Lee Chester “L.C.” Ulmer was born in 1928 in Stringer, Mississippi. He is a native of south Mississippi who for 50 years played music all over the U.S. before returning home to the Ellisville area in 2001.
Early on during his childhood his parents Luther and Mattie moved the family (six brothers and seven sisters) to a plantation near Moss Hill. His father played guitar, and harmonica, Most of Ulmer’s siblings played music, and his mother’s cousin (Charlie Lindsey) was a bluesman. Ulmer began playing guitar when he was nine years old and was soon playing with other local musicians on the family’s porch. He played by himself for tips, and often played together with white musicians, and remembers old square dance numbers he used to perform. One of Ulmer’s biggest influences was the guitarist and street musician Blind Roosevelt Graves, who Ulmer would see when he visited Laurel to visit his sister. Graves made numerous recordings in both gospel and blues in the late ‘30s and early ‘40s, and Ulmer closely studied his slide guitar technique. Ulmer later built his own slide out of stainless steel. From age 14 to 16 Ulmer built railway trestles across Lake Pontchartrain, and for the following five years or so worked out of a camp in Heidelberg, Mississippi, building railways spurs to oil wells. During this time he played regularly at a juke joint in nearby Paulding. Ulmer continued to travel regionally, and while working in Florida he was hired to serenade a boat captain on a trip to Cuba. In 1955 he traveled to Holbrook, Arizona, where he found work at the Motoaurant, a 24-hour establishment on Route 66 that featured a truck stop, museum, restaurant, and nightclub. He also performed regularly at a lumber camp in McNair, Arizona, and at a local Mormon church. In 1957 Ulmer moved to San Bernardino and then Hollywood, California, where he made a living playing on the streets and joined the musicians union—he still carries his original card in his wallet.
Ulmer made regular returns to Mississippi to visit his parents during the ‘50s, and in 1962 moved back to Laurel, where he worked various jobs and put together a band, the Bel Air Clowns, that played local clubs. In 1964 and 1965 he lived in Picayune and Pascagoula, where he worked at a missile plant, and following a brief stay in Laurel moved to Joliet, Illinois, where he lived for the next 37 years. In Joliet Ulmer worked construction, ran his own automotive shop, operated a tow truck, and performed regularly as a one-man-band. In Joliet he performed on shows with Chicago-based blues artists including Muddy Waters, Elmore James, Howlin’ Wolf, Buddy Guy, Hound Dog Taylor, Jimmy Reed, Sonny Thompson, and many others. Ulmer experimented with various sorts of instruments, including an early synthesizer and a Gretsch White Falcon, which required two amplifiers and cost $1,800 when Ulmer purchased it new in 1965. Since returning to Mississippi in 2001 Ulmer has performed locally as well as at the Juke Joint Festival in Clarksdale, The Shed Blues Festival in Ocean Springs, and at the Blues Today Symposium in Oxford. In June 2007 he performed at the Roots and Blues Festival in Parma, Italy. In June 2008, he performed at the Chicago Blues Festival for the first time. A multi-instrumentalist who plays guitar, keyboards, drums, fiddle, banjo mandolin, kazoo, and harmonica, and performed for many years as a “twelve piece” one-man band. Today he plays mostly just guitar at live performances, and performs mostly original compositions in a distinctive style with a propulsive boogie beat.