Born: June 1, 1919 | Died: August 14, 1990 Primary Instrument: Piano
There was a distant time when the blues was dominated by the two fisted hard driving pianists of the era, who cut their bones by coming up on the chitlin’ circuit and juke joints down south and slowly played their way into Chicago to test themselves against the big boys of the Windy City. One such mysterious piano man was Lafayette Leake, who went on to establish himself as a legendary pianist for Chess Records during the formative years of Chicago Blues.
Lafayette was born in Winona, Mississippi, in 1920. He was a desperately shy man and much of his early life is still unknown. He seemed to have some formal classical training which accounted for his dazzling technique and ability to play Chopin and duplicate other pianists by ear.
We pick up on his trail in the early ‘50’s when he replaced Leonard Caston in the Big Three Trio, whose bass player Willie Dixon would become a lifelong friend of Lafayette’s, and naturally they went on to become the mainstay in the Chess studios.
His resume for the Chess sessions in Chicago of the ‘50’s through the ‘60’s is nothing short of spectacular. He was the unheralded piano man of countless sessions with Chuck Berry, Otis Rush, Junior Wells, Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson #2, and many others.
He did manage to record a few sides on his own as leader for the Black and Blue label in France during the ‘70’s. He released “Feel So Blue,” in 1978 for the label. A collectors choice for blues piano aficionados. This has been reissued on cd as “Easy Blues,” with some added bonus tracks.
He was known for his authentic blues voicing and accompaniment, with just the right touch added. He could also kick it up and do some mean barrel house boogie woogie with a pile driving left hand, a throwback to the era when the piano player had to play it all and be heard above the crowd. He was well versed and accomplished in all aspects of the blues, and is certainly one of the genres true unsung heroes.
Source: James Nadal