Sadly, Lee passed away on September 19, 2016 (see his obituary).
Lee Cotten, although born in Philadelphia, was a product of Southern upbringing. In 1948 he and his parents arrived in Newton, Mississippi, some 130 miles south of Tupelo, about the same time that Elvis was moving north to Memphis. Lee lived in small towns in Mississippi, Georgia and Tennessee for the next sixteen years before graduating from the University of Georgia with a B.A. in journalism.
Lee has enjoyed a lifelong involvement with Rock 'n roll music. He received his initiation in the blues listening to WLAC radio, a clear-channel station broadcasting from Nashville. He vividly remembers hearing Maybellene in the fall of 1955 as it played on the jukebox at the back of the local soda shop on those waning evenings after his Boy Scout meetings. He readilly recalls the reaction when Tutti Frutti and Long Tall Sally were sneaked onto the turntable at summer church camp dances in North Carolina.
As a teen-ager, he was the kid who brought the latest records to the parties. He always knew what artist recorded for which label, and he could regale about musical influences, styles, and backgrounds. He played piano in a high school rock 'n roll band, flat-top guitar in a college folk trio, and electric guitar in a long-forgotten rock 'n roll / rhythm and blues band. In the years since, his interest in rock 'n roll music has never diminished.
Lee's first recollections of Elvis center around the summer of 1956 and the community swimming pool in Monroe, Georgia. It was nighttime, and someone dropped a nickel in the jukebox. My Baby Left Me came popping out of the speakers with the hard drum riff from D.J. Fontana and the slapping baseline of Bill Black, followed by Scotty Moore's unequaled rockabilly guitar lead. Then there was the vocal - that high, demanding, pleading wail as Elvis intoned, "...was it something I done, something that she heard?" Lee spent a week's allowance that night, playing the record over and over. This was the turning point. He became fascinated by the fact that another person, a performer, could touch the inner parts of his being in the way Elvis and this song had done that night. My Baby Left Me remains Lee's personal favorite of all the songs recorded by Elvis.
Following college, Lee was a member of the U.S. Air Force's strategic reconnaissance program, stationed first in Wyoming and then in Alaska over a period of five years. On completion of this tour of duty, he settled in Sacramento, California, to study under world-renowned photographer Glen Fishback. In the midst of a successful career as a free-lance photographer, Lee launched a retail record business dealing in the hits from the past. For fourteen years, Golden Oldies was one of the most unique record stores in the country, specializing solely in 45rpm singles. His reputation as an expert in the field of collectable records spread around the world. His expertise led to numerous appearances on both radio and television. In January 1979, Lee produced one of the finest Elvis fan festivals ever presented in this country, the first such event in Sacramento's history.
In 1981, Lee self-published his first book on Elvis, a sixty-four-page compendium of chronological dates and facts titled Elvis: His Life Story. That led to a contract with Pierian Press and to his long association with Howard A. DeWitt. In 1983, the two men collaborated on Jailhouse Rock: The Bootleg Records of Elvis Presley, 1970-1983. Lee then went solo again for the original edition of All Shook Up: Elvis Day-By-Day, 1954-1977, published in 1985.
A year later, in 1986, Lee closed the door of Golden Oldies to concentrate on writing full time. At that moment, he was under contract to Doubleday to complete The Elvis Catalog in time for the tenth anniversary of Elvis' death. In 1989, Pierian Press publised Lee's Shake, Rattle and Roll: The Golden Age of American R&R, Vol I: 1952-1955. This first in a planned multi-volume set dealing with American rock music's Golden Age, 1952-1963, the pages of Shake, Rattle and Roll begin Lee's monumental undertaking with a detailed look at the events, personalities, and the music from which rock 'n roll sprang - rhythm and blues. After a scene-setting look ahead into each of the years covered in this volume, 1952-1955, Shake, Rattle and Roll recounts the day-by-day activities of the headliners and record companies that gave the early fifties their uniqueness and created the foundation upon which rock music built its house. Each monthly chronology is further supplemented by weekly summaries of record release activity, a listing of the mont's top ten songs, and a brief portrait of the important "Artist of the Month".
At this time, Lee was working for a major chain of retail record stores. Three years of corporate life convinced him to return to writing post-haste, however, and he completed the second volume of the projected three-volume set for Popular Culture Ink - Reelin' and Rockin': The Golden Age of American R&R, Vol II: 1956-1959 in 1995. Nearly 150 pages larger than its predecessor, picks up the story of rock music's early-fifties, rhythm-and-blues-based odyssey from the mid-fifties through to the close of the decade, chronicling not only the progress of black r&b but also further development of its emergent, white dominated musical progeny called rock 'n roll. Continuing the format of the first volume, the author's monthly chronologies focus on daily musical events, weekly listings of new record releases, an inventory of the top records of the month, and a multi-page biography - with a photograph - centered on an "Artist of the Month", and nearly 200 mini-biographies of many of the lesser luminaries of fifties rock. Reelin' and Rockin' oncludes with two appendices, a bibliography, a performer index, and a song title index.
The final volume, Twist and Shout concludes Lee's monumental chronicle of American music's pre-Beatles "Golden Age", with similar coverage from 1960 to 1963. This volume was publised in December 2002.
The same year that he completed Reelin' and Rockin' saw Lee's return to Elvis studies with a title published by High Sierra Books called Did Elvis Sing in Your Hometown (1995). This was the first major investigation into Elvis' many performances in the fifties. It was followed by Did Elvis Sing In Your Hometown, Too? (1997). The sequel begins with the video taping of his blockbuster 1968 TV special and ends with the final tour exactly nine years later. Lee researched thoroughly every concert, including every Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe stand. He has poured over newspaper reviews and fans' comments, coming up with day to day highlights for every show.
The second edition of All Shook Up was published by Popular Culture Ink in 1998. Over twelve years of research and revision had passed since the first edition, and the updated chronology again boasted many previously unearthed, newly discovered events and details about Elvis. begins with chapters devoted to Elvis' formative years, 1935-1953, and continues its unparalleled coverage through twenty-four more years, 1954 through 1977. Additional reference features conclude the volume, together with an exhaustive index.
Each of Lee's books received overwhelming critical aclaim from reviewers and high praise from fans of Elvis and rock 'n roll in general. Lee still resides with his family in Sacramento, California.