Frankie Lee Sims: Masterly Texas Blues, 1953-1957

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - NEWS - Donal Di­neen

By the time Frankie Lee Sims got to make his first proper record­ings in 1953 he had almost four decades of hard liv­ing un­der his belt. He was one of 13 chil­dren born into poverty in New Or­leans to a mother and father who were both ac­com­plished gui­tarists.

When the fam­ily moved to Mar­shall, Texas, in the early 1920s, Frankie’s own feel­ing for mu­sic was sparked by en­coun­ters with his cousin Sam Light­nin’ Hop­kins whose gui­tar prow­ess had been nur­tured by an­other cousin, Texas Alexan­der.

Sims saw the gui­tar as his one chance of a ticket out of penury. These rest­less dreams saw him leave home at 12 to pur­sue a life as an itin­er­ant mu­si­cian. He spent the 1930s drift­ing around the Lone Star State pick­ing up gigs in lo­cal dances.

Af­ter four years in the US marines he re­turned to his mu­sic with re­newed fo­cus and by the late 1940s had es­tab­lished him­self in the Dal­las blues scene where T-Bone Walker was king. Af­ter a cou­ple of false starts in 1948 and ’49 a record­ing ca­reer fi­nally ma­te­ri­alised in 1953 cour­tesy of Spe­cial­ity records.

His first sin­gles for the la­bel are where this anthology be­gins. As starts go, it’s au­da­cious. His deeply gut­teral voice makes an im­me­di­ate im­pres­sion on Lucy Mae Blues. There’s a kind of ur­gency re­lat­able to the fire in his belly af­ter so many years on the side­lines.

His sin­gles for Spe­cial­ity met with mixed re­ac­tion, how­ever, and if it weren’t for the in­ter­ven­tion of the Ace la­bel in 1957 the story could have ended there. In­stead he got to ex­pand his sound to in­clude pi­ano, bass, drums and two sax­o­phones.

The Ace record­ings are the sound of Sims on full power. The more rau­cous set­ting suits him. In the midst of this stormy weather he stays cool. The back­ing of a full band pro­pels him into nav­i­gat­ing the kind of deep grooves that de­mand at­ten­tion from danc­ing feet.

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