When he’s not on tour somewhere in the world, playing songs from his debut album American Dreamer, which won critical acclaim among music reviewers and fans alike, Frankie Lee likes nothing better than to ride across the USA on his trusty BMW R 75/6. One thing he is certain of: his bike has a soul.
- Jan Kirsten Biener
- Loose Music; Frankie Lee
There’s a noise from my childhood – the sound of the sewing machine my mother was always hunched over, late in the evening after we kids had already gone to bed. The sound my BMW R 75/6 makes reminds me exactly of that solid, dependable hum, of feeling safe and happy. Every time I start up my bike, it’s like losing myself in a sweet dream. The machine was built in 1974, so it’s a good bit older than I am.
It was owned by two friends before it came my way – they were both musicians, and good guys, as well. It was clear that the bike needed to stay in a family full of active musicians and determined tourers. I would even say the bike has developed a soul of its own, thanks to the miles it’s put under its wheels. It has never stood for very long in a garage or museum, gathering dust; it’s been used, it’s been ridden. It’s also had the occasional tumble. But at the end of the day, it has always picked itself up and kept going. Just like we folks do.
“I’ve ridden it through storms in the heart of Texas; I’ve camped out next to the bike under the stars; and parked it outside the clubs where I was playing. I’ve had countless wonderful journeys on the bike.”
I’ve traveled around a fair bit in my time. I’ve lived in Nashville and on the West Coast and worked on a pig farm in the Midwest – but my bike has always stayed with me. I’ve ridden it through storms in the heart of Texas; I’ve camped out next to the bike under the stars; and parked it outside the clubs where I was playing. I’ve had countless wonderful journeys on the bike.
One time I was on my way from Minnesota to Nashville. It was the week of the famous Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. Somewhere in Wisconsin I spotted a guy, dripping in sweat, standing next to his bike by the side of the road. He was bent over and breathing heavily. Oil was dripping from the brake lever of his machine just like the perspiration that was streaming into his eyes. He was dehydrated and had an empty gaze. On that trip I only had what I was wearing, plus a few T-shirts wrapped up in a cotton blanket.
I took out one of the shirts, dipped it in cold water and draped it around the guy’s neck. He lay down on the grass. When I saw he was gradually getting his strength back I set off again – with the feeling that I was going in the right direction.
Here in the States, you see a lot of different motorcycle brands around, of course. But for me, there was never a question of riding anything other than a BMW. My father rode a BMW. When he died, I inherited his record collection – and his motorbike. I’ll keep my R75/6 for as long as I can and I’ll always ride a BMW. Why? For the same reason I’d never swim in a swimming pool if I could jump into a lake instead.
I currently split my time between Nashville, New York, Minneapolis and Northern Wisconsin. And I reckon I’ll keep hitting the road on the bike for a good few years to come. I guess I’m still looking for the right place for myself in this world – but I’m not too worried about whether I’ll ever find it.
Frankie Lee is an American musician born in Stillwater, Minnesota. His album American Dreamer is available under the Loose Records label.