Lee made his first recordings in his hometown of Memphis for Tampa Records and Sun Records in 1957-58. He achieved his first chart success in 1962, when his composition "She Thinks I Still Care" was a hit for George Jones (covered by Elvis Presley, Connie Francis and later Anne Murray as "He Thinks I Still Care"). Later that year, "Patches," written by Barry Mann and Larry Kobler and recorded by Lee for Smash Records, rose to #6. The song tells in waltz-time the story of teenage lovers of different social classes whose parents forbid their love. The girl drowns herself in the "dirty old river." The singer concludes: "It may not be right, but I'll join you tonight/ Patches I'm coming to you." Because of the teen suicide theme, the song was banned by a number of radio stations.
Lee had a #14 hit in 1963 with a song he co-wrote, a conventional rocker, "I Saw Linda Yesterday." In 1965, he returned to teen tragedy with "Laurie (Strange Things Happen)" a song related to the urban legends known as the vanishing hitchhiker and Resurrection Mary.
After the 1960s, Lee devoted his efforts to country music performing and songwriting. His 1970s country hits as a singer include "Never Ending Song of Love," "Rocky" (another bitter-sweet song, written by Jay Stevens of Springfield, MO - a.k.a. Woody P. Snow), "Angels, Roses, and Rain," and "9,999,999 Tears."