Lee was born in Christiana, Manchester Parish, Jamaica, to a Chinese-Jamaican mother Evelyn Chung and a Chinese father Oscar Lee (a language teacher) originally from Kowloon, Hong Kong. The family moved to the Mountain View Gardens area of Kingston when Lee was around 8 or 9 years old. He learned to play piano at a convent school in Mandeville, but put music on hold when he was selected to the Jamaica national football team. He taught himself to play bass on a homemade instrument, and around 1950, along with his friend Carl Brady, he formed the first incarnation of the Dragonaires, named after the college football team that they played for, at that time concentrating on mento. The band turned professional in 1956 and went on to become one of Jamaica’s leading ska bands, continuing since and taking in other genres such as calypso, Soca, and Mas.
According to Michael E. Veal in his book Dub: soundscapes and shattered songs in Jamaican reggae, Wesleyan University Press, 2007), Byron Lee is known to have introduced the electric bass guitar to Jamaica in late 1959 or 1960. However, the reason Lee began to use the electric bass as opposed to the double bass had nothing to do with sound. Rather, it was a way for Lee to avoid carrying the large and heavy double bass to the truck to move from gig to gig. The bass guitar soon gained popularity throughout the country and soon became the standard. The electric bass’s louder, clearer, and more in-your-face sound soon changed the entire sound of Jamaican music entirely, especially after Skatalites bassist Lloyd Brevett took a liking to it.