No Mean Feat
"Mean Mistreater" (Huey P. Smith)
Lee Bates, Instant 3313, 1972
I mean it
I found this single along with another by Lee Bates (Obie Leroy Bates) within the past month in some bins at a reasonable price and grabbed ‘em, as I had nothing by him on vinyl, just a few sides on CD comps. Bates, Mississippi-born and New Orleans-raised, is a rather minor figure in the annals of New Orleans soul whose unschooled vocal style owes much to the great Otis Redding; but you can also occasionally hear the influence of his former boss, Chris Kenner, too.
In the early 1960's, Bates, a fomer dockworker, was Kenner's valet, driver and general caretaker, as the successful singer/songwriter was a profligate drunk. While on the road with Kenner, Bates got a chance to start singing and was soon regularly opening the shows. In 1964, Bates recorded a demo to present to studio and label owner, Cosimo Matassa, who liked what he heard and did a session with Bates. The resuling single, “Bad, Bad Understanding” b/w “I’m Forever Crying” was released on White Cliffs, but was not successful, although it did help Bates to start getting gigs of his own. He doesn’t seem to have recorded again until the early 1970’s, when Kenner recommended him to Instant. Over the course of the next five years or so, Bates had at least eight singles released on the label, until it finally went under in 1977. Subsequently, he led a band that regularly worked on Bourbon Street during the 1980’s, and released a solo CD about eight years ago.
“Mean Mistreater” b/w “I Do Things Come Naturally” was Lee Bates’ fourth Instant single. His Otis Redding affinity is evident here in his very strong, soulful vocal. Written and produced by Huey Smith, the simple, fairly straight-ahead arrangement has a groove more reminiscent of Stax than New Orleans; but, still, it's got great in-the-pocket drumming with brief hi-hat syncopations at the start of every bar (is there a name for that, drummers?), an effective bass line, tasty guitar chops, and understated horns.
The other Bates single I bought, his first on Instant, is a much funkier outing with a reworking of “Bad, Bad Understanding” and a novelty dance tune, “Simon Says”. I’ll try to lay one of those on you later. But, for now, I think today’s feature is a fine introduction to what Lee Bates could do.