Blues vocalist & guitarist, Ellisville,MS.
Lee Chester “L.C.” Ulmer is a native of south Mississippi who for 50 years played music all over the U.S.—“like horse manure, everywhere!”—before returning home to the Ellisville area in 2001. He is a multi-instrumentalist who plays guitar, keyboards, drums, fiddle, banjo mandolin, kazoo, and harmonica, and performed for many years as a “twelve piece” one-man band. Today he plays mostly just guitar at live performances, and performs mostly original compositions in a distinctive style with a propulsive boogie beat.
Ulmer was born in 1928 in Stringer, Mississippi, and later moved with his parents Luther and Mattie, six brothers, and seven sisters to a plantation near Moss Hill. His father played guitar, harmonica, and “jew’s harp.” Most of Ulmer’s siblings played music, and his mother’s cousin (Charlie Lindsey) was a bluesman. Many musicians visited the house to play and drink whiskey, the most famous being Meridian’s Jimmie Rodgers.
At 80 years young, L.C. brings boogie music from South Mississippi. He drove a truck for the last 40 years out of Chicago and moved back to his home state of Mississippi 2004. L.C. has driven railroad spikes, picked cotton, had a one man band in Joliet, Illinois, worked as a janitor, a yardman, and a shoeshiner to name a few.
Ulmer began playing guitar when he was nine years old and was soon playing with family and other local musicians on the family’s porch. He played by himself for tips, and often played together with white musicians, and remembers old square dance numbers he used to perform. He recalls with delight listening at home to 78rpm recordings by artists including Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Boy Fuller, Tampa Red, and Peetie Wheatstraw,
One of Ulmer’s biggest influences was the guitarist and street musician Blind Roosevelt Graves, who Ulmer would see when he visited Laurel to visit his sister. Graves made numerous recordings in both gospel and blues in the late ‘20s and early ‘30s, and Ulmer closely studied his slide guitar technique. Ulmer later built his own slide out of stainless steel.
From age 14 to 16 Ulmer built railway trestles across Lake Pontchartrain, and for the following five years or so worked out of a camp in Heidelberg, Mississippi, building railways spurs to oil wells. During this time he played regularly at a juke joint in nearby Paulding.
In 1949 Ulmer traveled to Kansas City, Kansas, to visit his sister, and stayed there on and off for two years. He played guitar for various gospel quartets, and his blues jobs included backing Chicago-based J.B. Lenoir at a local club. From 1951-55 Ulmer was based mostly in Laurel, where he played as a one-man band at local clubs including the Top Hat, Cotton Bowl, Wagon Wheel, and Twenty Grand. He also performed in juke joints in Meridian.In 1955 he traveled to Holbrook, Arizona, where he found work at the Motoaurant, a 24-hour establishment on Route 66 that featured a truck stop, museum, restaurant, and nightclub, “The Cock’n’Bull.” Ulmer recorded advertisement songs for the Motaurant, and met and/or played with many famous musicians there including Elvis Presley, Les Paul and Mary Ford, Brook Benton, Nat King Cole, Fats Domino, and Louis Armstrong. He also performed regularly at a lumber camp in McNair, Arizona, and at a local Mormon church.
In 1957 Ulmer moved to San Bernardino and then Hollywood, California, where he made a living playing on the streets and joined the musicians union—he still carries his original card in his wallet. He continued to travel regularly back and forth to Arizona “every three or four weeks,” traveled up through Canada up to Alaska.
In 1964 and 1965 he lived in Picayune and Pascagoula, where he worked at a missile plant, and following a brief stay in Laurel moved to Joliet, Illinois, where he lived for the next 37 years.In Joliet he performed on shows with Chicago-based blues artists including Muddy Waters, Elmore James, Howlin’ Wolf, Buddy Guy, Hound Dog Taylor, Jimmy Reed, Sonny Thompson, and many others.
Since returning to Mississippi in 2001 Ulmer has performed locally as well as at the Juke Joint Festival in Clarksdale, The Shed Blues Festival in Ocean Springs, and at the Blues Today Symposium in Oxford. In June 2007 he performed at the Roots and Blues Festival in Parma, Italy. In June 2008, he performed at the Chicago Blues Festival for the first time.