After 31 years as bassist and sometimes vocalist for Late Show With David Letterman's musical ensemble, WIll Lee would seem to have more than enough activity to take up his time.
Still, considering the more than 1,700 sessions he's played over the course of his career -- for luminaries like Barbra Streisand, the Bee Gees, Billy Joel, and Ray Charles -- it's also obvious he's not content to simply stand still. Indeed, his ongoing role in his high-profile Beatles cover band, the Fab Faux, shows he's clearly adept at multitasking.
With a recent album, Love, Gratitude & Other Distractions, only his second solo effort in 20 years (his first, Oh!, was released in 1993), Lee is again expanding his parameters. But the Beatles are never far from his mind. He even refers to them when describing his support strategy.
"For my albums, I did what I normally try to do had it been someone else's album," he comments. "That is, to support the song. It's always my challenge to take on a sort of Ringo Starr role, taking the song and using my instrument to help shape it and give it a feel. There's that fine line you're always riding of supporting the music while staying out of the way. I love to try to find those sweet spots within the music."
Lee should know. He's had the rare opportunity to play with all four Beatles at one time or another, beginning with his contribution to Ringo's Rotogravure album in 1976. "On the track that I played on, it was a song John had written called 'Cookin' (In the Kitchen of Love).' John had already recorded his keyboard part, and so I never met him in person, but I did get to play with him on that track. So that was pretty great."
His encounter with George Harrison was even more surreptitious. "I was doing an album with Gary Moore in England, and the studio we were recording at was very close to George Harrison's house, Friar Park on Henley on Thames," Lee recalls. "It was during the time of the Wimbledon tournament, and we had been watching it on the big TV during our breaks. And at the end of one of one of the long days, we were sitting at the dinner table in the big huge mansion/recording studio place that was in a house that belonged to Roger Waters, and around twilight we see these two shadowy figures approaching in the big picture window. I look closer, and I see it's George Harrison and John McEnroe. We had been watching McEnroe all day at Wimbledon, and there he is in our faces. So it's like whoa, what's he doing here? They heard we were in town, so they just wanted to come over and jam.
"So then George invited us over to his house and blah, blah, blah. A year later, I get a phone call on my answering machine and it's a message that says (affects British accent) 'Hello Will, this is George Harrison calling. I'd like to steal you away from that television program to play with me for a night at the Albert Hall. So please call me.' Now I have a brother Rob who does a pretty great George impression, and I assumed it was my brother so I didn't call him back. At the end of the day I called my brother and said, 'Hey man, great George impression earlier today. It sounded amazing.' And he said, 'I didn't call you.' So I said 'Uh oh, I'll call you back!'
"So I called the number and it was George Harrison himself inviting me to play at what turned out to be his last concert under his own name at the Royal Albert Hall. It was in '93, I think. And it was really, really exciting. Ringo came out for the encore and played 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps' and 'Roll Over Beethoven' with us. So that was just unbelievable. Rock 'n' roll heaven. It was a blast. I can't even describe how exhilaratingly wonderful it was. I was screaming to the people in the front row, 'I'm in rock 'n' roll heaven!' I practically cartwheeled onto the stage!"
Lee's involvement with McCartney was equally memorable. "There were a couple of Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremonies -- I'm always playing in the house band for those things, since 1985 anyway -- and McCartney always comes up and jams in those situations. But the time I really felt like I was part of the scene was when he did the Concert for New York right after 9/11, and he asked me to play bass on the tunes he was playing piano on, 'Let It Be' and 'Freedom,' a new tune he wrote specifically for the occasion. There were also a couple of other tunes that we did from his new album at the time, Driving Rain. That was pretty wonderful."
Considering the fact that he invests a good amount of his time with the Fab Faux, it's only natural that Lee would keep those connections intact. So we had to ask: Has he ever played the Fab Faux's covers for the real life Fabs themselves. "I've actually tried to explain it to those guys, but they kind of roll their eyes," he responds. "I think they have a particular disdain for Beatles cover bands."
The Fab Faux perform at 8 p.m. on February 22, at the Parker Playhouse, 707 N.E. 8th Street, Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $42.93 to $95.93, with special VIP tickets costing $128.79. Phone 954-462-0222.
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