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All-Star Lanes hosts benefit for area musician

By Staff | Jan 21, 2015

Tommy Lee Sr. was a local guitar legend who could match his talent with the best in the state of Florida.

On Saturday, many of Lee’s friends, family and fellow musicians jammed into the bar at All-Star Lanes to play music in his memory and to raise money for his funeral expenses.

Lee, who was raised in North Fort Myers, passed away last week after a battle with cancer, and old friends such as Jimmy Roberts and Dennis Smith held a benefit for him to raise the $5,000 necessary to give him a proper farewell through Mullins Funeral Home.

Smith said the event was thrown together pretty quickly in the days following Lee’s passing.

“I found out they didn’t have the money to bury him, so I talked to the owner, Bill Hanson, who let us throw the event here,” Smith said.

Lee’s musician friends donated their services, while his friends donated items for raffle, such as a haircut, musical instruments and baked goods for sale, with all proceeds going directly to the funeral home.

Smith compared Lee’s musical friends to that of a family, having played with many of them in countless bands over the years.

“Tommy’s been around for years. He played for us before he got sick and had to stop,” Smith said. “He was a nice guy who loved his music and family.”

Five local bands, Boone County, The James Hayden Band, Blue’s Locomotive, Joyride and Rowdy and the Road Kings, performed, but other musicians also came as well, turning the event into a jam session.

Local musician Virgil Kane remembered Tommy for his chicken-picking style of playing, much the way someone would play a banjo, and how he played many of the old area hangouts such as the Big Still.

“There was no one in the state who could play like him. He never missed a note. It was like he could play at the Grand Old Opry,” Kane said. “Tommy was an honest man. He would always go to your house to make sure everything was loaded and unloaded. I’m going to miss him.”

Lee started playing at a very early age. After strumming on a board, his father taught him three chords and he was hooked, teaching himself how to play, according to Lyman, his oldest brother.

Tommy started playing gospel, but by the time Lee was in seventh grade in 1968, he already had a country band with friend Robbie Sheene, who would play for the students at North High.

“He played guitar, I played bass and Roy Stoopes played drums. He was the best guitar player. His whole family played in their old Florida Cracker house, sat on the front porch with their tin roof and playing flattops,” Sheene said. “His dad taught all of us. Tom was a great guy.

According to Tommy Jr., who now plays drums for the Hayden James Band, he was also a great dad who he had fun playing with as long as his health allowed.

“I had a great childhood. We’d go fishing and hang out. I was his only child, so I could ask for nothing better than having a dad who played music,” Lee said. “It wasn’t good for him being in the bars with all that smoke. There was nothing he loved more than playing the guitar.”

Lyman said Chet Atkins had nothing on him, adding that he could have gone big, but loved his home too much.

As a brother, they fought like most brothers, but you couldn’t have asked for a better person.

“He was always helping out. Even in the end he wanted his guitar in hospice so he could play there,” Lyman said as his eyes got misty. “I really appreciate what people are doing for him. I’ll miss him.”