INTERVIEW: Dee C Lee speaks!

INTERVIEW: Dee C Lee speaks!

Dee C Lee is your modern day Aretha. Vocals sent from the nether regions of heaven, sprinkling her own magic all over musical creations inspired by her own pen whilst covering tracks that appeal to the heart and soul of her followers, the once Wham! rap backing singer, Style Councillor and Guru sidekick, is now back with a stunning set of brand new tracks.

Prior to the release of new album Just Something released via Acid Jazz Records, Dee sat down with Gigislutz to discuss a bunch of questions including her background, her musical inspirations and her hopes for the future:

Can you please tell me a bit about your upbringing?

Born South East London, brought up by my St Lucian single parent Mum.  Lots of singing and music.

Can you please tell me the first music you can remember hearing?

Gospel Musicbut I was definitely a child of my time in the 70’s and I remember hearing a typical melting pot of glam rock and pop on the radio – The Sweet / Marc Bolan / Jackson 5.  When I found Motown and Soul I was in love and couldn’t get enough of it.  It was a good time to grow up musically.

What was the first serious music you can remember hearing?

Other than Motown, that would have to be Earth Wind and Fire after hearing their album All in All.  Stand out tracks for me are Running and Magic Mind.  They were the first band I ever saw live and they completely transfixed me, such an amazing band live, they definitely inspired me and started me on the road for my musical journey.

Who influenced you to start singing?

Definitely the female singers signed to the Motown label – in particular early Diane Ross, and later on it would be Chaka Khan and her work with Rufus. Chaka Khan is still my favourite artist today.

I was also influenced by the female vocalists working with Donald Byrd. They was showed me a different vocal jazz style to anything I had previously heard before. Those early albums were of great inspiration to me. When I was lucky enough to work with Donald later in my career he even commented on how my vocal style reminded him of working with these female vocalists on these early albums!

What about composing material, when did this happen and how did you find writing your own songs?

I’m definitely a stylised singer with a very specific vocal style. As nobody was writing music that would make the most of this and  in order to explore my vocal style I had to start writing for myself, probably early 80’s. I love making music but as I can’t play an instrument it all comes down to my vocal in order to note down melodies.  Sometimes  I have a lyric or vocal melody first, other times I’m inspired by a backing track and the vocal melody just flows.

Prior to Wham! were you in any other bands?

Not so much that I’ve been in – more bands that I’ve worked with or done sessions for. I did some of my earliest work with the fantastic and very underrated Brit-Funk/Soul Band Central Line. I also worked with another fantastic group –  pop / jazz band Animal Nightlife – both before and during my time with Wham! I remember hanging out in the studio with Jay from Jamiroquai and putting some backing vocals on some tracks (don’t ask which as I can’t remember), but that was often how it happened, you would help out a mate.

Following your work with Wham! and The Style Council you have released a smattering of solo material, how did Shrine come to fruition?

I guess CBS had seen me with Wham and then The Style Council and they offered me a deal.  So Shrine was a mixture of my songs and covers and I couldn’t believe I was to actually be recording my own album.  But See the Day almost didn’t get recorded and it was nothing to do with the label that it did.  They felt it was the wrong direction for me, they wanted more pop less soul and I was devastated as I really thought it was a good song.  I was young and grateful to have a record deal, so I just accepted it.

Paul and John (Weller) asked how the deal was going and when I told them about See the Day and how the label dismissed it, they asked to hear it.  That was it, they agreed with me and paid for the whole recording of the track, strings and all!  It sold over quarter of a million copies in the UK alone and made it to No 2, but was kept of the top spot by Whitney Houston, so I have no complaints!

Do you have any favourite tracks from the album?

See The Day of course – and I’m also particularly proud of ‘Still the Children Cry’.

Free Your Feelings followed a few years later, how did this release come about?

It was the 90s and dance / club music and culture was huge and something everyone was exploring.  I was post baby and really needed to get back to singing and Paul was working with Dr Robert of Blow Monkeys fame, so we formed Slam Slam.  We signed a record deal on the basis of a couple of tracks and went on to make the album. It was a bit of departure for me musically but the vibe of the 90s was intoxicating musically and this one is definitely an album of it’s time.

Do you have any favourite tracks from the album?

I love the vibe of the title track Free Your Feelings and the vocal freedom, so that’s probably my favourite.

Things Will Be Sweeter and Smiles were released a number of years apart, one on Pony Canyon records. Did you have a big following in Japan?

Without sounding like too much of a big head – I think I really did!! I went out there with my co-writer Mike McEvoy and my manager and was impressed by the incredible organization and efficiency of the record company.  It was a pretty punishing schedule of interviews and PA’s, but it’s an amazing place and people and I hope I get to go back.

My Japanese audience has always been very good and supportive to me and I love them all very much for that.

Do you have any favourite tracks from these albums?

From Things Will Be Sweeter : Wherever You Run

From Smiles : Don’t You & You were the One

You also worked with the likes of Guru and his Jazzamatazz project. How did this collaboration come about?

Gangstarr remixed the title track Free Your Feelings from the Slam Slam project  – Guru just kept saying how much he loved my voice and invited me to work on a project he had brewing which eventually came out as Jazzamatazz. This was an incredible project to be involved with as I not only had the chance to work with the amazing talent that was Guru – but also a few of my other musical heroes including : Donald Byrd  Courtney Pine  Ronny Jordan and Big Shug and DJ Premier ++I got a free trip to New York to shoot a video the video for No Time to Play – not too shabby!!

Fast forward to 2024, you are on the verge of releasing your latest album, Just Something, on the famed Acid Jazz Records label. How did this latest release come to fruition?

Sky Arts had commissioned a Style Council documentary called Long Hot Summers which released in 2020. They had a private screening which my very good friend Eddie Piller was compèring. He asked me what I was up to and if I was interested in making music again. I was like Hell Yeah!!

Before I knew it I was signing a deal with the label and working on the tracks. Its been an amazing experience and I really feel like I’ve come home, musically and been given the freedom to make the album I always wanted to.

Have you always been writing songs since your last album was released?

I have – the acorn of an idea comes when it comes and it can be fairly random – so you want to make sure you catch it as soon as it hits you.

Whenever I have an idea I get it down to paper ASAP and keep it in the vault. It’s an ongoing process and I always make a note when the creative wand strikes

Where did you record the new album?

I recorded the new album with my producer ‘Sir’ Tristan Longworth at his recording studios in deepest but brightest South London somewhere.

On top of everything else you know your blessed when you have a fantastic record company who have your back – and then they connect you with the perfect producer to compliment your music – sometimes everything falls into place totally naturally!!

Did you have a particular musical direction you wanted to follow with the new album or did everything flow naturally with the music on the album?

Not a particular direction – it’s more of a celebration of my whole musical style to date. I think you can definitely hear and feel the influences of the different people I have worked with over my musical journey and yes, everything did flow naturally.

Walk Away has a sweet Northern Soul feel, was this always how you imagined the song would turn out?

I co-wrote this with Mick Talbot and at the time we felt it had a Motown vibe, but I love Northern Soul and am delighted that you hear it that way.  Yes, it’s exactly how I imagined it would turn out, but better thanks to the fantastic musicians and producer.

Be There In The Morning has a feel of those great Blue Note Rare Groove tracks. Was this how you’d wanted the track to turn out?

This cover was suggested to me by label boss Eddie Piller and I loved the idea.  I first heard the Norman Connors version, but didn’t realise the track had actually been written by Renee Geyer, Mal Logan & Barry Sullivan, with Renee Geyer releasing it as a single in 1977. As soon as I heard Renee’s version I feel in love all over again with the song. Without a doubt everyone in my camp agrees this could have been written for me and I love how it’s turned out.  I love singing it.

Do you have any other tracks on the album that you are particularly proud of?

I’ve never been in a situation before where I can honestly say I stand behind every single track on this album. …so ask me another 🙂

You have a live gig scheduled at Rough Trade East, London. Are you planning on playing any other gigs?

I would love to play more live gigs and they’re definitely coming – I’m just waiting for management and promoters to lock in a schedule. Watch this space

Do you have any other plans to release music in the near future?

Always! In between promoting Just Something and live shows I will be writing, so who knows!

Finally, what’s on your turn table at present?

The last thing on my turntable – Hollywood by Rufus and Chaka Khan (of course!)


Just Something can be pre-ordered via the Acid Jazz website

Matt Mead

Matt Mead

Freelance writer who likes anything with heart and soul