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BRYAN LEE; AWARD WINNING NEW ORLEANS BLUES INSTITUTION.

“Whether he’s wailing a Freddy King inspired blues ballad, stomping out low down and dirty blues, or getting down with a super funky New Orleans groove, Bryan Lee is gonna grab your soul and squeeze it till you scream in blues ecstasy.”— Duke Robillard

 

 

Duke Robillard’s quote sums up the experience of hearing Bryan Lee play music about as well as any. What’s missing perhaps is how he got to where he did. One’s imagination might envision his beginnings at the edge of a Louisiana bayou. Not quite... Life for Bryan Lee began in a small fishing village along Lake Michigan in north-eastern Wisconsin - closer to the Green Bay Packer’s Lambeau Field than to an alligator sanctuary.

Born Brian Leroy Kumbalek on March 16, 1943 in Two Rivers, Wisconsin, Bryan lost his eye sight and was legally blind by the age of eight. His musical development started as a singer. His mother Delores passed young Bryan his talents, formed while singing in a local church, of a true and clear pitch and an emphasis on diction. His first instrument was the accordion before moving on to rhythm and finally lead guitar.

Bryan Lee’s interest in early Rock and Roll and Blues Music was fostered through the 1950’s late night listening sessions from the Nashville Music radio stations such as WLAC. This is where Lee was first introduced to the sounds of Elmore James, T-Bone Walker and many other influential bluesmen. The man known as “Braille Blues Daddy” started out playing for Midwest crowds at the early age of 15. In the late 1950’s, Bryan Lee opened for Bill Haley & The Comets with his band "The Glaciers" performing cover music of Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry and Little Richard.

By the early 1960’s and throughout the 1970’s, Bryan Lee’s musical interest turned to the sound of Chicago Blues while touring throughout the Midwest. He was heavily influenced by Chicago Bluesmen Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Hubert Sumlin and Freddie King. While on tour in the 1980’s Bryan opened for one of his hero’s, Muddy Waters. After the show Muddy told Bryan: “Bryan, stay with this, one day you will be a living legend.” “I went home and I cried” said Lee. Although his acceptance in the Chicago Blues Scene didn’t come until later in his career, Bryan had the respect of his friends and peers such as Buddy Guy and Lonnie Brooks. Bryan Lee and his band frequently packed Buddy Guy’s Legend’s house performing authentic blues.

In the late 1970’s Bryan fell in love with the city of New Orleans and eventually moved there on Jan 6, 1982. Bryan Lee became a fixture of the French Quarter music scene. His guitar brought the Chicago styled blues of Luther Allison, as well as Albert King and Albert Collins down to Louisiana. Bryan Lee made his stand, performing 5 nights a week for over 14 years at the Old Absinthe House. Bryan gained the nickname “New Orleans Blues Institution” from Quint Davis, producer of NOLA Jazz and Heritage Festival, of which Bryan performed at for 29 of it’s 50 years (as of 2019).

During the 1990’s Bryan and the Jump Street Five Band initiated a long recording deal with Justin Time Records from Montreal, Quebec, Canada.The collaboration and Lee’s individual sets would take him to recording 13 albums over two decades.

In 2012 Bryan Lee signed on with Severn Records, and in 2013 released "Play One for Me," with David Earl as producer, Kim Wilson on harp, Johnny Moeller on guitar, and the Severn Records house band.

Bryan's last CD - Sanctuary - was released on Ear-Relevant Records in November 2018. He had said "This album, originally inspired during a church performance following an appearance at Norway's Dark Season Festival in 2011, took seven years to be able to have all the right pieces appear to bring it to fruition. The night before the performance, the arrangement for "The Lord's Prayer" came to me in a dream, and we brought in a previously written song"Jesus Christ Was My Superstar".With a free day in Oslo and the assistance of Adam Douglas and his band, we recorded 2 studio tracks and the album was started. These 11 songs are about my attitude towards life, how I love my Lord, and how grateful I am for the talent and career which He has blessed me with. And now I am finally able to share this gift, as it should be."

Brian Leroy Kumbalek, 77, a.k.a. Bryan Lee, Your Braille Blues Daddy, The Blind Giant of the Blues, a New Orleans Blues Institution, husband, father, and friend, passed into legend on Friday, August 21, 2020, in Sarasota, FL.

 

“The Good Lord gave me this gift and I want to share it with you”. Bryan Lee

 

Honors & Awards:

-Performed at BB King’s 80th Birthday

-Performed his original hit tune “Tina Marie” with KWS and Friends on the Jay Leno Show. and the Tavis Smiley Show in 2007

- 2010 BMA for Best Rock Blues Album (Live in Chicago)

- Bryan Lee was nominated for a Grammy Award for his contribution to the KWS “Live in Chicago” CD in 2010

- Received the German Critics Award for Outstanding Blues in 2008 for “Katrina Was Her Name”

- Nominated for BMA Best Contemporary Blues for “Katrina Was Her Name” 2008

- 18 Releases and 1 DVD Release

- 29 years performing Jazz Fest

- 2017 WAMI  (Wisconsin Area Music Industry) Lifetime Achievement Award

- 2019 Phoenix Radio Lifetime Achievement Award

 

Recordings:

Bryan Lee has 18 CD’s and 1 DVD:

2018 Sanctuary

 

2013 Play One for Me

 

2011 Live From Sao Paulo

 

2010 Old School Blues

 

2009 My Lady Don't Love My Lady

 

2007 Katrina Was Her Name

 

2005 Live and Dangerous DVD & CD

 

2003 Bryan Lee’s Greatest Hits

 

2002 Six String Therapy

 

2000 Crawfish Lady

 

1998 Saturday Night at the Old Absinthe House

 

1997 Friday Night at the Old Absinthe House

 

1995 Braille Blues Daddy

 

1995 Heat Seeking Missile

 

1993 Memphis Bound

 

1991 The Blues Is...Bryan Lee and the Jump Street Five

 

1984 Bourbon Street Beat

 

1979 Beauty Isn’t Always Visual

 

 

 

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