“Originally 15 verses or so… wrote it on piano after my fingers had been crushed in a farm accident. I’m singing to you, not at you… there’s a difference that I hope you can hear. How do you sing to a generation raised on fear and the pursuit of fame and wealth? Whose parents buried them in debt and expectations, and technology has capitalized on their every move since birth? With a three minute song of course!”
Born on the banks of the Mississippi river, Lee’s family later moved to Minneapolis. Following the death of his father in a motorcycle accident when he was 12, Frankie immersed himself in the city’s music scene, appearing onstage with local heroes Slim Dunlap (The Replacements) and Curtiss A at the impressionable age of 14. After inheriting records and instruments from his father’s collection, Lee was – as he sees it – “taught to play guitar by a ghost”. He continues, “I was raised on stage. These guys would bring me into the clubs, sit me behind the soundboard and give me all the coca cola I could drink until they’d call me up for a song or two at the end of the night.”
At the age of 20 Lee dropped out of college, re-invested his soccer scholarship fund in a Volvo station wagon, Lee drove down to Nashville where he met Merle Haggard on his first day in town. Lee then moved on to Austin, TX where he spent 6 years working for Townes Van Zandt’s son JT building cabinets outside of town in Buda, TX. The two became good friends and Lee played his first show at a night hosted by JT. “Austin was a Mecca for me, The scene at the time was bursting wide open with everything from Western swing bands to Roky Erikson’s psychedelic garage rock. I was out almost every night for 6 years. There was never an excuse to stay in.”
In 2010 Lee moved back from California to Minnesota to be closer to his family. In a series of diners and motels during the long drive he penned the songs which were later released on his DIY ‘Middle West’ EP. Lee has spent the last 3 years working on a hog farm in rural Minnesota and developing songs for his debut album. Many of these songs reflect his change in focus from the guitar to the piano, a move necessitated by a farming accident that crushed of the three finger of his left hand.
Of his return to the landscape that is the backdrop of so many of his songs, Lee says, “I’d been gone 10 years. I decided when I got back home, to get back to the land and the people who shaped me. Both sides of my family were North Dakota wheat farmers. Hardworking, soft-spoken, Scandinavians who moved to the middle of nowhere with nothing, and of that place made everything they needed. There’s a movement now to get back to that way of living, and if we’re gonna last a while then that’s the only way we’re gonna make it.”
RockShot have a full interview with Frankie Lee coming soon.