Sunken Treasure: Frankie Lee Sims’ Masterly Texas Blues, 1953-1957
By the time Frankie Lee Sims got to make his first proper recordings in 1953 he had almost four decades of hard living under his belt
By the time Frankie Lee Sims got to make his first proper recordings in 1953 he had almost four decades of hard living under his belt. He was one of 13 children born into poverty in New Orleans to a mother and father who were both accomplished guitarists.
When the family moved to Marshall, Texas, in the early 1920s, Frankie’s own feeling for music was sparked by encounters with his cousin Sam Lightnin’ Hopkins whose guitar prowess had been nurtured by another cousin, Texas Alexander.
Sims saw the guitar as his one chance of a ticket out of penury. These restless dreams saw him leave home at 12 to pursue a life as an itinerant musician. He spent the 1930s drifting around the Lone Star State picking up gigs in local dances.
After four years in the US marines he returned to his music with renewed focus and by the late 1940s had established himself in the Dallas blues scene where T-Bone Walker was king. After a couple of false starts in 1948 and ’49 a recording career finally materialised in 1953 courtesy of Speciality records.
His first singles for the label are where this anthology begins. As starts go, it’s audacious. His deeply gutteral voice makes an immediate impression on Lucy Mae Blues. There’s a kind of urgency relatable to the fire in his belly after so many years on the sidelines.
His singles for Speciality met with mixed reaction, however, and if it weren’t for the intervention of the Ace label in 1957 the story could have ended there. Instead he got to expand his sound to include piano, bass, drums and two saxophones.
The Ace recordings are the sound of Sims on full power. The more raucous setting suits him. In the midst of this stormy weather he stays cool. The backing of a full band propels him into navigating the kind of deep grooves that demand attention from dancing feet.