Floyd Lee’s life story seems bluesy enough on the facts alone, and that’s before he starts dropping dark hints and leaving the details to the imagination. Born in Lamar, Mississippi, in 1933, Lee was musically inspired by his father, a local juker who went by the name Guitar Floyd. When Lee was about ten, a spot of bother with the authorities (“Well, you might just say school trouble,” he hedged in a Living Blues interview last year) precipitated a migration to Chicago. A few years later he moved to Flint and then on to Cleveland, where he says Bill Veeck gave him a job as a batboy for the Indians in 1948. He played music at night, then another unspecified crisis led to another getaway, this time to New York. There he adopted the unlikely alias Ted Williams (“I had to keep my nose clean….I had been a baad boy in Ohio”) and worked as a doorman for the next 20 years or so, playing blues in the clubs and in the subway after work and looking over his shoulder all the while (“I had to make sure nobody took my picture”). In the 90s, apparently feeling safer, he recorded for a Japanese label; in about 2000 he joined forces with guitarist-songwriter Joel Poluck. On Mean Blues and last year’s Ain’t Doin’ Nothin’ Wrong (both for Poluck’s Amogla label), Lee’s snarling vocals and vivid lyrics are set amid razor-edged slide guitar and swirling swarms of notes. Lee sometimes affects a slurry enunciation that sounds like a bad Jimmy Reed imitation, but his unpredictable vocal transformations can be effective, especially when he takes on Poluck’s Beat-like lyrics: his disjointed narration on “My Weakness,” a hoodoo-drenched update of the “evil woman” theme, is what a poetry slam might have sounded like in a backstreet juke in the 50s. Saturday, January 31, 9:30 PM, Rosa’s Lounge, 3420 W. Armitage; 773-342-0452.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/JoJo Voigt.