Who was/is Lee Denson ? - CDs, Vinyl LPs, DVD and more

Hanging out in Memphis with his next door neighbor Elvis as well as the Burnette brothers during their pre-fame days didn’t transform Lee Denson into a star—but not for lack for trying. Born in Rienzi, Mississippi on August 25, 1932, Jesse Lee Denson and his brother Jimmy grew up in Memphis, where his father pastored a local mission. Lee was something of a juvenile delinquent, which put him in good stead with Johnny and Dorsey Burnette. They hung out together on a regular basis, and when Presley’s family moved up to the Bluff City, he joined in the musical fun (Lee taught Elvis some of his first chords on guitar).

Denson’s pals had broken through on a national scale by the time he appeared on Ted Mack’s popular TV amateur contest and then made his first single in New York on December 12, 1956 for RCA’s Vik imprint with Howard Biggs, ex-pianist for the pioneering vocal group The Ravens, leading the band. Heart Of A Fool had come all the way from the West Coast, where writers Eddie and Hank Cochran and manager Jerry Capehart were toiling for Sylvester Cross’ American Music publishing company prior to their own bout with success.  Lee’s decidedly rural vocal delivery contrasted strikingly with the roaring, horn-fueled R&B backing (Sam ‘The Man’ Taylor inserted a blazing sax solo at the midpoint). Denson penned the zany flip, The Pied Piper, complete with what he called a ‘tremolo yodel.’ The unissued-at-the-time Love Twister from the same date was another insane rocker.

Denson moved to Los Angeles in 1957, as did the Burnettes, and when Lee waxed his sizzling Vik encore New Shoes (the work of American Music stalwart Ray Stanley), Eddie Cochran was on hand at Gold Star Recording Studios to supply the fret fire (Lee supplied the ballad flip, Climb Love Mountain). After a short retreat to Memphis, Denson returned to L.A. and made the blistering original High School Hop for the Bihari brothers’ Kent logo in 1958 with another self-composed entry, Devil Doll, on the B-side. Jimmy Denson was living with his brother, and they co-wrote Lee’s thundering Kent encore The South’s Gonna Rise Again, recorded under the alias of Jesse James (a mashup of the brothers’ given first names). Its flip Red Hot Rockin’ Blues was just as pulverizing.

While his buddies embraced stardom, Denson’s salad days were over. Apart from a couple of quirky 1960 45s on the tiny Merri logo and a mid-‘60s platter on bassist Joe Osborn’s Magic Lamp logo, Sixteen States, that featured his labelmates, The Carpenters, as backing vocalists, Lee wasn’t heard from again until Presley picked up his The Miracle Of The Rosary in 1971 for his ‘Elvis Now’ album (Denson waxed his own version for Stax’s Enterprise imprint in ’73). He died November 6, 2007 in Memphis.

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