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Crissy Lee - session great
A pioneer for women drummers, Crissy made her drumming debut at 13 on a 1950s TV talent show and within a couple of years was playing professionally. She has worked with big band leader Ivy Benson, appeared on TV with Ronnie Verrell and Kenny Clare, was part of Frank Skinner’s TV house band and was in pop band The Beat-Chics supporting The Beatles in 1965 at the height of Beatlemania.
In this month’s Rhythm she tells of open prejudices against female drummers in the early years, giving something back as a teacher and leading an all-girl orchestra.
“I was called on by [women’s band leader] Ivy Benson, who was well known then. I was flung in at the deep end with a 26-piece orchestra so I had to really get on with it. Ivy said you will never be a big band drummer and if anyone says that to me it is a red rag and I will do it!”
“Ivy never wanted us girls to play [real] jazz and tit got so the girls weren’t caring any more. I got a cal from [dance band leader] Mike Holly. He said to the lads in the band, I have got crissy coming and three of them said, ‘What a woman? We don’t want to stay if it’s a woman.’ I did my hour and then we went over to the pub and they came up to Mike and said, ‘Sorry, can we stay? And he said, ‘No, f**k off!’”
On touring with the Beatles, she recalls: “We did Valencia, Barcelona and Madrid [July 1965], playing the bullrings because there were no venues big enouh for them. My stomach was full of butterflies. We flew with them in their private jet. We went down well because we were already big out there so it was fantastic. Even when we were flying John [Lennon] had his guitar and he and Paul were coming up with stuff.”
Find more of Crissy’s Rhythm Interview in the March issue of Rhythm, on sale now. This is Crissy in action at Felsted School on her 70th birthday.