The Lee Atwater Album: A Politician Sings the Blues : Pop music: GOP chairman and amateur guitarist gets powerful backing from R&B; giants B.B. King, Isaac Hayes, Sam Moore and others on his 13-song package.

Share via

President Bush doesn’t play on the new album featuring Lee Atwater, his former campaign manager and the current Republican Party chairman who is also a noted blues fan and amateur guitarist.

But there is a King on “Red Hot & Blue,” which is due in record stores on Tuesday: B.B. King, that is. And the album features a host of other R&B; royalty, including Isaac Hayes, Carla Thomas, Chuck Jackson and Sam Moore, all collaborating with Atwater in a (pardon the expression) democratic presentation of affectionately rendered blues and soul standards.

Atwater, who is in a New York hospital for treatment of a brain tumor, shares lead guitar duties with King and is lead or co-vocalist on seven of the album’s 13 songs.


“Everybody had a chance to do their thing,” said Hayes, co-producer of six of the songs, by phone from his home in Atlanta. Hayes, best known for his music from the movie “Shaft” and as the writer and producer of the Sam & Dave classics “Soul Man” and “Hold On I’m Comin’,” met Atwater while visiting a friend who worked at the inaugural headquarters in late 1988.

“He was the first to say, ‘Hey man, I’m no accomplished musician. You guys are the pros. You tell me what to do,’ ” Hayes said of the album project.

Atwater is best known for his passionate playing of hardball politics. He’s credited with the aggressive campaign strategy (including the notorious Willie Horton ads) that boosted George Bush to the White House.

But in the new album’s liner notes, Atwater writes, “I have three loves in my life. My family is first, then comes music and politics. . . . I don’t think anything is more helpful to the body politic or to the people in general than music, especially this kind of music.”

The 38-year-old Columbia, S.C., native grew up frequenting blues clubs in the South, and by the time he was a teen he was playing in bands that sometimes backed such visiting stars as Percy Sledge and Marvin Gaye.

This passion came to national attention when he put together a pre-inaugural youth concert last year in which he jammed with top blues and R&B; stars. The new album, released by former California Lt. Gov. Mike Curb’s Curb Records, was an outgrowth of that concert. Atwater’s portion of the album royalties have been earmarked for three nonprofit groups, including D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education).


Not all responses to Atwater’s blues ventures have been positive, in light of Republican policies seen by some as antithetical to minority interests.

New York rock critic Dave Marsh, in the current issue of his Rock & Roll Confidential newsletter, writes, “Even if (Atwater was a great performer), the presence of the Republican Party chairman on the recording scene would be toxic.”

Hayes laughed at the notion. “First of all, music should be for all people,” he said. “It should be free. No one should put a tag on music and say who’s to like what. If it suits your fancy, you embrace it, and that’s what that little boy from South Carolina did. I don’t see it having anything to do with party affiliation.”