For more than four decades Dickey Lee’s name has been legendary among Tennessee recording artists and always simmering somewhere on the charts in both the country and pop fields. From his early days in Memphis on Sam Phillips’ Sun Records, Lee went on to record the pop hit “Patches,” and began to make a name for himself as an artist. But soon after he recorded “Patches,” which he didn’t write, Lee made a huge impact on the country market with a song he wrote that was recorded by the young George Jones: “She Thinks I Still Care.”
“Jack Clement was an engineer and producer down at Sun Records, and he kind of got a hold of my career,” Lee said from his suburban Nashville home. “He went to work for Chet Atkins, and he’d found this song called ‘Patches’ and I recorded it, and that was my first big hit on Smash Records. Then George Jones cut ‘She Thinks I Still Care’ about a year later.”
“That song is still played on the radio,” Lee said, “and it was also recorded by Elvis (who Lee had known for years from their Memphis days) and Anne Murray. They both had No. 1 cuts on it.”
Lee went on to write or co-write such hits as George Strait’s “Let’s Fall to Pieces Together” and the Tracy Byrd smash “Keeper of the Stars.” Most recently, Lee has found success once again with a song he wrote in Memphis some 40 years ago with old friend Allen Reynolds, who went on to produce mega-star Garth Brooks. The song was called “Memphis Beat,” and while Jerry Lee Lewis recorded it in the 1960s, the song was recently resurrected with a new version by another Nashville resident, Keb’ Mo’, as the theme song for the TNT television police action drama of the same name. The show was recently cancelled, but not before the song got Lee and Reynolds some attention for a couple years.
“It’s too bad the show got cancelled. I was sorry to see it go,” Lee said. “We wrote that song in the early ’60s, me, Allen Reynolds and (the late) Mitt Addington, and Jerry Lee Lewis recorded it and named his band the Memphis Beat. I don’t know how they found it for the TV show. The fact that it had the same title as the TV show probably didn’t hurt anything.”
Lee has had countless Nashville co-writers over the years, including Bob McDill, Karen Staley, the late Johnny Russell and others. Another of those collaborators is Bobby Fischer, one of the creators of hits like Reba McEntire’s “You Lie” and Blackhawk’s “Goodbye Says It All.” Fischer fondly remembers the times he and Lee wrote together.
“Dickey and I wrote several songs together,” Fischer said, “and I have to say it was a little intimidating sometimes, writing with the guy who wrote ‘She Thinks I Still Care,’ a song I used to play in clubs before I came to Nashville. He’s a great writer and a great artist, and I’m glad to see that he’s still at it.”
These days Lee is rehearsing to do some dates in a trio with another singer/songwriter legend, Freddy Weller, and bass player Cliff Hagan. Lee and Weller had previously had a trio with bass player Charlie Lilly, who was killed in the 2006 auto accident that also took the life of Grand Ole Opry star Billy Walker.
“When Charlie died we just kind of let it go,” Lee said. “But then we found Cliff so we decided to give it a shot again. We’re tailoring it kind of like the old Kingston Trio, and the idea will be to do some of the hits that both Freddie and I have had between us, with all of us singing background for whoever’s singing lead.”
In the meantime, Lee is still living the dream, hearing his songs played on the radio from time to time and knowing that he played a role in the histories of both pop and country music.
“I’ve never stopped writing and playing,” he said, “and I do a lot of oldies rock ‘n’ roll shows, I go to Europe to play, I do some country shows and I still do some writing sessions. I’m still having a great time.”
And, from strictly a writing standpoint, Lee has had success that most writers can only dream of, especially considering the royalties that must have been generated by “She Thinks I Still Care,” which was even covered by James Taylor.
“There are still seven or eight songs that have paid off consistently,” Lee said. “I can’t believe it, but it’s still mailbox money.”
By Rick Moore