Lee Bob rounds up a few locals and cuts a fine soundtrack for slacking
Lee Bob, or Lee Robert Watson, as his parents named him, is not your typical undersized junior-Napoleon overachiever. For one thing, he’s real tall. And, in character with that, he’s real laid-back.
You can hear the latter quality on The Sun Years, a CD Lee Bob wrote, recorded and released on his own Brahma Records label. Although it might be easy to lump Lee Bob in with half a million other bindlestiff-toting crosstie walkers with a Hank Williams songbook in the guitar case and a half-pint of Cumberland varnish stripper in the back pocket, where he’s coming from is a lot closer to Pink Moon than “Blue Moon of Kentucky.” The spaces between the notes Lee Bob often haunts with silence, and he tends to opt for chords beyond the stock major triads—major sevenths, sixths and minor sevenths, for example.
“Pretty stuff,” Lee Bob says. “I started, not so much during the recording of this, but I’ve got a backlog of more traditional-type songs that, when I go back to record, I’m getting really into Nick Drake, Cat Stevens things where it’s acoustic guitar or whatever. Then the strings come in. That sort of contrast isn’t what I’m going for on this, but I’m into that; I want to go in that direction.
“But basically,” he adds, “I want to go in a million directions. That’s why this album is so different.”
Lee Bob’s original idea called for him to play all the parts himself, but then his mind started churning up ideas, so he roped some of the area’s more illustrious musical talents to help him put the project together: Cake bassist Gabe Nelson, Jackpot frontman Rusty Miller (Lee Bob plays bass and keyboards for Jackpot), Forever Goldrush frontman Damon Wyckoff and guitarist Josh Lacey, Joe’s Style Shop partner Justin DeHart, Mitchell Slater and the man who’s perhaps the area’s most brilliant rock-rooted musician, FMK/Sex 66/Daisy Spot guitarist Mike Farrell.
On The Sun Years’ opening cut, “Our Lady of the Sun,” Lee Bob got Farrell to tune in to his wavelength without a whole lot of effort. “Mike is great,” Lee Bob says. “That was mostly first-take stuff. He came in; I don’t even know if he’d listened to the tape I’d given him, but it’s pretty straightforward. The first part of it, I told him, ‘Let’s try some Wes Montgomery octaves.’ And he said, ‘OK.’ And then the rhythm part, maybe a little bit more of like a rhythmic, bossa-nova thing going on. And at the end, it’s just a natural, solo, Jimmy Page-style of freak out. He just totally took the song in like three different directions—which is kind of what I was going for.”
Such eclecticism would not be out of character. “Actually,” Lee Bob says, “my background is in jazz. Not as a player, but as a listener. The first music I really got into was jazz. I played trumpet, so my first influence was really Miles Davis. I saw Miles Davis at the community center when I was 16; I went by myself. That was like my rebellion—I got into jazz.”
For the record, Lee Bob “likes it all” when it comes to Miles, but prefers those mid- to late-’60s quintets that led up to Bitches Brew, not to mention that seminal fusion disc. “I still listen to that and think, that’s from a different planet,” he says.
While he’s been busy plotting subverting the subdominant rock paradigm with jazz subliminals, Lee Bob has also hidden his identity behind a couple of group personas, both of whom are the kind of bands that get covered by the neo-country journal No Depression. First, he played with Grub Dog and the Amazing Sweethearts from 1998-99, then in Jackpot, which he joined a year ago this month. “I have a lot of respect for Rusty as a songwriter,” he says.
Still, with Jackpot’s impending third album on hold—it’s done, but it’ll stay in the can until a few things get worked out—Lee Bob has a little more time to explore his own music. And hey, it’s worth checking out.