Crissy Lee’s life as a professional female drummer has led her to juggling studio sessions, touring the country and running a jazz club, all at the age of 73.
A woman who marches to the beat of her own drum.
Regularly seen with beaded, spiky hair and a rock and roll attitude to match, Crissy’s life as a professional drummer has left her with many stories to tell.
So many in fact, publishers are chasing for her memoirs.
‘When I did a Woman’s Hour for Radio 2, Jackie Collins said to her publisher “you gotta do a story about Crissy”. But it’s not down to them, it’s down to me sitting on my backside and doing it!’
It doesn’t take long to realise this is a regular theme in Crissy’s life, as she juggles studio sessions, playing across the country and teaching students, as well as running a jazz club in her home town, Colchester. But she wouldn’t have it any other way.
‘I don’t have to prove anything anymore, which is lovely. Life is still about learning because I teach and I love the fact I have to keep up with what’s happening today, so that keeps me young. My students, of course, are much younger than me so I spend a lot of time with younger people.’
At 73, Crissy has spent her life defying social stereotypes, both as a professional female drummer, and also in life after 50.
‘I’ll never let my hair go grey. I mean, it is in there but that won’t happen. All my friends that are about my age say “God, you’re so brave Crissy. I’d like to do it but do you think I should at my age?” and I say “why not?” I will never stop colouring my hair, having beads… and I am thinking about having a tattoo!’ And it was her dogged determination which brought her success in a male-dominated industry.
‘It’s an attitude. I’ve got a very positive attitude. I won’t give in to anything and I never have and that was difficult because when I was young, there was totally no way can a girl play the drums. It was my Dad that said “yes she can and yes she will” but it was always frowned upon.’
And her Dad turned out to be right. Crissy’s career has taken her to many corners of Europe, working with many big names in the music industry, but it was a trip to Spain in 1964 which sticks out the most.
‘The guy that took us out there was a Cuban chap living in Florida who loved female musicians. He was an amazing manager. He came in one day and said ‘right guys, you’re supporting The Beatles on their tour in Spain.’ Wow! It was amazing… quite nerve-wracking at first. We were playing in bullrings because there were no venues in Spain large enough then to hold the capacity of people – they were mega then!
‘We travelled in their private jet with them and we were treated wonderfully well. And when we came back to England nobody knew us! (laughs)’
It comes as no surprise that Crissy’s musical passion has influenced her funeral plans too, insisting she’ll be taken to her funeral in a gig van and ‘not one of these posh cars because that’s not what I’m about! I want stickers all over it, and John Miles’ ‘Music is my first love and it will be my last’ has to be played and nobody’s allowed to go out of the chapel until it’s finished (grins). Cos it’s a long track isn’t it! That’s my favourite, favourite track.’
‘I did try and slow down, but life won’t let me! So something comes along and I go ‘Yeah I’m up for that’, I’m still up for lots of things. I can’t resist new projects and new grooves to learn. There’s always places to go, musicians to meet and different styles of music to play.’
Posted on 16 December 2016