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Blues Jazz Soul Funk

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New Orleans



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    Tours with Mickey Thomas & Starship 92-93

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    John Lee performing with Keith Emerson, Emerson Lake and Palmer

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    CBC Radio Live concert, Mardi Gras 2009

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    photo shoot, California, Mozart Rhythm & Romance CD cover

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    Festival Lent, Maribor Slovenia, 2013

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    Opening for Bonnie Raitt, Slipstream Tour, 2012

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    3 BC Canada Music Awards, 2009

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    Mary Wells and her Daughter Sugar Wells Womack

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John Lee Sanders (Born 1951) is an American Musician, singer, pianist, saxophonist, Painter, and composer.  He performs in various genres of Blues, Gospel, Country, Jazz and Classical.
He has
performed with the iconic legends of Soul, Blues, Rock, Country, and Oscar, Grammy winning songwriters of multi-generations. Some of these include Stevie Wonder, Chuck Berry, Willie Nelson Bonnie Raitt, Jimmy Page, Starship, a 30 year musical association with composer and ASCAP chairman, Paul Williams. John performed since 1987 until 2003 as music director with Long John Baldry
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John Lee Sanders was born in Evansville, Indiana, and spent his first two years in Crossville Illinois, population 600. His paternal grandfather, William F Sanders founded the Crossville Telephone Company in 1917, and just celebrated their 100th anniversary, now a high speed internet, Cable TV provider and Cellular Telephone.

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His mother Gladys came from a family of Illinois Central Railroad Union workers, (on the City of New Orleans Route from Chicago to New Orleans) and musicians in Memphis Tennessee, including his maternal Grandmother, Jessie, played piano in the early silent movies of Memphis. 
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John's father, William Sanders was a Major in the US Air force, stationed in Memphis, TN. where he met and married John's mother Gladys. Bill Sanders later served as a high level official in the Pentagon after WWII. In the Early 80s, he was a Louisiana Republican Fund Raiser, and brought candidate Ronald Reagan to Louisiana, for a campaign fundraising event.

Early Life 1950s, Jackson Mississippi

John's Father, William "Bill" Sanders, former Illinois Basketball Coach, was named chief of operations of State Farm Insurance in 1953, in Mississippi and Louisiana, and moved the Family to Jackson Mississippi, and helped build a multi-billion dollar industry from the ground up, in the deep south. .
During a one of his father's business trips to New Orleans, John and family heard "
Sweet Emma Barret" on piano and vocal, at Preservation Hall which began his study and appreciation for New Orleans piano blues and Jazz.

John Lee began classical piano lessons in Jackson Mississippi, aged 6, sang in the Methodist church choir, and was heavily influenced by the African American blues and gospel, of the Mississippi Delta. Many of his ancestors were born and died in 
Clarksdale Mississippi, well known for it's origins of Blues music.
John’s older brother Chip Sanders, joined an early rock and roll band, “The Keynotes”, and learned the boogie woogie piano styles of Ray Charles, and Jerry Lee Lewis. 
(Jerry Lee later became an State Farm insurance policy holder of John's brother Chip's insurance agency in the 1970s, near Memphis. Chip was forced to cancel Jerry Lee's insurance policy, after Jerry Lee had crashed his Rolls Royce into the gates of Graceland.)

Memphis Family Soul R&B Connection1950s-1960s

John Lee Vernon presleyJohn's mother's 1st cousin Arthur Sutton, was a top jazz trombonist on the Memphis scene, performing with WC Handy, Berl Olswanger Orchestra, Bill Black, Bassist from Elvis Presley, and was the house trombonist in the dance orchestra at the Peabody Hotel, . Arthur was a big supporter of young "Johnny", and arranged the purchase of his first Saxophone.
On a summer trip to visit family in Memphis, John Lee met Elvis and the visited the Presley family home, in August 1956, after Elvis had purchased his first home, on Audubon Drive, close to the home of John’s Aunt Eleanor Hannah.
Since the 1920s, John's grandmother, Jessie lived in a Memphis neighborhood, that by the mid 1960s, due to "white Flight" had become predominately African American. Grandmother Jessie was loved and respected by all of her neighbors, black and white, but from Increased racial tensions, riots, and burnings, after the assassinations of Martin Luther King, in Memphis, 1968, and Medger Evers in Jackson MS. John's grandmother was persuaded to sell her longtime home in Memphis, moving to Humboldt Tennessee.
On a bittersweet emotional trip back to Memphis, John re-visited the family home and neighborhood at the 2004 Blues Awards where he was nominated for
Blues Song of the Year, and 2015 shows in nearby, Clarksdale MS. This small few block radius of his grandmother's family home was the birthplace of Soul, and Rock and Roll history, where John and his wife Maria chatted with neighbors, and visited the boarded up, abandoned birthplace of Aretha Franklin, and Royal Studios, where iconic soul music recordings had been made with Al Green, Ann Peebles, and where the Beatles had rehearsed, during their concert in Memphis.
In 2018, John Lee added Memphis Soul music star, and Aretha Background vocalist Vaneese Thomas on his new upcoming CD. Vaneese is the daughter of Memphis Soul legend, Rufus Thomas, and sister of Carla Thomas. Check out the preview of John and Vaneese singing together

Birmingham 1960-1968

The Sanders family moved to Birmingham Alabama, in 1960, where John studied classical voice, piano, sang in the church choir. John’s Brother Chip Sanders, joined the Ramblers, one of the top Rock and Roll bands on the fraternity party, dance circuit.
John performed with the Ramblers, as a 13 year old soul, rock singer, at one of the local dances, and was heard by top Birmingham DJ, concert Promoter,
Dave Roddy, AKA "Dave Ruddle" advertised young John Lee, as "Little John, Birmingham's answer to Little Stevie Wonder"on his popular weekend dance concerts.
He became a featured singer, opening for acts such as Bobby Goldsburo, The Candymen, Billy Joe Royal and others, at weekend shows at the Birmingham National Guard Armory. During this time, Dave Roddy discovered Otis Redding, while MC'ing a school dance. Dave was one of the first promoters to bring black R&B acts to white shows, during this time of racial tensions in Birmingham.
During a downtown Christmas shopping in Birmingham, during a 
department store boycott, John Lee met Dr. Martin Luther King, in 1963.
John did his first recording session in 1964, at Boutwell studio in Birmingham, on a novelty song written by his brother Chip.

Chip and John collaborated on a song on John's new release in 2019, called "Lucky Dog" about a Mississippi Blues Man, get's a recording contract on a tripto Memphis. The song is heavily influenced by the early Elvis Sun Records recordings, and features Nashville superstar session guitarist Brent Mason
John’s brother Steve Sanders, (WGN Chicago), taught John to play bass and guitar, during the mid 1960s. Steve Sanders went on to a successful career in Radio and Television, winning 6 Emmy Awards for broadcast Journalism. Steve is also a very public and personal supporter of Chicago Blues, and longtime friend of Blues legend, Buddy Guy, as filmed here in this Chicago blues jam session.

Here's an
account of John's October 2018 revisit to Birmingham, the civil rights museum, and reflections, after 50 years. John wrote his 1st song with brother Steve, and now they've collaborated together on John's new 2019 release on a New Orleans Cajun smash, called "Big Mama's Gumbo

Monroe Louisiana 1968-1972

After John's father, William Sanders was named head of Operations, of State Farm Insurance, Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, The Sanders family moved in 1968, to Monroe Louisiana, where John learned the Saxophone, joined the Neville High School Jazz and Marching band, and learned horn arranging by transcribing the horn sections of Blood Sweat & Tears, and Chicago. He won a scholarship to Northeast Louisiana University, and performed in the Jazz Ensemble, Orchestra, concert band, and Marching Band. Monroe is in Northeast Louisiana, still considered part of the Mississippi Delta, very conservative Bible Belt, but the area produced such great musicians, as Jerry Lee Lewis, Tim McGraw, Jazz Trombonist Carl Fontana, Tony Joe White, John Lee's longtime friend Kenny Bill Stinson, who John Performed several times at the New Orleans Jazz fest, they also worked with Elvis music director James Burton. John was introduced to Louisiana Soul Horn bands in Monroe, such as "The Boogie Kings". Too young to get in the clubs, John would hang by the stage door and listen to the baddest tenor sax player in the south, Jon Smith, (Edgar Winter's White Trash, Albert Collins)

American Musical theater

John's mother, Gladys was a generous supporter and donor of the Performing Arts, especially American Broadway musicals, and often took John to the local productions, and was largely responsible for expanding his musical horizons.
John performed in a 1968 local Monroe production of “Oliver”, written by Lionel Bart, who a close friend of Long John Baldry. Long John arranged for John Lee to speak by phone to Lionel, shortly before his death of brain cancer. Many years later beginning 2009, John's work with the ASCAP foundation, gave him the chance of working with great Tony award winning Broadway composers, such as Stephen Schwartz, (Wicked, Godspell, Hunchback of Notre Dame) and Charles Strouse, (Annie, Bye Bye Birdie) and Hal David (Promises Promises
John became the bassist and guitarist of the Phares Corder Orchestra, contractor of the Louisiana Musicians Union, and performed high profile society events in the mid south. John arranged the pit Orchestras for the Miss Louisiana Pageant, and the Memphis Maid of Cotton Pageant. Phares Corder often booked the horn and string sections of concerts, and theater productions traveling through Louisiana, which led to John's first meeting of his childhood hero, Stevie Wonder, during the orchestra rehearsal of Stevie's Monroe concert in 1970.
(John was commissioned to arrange Micky Newberry's acoustic "American Trilogy" for the sold out show at the Memphis Coleseum, Maid of Cotton beauty pageant, 1971, for a 22 piece orchestra, which received a standing ovation
In 1972, Elvis Presley recorded a very strikingly similar version, which became his iconic signature Vegas persona. The pageant runner up, coincidently happened to be
Linda Thomson, was rumored to be seeing Elvis at the time and became girlfriend of the king, after divorcing Pricilla Presley)
In the Summer of 1970, John enrolled at the Downbeat Jazz Camp, at the University of Illinois, where he studied with 
Jamey AbersoldMarian McPartlandLou Marini, of the Blues Brothers, Blood Sweat and Tears, and Jazz arranger, Wes Hensel.
Many years later, in Monroe, LA, The sprawling State Farm regional office of his deceased father closed in 2005, due to downsizing. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, September 2005, during a tour of Europe, John connected and brokered a deal with the Louisiana Red Cross, and State Farm friends of his family in Monroe, and helped set up the use of the State Farm building, to house the homeless victims of New Orleans, stranded in the Superdome.

Denton-Dallas Texas 1973-1977

In 1972, John transferred to The University of North Texas, in Denton Texas, where he played Bass and Saxophone in the North Texas Lab Band. He studied composition with Dr. Merrill Ellis, and piano from 11 time Grammy award winner, Lyle Mays.

European Education, Rome Italy

In the Summer of 1973, John studied Art, Italian language at Louisiana Tech Rome, and broadened his musical influence of Italian Opera, and European Culture.
On a side train trip to Vienna, John sneaked in a few licks on Beethoven's piano, while the security guard stepped out for a smoke, at Ludwig's apartment.
On a weekend trip to the
Montreaux Switzerland Jazz festival, John Lee met Dr. John and Professor Longhair, which led to a lifetime study and performance of New Orleans Jazz and Blues piano.
In 2018, John recently became friends with Professor Longhair's daughter in New Orleans, Pat Byrd, who has just released John's painting of her dad, in commemoration of Fess' 100th Birthday. Here's Dr John signing the painting for a raffle to benefit Music in the New Orleans public schools
Dr John signing my painting

Dr John Professor longhair

John later recorded with Dr. John and his friend Zigaboo Modeliste, in 2003, California, with John Lee doing horns, background vocals and Clavinet on this track with Dr. John

John studied electronic music at North Texas, and discovered the sounds of one of the early Moog Synthesizers, similar to Walter Carlos usage on
"Switched on Bach"
During the enrollment at the University of North Texas, John started a band with Keyboardist composer,
Peter Schless, (On the Wings of Love-Grammy nominee) who taught John how to bend the notes like a Duane Allman slide guitar on a minimoog synth, similar to the techniques used by George Duke, Jan Hammer, Keith Emerson, and other synth pioneers.
After seeing a house rental on the Music school bulletin board, John met NTSU composer in residence,  
Dika Newlin, in Denton, and later rented her home, in the 1973-74 Semester, with 2 other roomates, including musician and composer Tony Taboada, whose family had left Cuba during the Communist Castro Revolution.
Tony introduced John to the great salsa and latin music of Cuba, including artists such as Tito Puente, and other Cuban music.
After the stress and many hours, of taking on a full time academic course load, and not enough time for music, John took a hiatus from North Texas University in 1974. He joined a Funk Rock group called The
Buster Brown Band,from the Texas Panhandle, which performed in the Black clubs of Dallas,and East Texas, and a regular house gig at Mother Blues The band entered a management contract, with Angus Wynne III, from a prominent Texas family. Angus was the organizer of the Texas International pop music festival, .

Dallas Texas, 1970s

The diverse Dallas music scene was a musical education every night, as John became friends with local Dallas music icons, Freddie King, David “Fathead Newman”, Music biographer, and music journalist and biographer, David Ritz, who John would later co-write gospel Songs. (David co-wrote "Sexual Healing" with Marvin Gaye, and wrote the liner notes for John's CD, Bucket Full of Blues")
On a ill fated cancelled show at
Austin Texas, World Armadillo Headquarters, after an equipment truck broke down, John and the band met Stevie Ray and Jimmie Vaughan, when they lacked the funds for a hotel room, and Stevie and Jimmie invited the band stay at their home
In 1975-76, John Lee performed briefly with an all black group called the "Last Band" with Soul/Funk performers, 
Robert "Goodie" Whitfield, Cavin Yarbrough and Smokin' Joe Kubek 
With only one semester to go, In 1976, John returned to Monroe, and finished his Bachelor of Arts degree, at the University of Louisiana at Monroe. In December, of 1976, before the Christmas holiday, John met his Dallas friend 
Freddie King, at a soundcheck before the show in West Monroe, LA. Freddie invited John to perform with the band at the show, on saxophone.
Pleased with John's performance, Freddie asked John to join him on a tour of Japan, beginning February, 1977. Freddie died a few weeks later, after a blood clot. John stayed in contact with Freddie's Organist, 
Deacon Jones, and later collaborated with him in California, a few years later, on many blues recordings, including John Lee Hooker's "Chill Out"

San Francisco Bay Area, 1977-1981Uncle Rainbow, Riva Records, Narada Michael Walden

John Lee met and joined The Funk Rock Pop Rock Group, Uncle Rainbow, with Brent Bourgeois and other jazz fusion musicians in 1977.
The band signed a production recording contract with 
Michael Hossack of the Doobie Brothers after hearing the band in Vail Colorado, and relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area. As the main songwriter, keys and sax, Uncle Rainbow signed a record deal with Riva Records, in 1979. After their album went unreleased, Uncle Rainbow signed a production contract with Jazz drummer, and San Francisco producer Narada Michael Walden. (producer:Whitney Houston, Mariah Cary, Aretha Franklin).
John credits Narada for teaching him much about pop album production, and recently performed with him at the Library of Congress, in Washington, recreating the Clarence Clemmon's tenor sax solo of Narada's smash hit for Aretha,
"Freeway of Love"

Uncle Rainbow parted ways, when Larry Tagg and Brent Bourgeois formed "
Bourgeois Tagg" John and Brent recently collaborated together on a vocal duet on the tittle track of Brent's recent CD "Don't Look Back". The CD also featured John Lennon's son Julian Lennon.
John Lee stayed in Northern California, and started a 
solo music career, B movie Soundtracks, recorded as a session musician, horn arranger, jingles with corporate clients including Apple Computer and Walmart. He recorded and produced Children’s music with A&M recording artist Linda Arnold.
John Married his 1st wife, in 1983, Patricia Kanters, born in Holland, daughter of a prominent GE Nuclear Engineer, from Cupertino, CA, also home town of Steve Jobs and Apple Computer

Silicon Valley, Computers & Music, Film Scores, Jingles, Session player, Country Music, and more1981-2005

Working in Silicon Valley in the 70s-80s, was a huge advancement on John's ability to create music, art, and composition, learning music production on an early Apple computer in 1985, on MOTU midi music software
John worked as a studio musician in the San Francisco Bay area, as an arranger, demo and jingle singer, Film and TV composer, Vietnamese Karaoke, Horn Arranger. During a session producing singer Keta Bill, John met the founders of Digidesign Protools, Evan Brooks and Peter Gotcher, worked with their prototype, which would later revolutionize the worldwide recording industry, and ultimately change the music industry, through digital technology, Mp3s, streaming, iPods, and other innovations. 
He worked through the mid 80s at the largest Country and Western Night club on the west coast, "The Saddle Rack" opening for the top Country stars of the 80s, such as Ronnie Milsap, Reba Mcintyre, and others. 
Throughout the late 80s and 90s, John worked on keyboards with "The California Allstars" led by bandleader
Will Porter. The band backed a large roster of legendary performers, which included Chuck Berry, Mary Wells, Martha Reeves, and the top Rock and Roll Soul and country acts of the 50s 60s and 70s.

Long John Baldry, Europe, Canada, Hypertension, 1986-2003

Through John Lee's record deal with Riva Records, and Rod Stewart, Producer Jimmy Horowitz, John Lee was contracted to do the horns for English Blues legend Long John Baldry, in 1986, on "Silent Treatment" in a Vancouver BC studio. Long John had a long career in England, and had discovered a young Elton John (a huge influence on John Lee), and Rod Stewart. The Baldry Connection led to yearly tours with Long John B, throughout Europe, Canada, and Australia, beginning 1987. John recorded several albums with Baldry, including "Baldry's Out" live in Hamburg, and a Tribute to Leadbelly. Long John was a great friend and mentor, and featured John Lee as a vocal and sax soloist on every concert and TV show they performed together. Through the Baldry connection, John met Kathi McDonald, who sang with John Lee on his solo cds, and concerts.
In 1995, he signed a record contract with 
Hypertension music, in Hamburg, with distribution throughout Europe, in his first solo release, World Blue, a mix of R&B, classical crossover, Funk, Blues, featuring the top session players in the Bay Area, including David Garibaldi, drums from Tower of Power, and a powerhouse of Soul, Funk, Blues musicians.

Starship 1992-93

In 1992-1993, John Lee was hired by Starship, front man and lead singer Mickey Thomas, on keyboards and vocals, in a new incarnation of Starship, that included some of Mickey's Georgia Soul and R&B roots. Band played casinos, State and County fairs, and classic rock festival with similar genre bands such as Foreigner, REO Speedwagon, Foghat, and others. John Left the band to spend more time pursuing a solo recording deal. Melisa Kary, Starship vocalist who had replaced Grace Slick, teamed up with John on a duet on his 1st solo CD, "World Blue" on a song they performed together on tour with Starship, "Right Back Where You Want Me"
In 1999, John Lee signed with Raw Records, and in a genre departure, John released “
Mozart, Rhythm & Romance”, using Mozart melodic motifs, in various styles of Celtic, Spanish, Blues, Smooth Jazz, African, and Classical Crossover. The recording featured well known classical, jazz, and world beat musicians in Northern California, including Irene Sazer, from the Turtle Island String Quartet. The CD included classical guitarist Jeff Linsky, and long time Charles Brown bassist, Ruth Davies.

Raw Records, Mozart, Solo Tours, Europe

In 1999, John Lee signed with Raw Records, and in a genre departure, John released “Mozart, Rhythm & Romance”, using Mozart melodic motifs, in various styles of Celtic, Spanish, Blues, Smooth Jazz, African, and Classical Crossover. The recording featured well known classical, jazz, and world beat musicians in Northern California, including Irene Sazer, from the Turtle Island String Quartet. The CD included classical guitarist Jeff Linsky, and long time Charles Brown bassist, Ruth Davies.

Emmy, Grammy, Blues Award Nomination and more

2004, Blues pianist Marcia Ball recorded John's song "Foreclose on the House of Love, Hit single on her CD "So Many Rivers",which won Contemporary Blues Album of the year. The song reached #9 on the Blues charts, and was nominated for the "Blues song of the Year" at the 2004 Blues awards in Memphis, where John and Family attended, one of his first trips back to Memphis, since 1969.
In 2007, John’s longtime friend,
Doc Kupka, founding member of Tower of Power, contracted John as lead vocalist on “Doc Goes Hollywood, arranged and co-composed by Film composer, William Ross (Composer, Harry Potter, Titanic, Star Wars) with an “A” list film orchestra. Mixed at Capitol records, by multi Grammy winner, Al Schmitt.

2006—2015 Relocate to Vancouver British Columbia Canada

In 2006, He recorded "Live at Rock Beach" which also produced a Live DVD, with a live audience, in White Rock, BC. The CD featured long time friend and vocalist Kathi McDonald. During this time in British Columbia, John performed blues and jazz festivals throughout BC,Alberta and Manitoba. He stared in his own TV special on Canadian National Television on "Gospel To Go" with his Blues Gospel Group from Vancouver.

In 2007, John was nominated for a Daytime Emmy award, for Song of the year, for the daytime drama, "Bold and Beautiful" The song "Just One Kiss" with co-written by Lothar Struff, and John's frequent co-writer
Chris Caswell

John was nominated as Canadian Keyboard Player of the year by the Toronto Blues Society in 2012. In 2012, John performed a double bill, with 
Bonnie Raitt, as her opening act at the Queen Elizabeth Theater, Vancouver, and the Jubilee Theater, Calgary Alberta. John Lee performed once again with Bonnie at the Vienna Austria Opera House, Summer 2013.
In 2011, John was diagnosed with Squamous Cell Carcinoma, of the tongue. He went through radiation and chemo treatments in Kelowna, BC, and months of recovery.
He also went through alternative treatments, of acupuncture, The power of the Almighty, Reiki, and quantum energetic healing through various practitioners in Vancouver and Los Angeles, including 
Dr. Louie Yu. Dr. Yu is a doctor of traditional Chinese medicine as well as a specialist in orthomolecular medicine, chiropractic, acupuncture, naturopathy, sports medicine and homeopathy.
John's voice suffered from the treatments, and was forced to cancel tours, and performances.
To make ends meet, during recovery, He taught piano and saxophone to high school students at a local music store, and slowly through vocal exercises, learned from the 
Seth Riggs method, he regained is vocal skills.
In 2012, John was contracted to perform solo piano and vocals on the 
World Residensea, The world's largest private yacht, in a 2 month cruise through the Northwest passage. Due to the effects of climate change and melting of the polar ice caps, the voyage was possible. Setting sail from Nome, Alaska, U.S. on 18 Aug 2012 and reaching Nuuk, Greenland on 12 Sept 2012, the ship became the largest passenger vessel at the time to transit the Northwest Passage.
The ship, carrying 481 passengers and crew, for 26 days and 4,800 nautical miles (8,900 km) at sea, followed in the path of Captain Roald Amundsen, the first sailor to complete the journey in 1906.
John's second wife Judy, filed for divorce in Feb. 2012, due to irreconcilable differences.
After a long recovery, John resumed touring in Europe, in 2013 with a German Bavarian Zydeco band, "
Rad Gumbo". John did a Croatian Recording with the band "Rad Gumbo meets John Lee Sanders" which won the German Music Critics award, in 2014.

British Columbia To the Alabama Gulf Coast 2015-2019 Marriage to Maria Silverio Gomez, Spain

In 2015, during a vacation to the Alabama Gulf Coast, where he vacationed with his family during the 60s and 70s, John was offered a full time position as a solo piano vocalist at the Perdido Beach Resort, in Orange Beach Alabama.
He began a crowdfunding campaign,in 2014, to fund his upcoming CD release, "
Tweakin 'Some Twang", an Americana fusion of Country, Blues, Rockabilly, Zydeco, and Gospel, with well known musicians from Canada, USA,Germany, Austria, Holland, Spain and Russia.
John Lee married his long time friend and sweetheart, Maria Silverio Gomez, in 2015, in Gulf Shores Alabama. They met in Germany, on John Lee's Tour with Long John Baldry in 1995, and rekindled their relationship, in 2012, after Maria had moved to Spain. Since then, John Lee has begun performing in Spain, most recently in 2015, in concert with well known Spanish Musician,
Gecko Turner, who helped introduce John Lee to the Spanish music scene
His wife Maria is an artist with 2 adult children in Spain and Germany, and 4 beautiful Grandchildren.
JLS maria Grand canyon

He now is music director at the
Unity Church, Gulf Shores, and Performs at the Perdido Beach Resort in Orange Beach.

John performs on Selmer Saxophones
Recording software is MOTU Digital Performer
Music Notation Software by Sibelius
Keyboards by Yamaha