Monday, March 21, 2011

Interview: "Frankie Lee Sims" - Blues Unlimited #119 + Specialty 487 - via Wired For Sound

Wired For Sound

SUNDAY, MARCH 20, 2011

Frankie Lee Sims on Specialty 487

Frankie Lee Sims - Rhumba My Boogie / I'll Get Along Somehow (Specialty 487)

"Rhumba My Boogie"


"I'll Get Along Somehow"


Frankie Lee Sims' Lucy Mae Blues LP on Specialty, released in 1970 (but kept in print through the '90s), and drawn from sessions made in Dallas in 1953-54, is probably the single finest blues album by a Texas artist. The only contenders for that title are Lightnin's Herald album and/or Lightnin's Texas Blues Man LP. Sadly, it came out too late for it to benefit Sims, who died just before it was released. Sims should have been "rediscovered" in the early '60s, but wasn't. Cue "O Fortuna" here.

Lucy Mae Blues was compiled by Barry Hansen, a man of impeccable taste. Hansen carefully listened to all of Sims's Specialty masters and selected the 12 best. For a long time, I assumed that these were "the complete" Specialty recordings of Frankie Lee Sims. Wrong. Hansen deliberately left out several masters, including both sides of this, Frankie's final Specialty single, from 1954. 

Above: Frankie Lee Sims c. 1969, among his huge collection of rare 78s and LPs. 

I don't blame Hansen for leaving "Rhumba My Boogie" off the LP. It is the weakest track Sims ever recorded, a goofy attempt to cash in on the current pop craze for rhumbas. A rural Texas bluesman recreating himself as Xavier Cugat is not going to produce great music, but the music world being what it is, it isn't hard to picture "Rhumba My Boogie" becoming a huge hit and Sims becoming known as "The Texas Rhumba King" for the rest of his career. Billboard said on April 3, 1954, that "there's no denying the power of this Latinized R&B effort."

"I'll Get Along Somehow" is better, but only marginally, being a generic "Worried Life Blues" re-write. 

Only one photograph of Sims exists, taken a year before he died by Chris Strachwitz, who also interviewed him. Sims was born in New Orleans and absorbed some of that city's culture (he claimed "Buddy Bolden's Blues" the first song he learned) but grew up in Marshall, Texas. One reason why he wasn't "rediscovered" might have something to do with the fact that he shot a man in Dallas ("drinking all that wine, all that mess") and must have spent some time in jail. As with everything else to do with Sims, the dates are hazy. 

Below is the complete Sims interview by Chris Strachwitz. Click images to enlarge. 

"Frankie Lee Sims" - Blues Unlimited #119

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