With Permission:  Lou Ann Homan-Saylor

From Lou Ann Homan-Saylor, a story teller who knew him through the Oracoke Folk Festival in North Carolina: http://www.kpcnews.com/columnists/lou_ann_homan-saylor/kpcnews/article_ab68a44c-a0ee-56fa-95a2-77424336fa14.html

With Permission:  Peter Heywood
The Living Tradition, #104

Rick Lee was a Massachusetts-based old-time banjo and piano player, singer, and songwriter with family roots in Appalachia.  He had been part of New England's traditional music scene since the early 1960s.  Originally performing with his former wife, singer and dulcimer player Lorraine Lee, and subsequently with the tradition-focused quartet Solomon's Seal; more recently he has played solo and with various old friends.  He sang in a duo with Bob Zentz and as a trio, Scuttlebutt, with Bob Zentz and Rick Epping.  He also performed in a trio with Bill Walach and Dave Howard, sometimes known as Too Much Facial Hair and in The Dreaded Banjo Orchestra at Sandy Sheehan’s old time music nights at Johnny D’s in Somerville, MA.

Rick was an imposing figure – once met, never forgotten – but after hearing the news of his passing I have been surprised at how many people on this side of the Atlantic knew him.  Rick’s connections with Scotland and Ireland go back a long way.  He met Cilla and Artie Trezise when they were in America and they have fond memories of his hospitality and of sessions in his home in Natick.  Artie later arranged a tour of Scotland for Rick and his wife Lorraine, a visit which led to him becoming a regular visitor to the UK and Ireland up until very recent times.  Although he played music at every opportunity during his visits in recent years, he was able to travel regularly because he taught negotiating skills on a professional basis.  He had a close relationship with a well-known management book, ‘Getting the Yes’.  He used these opportunities to travel to continue his musical relationships over here.

Rick was a close friend of Iain Mackintosh and in 1996 he and Iain volunteered their support for a fledgling summer schools project.  This led to him becoming a regular summer visitor to Scotland over a ten year period when he was a mainstay of the Living Tradition Summer Schools.  Rick was a loyal friend of many musicians, he was interested in them as people and travelled widely throughout Scotland and Ireland to enjoy their company and music.

Rick was a master accompanist and his home was at the heart of a session.  He was always keen to include people of various ability levels especially in teaching situations.  He made a lasting impact on a group of young people at the summer schools in Scotland.  His concern to make sessions inclusive didn’t always endear himself to people who wanted a full on session, but Rick knew what he was doing.  He adapted to circumstance and when among master musicians he was more than capable of holding his own.

Although Rick was a skilled musician, it was songs and singing that he was more passionate about.  He picked unusual songs, often deep songs, alongside songs with a fair smattering of humour.  He had a deep love of traditional ballads.  He sang songs from America but wasn’t afraid to tackle some of the big songs from Scotland. 

Rick was born in New York City, but he grew up in Cedar Hill, Texas, near Dallas, and that was where he first started listening to music some 50 years ago.  His Tennessee-born grandfather introduced him to radio broadcasts of swing bands like the Light Crust Doughboys and the Texas Playboys as they played in a Fort Worth ballroom, as well as local broadcasts of the Grand Ole Opry out of Nashville.  

Singer and banjo player Uncle Dave Macon was a particular favourite.  I have taken this information from an article in Dirty Linen and quote Rick’s own words to explain.  "He (Uncle Dave Macon) was a big star of the Opry at that time.  My grandfather would talk about how he was from the same part of Tennessee and that these were tunes he grew up with.  He kept trying to cajole me into playing the banjo.  Some years later he put my mother and aunt up to buying me one.  I did learn to play, but he died before I got to play it for him.”

Rick’s great-grandmother was from Scotland and came to the U.S. in the 18th century.  Lee's grandmother and mother both played piano, mostly classical and church music.  Rick just began to pick stuff out on the piano and only took a few lessons.  “I never learned to read music very well, but I got rudiments of harmony from a dozen lessons.  Otherwise I was just picking up stuff I had heard. There was music in that house all the time."

Rick's family moved back to the Northeast when he was a teenager, and he wound up at Amherst College in Massachusetts just as the 1960s folk revival was gathering force.  A college roommate, Andy Leader, had learned banjo techniques and songs from Hedy West, and soon Lee and Leader were working as a coffeehouse duo.  "We were really into the New Lost City Ramblers, who were really good at putting people on to their sources.  They'd tell you where they learned the material, which was mostly from old commercial recordings.  So we tried to track down sources.  This became an obsession during my college years."  

During his sophomore year at Amherst, a group of area college students, who included Bill Keith, Jim Rooney, Buffy Sainte-Marie, and the young bluesman who would become Taj Mahal, organized the Pioneer Valley Folklore Society, an organization that sponsored both concerts and a lot of informal picking sessions.  It was an exciting and diverse group that introduced Lee to a lot of music, and while still a student he became its second president.

Rick met his wife Lorraine in '62 at a folk music festival and moved to Cambridge MA in 1963.  They played music together in 1963 and 1964.  The birth of their son Peter in 1964 and Rick’s work at WGBH Radio as a weekend announcer and producer took them out of the music scene for a while.

Rick left WGBH in the summer of 1970 and went back to graduate school and he and Lorraine went back into the music business “because it was a way of earning money."  For the next decade and a half the duo of Rick and Lorraine Lee were a popular fixture in the Boston folk community, both for their own performances and for the way they generously helped visiting musicians like Cilla & Artie Trezise, Archie Fisher and Stan Rogers get a foothold in the local scene.  The Lees' marriage ended in 1986; their musical partnership lasted only slightly longer.

To paraphrase one of the songs Rick was fond of singing – Rick ‘sang for the song’.  He’ll be missed. There will be a memorial, including a concert in Rick's memory, in Chelmsford, MA on October 25.