Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Katie Lee - Songs of Couch & Consultation (even more liner notes)

Arizona native, Katie Lee was born to a Tucson building contractor and his wife, a professional singer, in the boom years of inter-war properity. Indulged from an early age, her father schooled her in bushcraft while mother coached her in breath control & vocal technique. Ravine and desert exploration figured prominently in a happy childhood. She learned songs from the local cowboys, and sang with her youthful peers around campfires lit beneath the stark desert sky.

Hardship years of the great depression abruptly sundered family fortunes; and this pre-adolescent pioneerwoman was entrusted her share of breadwinning chores. By the age of 12, she was regularly striking out for frontier wilderlands of the Sonoran Desert, behind the wheel of the family's Model A Ford. The wild pigs & jackrabbits she brought down with her .22 calibre rifle helped in the feeding of hungry kinfolks. In Winter, East Coast carpetbaggers hit town on a seasonal holiday jaunt; Lee's family rented out their home on the city fringe and took more modest lodgings in the centre of town - saving the difference for Summer months.

If this erstwhile Arizona Cactus Flower was something of a tomboy, she maintained a dilligence at piano lessons (but abandoned ballet - pirouettes made her dizzy). Graduating from Arizona State University with a BA (drama major, English lit minor), Lee married early & impetuously, to a shavetail from the nearby Davis-Monathan Air Force Base. 3 months later her husband was posted South to Guatemala. Lee adventured after him in pursuit, arriving in Mexico with one of her girlfriends. With the help of some local friends, she obtained a visa for the border crossing. Shortly after reunion with her husband, she was pregnant. She made the return trip to home. Her husband followed not so long afterwards, but the marriage faltered and a new son was not enough to save it. The pair divorced.

With junior entrusted to the temporary care of her own mother, Lee made West for Hollywood. By day, she worked as a secretary for one-time silent matinee idol, Mary Pickford, on the United Artists lot. At night she worked at the Pasadena Playhouse; sometimes as a set decorator but more often acting. She also practised over her guitar pickings. Before long she discovered that her ex-husband, newly remarried, had effected something of a custody coup - seizing their son, and adopting him under Florida law. Lee would not see her child for the next 4 decades and the grieving weighed heavily upon her. For several years she attended Jungian therapy by way of reconciling herself to this trauma.

Despite screen testing & securing bit parts in Hollywood features, Lee enjoyed more success on the nation's airwaves. Fellow Arizonan, Andy White, was scripting for NBC-syndicated The Great Gildersleeve, and helped her to an audition. A romantic foil for the eponymous lead, "Katie Lee, the Green Mountain girl" became a regular and popular guest on the show. By 1953 she'd figured in some of the most successful radio serials of the day: in addition to The Great Gildersleeve, there were spots on Halls of Ivy, The Railroad Hour, and One Man's Family. For a time, she was music director for the weekly Bell Telephone Hour. These were transitional years for US broadcasting, and Lee made the leap to live television along with some of the programs she'd voiced for; appearing in Armchair Detective, the first live drama telecast from Los Angeles.

In a paradoxical sense it was her popularity on radio that pushed her towards a career in folk music. A rendition of her Girl In The Wood signature on The Great Gildersleeve won her sackloads of fan mail far in advance of what the show's lead had ever received, and he agitated for her removal. Her discovery of Glen Canyon, rafting down the Colorado River through Grand Canyon, recovered her awe for nature, and awakened her rage at its despoliation. Disgusted at last with the pretence of this epicentre of industrial entertainment, it was Josh White and Burl Ives who provided some robust mentoring and advice. With Ives' help, she launched herself on a national tour of nightclubs and coffee shops. She researched traditional musics at every opportunity, haunting libraries and scrutinising broadsides and songbooks for folkloric materials to adapt and perform.

In 1956 Lee was performing at Murray Franklin's nightclub in Miami when Bud Freeman called long-distance from Hollywood. Would she like to record an LP of folk music? At curtain close she headed east in her Thunderbird.

(etc etc etc...)

Available now from the Omni Recording Corporation

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