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The Return of Don Lee

By Gary Wien

One of the scariest things in the world for singers is to face surgery on their vocal chords. It's an instrument that cannot be replaced and is usually the most recognizable facet on their work. Don Lee faced such a procedure in the past few months after releasing his fourth solo record since the breakup of Red-Headed Boogie Child. Ironically, the new release is entitled Who's Talkin' Out There?

Don first noticed a problem during the summer. He's had vocal strains in the past and recalls throat infections that lasted up to a month, but this felt different. There was a strangeness in which he was unable to hit notes that should have been easy to hit. But every time he thought it was bad enough that he had to see a doctor, the voice would improve a bit. He wound up having the voice feel bad, get better, and then feel bad again enough times that by the end of the summer he decided to have it checked out.

He was referred to an ENT (Ear, Nose, Throat specialist) who discovered that Don had a polyp on his right vocal chord. The ENT was concerned enough to schedule an appointment for Don with NYU Voice Center in Manhattan. After consulting with them, he decided to have the polyp removed by laser, which took place on October 7.

"The first thing you're thinking is if they nick the vocal chords, I won't be able to sing," recalled Lee. "But it was a very quick procedure. The surgical procedure itself was very simple and very routine. It was the healing process that takes a long time. I couldn't talk for a few days at all and when I began to talk I had to talk very softly. They told me I couldn't sing for 4-6 weeks, so of course I did my first gig 4 weeks out. If its rock and roll you have to push it a little!"

Don kept performing throughout this period, but didn't sing. He's done shows with The Wag (a band he filled in for a few years ago and became a permanent member) and did shows of his own in support of the new CD. So who did the singing? Well, one night he had several people handle the vocals for him.

"It was really a heartwarming thing," said Lee. "All of these people were playing the part of me and I didn't have a strained voice at the end of the night!"

Who's Talkin' Out There? continues Don Lee's unique musical style. His songs twist and turn; they frequently start and stop, never seeming to follow normal musical progressions — at least not compared to the songs that one would typically hear today on the radio. To Lee though, the songs embody the influences of artists like Squeeze, Steely Dan, Elton John, Billy Joel, Joe Jackson, and the Beatles who inspired him. He thinks people sometimes give him too much credit for using a lot of chord changes. He doesn't see his music as something different at all.

"I probably have a verse melody, a chorus melody, and a bridge melody," explained Lee. "That's three basic melodies. I'm not going to say it's overly simply, but it's not overly complicated. In the history of music you do hear this quite a lot, but at this point in time maybe not. I always come from the school of thought that you do the best thing you can as opposed to sound like everyone else. I want to have my own sound. If you do what's big on the radio right now you're already behind the curve."

Lee lives in Freehold where he has spent most of his life. While 90% of the musicians from New Jersey are often compared to Freehold's favorite son, Lee's vocals do not sound anything like Springsteen's. He is, however, a dead ringer for Glenn Tilbrook of Squeeze.

"When my voice was just developing as far as becoming a lead singer, I tried to sing like John Lennon and Paul McCartney," recalled Lee. "I tried to imitate their voices but for some reason I sound a lot more like Tilbrook. I actually want to sound like Robert Plant, but I don't sound like Plant when I sing. It's funny because most people probably don't hear the influence in my music but a singer that I wish I could sound like is Lou Gramm of Foreigner. I wish I could sound like that.

"Then, of course, there's the guitar side too," he continued. "When I was a kid listening to pop radio I liked the guitar songs a lot better but it wasn't until I was in 8th grade when I heard ‘Heartbreaker' by Led Zeppelin for the first time. I don't think any song has ever blown me away as much as that song. Every time I hear it, I get the same feeling. I became a huge Jimmy Page fan. Some people hear that in my music, some don't, but I think I have a lot of Jimmy Page influence."

If these influences don't sound like your typical singer-songwriter it's because Don Lee isn't a typical singer-songwriter. His full band-like sound stands out in the coffee houses he frequently plays. Red Headed Boogie Child often played the clubs one normally associates with rock bands, but when that band broke up Don was forced to find new places to play as a solo artist. In coffee houses, Don's music becomes even more eclectic when contrasted with the normal folkie-based coffee house performers.

The future is entirely unwritten for Lee because, unlike most musicians, he's confident that he will get his shot to do music full-time someday. While many musicians go from job to job, earning just enough to keep going, Lee made the commitment to hold on to a good job in the government for years. It's a decision that will ultimately provide him with a pension that offers him the opportunity to pursue his dream.

"I learned long ago that the second you think you're going to be a rock star and quit your job something wrong happens," said Lee. "I know that I'm not going to be America's Next Teen Idol, but I'm always going to be a songwriter, and I'm going to perform as long as I can and keep recording."

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NJSO presents 2019 Winter Festival, 'Music Speaks'
(NEWARK, NJ) -- A trio of renowned guest artists with distinct musical voices—pianists Emanuel Ax and Daniil Trifonov and soprano Dawn Upshaw—headline the NJSO’s Winter Festival, “Music Speaks,” in January 2019. The Orchestra’s signature artistic event takes place across three weekends, January 10–27, in six New Jersey venues.
RVCC Chorale to Perform Annual Holiday Concert on December 8th
(BRANCHBURG, NJ) --The RVCC Chorale will give its annual holiday concert on Saturday, December 8 at 8:00pm in the Welpe Theatre at Raritan Valley Community College’s Branchburg campus. The program will feature Johann Sebastian Bach’s cantata, Das Neugeborne Kindelein, as well as a cappella pieces from by Sergei Rachmaninov, Zoltan Kodaly and Giuseppe Verdi. The program also will include an audience singalong of traditional carols.
Classic Stones Live! The Complete Rolling Stones Tribute Show Comes To SOPAC
(SOUTH ORANGE, NJ) -- The Rolling Stones, the greatest Blues band of all time, couldn’t make it to SOPAC on their 2018 tour. Instead, the acclaimed tribute band Classic Stones Live! makes an appearance on the SOPAC stage December 15 at 8:00pm for those who like to hear their Rolling Stones hits live.
Tony Trischka Presents "Of a Winter's Night" at the Morristown Unitarian Fellowship
(MORRISTOWN, NJ) -- Of a Winter’s Night is Tony Trischka's acoustic celebration of the holiday season. Based on his CD release of the same name, this concert features Trischka’s considerable melodic inventiveness on a wide variety of seasonal tunes. He turns his inventiveness loose on bluegrass and Americana music for the holidays. This one of a kind concert will take place at the Morristown Unitarian Fellowship on Saturday, December 8 at 7:30pm.
Idle Wave To Hold Record Release Party At Asbury Park Brewery
(ASBURY PARK, NJ) -- Pop-punks Idle Wave will celebrate the release of their self-titled EP on Saturday, December 1st at Asbury Park Brewery.  The record release show also includes performances by Skyeline, Roderick, and Pollyanna.

"An Amazing Musical Genius!" Brian Wilson LIVE! at the State Theatre
In the music room in the back of our house, there’s an electric bass and amp, two acoustic guitars, a microphone and PA speakers, several pieces of music recording equipment, and a bookcase filled with books on music, not to mention a slew of assorted music memorabilia. But, perhaps, one of the most highly prized items in the room is hanging directly above the piano next to the college music diplomas.
Jazz Saxophonist Don Braden LIVE! at Toms River’s Grunin Center
It’s a breezy day for a new installment of the Jazz On a Sunday Afternoon concert series at Toms River, NJ’s Grunin Center of the Arts this Sunday Oct. 27, 2018 afternoon. Today’s special 3pm performance is entitled Earth, Wind and Wonder and is presented by jazz saxophonist Don Braden.
Charlie Thomas’ Drifters, The Classics IV, and The Brooklyn Bridge LIVE! at The Strand, Lakewood
The stars are out this Saturday Oct. 26, 2018 evening in Lakewood, NJ for a “Golden Oldies” concert featuring Charlie Thomas’ Drifters, The Classics IV, and The Brooklyn Bridge!
PODCAST: Grammy Winner Terri Lyne Carrington At TD James Moody Jazz Festival
Drummer, leader, and composer Terri Lyne Carrington made history as the first woman to win a Grammy for Best Instrumental Jazz for her album “Money Jungle: Provocative in Blue.” Now, she brings her interpretation of Duke Ellington’s “Money Jungle” to the TD James Moody Jazz Festival at NJPAC on November 11, 2018, as part of a program called “Jazz Vinyl Revisited.” Producer Susan Wallner talks to Carrington about her connections to the jazz greats Clark Terry and Max Roach; her newest project, the Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice; and why she thinks drummers make natural leaders.
Sha Na Na LIVE! at the Newton Theatre
The audience is streaming into the Newton Theatre auditorium in Newton, NJ this Friday, Oct. 19, 2018 for a live concert starring Sha Na Na!

Event calendar
Thursday, Nov 15, 2018


New Politics @ House of Independents, Asbury Park - 8:00pm

THE REPUTATIONS @ The Saint, Asbury Park - 7:30pm

TOTO @ Mayo Performing Arts Center (MPAC), Morristown - 8:00pm


An Actor's Carol @ Cape May Stage, Cape May - 7:30pm

ANNIE, The Musical @ Axelrod Performing Arts Center, Deal Park - 8:00pm

Apples In Winter @ Centenary Stage Company - Kutz Theater of the Lackland Center, Hackettstown - 7:30pm

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat @ The Levoy Theatre, Millville - 7:30pm

Spring Awakening: The Rock Musical @ Black Box PAC, Teaneck - 8:00pm


PARSONS DANCE @ State Theatre New Jersey, New Brunswick - 8:00pm


Crybaby Matinee: March of the Penguins @ Hopewell Theater, Hopewell - 11:00am

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