“I have been very fortunate and blessed by God to play with a lot of my musical heroes,” bassist and composer Taylor Lee says. He’s played with the likes of Jeff Sipe Trio, Nico and Vinz, and banjoist Béla Fleck.
“One thing I notice with all of the world-class cats is they are fully immersed into their craft,” he notes, “and [they are] humble.”
Lee’s years of touring with the instrumental titans has provided a wealth of experience and helped him sharpen his own compositional skills. While on tour with Nico and Vinz as their bass player, he performed on “David Letterman,” “The Today Show” and the 2015 Pro Bowl halftime show.
“We also got the opportunity to play events like The Jingle Ball and Essence Festival alongside Taylor Swift and Ariana Grande,” Lee adds. “Getting to play on live television shows was good for my confidence as a player.”
Taylor Lee is now preparing to release his first solo record, “Lightning Man,” which embodies his years of eclectic endeavors—as well as a few guest players he’s come to know. Lee will celebrate “Lightning Man” at his release party at Bourgie Nights on Friday.
The name “Lighting Man” originally appeared as a superhero Lee created when he drew comics as a young artist at 9 or 10 years old. “He was this cool character with blue pants and a yellow cape,” he remembers. “He had the ability to channel lightning, kind of like Thor, I guess. This album is his title track, his theme song I guess you could say.”
It’s only appropriate the album features some of Lee’s heroes and mentors. He invited several folks to lend talent, such as Otto Gross and Lennar Razzor on keyboards, Joshua Mayfield on drums and Steven J. Collins on talkbox.
“Oteil Burbridge, the bassist with Dead and Company alongside John Mayer, is also featured on the album,” Lee divulges. “He is a huge influence on me musically and spiritually! He actually gave me a bass of his when I was 16, after hearing me play. There isn’t a nicer guy in the world.”
Burbridge wasn’t the only influential mentor invited to play on the record. Longtime instructor Steve Bailey and Fleck make appearances, too.
“Béla is featured on ‘Banana Pudding,’” Lee confirms. “I had the opportunity to play with him several years ago at the Warren Haynes Christmas Jam and we have stayed in contact. He is such a humble guy and really has his own language, musically. I played with him last month at his banjo camp and it was amazing. We were playing jazz standards for a huge listening audience!
“Steve [Bailey] has been my mentor since I was in my early teens,” Lee continues. “I’ve studied with him for many years and strive to be as accomplished as he has been. Both guys played some amazing stuff on the album.”
If nothing else, remaining true to himself was the number-one lesson Lee took away from the experience. He applied it to his songwriting. The record as a whole is a culmination of Lee’s musical influences molded into something new. Some tunes were co-written and arranged, but most songs originated as a bass line.
“My writing style is very eclectic,” he says of the mostly improvised compositions. “I would say some of my greatest influences are Hans Zimmer, Jaco Pastorius, Michael D’Angelo. . . . My compositional skills have been honed in my years on the road and I really feel they are showcased greatly in my music on this CD.”
Lee’s wife, Sara, has taken lead on some vocals. She and Lee wrote “Prayer” together, which encompasses their spirituality and faith in God.
“[‘Prayer’] really is our representation of how amazing God has been and the wonderful things He has done for our family,” Lee explains. “[Sara] has truly been amazing in the process of the album, giving me musical advice and supporting me all the long nights I was getting this together. Her singing on that tune is one of the climatic moments of the album to me.”
The theme of family also runs strong on the record with “Song for Noah.” It serves as an interlude and is dedicated to Lee’s 1-year-old son. “He is the best thing that’s ever happened to me and this music showcases that love,” Lee notes. “He even makes a special appearance!”
Hard copies of “Lightning Man” will be available at the release party on October 5. They’re also at CD Baby and streaming on iTunes. Meanwhile, Taylor has assembled a “tour de force” for his live rhythm section, which features several special guests like drummer Michael D’Angelo and Nashville guitarist Mike Seal (Jerry Douglas, Jeff Sipe Band, Jeff Coffin).
“All I’m gonna say is you gotta hear [Mike Seal] to believe how good he is,” Lee tells. “He tours with Jerry Douglas and really is someone you don’t want to miss. . . . [Seal and Michael D’Angelo] know my music well, and they see the horizon line when it comes to music. They both are amazing at making the music breathe. I never had to tell them much of anything.”