soulful voice wrapped in a blues tonality. Lisa is known for performing a wide variety of popular hits throughout the decades. Adept with a variety of musical genres, Lisa Lee delivers a setlist representing Classic Rock, Modern Country, Classic Country, Oldies, Blues, Ballads, Pop, Jazz, and more. And in my recent conversation with her, she’s more than excited to have her original material in the works.

Chuck Schiele: How did you get started in music? How long have you been playing?

Lisa Lee: I started singing and playing guitar around 8 or 9 years of age. I also played piano, organ, violin, and any other instrument that I could get my hands on, but I really loved the guitar and still play it today. I got started in a band when I was 16 years old. I remember a time where I tagged along with my musician boyfriend to a music store to buy guitar strings. As we were checking out, the guy at the register said, “Oh, wow, is this your new girlfriend; I bet she can sing. Our female singer just quit and we have months of gigs booked.” I said “No”, but at the same time my boyfriend said, “Yes! she can sing and she’s really good”. In reality, I was too terribly shy to sing in front of anyone including my boyfriend.

So I ended up joining a band that night. We traveled up and down the East Coast playing the hotel circuit and clubs. I recall waking up in a hotel not knowing where we were because we traveled so much. It was a lot of fun and a great experience for a teenager.

CS: Wow. What a great story. I’m glad somebody said, “Yes!” And now that you’re more than embedded in the fabric of CNY music, how would you characterize your music?

LL: When I sing at most venues, I cover a wide variety of styles including rock, blues, country, pop, R&B, and even some jazz standards. My original music covers many genres as well; I may have a country tune in my head, a funky upbeat song, or a slow love song. Growing up in a house of eight sisters and a Mom who sang, music was always playing in our home and I was exposed to many kinds of music from the 1940s to 60’s and 70’s music.
CS: What are some of the projects you’ve been involved with throughout your career?

LL: For the last several years, I’ve been playing a lot of duo and trio gigs, so I missed out when asked to participate in collaborations with fellow musicians because I was so busy with bookings. But this year, as performances have almost come to a halt, I’m ready to be involved. And it’s always fun to get to see my fellow musician friends again. Past musical involvements I enjoyed were Ridgestock at The Ridge Tavern, CNY Women In Music, which I created in 2010, and now Gold Dust Gypsies Fleetwood Mac Tribute Band.

CS: It’s been a healthy career for you. What are some of the events or episodes that stand out the most in your mind?

LL: In 2019, I started a Fleetwood Mac tribute band called Gold Dust Gypsies with some of my favorite fellow musicians including Diana Jacobs, Ed Gorham, Ben Shearer, SkipShawn Philippon, Dan Morison, and Leo, my husband. This project is something I have wanted to do for a long time because when I was younger, many people told me that I sounded like Stevie Nicks. Before the pandemic, we were looking forward to playing larger venues such as concerts, theaters, ticketed venues, etc.

Our last highlight gig was at the Rome Capitol Theater. In Rome, we were treated like rock stars with our own dressing rooms, food and other perks. We had a professional promo video of that performance made, which is posted on our facebook page. We had a blast! Then, most performances stopped. Now, the Gold Dust Gypsies are looking forward to playing again this April 17 at Average Joe’s in Baldwinsville (and hopefully some others to follow.)

I also have my own band, Lisa Lee Band. In the past, we really enjoyed playing outdoor concerts like Taste of Syracuse, Oswego Harborfest, NYS Fair and hope to be back in these venues in the near future. My duo has performed many times at the VIP room at St. Joseph’s Health Amphitheater for concerts including Steely Dan, Heart, KISS, Janet Jackson, Sheryl Crow and many others.

CS: Musicians have better stories than everybody else. Tell me a story.

LL: I was playing a gig on a very hot summer day out in the country. Many people were sitting inside where it was air-conditioned. I’m sure most musicians can relate. We played for the smokers, a few brave souls who didn’t mind the sweltering heat and a rooster that the venue owned. The gig went well until the rooster strutted up to where we were playing and relieved himself right into our new monitor.

CS: There’s always one…

LL: Right? Then suddenly, a thunderstorm blew in unexpectedly. Some patrons came out from the bar to help us pack up, which was helpful. A big guy lifted one of our new speakers off of the stand, heaved it up over his head and dropped it behind him, bouncing it on the concrete. I felt bad for him; he thought they were really heavy, but they were in plastic enclosures and lightweight. That speaker never did work again.

CS: Ugh.

LL: On another occasion, my band was playing to a packed house in Alexandria Bay when people abruptly started leaving the venue in droves. We didn’t know why until we saw and smelled a skunk-sprayed dog that had wandered into the club.

CS: Again. There’s always one…
LL: The stench was overpowering. It was break time after that; the crowd never did come back because the stink lingered the rest of the night.

CS: No doubt that this is the overwhelmingly favorite reason that you’re a singer? Seriously, what’s your favorite reason for being a singer?

LL: My Mom, Lillian Pease (shout out to my Mom). She always sang around the house when I was growing up. Later, when I was married with kids, when she visited or came to babysit, which was frequently, we would always end up on the couch singing and harmonizing our favorite songs including Your Cheatin’ Heart, You Are My Sunshine, Patsy Cline’s version of Crazy etc. Mom also loved to sing songs that I sang in my first band when I was first starting out. My Mom showed up to every local show we did and sometimes brought a few of my little sisters and nieces along. I really miss those days.

CS: Beautiful. Thank you for sharing that. What are your thoughts on the CNY Music Scene now that you’re officially “in,” (The dog-skunk story sounds like an official initiation, to me.)

LL: Like most local musicians, I really miss playing out. I’m hoping over the course of the summer and into 2022 we can gradually return to playing our favorite venues again as many venues and musicians are really hurting.
Before the pandemic, the CNY music scene was vibrant and seemed to be growing every year. I loved that you could go out any night of the week and hear great live music as more and more venues were adding live music. Now, I’m sure it’s going to take some time to get that back.

CS: What’s in your future for music as we propel into 2021?

LL: Like most, I’m happy 2020 is behind us! Unfortunately, my husband and I fell ill with COVID-19 in November. I was hospitalized for 8 days and I also had an appendectomy during the time that I had COVID. We both recovered and I’m lucky to have a future at all. During this pandemic, I finally have the time to play guitar again. So I’m looking forward to playing guitar on a few songs on some gigs we have booked for this summer and into the winter months.

I’m also anticipating recording some of my original tunes that have gathered dust through the years. This would be what I look forward to most in 2021 along with performing with the Good Dust Gypsies.

Chuck Schiele
Chuck Schiele is an award-winning musician, art director, producer, editorialist, artist, activist, member of SaltCityChill.com and fan of the CNY music scene. To be considered for this column, please write chuck.schiele@gmail.com.