Rock'n'roll singer Lonnie Lee (b. 1940) was born David Laurence Rix in Rowena (NSW) on his parents' sheep farm. With aspirations from an early age to be a performer, Lee's earliest idols included Johnny Ray and Elvis Presley. In 1958, Lee came to the attention of Australia's first rock'n'roll hero, Johnny O'Keefe, when the young singer won an Elvis Presley competition at Sydney's Trocadero Ballroom.
O'Keefe became Lee's manager and entrepreneur Lee Gordon signed him to a five-year deal with Leedon Records on J.O.K.'s recommendation. Lonnie Lee's debut single, O'Keefe's `Ain't It So'/`Shame on You Miss Johnson', reached #9 on the Sydney charts during November 1959. Following performances on television shows like Bandstand and J.O.K.'s Six O'Clock Rock, the single reached #4 nationally. Lee formed a backing band, The Leemen, comprising Derby Wilson (lead guitar), Peter Bazley (rhythm guitar), Dave Scott (sax), Johnny Ryan (bass) and Tony Gaha (drums) and toured the country. His second single, `Starlight Starbright'/`She's Doin' Me Wrong' (February 1960), reached #3 in Sydney and Top 5 in Melbourne. `Yes Indeed I Do'/`Lover Doll' (May 1960) was Lee's third Sydney Top 10 hit.
The double A-sided hit `Defenceless'/`I Found a New Love' was Lee's most successful single to date as both sides made the Sydney Top 40 in September 1960. Firstly Otis Blackwell's `Defenceless' peaked at #17, then Nat Kipner's `I Found a New Love' rose to #2. By that stage, Lee had been voted Australia's #1 performer by the viewers of Six O'Clock Rock, just ahead of his mentor Johnny O'Keefe. Lee's debut album, A Night Out with Lonnie Lee, and subsequent singles, `Sit Around and Talk to Me'/`Baby Baby Bye Bye' (another double-sided hit in March 1961) and `You're Gonna Miss Me'/`Sitting by the River' (June) kept him in the charts. Lee's second album, Starring Lonnie Lee, compiled his first six singles, and was reissued under the title of Lonnie Lee's Greatest Hits in 1972.
Lee's first single for 1962, `When the Bells Stop Ringing'/`Sunday', was to be his last chart hit when it reached #15 in January. He issued four more singles on Leedon `Don't You Know (Pretty Baby)'/`Sure Fire Bet' (March), `Marilyn'/`Too Soon to Know' (September), `She is the One Girl for Me'/`Fun in the Summer Sun' (February 1963) and `Acres of Everything but Love'/`I'd Like to Leave If I May' (August) before signing to EMI. Lee's EP releases on Leedon were This is Lonnie Lee, Lonnie's Golden Record, Frankfurt Special, Walkin' with Lonnie Lee, Sitting by the River, I Found a New Love and In the Middle of an Island.
EMI's HMV label issued four Lee singles over the next 18 months, but none charted: `Free Free Man'/`I Need You Now' (April 1964), `My Baby Don't ``Low'''/`On the Run' (January 1965), `Love's Gonna Live Here'/`More than Yesterday' (February) and `Little White House'/`Waltz You Saved for Me' (September). For most of that period The Leeman comprised Jeff Denton (bass, piano), Lance Ransome (lead guitar), Graham Dunn (rhythm guitar) and Frank Griffith (drums).
At the age of 26, Lee was considered too old for new television pop shows like Saturday Date and The Go!! Show, so he moved into the country field. His country album A Country Boy at Heart was not successful. In 1967 he headed overseas to earn a living on the club circuit in England, Europe and South East Asia. Returning to Australia in 1969, Lee signed a new deal with the Sunshine label. His two Sunshine singles, `Hello Love'/`Sad Over Someone (SOS)' (1970), and (the re-recorded) `Starlight Star-bright'/`The Traveller' (1971) were flops and he slipped back into his club career.
In 1974, Lee joined Johnny O'Keefe's successful package show The Good Old Days of Rock'n'Roll (alongside Barry Stanton, Tony Brady, Jade Hurley, Johnny Devlin and Laurel Lea), which toured Australia throughout 1974 and 1975. Lee relocated to Hendersonville, Tennessee where he set up a promotional firm, Lee Pro. He recorded a couple of albums of country songs in Nashville, which only ever appeared on cassette, Holding on and Elvis—A Tribute. Lee returned to Australia in 1983 and issued one single on the small Starlite label `Johnny Rock'n'Roll'/`I'm Holding on' (1986). Throughout the 1980s, Lee toured with his own package show which included the likes of Barry Stanton and Johnny Devlin.