Being the hardest working man in show business has been a boon to Will Lee’s career but prevented the ubiquitous bassist from diligently pursuing his own personal recording projects over the years. Between his daily commitment to “Late Show with David Letterman,” where he has played in the CBS Orchestra since the show’s inception in 1993 (and for 11 years before that during Letterman’s tenure on NBC), his frequent session work and his ongoing involvement with Fab Faux, the premier Beatles tribute band that has been his passion since the group formed in 1998, there has been precious little time for solo projects.
Lee’s last recording as a leader was 1993’s Oh!, which included brilliant covers of Doc Pomus’ “Lonely Avenue,” Jimi Hendrix’s “Drifting” (with guitar solo by Jeff Beck) and the haunting Rodgers and Hart jazz standard “My Funny Valentine.” Now, 20 years later, comes Love, Gratitude & Other Distractions, which features several cleverly-penned Lee originals and boasts an all-star cast including guitar heroes Steve Lukather, Pat Metheny and ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, former Weather Report drummer Peter Erskine, international vocal star Akiko Yano, legendary drummer Steve Gadd, former Mahavishnu Orchestra drummer & Pop producer Narada Michael Walden, contemporary jazz supergroup Fourplay’s acclaimed pianist-composer Bob James & guitarist Chuck Loeb, New Orleans music icon Allen Toussaint and longtime Letterman Show musical director and multi-faceted keyboardist Paul Shaffer. Will also shares songwriting credits on the album with Willie Nile, Leni Stern, Oli Rockberger, John Tropea and Dave Delhomme. “It was fun putting it all together,” Lee says of Love, Gratitude & Other Distractions. “Every song is it’s own little adventure. And every word of it is true.”
Born in San Antonio, Texas on September 8, 1952, Lee grew up in a family of musicians (his father Bill Lee was a working jazz musician who later became a renowned jazz educator, serving as Dean of the University of Miami’s music school from 1964-1982. Will started out with piano lessons and later gravitated to violin, trumpet, and French horn before finally settling on drums after seeing The Beatles on their first “Ed Sullivan Show” appearance in 1964. His interest eventually shifted to bass guitar, which he later studied at the University of Miami. After working around the Miami area, he was recruited in 1971 to join the New York jazz-rock band Dreams, which featured trumpeter Randy Brecker and his tenor sax playing brother Michael, trombonist Barry Rogers and drummer Billy Cobham. Lee appears on the groundbreaking group’s second album, 1972’s Imagine My Surprise. He subsequently toured with Bette Midler, Barry Manilow and BJ Thomas and in 1973 joined Horace Silver’s quintet alongside Randy and Michael Brecker and drummer Alvin Queen. He became a charter member of The Brecker Brothers Band in 1975 and remained with that popular funk-fusion group until 1978, appearing on The Brecker Bros., Back to Back and Don’t Stop the Music. In 1979, Lee joined The 24th Street Band, which included guitarist Hiram Bullock, drummer Steve Jordan and keyboardist Clifford Carter. They released three albums that were wildly popular in Japan, where they played to adoring crowds in concert. The core of The 24th Street Band – Lee, Bullock and Jordan — was later hired by former “Saturday Night Live” keyboardist Paul Shaffer to play in the house band for “Late Night with David Letterman,” which premiered on February 1, 1982 on NBC.
Lee’s unerring time feel, sight-reading skills and superb soloistic abilities have made him an in-demand session player since the mid ‘70s. (His list of more than 1700 studio dates reads like a Who’s Who in the rock, pop and jazz worlds, including recordings with Aretha Franklin, Barbra Streisand, Cher, Chaka Khan, Carly Simon, Ronnie Spector, Liza Minnelli, Christopher Cross, Steely Dan, Diana Ross, George Benson, Gloria Estefan, Pat Martino, Bob James, David Sanborn, Ricky Martin, The Bee Gees, Ray Charles, Frankie Valli, Weather Report, Ivan Lins, Grover Washington, Jr., Taj Mahal, Ringo Starr, Billy Joel, Herbie Mann, Mariah Carey, Pat Metheny, Barry Manilow, Bette Midler, Gato Barbieri, Frank Sinatra and Paul McCartney!
Will has also lent his considerable vocal talents (his voice has been heard on hundreds of commercials). He has the distinction of having performed with all four Beatles, and with The CBS Orchestra has played in the house band at all the Rock ‘n Roll Hall Of Fame induction ceremonies. In addition to performing all over the US with The Fab Faux, Lee also gigs regularly in a power trio led by Oz Noy and has recently appeared alongside Randy Brecker, guitarist Mike Stern, drummer Dave Weckl and others on a Brecker Brothers Band reunion tour. But if he’s not out with any of those bands, he can be seen every weekday night on TV, playing bass, singing and otherwise cutting up with the CBS Orchestra on “Late Show with David Letterman.”