British bad music fans will know Dickey Lee from his awful 1965 near-hit Laurie (Strange Things Happen), a staple of the old Kenny Everett Bottom 30 and featured on the very compilation which inspired the name of this blog. Laurie, for those who do not know it, is the tale of a weedy teen, a pissed-off father and a spectral sweater stealer – a teen death disc in the very best tradition of Jimmy Cross’s I Want My Baby Back or John Leyton’s Johnny Remember Me (sorry for that last reference, I’m still a little Joe Meek-obsessed!)
Laurie is an awful disc. Dickey Lee’s feeble voice is reed-thin and whiny: he comes over like a spotty teen whose voice is in the process of breaking, even though Lee was fast approaching his 30th birthday when the disc was issued. But it’s also a great disc, redolent with bad taste and stupid lyrics. You’ve got to love it.
Dickey Lee was no stranger to bad records. His first hit, released three years before Laurie is a miserable little affair called Patches (not to be confused with the Clarence Carter record of the same name, although in my book that’s easily as bad). With a central theme shamelessly ripped off from Johnny Preston’s hit Running Bear, Patches tells the story of a pair of lovers from opposite sides of the tracks who end up drowning – one possibly accidentally, the other on purpose after hearing of his girlfriend’s watery end. It’s another fine example of the bad taste that would blight (or enhance, depending on how you look at it) Lee’s career.
Born Royden Dickey Lipscomb on September 21, 1936 in Memphis, Lee made his first recordings in 1957: his debut, Stay True Baby was issued on Tampa Records; he later moved to Sun for a pair of 45s, Good Lovin’ and Fool, Fool, Fool. While he was issuing these early sides he was studying at Memphis State University on a boxing scholarship.
Despite his early attempt at stardom, before the success of Patches he was better known as a songwriter, having composed She Thinks I Still Care, which has been covered by George Jones, Elvis Presley, Connie Francis and many others. Because of the teen suicide theme, Patches was banned by a number of radio stations in the US and by the BBC. In spite of that it still went on to sell over one million copies.
After Laurie, Lee would only score a brace of minor chart hits in his home country before switching styles to country. Since the early 70s he has composed or co-composed tracks for a great number of artists including Emmylou Harris, George Strait, Brenda lee, Jerry lee Lewis and Reba McEntire. He’s also had 30 hits in his own right on the US Country charts. Dickey was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1995.
So here are Dickey’s two biggies: Patches and Laurie. Enjoy!