Thursday, January 29, 2015
R.I.P. Lee Baby Simms
I thought I got fired a lot, but Lee Baby worked in the following markets: Charleston, Orlando, San Antonio, Hartford, Cleveland, San Diego (twice), San Antonio (three times), Detroit, Los Angeles (four times), Miami, Santa Rosa, San Francisco (twice), Honolulu, and Phoenix. A grand total of 27 stations.
Lee Baby Sims was fearless, and obviously paid the price (along with a lot of apartment security deposits). No format could really hold him.
But when he was on his game there was no one more brilliant. First off, he used his voice like a fine Stradivarius violin. His inflections, smooth delivery, and cadence were both soothing and thrilling at the same time. How do you do that? How does anyone do that? No one could imitate him because no one had the pipes and the feel for that unique delivery. It was like word jazz -- music all its own that fit in perfectly with the music he was talking over.
Like everything else about Lee Baby Simms, it’s hard to describe his style other than “all his own.” He was sort of a cross between the Beat generation and Woodstock generation. A hipster/hippie. Somewhat like the Fonz in that by including you in his circle he made you feel cool (even though, if you were like me, you were anything but).
And it felt genuine, not an act. He shared his real feelings, his honest opinions, his candid observations – and that’s what got him fired more often than not.
Back in his heyday, the ‘60s and ‘70s, there were usually two competing Top 40 stations in any given town. One was usually the powerhouse and then there was “the other one.” For the most part, Lee Baby always worked for the “other one.” I can relate. So did I. The powerhouse was generally heavily structured while the competitor was looser; trying anything they could to attract an audience. The competitor took more chances (he had nothing to lose) and tended to hire more “personalities.” And so, as many times as Lee got fired, there were always program directors willing to hire him because he was just so fucking good.
Lee Baby was also not the luckiest guy in the world. I remember when he was at KCBQ in San Diego. There was an opening at CKLW in Detroit (a MAJOR powerhouse). So he taped his show one night and sent it. That tape has made the rounds. It’s phenomenal; Lee at his best. Lee didn’t get hired. But the newsman on the tape did.
The problem with always being on “the other station” is that your ratings tended to suck. So there was zero stability. Those stations were throwing anything against the wall, so they would frequently change formats, fire program directors, adopt new music policies. How many times was Lee Baby just a victim of all these upheavals? Like I said, not lucky.
Lee Baby Simms deserved more recognition. He deserved to be in whatever Halls of Fame the radio industry concocts. He was a true original and a shining example of how radio could be great. He elevated the medium to an art form. Pity he was never really appreciated in his time. RIP Lee Baby. You were the best.
Here's a sample of his work. Listen. Thanks to friend of the blog, David Kruh.
And here's a video tribute with a great aircheck from Artie Breyfogle.
Thanks to Gary Mack for the photo of Lee Baby at KCBQ, San Diego.