Lee McBee and the Passions' "44" was acclaimed No. 1 for the last half of 1995 by a blues and jazz magazine.
The caliber of a Lawrence bluesman's latest album is making a direct hit with some European music critics.
Lee McBee and the Passion's "44" has been ranked the No. 1 pick for the last half of 1995 by editors of Blues News Magazine, one of the leading blues and jazz publications in Europe.
"44" also was ranked No. 1 in retail sales for Crosscut Records in the fourth quarter of 1995, beating recordings by Duke Robillard, Big Al Dupree and the James Harman Band.
"It means a lot to me," said McBee, long known in the Lawrence area for his riveting blues harmonica and howling-wolf voice. "It was No. 2 in Belgium for a week. Germany, England and France are tougher markets. Germany is big on the blues and very critical."
McBee, formerly with Mike Morgan and the Crawl, said he couldn't have assembled a better backup band for the album. It reads like a Who's Who of grassroots blues:
- Anson Funderburg, one the world's top blues guitarists.
- Willie Campbell, bass player for the Fabulous Thunderbirds.
- Kid Ramos, guitarist for the Thunderbirds.
- Stephen Hodges, an exotic and solid drummer who often tours with Tom Waits.
- Kevin McKendree, a dynamo pianist who performs with country star Leroy Parnell.
- Marvin Hunt, another blues guitarist.
The album was recorded at Wheeler Audio in Kansas City, Mo., and is being promoted by Red Hot Records, a small independent label in Kansas City, Mo.
Patrick Horton, of Red Hot, said the No. 1 rankings for McBee "are significant" and hopefully will boost his record sales. Music fans are buying slightly more than 100 copies of "44" each month. Horton admits that number is small compared with that of famous rock stars whose monthly sales reach into the thousands.
"I don't know how many (albums) have sold," McBee said. "It cost $17,000 to make, and it came out in July, and it was paid off in October, and it's sold a lot since then."
In addition to Germany and Belgium, Horton said "44" is being distributed in Holland and Luxembourg. Plans are in the works to court other European and Asian markets.
McBee is kicking around ideas for a tour of Germany and another album.
"I have two different ideas," he said, referring to the album, "but I don't know which one to do."