Best known for the funk cult classic "Funky Belly," New Orleans R&B singer/guitarist Warren Lee was born Warren Lee Taylor in Vacherie, LA, in 1938, apprenticing under local musicians before cutting his debut single, "Unemployed," for the tiny Ron label in 1961. He resurfaced later that same year with the Soundex label release "Anna (Stay With Me)," an answer record responding to the Arthur Alexander classic "Anna." In 1963 Lee relocated to producer Wardell Quezergue's Nola imprint for another "Anna" riposte, "Anna (We're Gonna Get Married)," and that same year landed at his fourth label, Jin, for "Geraldine."
He returned to Nola for 1964's great "Every Day Every Hour," credited to Warren (Lee) Taylor, then resumed his traditional stage sobriquet for the following year's underground favorite "Star Revue," the first of his efforts for producer Allen Toussaint's Deesu label. Name-checking soul greats from Wilson Pickett to Otis Redding to Solomon Burke -- with "the Mighty King Lee" giving himself a shout-out -- "Star Revue" was later covered by soul shouter Arthur Conley, whose immortal "Sweet Soul Music" follows the same thematic formula. With 1966's "Climb the Ladder" Lee unsuccessfully attempted to jump-start a dance craze, and with the following year's "Underdog Backstreet" he moved to Toussaint's Tou Sea label, scoring his biggest regional hit in the process -- the single was so successful that it even earned a U.K. release on the Pama label, but wasn't a national hit on either side of the Atlantic.
In 1968 Lee unleashed the scorching Wand label single "Funky Belly" -- produced by Toussaint and featuring the legendary Meters on backup, the single is much coveted by today's deep funk collectors, but made little impact on its original release. The 1969 Deesu release "Mama Said We Can't Get Married" paid homage to James Brown, and marked Lee's final collaboration with Toussaint; he resurfaced on vinyl one final time with the 1974 Choctaw single "Direct from the Ghetto." In 1977 Lee suffered a massive stroke -- he survived, but abandoned his music career in favor of devoting his life to Christianity. ~ Jason Ankeny