Lee Dorsey

The Unfairly Overlooked Lee Dorsey

Some performers simply make you happy to hear them. Lee Dorsey, who lived from 1924 to 1986, fits the category to a tee.

This is what Digital Dream Door — a great site for music lovers, by the way — had to say about the man who was born and died in New Orleans:

One of the most underrated and overlooked figures of his time, Lee Dorsey signaled dramatic change in rock music during a decade of hitmaking in the 1960’s and remains widely revered among other artists even while his name to the average music fan today would barely register a glimmer of recognition.

Above is Dorsey’s signature song, “Working in the Coal Mine,” was written by Allen Tussaint.

Dorsey lived from 1924 to 1986. His first hit, Ya Ya, was inspired by a nursery rhyme. It’s below.

Before he began to sing professionally, Dorsey fought as a light heavyweight under the name Kid Chocolate. Though the bios say he was successful in the ring, the Kid Chocolate boxing fans remember was a Cuban fighter.

A look at the bios put Dorsey squarely in the middle of the great tradition of New Orleans music. This includes — and goes beyond — the association with The Meters and Alan Toussaint. For one thing, he was a childhood friend of Fats Domino. The video above, which seems to have negative production values, finds Dorsey apparently at his day job in a body shop. I expected somebody to come over and say, “Nice song, Lee. Now get back to work on that Buick.” It’s unclear if this was intentional or if the film crew just showed up and asked to shoot the video. In any case, it’s a great video and a great song. It’s also good symbol of all of the great musicians who had to find other ways to support themselves.

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