Local singer/songwriter/guitarist/bandleader Tim Lee is something of a joiner, though not necessarily by birthright. “I really believe in the concept of community,” Lee says. “Which is kind of difficult sometimes, since I tend to be kind of a grouchy guy.
“I think musicians can be kind of self-absorbed in general. But life is always better when there is a community involved. I work on living by that concept the best I can, being the cranky dude that I am.”
In any case, whenever there’s a gathering of artists or musicians or generally civic-minded sorts in or around downtown Knoxville, it’s a good bet that Lee and his wife/bass player Susan Lee will be taking part in some way. They’ve been labelled the preeminent power couple of the local music scene, in large part because they have so frequently answered the call.
In the case of the upcoming Bernie Sanders Benefit Feb. 25 at Scruffy City Hall, though, Tim Lee will go it alone. With Susan out of town for the week, he says he’ll approach the performance as a solo acoustic gig. “It’ll be an oddball kind of thing,” he says. “I did a similar show by myself at another venue recently, and it didn’t kill me, so I figure I’ll try it again.
“I’ll probably play some new stuff, plus a few old things, too. What I did the last time is I basically grabbed a notebook full of shit and then made it up as I went along.”
For those unfamiliar with Lee and his legacy, he was a co-founding member of the Windbreakers, a Mississippi-based power pop group that produced a handful of acclaimed releases between 1982 and 1991.
Lee and wife Susan moved to Knoxville around 2000, plying a scrappy sort of working-man’s alt-rock with their outfit the Tim Lee 3. Over the years, the outfit has become a sort of de facto house band for the city of Knoxville, pitching in and playing for anyone and everyone that needs a hand. The Lees have also issued a small collection of excellent full-length albums under the Tim Lee 3 moniker, including 2015’s 33 1/3.
Lee says that even though he hasn’t necessarily decided how he’ll cast his ballot in the 2016 presidential race, he agreed to do the Sanders benefit, organized by Dixieghost leader Jason Hanna, as a matter of principle. “I’m a fan of progressive thought in general,” he says. “I’m not necessarily politically active, although I have plenty of political opinions. It’s an area where I generally prefer to sit back and listen rather than speak.
“But I’m for anything that promotes forward thinking, and anything that pushes people to get out and vote, no matter what they believe.”
In the meantime, Lee says the Tim Lee 3 is already hard at work on a follow-up to 33 1/3. “We’re working on material for the next one,” he says. “We’ve already recorded half of it last summer, and we hope to do the other half in the next few months.
“We’re sorting out different songs, and they’re all so damned different, one from the other. It’s confusing sometimes, but it’s a fun problem to have.”
Emcee Bill Foster will host the Bernie Sanders Benefit with Tim Lee, Black Atticus, Justin Fedor and more Thursday, Feb. 25 at 6 p.m. at Scruffy City Hall.