CHICAGO: First Chicago Blues Couple

Posted on 7/15/2009 by Monica Yasher

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I have known Cyrus and Lee for about Five years. I first met them at a jam session in Riverdale, Illinois. They hosted it every Sunday. The first time I heard them I liked them. Cyrus is a master vocalist and blues harpist. Lady Lee has one of the most riveting female voices I have ever heard. She has a very deep baritone voice that is totally unexpected.

I recently was invited to a private birthday party for Cyrus. I of course attended and was glad I did. Cyrus and Lady Lee sang a duet called "Make me Yours" by Betty Swan. It was one of the most heartfelt performances I have ever witnessed. You could tell by that one song that they are the "BLUES COUPLE". They perform many duets and are a true joy to the Chicago blues Scene.

I asked my blues buddy Jim, if we could conduct the interview at his house. He agreed. I was to meet Cyrus and Lee at a gas station around the corner from his home. We meet and they followed me to Jim’s house. Jim lives on a very prominent golf course in a suburb of Chicago. After pleasantries were exchanged we moved outside on a deck/porch that has a view of a pond with a large fountain. The fountain created a splashing sound similar to a waterfall. It set the mood for a very relaxed atmosphere. It was perfect for the interview. The evening sun was just setting and the temperature was a cool 70 degrees. We all popped a top settled in and chatted.

Gatorman: I want to thank you Cyrus Hayes and Lady Lee for taking time out of your busy schedule to meet and to answer a couple of questions. You two are a couple. Right?

Cyrus: Yes

Gatorman: How did you first meet?

Cyrus: We met in a club called Different Strokes.

Gatorman: Can you tell me a little bit about where you born?

Cyrus: I was born In Arkansas.

Gatorman: What Part?

Cyrus: Little Rock.

Gatorman: How about you Lady Lee?

Lady Lee: I was born in Lexington Mississippi.

Gatorman: What was that like, big family, small family?

Cyrus: Kind of a small family.

Gatorman: What was the first song you can remember hearing or listening to?

Cyrus: “Scratch My Back” You know Slim Harpo.

Gatorman: Yeah sure, How about you Lady Lee? Do you remember the first song you listened to? I want you to go way back. 6, 7, 8 years old.

Lady Lee: I wasn’t into music.

Gatorman: Really, not at all?

Lady Lee: No, not at all. (laughs)

Jim: When did you become interested in music?

Lady Lee: Aw, when I came to Chicago.

Gatorman: Which was?

Lady Lee: I used to, aw, in 1970. I used to like to write. I still do. I like to write music. And I didn’t get into music until I meet Cyrus.

Jim: Love at first sight?

Lady Lee: (Glances at Cyrus) No…..Not at first sight. (laughs)

Gatorman: So you came to Chicago in 1970 then. Why did you come to Chicago?

Lady Lee: Well…..I had to leave there my Grandma kicked me out.

Gatorman: What about you Cyrus? When did you come to Chicago?

Cyrus: I was up here with a Band. We tried to make it here in the recording business. We lasted a little while, but some of the guys, their wives called them back home so I stayed up here.

Gatorman: What was the name of that group?

Cyrus: The name of the group was (long pause) "The Click."

Gatorman: The Click. What year was that?

Cyrus: That was in 1987.

Gatorman: When did you first start playing? When did you decide this is what you wanted to do?

Cyrus: When I was about 12 years old.

Gatorman: What year was that 1960 or so.

Cyrus: I did a lot of talent shows, schools and I won every talent show I was in.

Gatorman: What kind of type of performance did you do? Vocals or…

Cyrus: Vocals and piano.

Gatorman: I know you are a keyboard player.

Gatorman: How about you Lady Lee? Who influenced you to start singing?

Lady Lee: Cyrus.

Gatorman: Did you have hard time getting on stage initially?

Lady Lee: Yes I did. He used to throw me up there. I used to goof up all the time. (laughs) He would make me get up there and sing anyway.

Gatorman: It is a good thing he did, for us.

Lady Lee: Yes, a good thing he did.

Gatorman: Who are you listening to currently?

Cyrus: I listen to a lot of Albert… Yeah Albert King. Yeah I did a show with Albert in like 1989

Gatorman: I didn’t know that.

Cyrus: Yeah,,,I opened up for Albert King,,, it was in Little rock. Down by the community center.

Gatorman: Very cool. How about you Lady Lee, who do you, listen to?

Lady Lee: Denise Lasalle.

Gatorman: Cyrus when did you start on the harmonica? Were you 12 or,,,,,

Cyrus: I started when I was about 6 or 7.

Gatorman: Wow you were a young child when you started.

Cyrus: Yeah. I started fooling around with a harp.

Gatorman: Where did you get the harmonica from?

Cyrus: My dad.

Gatorman: Your Dad Played.

Cyrus: Yeah he played a little bit.

Gatorman: How about your mother did she sing?

Cyrus: Yeah she sung.

Gatorman: You came from a musical background obviously.

Cyrus: Plus I went to Philander Smith College for voice lessons.

Gatorman: Did it do any good? (Lady Lee and I break out laughing)

Cyrus: (busts out laughing) Yeah man.

Gatorman: Just joking Cyrus.

Cyrus: Did me a lot of good. If hadn’t been for that I would not be where I am today.

Gatorman: All kidding aside you are one of the greatest vocalists I have ever heard. Both you and Lady Lee are terrific. Lady Lee you just started singing when Cyrus forced you onto the stage?

Lady Lee: He forced me

Gatorman: He forced you huh.

Lady Lee: Yeah he really forced me yeah.

Gatorman: Can you remember the very first place that you played and got paid? The very first paying gig?

Cyrus: Yeah this club in Little Rock called the “Rocket 88 Club”

Gatorman: Rocket 88. How old were you at the time?

Cyrus: About 14 or 15.

Gatorman: How much did you make back then?

Cyrus: 20 or 30 a night.

Gatorman: For the whole band?

Cyrus: Just for one guy.

Gatorman: What was that 1964-65?

Cyrus: Yeah around there.

Gatorman: That was pretty good money back then. In 1960 the average salary was 2.50 an hour.

Cyrus: Yeah

Gatorman: What about you Lady Lee? The first time you performed was it with Cyrus?

Lady Lee: First time performance was with Cyrus.

Gatorman: Where was that performance?

Lady Lee: It was on the West side. I forget (Directed at Cyrus) wasn’t it a small club?

Cyrus: Wood’s Lounge

Gatorman: W-o-o-d’s Lounge?

Cyrus: Yeah, over by the Delta Fish market.

Gatorman: (towards Lady Lee) How did you like performing?

Lady Lee: I didn’t like it at the time. (laughs)

Gatorman: No. You didn’t like it?

Lady Lee: No. Not when I started out.

Gatorman: You like it now?

Lady Lee: Yeah in the last couple of years I’m beginning to like it. Before that I never cared for it that much.

Gatorman: Now that’s amazing given the talent that you have.

Lady Lee: Yeah I just started liking it for a couple of years now. I’m taking it serious.

Jim: Cyrus plays the keys. Lee are you getting into playing the keys?

Lady Lee: You mean the keyboards?

Jim: Yeah.

Lady Lee: No. I don’t mess with the keyboard. I play the harmonica now.

Jim: Oh, do you?

Gatorman: I saw them doing a duet.

Lady Lee: I play a little harmonica now.

Gatorman: Can you tell me the size of largest audience you played for and where?

Cyrus: Aww…… It was in Little Rock. About 5-6,000.

Gatorman: How about you Lady Lee?

Lady Lee: The most I played for was at the fest.

Gatorman: Chicago Blues Fest?

Lady Lee: Yes.

Gatorman: How hard is it for you to keep a solid band together?

Cyrus: It’s very hard Terry. I call the guys Mo.

Gatorman: You call them what? Say that again

Cyrus: I call them mo, because they want mo money.

Gatorman: They all want mo money don’t they?

Cyrus: The gigs don’t pay that much and they still want mo money. I have to fiddle around this and that in order to keep things going.

Gatorman: Everybody thinks you’re making a million bucks. Don’t they?

Cyrus: Yeah making a million bucks.

Gatorman: I saw you a couple of weeks ago at the cool river club. The band you had was one of the best bands I ever heard. That was one hot band. I mean it was really good. Walter Scott on Guitar, Darryl Wright on Bass. Cyrus I hope you don’t mind this next question, what’s with the bird calls?

Cyrus: What with the bird calls? Just something to enthuse the audience.

Gatorman: It does, it really gets their attention! It really works and it’s pretty cool. Lady Lee how did you develop the baritone voice?

Lady Lee: The Baritone?

Gatorman: Sing so low.

Lady Lee: Oh I don’t know. (laughs) It’s just natural.

Gatorman: Did Cyrus encourage you in that range?

Lady Lee: No, Cyrus likes that sweet sound.

Cyrus: She just bought out that range.

Gatorman: She just laid it on, ya! You didn’t know that was coming did you?

Cyrus: No! It’s like a hurricane coming through the wind.

Lady Lee: He likes them little sweet voices.

Gatorman: You both recently played the Chicago Blues Fest on the Gibson stage. How did you like that? How did you feel about it?

Cyrus: I feel great about it. That was my second time. Both times was on the Gibson stage.

Gatorman: You really had a good crowd considering the weather.

Cyrus: It was about the same as last year.

Gatorman: How did you like it Lady Lee?

Lady Lee: I loved it, I really loved it.

Gatorman: There are a lot of people around the world that will read this interview and the Chicago Blues Fest is considered the ultimate fest and place to play. Do you feel it is?

Both Cyrus and Lee: Yeah it is.

Gatorman: What can we expect for you both next. What’s new what’s going to happen?

Cyrus: We going to try working another album.

Gatorman: You do have a CD out already, what is the name of it?

Cyrus: Mr. President.

Gatorman: You wrote the title track. Mr. President didn’t you?

Cyrus: I did.

Gatorman: Why did you write that particular song?

Cyrus: Well, because we are all dealing with hard times and it seems like everybody is going through it today and people getting laid off the job.

Gatorman: It is a very difficult situation out there for everybody.

Cyrus: Sure is!

I looked at the time. It was time to wrap it up and we had to get going to The Cool River Club. The pro jam was just about to start. We all got in our cars, Jim in his Porsche, Lady Lee and Cyrus in their Concord and I followed lastly in my 37 miles to the gallon, 1995 Saturn. Considering the current economic conditions times I really do love my car.

Blues Me Or Lose Me,

Terrance " Gatorman" Lape

Copyright July 2009 Terrance B. Lape

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