Thursday, January 29, 2015

R.I.P. Lee Baby Simms

So sorry to hear of the apparent passing of Lee Baby Simms. He was 72. Lee Baby Simms was maybe the greatest disc jockey you never heard of or don’t remember. Even if he was in your market he never stayed around long enough to really attract a following.

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.


Don Jennett said...

You said it so well, Ken. Lee Baby had such a way with words, whether on the air or at the keyboard. I'd say that he'll be missed, but he has already BEEN missed since he last opened a microphone c. 2003.

John Fox said...

What a shock! Even though I couldn't often hear him in North San Diego County due to the nighttime power cut, he made a big impression on me when he did evenings at KCBQ ... and fortunately, occasional afternoons on weekends. A real original! He invited me into the Santee studios and showed me how to record the appearance of a "favorite teacher contest" winner a friend and I sponsored in '69 when I was 12. Couldn't have been nicer to a scared little country kid. Love ya Lee Baybee!

Uncle Ricky said...

When I spent a day with Lee a few years ago, he told me something about his name that I never realized. He said, "I was either Lee Simms, or Lee Baby, but never Lee Baby Simms." I've heard numerous airchecks of Lee and it seems this was true!

He insisted he had opened the mic for the last time, and wouldn't allow me to record our conversation. I have several pages of scribbled notes from that day in the hills overlooking San Francisco, but they can't possibly express his natural passion and love for what he did. I always hoped I would see him again. There's a great video of Lee on KOOL in Phoenix, and we're proud to feature it along with several of his airchecks at REELRADIO.

Doug said...

I don't remember Mr. Sims. I was a little too young when we lived in San Diego to know the DJ's names. The roster of talent that worked at KCBQ in that era is amazing. Are Shotgun Tom and Gary Allyn the only allumi still broadcasting?

Jim Sumpter said...

Ken, what a great remembrance.

Growing up in Southern California, I listened to Lee Simms when he was part of one of the most amazing line ups in the history of radio at KRLA: B. Mitchell Reed in mornings, Don Burns/Shadoe Stevens middays, Russ O'Hara in afternoons, and Jimmy Rabbitt (small r, double t) and Lee Baby doing nights.

Just his being on the air was an event for us coming of age boomers. I still remember getting calls from friends to ask if I wanted to go cruisin' with them - and the added enticement along with all the hot girls we were sure to meet was that "...Lee Baby's on the radio".

He should have been huge. For those of us got to hear him and got to 'get' him, he was.

Jim Sumpter

Cap'n Bob said...

Sorry I never got a chance to hear him. Rod McKuen also died.

MikeK.Pa. said...

The 60s were a great time for radio. We had two competing stations as well. One had Boss Jocks and they would travel around in an old English double-decker bus - accompanied by hto events with the station's logo emblazoned on it. The other was the pre-eminent rock station before the Boss Jocks rose to prominence, so there was a changing of the guard, so to speak, late in the decade before FM rose to prominence in the 70s.

Back then DJs had cool names like Frank X. Feller, Long John Wade, John Records Landecker, Dr. Don Rose and Hy Lit, who owned the night. Nothing better going to the Shore in the summer and hearing both stations blaring from transistor radios on neighboring blankets.

MikeK.Pa. said...

More on Lee Baby Simms from Radio Link magazine:

Simms once noted that he had 41 jobs, at some stations twice, and was fired 25 times. You hear this thrown around a lot, but the man was an on-air legend.

Simms is the main topic of an as-yet-unpublished book titled Hitbound by Dr. Robert Weisbuch, former president of Drew University. The book is centered around Woody Roberts programing of WPOP in Hartford, with Lee Baby Simms going up against Joey Reynolds at WDRC.

Bud Wilkinson said...

Here's what has posted about Lee Baby's stay in Hartford:

Gilmore LaMar Simms was one of Connecticut's most colorful - and controversial - disc jockeys. A veteran of WTMA and WONO in Charleston, WLOF Orlando,and a station in Phoenix, Simms arrived in Hartford fresh from a legal skirmish in San Antonio. He and WPOP's Woody Roberts worked at KONO and both resigned to go to cross-town rival KTSA in April, 1966. KONO went to court and got an injunction to keep them off the air within 50 miles for 18 months. Woody settled into morning drive at WPOP and he installed Lee to replace Ken Griffin (who had just jumped ship to WDRC) from 7:00PM-midnight.

After reading a pimple cream commercial during his first show, Lee unleashed a tirade of angry calls when he described how terrible it is to get close to your girl only to have a zit pop. A Hartford Courant article a month after Simms hit town described him as "the crazy new WPOP disc jockey who doesn't like anything (including Hartford)." A Hartford Times article on January 13, 1967 quoted Lee's feelings about Hartford:

"He dislikes it 'intensely.' He thinks the kids 'dress like slobs.' He says the people are 'impolite.' On the air he contends, 'I'm rude and crude and impolite because you are....'".

Lee was the first to call downtown Hartford's new Constitution Plaza Constipation Plaza. He was arrested for telling his listeners to go there and have a snowball fight. Simms was famous for breaking the music format, going off on lengthy tirades.

When he left WPOP in 1967 he went right back to KTSA in San Antonio, later returning to KONO. His career path took on a Rand McNally quality with stops (some brief) at WKYC and WGCL Cleveland; KCBQ San Diego; WJBK Detroit; back to KCBQ; KRLA Pasadena; KROQ Los Angeles; WMYQ and WLVE Miami; KMET Los Angeles; back to KRLA as Matthew Frail; KPRQ Santa Rosa; KFOG San Francisco; KDUK and KORL Honolulu; KYA FM San Francisco; KOOL Phoenix; KISQ San Francisco and a simultaneous run on WUBT Chicago via syndication.

Lee briefly returned to WPOP in January, 1968 to host 6:00-9:00PM. Point of Hartford radio trivia...Lee's last on-air appearance in Hartford was during the kickoff of WRCQ AM's oldies format on September 21, 1974.

Bill St. James said...

I remember listening to Lee and WPO P. We were transfixed. He told us he was missing one of his little toes because it had been bitten off by a shark. After he disappeared from the air for a few days Woody Roberts was filling in for him and supposedly tracked him down to a hotel in Monte Carlo and got him on the phone. Monte Carlo! Imagine that on a WPOP salary.
It was the hippest sounding guy I ever heard and used the medium brilliantly.

Anonymous said...

Loved his show in Hartford..He claimed to have penned the lyrics to some pretty big hits including "Time" by the Pozo Seco Singers, "8:05" by Moby Grape & a Beach Boy hit,maybe it was "In My Room" but sez he usually wasn't given credit.

Don said...

I'll tell you who he sounds like. the late comedian, Mitch Hedberg. They could be twin as far as the voice is concerned.

Douglas Trapasso said...

Possible Friday Question:

I'm curious how many different radio formats Lee/Baby DJ-ed. Do you think a truly great jock should be able to enhance the music played in -any- format?

estiv said...

Thanks for this, Ken. I remember him in San Antonio in the sixties, along with Woody Roberts. Magic, like everything else, doesn't last forever.

Artie Breyfogle said...

You summed him up tee-totally...

So liked his on air style...Never really got enough props when he was hitting the airwaves here and there...

Did this tribute VIDEO air check on Lee...

Hope it stirs up some wonderful memories for all out there...

John Carter said...

He was the DJ that the Schofield Sub-Humans (as he used to call the soldiers at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii) loved to hate. They hated him, but they listened to every word. We all listened to KDUK, and he was the best.

DeNiese Barnette said...

DeNiese Barnette-Lee Baby's Sister.
I am Lee's sister. I want to thank everyone for all the stories and memories of my brother. I want to share some personal stories about him because he was a great brother. He is survived by 3 sisters, myself,Tricia, and Tamie. We didn't call him Lee, we only knew him by the name of Bubby, and he said we were"his" girls. He took care of us when we were little and he always told us, as recent as a month or so ago, how much he loved us. He was a great brother and we idolized him. When we were little girls,and he worked in Spartenburg, S.C. we would visit him. It was so exciting when he dedicated songs to us over the radio. I'll never forget "Breaking Up Is Hard To Do" by Neil Sedaka. What an exciting time!!! A few months ago we face-timed, and I will tell you, he looked great and we had a lot of laughs. I can't even believe he's gone, but not forgotten ever!

Anonymous said...

One of my favorite jocks. I actually called him when he was last in San Francisco and told him I had some KRLA airchecks and he asked if I could send him some. So I made a tape of his stuff and sent them to him.

The Chronicle said it was a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Unbelievable.

--Tom Richard - San Francisco

Anonymous said...

I was one of his biggest fans back in the day on WPOP in Hartford. Great memories from when radio was something worth listening to. RIP Lee Baby - "Benoit"

David Stephens said...

I heard Lee Simms on KRLA ~ 1975. He did a skit, once, when the prime minister or ambassador from Japan visited L.A., about what that person would eat for breakfast: e.g., bacon & eggs, or little rice cakes & noodles, that was one of the best & funniest things that I have ever heard. Thank you for missing him, too.

Llew Keller said...

Yes - Lee Simms moved around a lot, but I had the privilege of hearing him in 3 cities. My roommate at UCLA in 1970 was from San Diego and a big Lee Baby fan. So when I vacationed in San Diego that following summer, I tuned him in on KCBQ. It was also the first time I had heard Bobby Ocean, who was then on KGB. I later heard Simms on KRLA. In 1973, I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, and heard him in his short stint at KFOG. I'm not sure where he went in the following years, but I was pleasantly surprised when he showed up doing afternoon drive at Kiss-FM (KISQ)about 1997, then billed as a "Classic Soul" station...guess you'd call it "Old School" now. The format was rather restrictive, but Lee still had moments when his personality could shine through, and he always entertained. Apparently KISQ was good to him, and he was able to retire comfortably about 2002 or so. I still miss him, and was very sorry to hear about his tragic demise.

Thanks for letting me chime in

Llew Keller

Richard D. Richard D. said...

My first job out of school was in 1973 at WMYQ and I would listen to him for hours. Hi, my name is Lee Baby Simms and since I've got spaces in-between my teeth the boss has given me extra talk time between songs,so I probably sound different than other disc jockeys here in Miami. Reading it does not do his style Justice, you had to hear him. He lasted about 6 months before he got tired of the Miami heat, I think.

Ricky Dee

gene ervin said...

I worked in the newsroom at KRLA 1971 to 1973. I was very fortunate to be in Lee"s close circle of friends. I spent more time at his house up in Laurel Canyon than he did.
Lee and I became good friends because we had a lot in common...women, girls and chicks. :-)....Not to mention Buick Rivieras. I think he liked me because I was in the newsroom, in the entertainment section, and interviewd Sammy Davis Jr and one of his idols, Dave Carradine. Dave had just taken on the lead of the Shaolin monk, his travels and story (created in the mind of Bruce Lee), which Bruce should have been given the lead.....but, hey, it was 1971 and Hollywood execs were not ready for Asian leading men.
Anyway, Lee and I had a mutual love for the martial arts and other aspects of that crazy industry known as Rock and Roll.