Lee Emerson - It's So Easy For You To Be Mean Bear Family BCD 16526
Dreams always lies… That Lee Emerson’s song tell a bit about how dreams could be shattered by booze, pills and wild ways even if you’re a gifted song writer and fine singer. That country cat born in St Paul, Virginia, on May 15, 1927 should have been still us if its wild ways had not leaded him to a premature death on December 2, 1978. But let’s get back to the start !
Lee Emerson Bellamy was raised like a poor country boy chipping’ out some coal from ghost coal mines or driving cars for bootleggers. Like Johnny Cash or George Jones leaving that rough land for enlisting to the US Army was the solution. That’s what he did… he was injured in Okinawa and when he got out the Marines, he married and moved out west living in Montana, North Dakota, Idaho and, later, Nashville after a first record cut under the alias of Lee Smith for Wagon Wheel, a record label located in Wyoming. "I Hate To Say Goodnite" and "Forever Alone" are two straight country songs with fiddle and steel guitar. In 1955, Lee was signed by Columbia as artist and a first session was held at the Bradley Film & Recording studio on June 23, 1955. A classic four songs session with Sammy Pruett and Ray Edenton (gtr), Shot Jackson (steel gtr), Junior Huskey (bass) and Tommy Vaden (fiddle) were four self penned songs were cut. "You Call That Waitin’", a fast country, was issued with the weeper "A Pair Of Broken Hearts" on Columbia 21435 in August 1955 while "Thank You My Darlin’" and "So Little Time", a boppin’ novelty, followed on Columbia 21487. On April 1, 1956, Lee was back on studio with Grady Martin (gtr) and Buddy Harman (dms) to cut two solo sides, the boppin’ "I’m Gonna Rise And Shine Tonight" (left unissued until now) and "I Cried Like A Baby" issued on Columbia 4-40868. Here the sound goes more in less on the same way than Johnny Horton but the best from that session are two wonders with Marty Robbins duetting. "I’ll Know You’re Gone" really bops and "How Long It Will Be", a ballad, were issued on Columbia 4-21525 released on June 25, 1956. On September 4, 1956, both performers were reunited again to cut the superb "Where D’ja Go ?" that stand among the best rockin’ hillbilly duet cut in the 50’s. That’s one is a real ace issued on Columbia 4-40868 on March 1957 but none of these recordings get action. From the same session came "I Thought I Heard You Calling My Name", a solid weeper, and "It’s So Easy For You To Be Me" (Columbia 4-21570) and the unissued then "You Don’t Know". Walking bass and bright guitar but straight country stuff. "I Tought I Heard You Calling My Name" will have action for Porter Wagoner and was later covered by George Strait.
By then Lee Emerson worked many dates with Johnny Horton, Benny Barnes, Charline Arthur, Porter Wagoner or Marty Robbins acting also as his bouncer. He had enough Indian blood in him to make him dangerous. He would fight at the drop of a hat and he would usually drop the hat. Together they formed the Lee-Mart Agency and had as client Bobby Helms. Later Lee had Bobby as partner in another venture, Le-Bob. Maybe Lee had too many irons in the fire and by mid-1957 his Columbia career was over. The last session was set on June 19, 1957, at the same location, but with Hilous Butrum and Jack Pruett (gtr) and Grady Martin switching to bass. "Start All Over" is solid country song that was covered by Johnny Cash and Bob Gallion, "Catch That Train" move nicely, "Do Young Think" fits in the country pop basket while "What A Night" is definitively the best recording from that session. Co-written with Jim Nesbitt, that song move along nicely with tasty vocal chorus. In July 1957, Lee Emerson worked with Johnny Horton and Marty Robbins in Toronto.
In 1961, Shelby Singleton came to Nashville and purchased three sides written by Lee under the name of her wife and two were issued under Heywood Jenkins’ name. Maybe some contractual reasons are hidden being that strange situation. "You Can Hear Me" and "Totalin’ Time", both lead by sax work and carrying some shade of The Big Bopper’s style, were issued on Mercury 71855 while another take of "You Can’t Hear Me" and "Lover Boy" were left unissued. There was obviously there an attempt to mix country and rhythm and blues. The following year Lee Emerson got "Ruby Ann" recorded by his friend Marty Robbins but troubles rose on his personal and professional life. In 1964, Emerson began an association with Don Pierce and Starday’s music publishing company, surviving on song writing with songs recorded by Webb Pierce, Hank Locklin, Kitty Wells, The Willis Brothers or Rose Lee & Joe Maphis. Of course, this meant to cut demo of songs and few of them make the second part of that CD. Among the 60’s demos, "I ve Thought Of Leaving Too" carries Mexican overtones, "Ben-Ja-Min Franklin", "Truck Stop Cutie", "Hossy Riding Police" and "Thirty Blocks Across The City". Interesting as long as you keep in mind that’s demos. The 70’s demos are only four and close that CD. The voice had matured like an old rye bourbon liquor and Lee goes probably on some personal experience with "Ain’t Funny How Stripes Can Turn Love Off" and "Dreams Always Lie". In 1976, Lee Emerson recorded sides for Huey P. Meaux that were leased to Shelby Singleton and only "Gospel Truth" was issued as a one sided promotional disc on Plantation 134. An interesting song but too hurtful too attract airplay.
The circumstances of Lee Ermerson’s death, being killed by Barry Saddler (The Ballad of the Green Berets), are sordid and controversial. It seems troubles had risen between the two men since a while all over a girl that they were both going with. Sadler shoot Lee Emerson after he told having seen a flash in Emerson’s hand thinking it was a gun. In fact it was only Emerson’s car keys. Lee passed away the next day. Some think it was cold blooded murder and the cops didn’t even slap Barry on the wrist. Lee got in trouble with the law on many occasions and that is probably why Barry Sadler was able to shoot him and get by with it. Sadler was sentenced 5 years to jail but served just 21 days in the Metro Nashville Workhouse. Saddler was himself shot to death in 1989.
The booklet is written by Collin Escott with the help of Rod Bellamy (Lee’s son) and Bill Millar. As usually Richard Weize handle a great and well illustrated discography. That CD is a nice way to own Lee Emerson’s complete Columbia recordings and to know more about that underrated country singer and gifted songwriter.
Dominique "Imperial" Anglares - November 17, 2011