Lee Denson:
No More "New Shoes"
For That Memphis Cat

Posted November 22, 2007

Lee Denson, born in 1932, who recorded at Hollywood's Goldstar Studio in 1957 the classic rockabilly song "New Shoes", with Eddie Cochran (gtr) and Connie "Guybo" Smith (bs), just passed away and was buried on Saturday, November 10th. That song was written by Eddie Cochran's early mentor, Ray Stanley, and VIK (an RCA subsidiary label) bought, in June 57, that master who carries all essential rockabilly elements but the song went nowhere. Lee Denson, originally from Memphis (Tn) subsequently recorded for "Kent" records under the pseudonym of Jesse James and even had his own hymn composition, "Miracle of the Rosary", cut by Elvis Presley in 1971. But that cat tie up with Elvis far early than 1971 ... the story started in 1948 and goes like it.

Jessie Lee Denson, and his brother Jim, grew up in Memphis and were living at the Lauderdale Courts when the Presley family arrived in Sept 1947 as told by Lee Denson. Their father, Jesse James Denson, was a minister who ran the Poplar Street Mission in Memphis (Tn) who also ran charities and from where the impoverished Presley's obtained most of them household possessions. On January 2, 1948, Jim Denson remembers meeting Elvis for the first time while Gladys was walked him to school every day. The word was out for bullies at Humes not to touch Elvis if they don't want to have to deal with Jim Denson and Dorsey Burnette. By the time, Jessie Lee had been in and out of juvenile facilities most of his young life, having run away from home and being fast to use his fists. By 1948, Lee Denson started to play music with Johnny and Dorsey Burnette, Elvis and Johnny Black, Bill Black's brother on the grass at the Lauderdale Courts. On June 4, 1952, Lee and Jimmy Denson took Elvis downtown to Main and Union Street to a local TV studio for an audition but they were turned down flat. In their own words, they were the only ones Mrs. Presley would let take Elvis anywhere without her coming along.

In 1953, Lee Denson took his guitar and went to Nashville (Tn) after having work for a time in Key West (Florida) where he meets Ernest Hemingway. After a while, Lee was back in Key West where he made good money singing in a club named "Sloppy Joe" before coming back to Memphis. On the January 18, 1954, at the Memphis Auditorium, Lee Denson challenged for the South Memphis Golden Gloves championship in featherweight category while Johnny Burnette was fighting on welterweight category.

On July 4, 1956, Lee played a benefit show with Elvis at Russwood Park in Memphis and next day they visited him at his home on 1034 Audubon Drive. That day Elvis said them that Colonel said him to go far from Bill and Scotty. Both brothers, true to them southern culture of honor, tradition and loyalty, remember Elvis about the importance of those sidemen and how they were the corner stones of his rockin' beat. Jim remembers also how Elvis 1956 incident at a local gas station in downtown Memphis was staged by the Colonel as a publicity stunt to make Elvis look like a bad boy.

When the Burnette Brothers and them guitar player Paul Burlison went North in search of fortune in April 1956, the back seat of them car was occupied by Jimmy and Lee Denson. All of them appeared on the Ted Mack Amateur hour, and settled in New-York, but only The Burnette made it with "Coral" records with a first session cut in New-York on May 7, 1956 who gave birth to the all-time classic "Tear It Up". On January 5, 1957, Jimmy and Lee went to the CBS studio to see Elvis work rehearsals for the Ed Sullivan Show broadcasted on TV the next day. Here they meet Nick Adams, the actor, who acted more or less like a spy for Colonel Parker. Nick ran to the Colonel after the show and told him the Densons were in town! When they came to visit Elvis at his hotel, the Colonel said them "No one sees Elvis" even if they could see Elvis in the middle of the room looking down at the floor. Jimmy Denson never wanted to see Elvis after that day event, but Lee met again Elvis in 1961.

Early 57, Lee had his first record out on VIK 251 who coupled two Eddie Cochran's compositions "The Pied Piper" and "Heart of a Fool". "The Pied Piper" seemed to have made some noise around and Lee was soon on a national tour with Gene Vincent, Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins and Warren Smith. He even appeared at the Dick Clark's Bandstand show on national television.

Lee moved to California around May 1957 and soon rubbed again shoulders with The Burnette Brothers who came in Hollywood per his advice. Lee got the brothers a job at a club called "Hollywood on The Pike" in Long Beach where they played right after him. From there, the Burnette started to place some tunes with Ricky Nelson and "Imperial" records and they had them families moved to California. Jimmy reminisces meeting Ricky Nelson and Eddie Cochran coming visit Lee with Gene Vincent.

Cochran introduced Lee to songwriter and music publisher Ray Stanley who produced his second single VIK 281 offering "New Shoes" b/w "Climb Love Mountain". "New Shoes", cut as a demo with Eddie Cochran playin' guitar and Guybo Smith on bass is a classic Rockabilly song who found out his way for the first time on LP in 1979. That UK LP titled "RCA Victor Rock'n'Rollers" meet a huge success among the rockabilly crowd with the songs of Lee Denson, Dave Rich, Joe Clay and the late great Janis Martin too name a few. Still in 1957, Lee returned to Memphis where he recorded some rough demos for the "Meteor" label before going back to California with his brother Jimmy. He worked out a deal for the "Kent" label for whom he recorded "High School Hop"/"Devil Doll" (Kent 306), in March 3, 1958, followed the same year by the classic "Red Hot Rockin' Blues" b/w "South's Gonna Rise Again" under the alias of "Jesse James" (Kent 314). Those songs, reissued on a rare teen inches LP in UK titled "Modern Rockabillies" (LP ACE 10 CH 32), with some wild recordings by Pat Cupp, became real favourites in European rockabilly hops in the early 80's. Some never issued "Kent" recordings will also find them way in 2002 on the great German CD "South's Gonna Raise Again" (Hydra records) who offer 23 songs by Lee Denson and on the ACE CD "Long Gone Daddies" in 2000. That last CD offer a great package of rockin' songs recorded for "Flair", "Crown", "Modern", "RPM" and others great independent labels. In 1959, Lee wrote a religious song titled "Miracle of the Rosary" and cut a demo at Joe Osborne's studio with the Jordanaires. Joe, a Ricky Nelson's band member, also owned the "Magic Lamp" label and had high hopes for that tune. In 1961, Lee came to visit Elvis in his Bel Air, California home and played the song for him and Priscilla. He thanked Elvis for his hospitality, placed a few songs with him and went home. On his May '71 recording session at RCA studios in Nashville, Elvis taped his voice on the instrumental track of the song recorded a couple of days earlier. That song was first issued on "Elvis Now" LP's (RCA LSP-4671) in February 72, and once again on "He Walks Beside Me" LP's (RCA AFL1-2772) in April 1978, giving some fat royalties checks to Lee through the years.

In 1960, Lee had two records on "Merri" records followed by another on "Magic Lamp". On those "Magic Lamp" recordings, Lee was backed on vocal by, then unknown, Karen and Richard Carpenter. Lee don't usually told it to people 'cause many should have look at him like a plain crazy guy.

Now Lee is gone upstairs to meet again his old Lauderdale Court's pal, Elvis Presley and will never need again some "New Shoes". Don't know if they will jam with Carl Perkins' "Blue Suede Shoes" or Lee's "Miracle of The Rosary" ...

That tribute should had never been write without the work of Dennis DeWitt published in "Blue Suede News" in 1994 and those great CD's issued by "ACE" records and "Hydra" records. My Thanks goes to them and my kindest regards to Lee's family.

Dominique "Imperial" ANGLARES
Sound of the 50's

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