Singer and guitarist Bryan Lee once made a good living playing the blues in New Orleans, Louisiana. That was until Hurricane Katrina forced club owners to close down and move away. But despite the loss, Bryan Lee is busier than ever.
When Bryan Lee moved to New Orleans to escape the harsh winters of his native Wisconsin, the city's French Quarter was home to a thriving blues scene. One of his steadiest jobs was playing five nights a week at the Old Absinthe House on Bourbon Street. He performed there with his Jump Street Five Band for more than 14 years.
Life hasn't always been easy for Bryan. His eyes were damaged at birth, and by age eight, he was totally blind. He overcame his disability to become a top bluesman, winning praise from Muddy Waters and Buddy Guy. But, as Bryan admits, years of late night shows and grinding tours took a toll on his family life, and he seriously contemplated leaving show business.
"That was a hard time for me, giving that up [performing]," Lee admits. "And I just thought I would quit music; I'll just quit entertaining. I can tune pianos. I'll figure out a way somehow to make a living, to be close to my kids. Well, every time I tried to quit, something would happen where I couldn't quit."
With more and more blues clubs closing, Bryan spends much of the year touring and recording. His latest album, My Lady Don't Love My Lady, features two of his closest friends and collaborators, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Buddy Guy.
"I got to be good friends with Buddy as we played," Lee says. "And, he heard me play and he would sometimes come in and sit in with us. One time he told me, he said, 'You know Bryan, there are only a couple of guys playing 'real' blues anymore.' And, I said, 'Really, who?' And, he goes, 'Well, there's me, there's B.B. King, and there's you.'"
From My Lady Don't Love My Lady, Bryan Lee joins forces with Buddy Guy on the Junior Wells classic, "Early In The Morning." In addition to three original songs, Bryan performs tunes by Earl King, Doctor John, Willie Mabon and Big Bill Broonzy.
Bryan recently returned to his hometown of Two Rivers, Wisconsin, to perform a benefit concert for eight-year-old Jonah Murray, who is visually impaired and suffers from cerebral palsy. Bryan says while Jonah is making big strides, the road ahead is laced with challenges.
"Kids learn by watching other kids or by watching, period," says Lee. "He didn't have that luxury, so for him and all blind children, it's a slow process. I was lucky. I had vision until I was about eight years old, so I caught on to everything right away. And, I went to public school until I was about eight years old. But, having cerebral palsy on top of it really makes it hard for him."
In September, Bryan will perform at blues festivals in Delaware, Connecticut and Michigan, as well as the D.C. Blues Festival in Washington.