Lee Calvin Nicolai

Lee Calvin Nicolai

September 1950 - May 2001

This page was originally intended to be the beginning of a new wing in the gallery for images and stories from Lee Calvin Nicolai. Lee performed with Jimmie on the Isle of View album (listen to the lovely flute work throughout). He also wrote the song Long Way Down.

Lee's friend Diane wrote to let us know that Lee passed away on 26 May 2001 at the age of 50. In her letter, Diane said, "I know how important the recognition he received on your pages was to him." I'm very grateful to know this. In my opinion, it's recognition long overdue. Lee's contributions to the album were an integral part of the texture that makes IOV what it is. He will be missed. His legacy survives.

I never met Lee face to face, but we talked on the phone several times over the last few years. As a matter of fact, his first phone call to me was another one of those enchanted coincidences that run throughout the Jimmie project.

Lee called me out of the blue on the day I was leaving for Washington DC to do an interview at NPR about the project with Johnny Pierce. I had been hunting for Lee all over the net and hoping to hear from him for years. Shortly after I got home, he sent the Laura Nyro story below, which became the starting point for his wing in the gallery. We talked about adding more stories, but never got around to doing so. We figured there was plenty of time.

Lee was a good friend to Jimmie and the project. He talked with Johnny on the phone at one point about plans for him and Idalie Adams to visit Johnny at his studio in Nashville.

The opportunity to get to know Lee helped fill many gaps in my knowledge about Jimmie's early career. I'll always think of Lee as a talented and exceptional friend.

Here's the text Lee sent about how he met Jimmie.

The Jimmie Spheeris Memorial Gallery: jimmiespheeris.com

The First Time

I was having lunch with my friend Laura Nyro at her 86th Street apartment in New York, when she got a phone call. After a few minutes, she came back to table and said a friend of hers was on his way over. At that time, Laura lived in a penthouse apartment. Among other things, this meant that the elevator opened directly into the vestibule of the apartment. The door bell rang and Laura asked me to wait at the elevator and show her friend out to the terrace.

I will never forget my first look at Jimmie Spheeris. The elevator door opened and there was this six-foot-plus guy, with purple velvet pants, a very intense tie-dye silk shirt... and lots of hair!

He just blew past me, saying what a beautiful day it was... and glided out to the terrace. After introductions, tuna salad sandwiches, and lots of champagne and orange juice, we moved into the music room. Laura played some material she was working on at the time... and some 50s and 60s oldies. She was getting ready to record Gonna Take A Miracle with Patti LaBelle. Jimmie and I were sitting on either side of Laura at the piano bench, singing harmony... all three of us a bit drunk. It was great!

We ended up going out to dinner and bouncing around many of the hot spots downtown. I remember we were in this place called Max's Kansas City. Laura and Jimmie got out on the dance floor - and within 10 seconds, they were the only ones on the floor. It was unbelievable. Everyone was glued to them. Laura always wore flowing black silk things, and the two of them were dancing this kind of sexual interpretative dance. It just freaked everybody! When the song ended, the applause was unreal.

We finally got back to Laura's place, and after another round of champagne and OJ, Jimmie played most of the songs that ended up on Isle Of View for us. The next day, Jimmie asked me to work with him.

I wrote the song "Long Way Down" as a result of that intense 24 hours. When we recorded that song, Laura sat on the floor of the studio - directly in front of Jimmie as he sang it. Magic.

They're both gone now. I loved Jimmie and I loved Laura. I hope that Jimmie's fans will check out Laura's work. They were cut from the same cloth. Jimmie and I then went out on the road, opening for Richie Havens, among others.

- Lee Calvin Nicolai, 6 July 2000

The Jimmie Spheeris Memorial Gallery: jimmiespheeris.com
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Portrait of Lee on this page: art101