By Nathan Ambrose
“When I jump on stage, man, I just be so happy to have another chance, to tell the stories that I sing in my songs, and maybe to bring some kind of joy and tranquility to the people that have chosen to spend their time with me,” says Lee Fields.
Another chance is one that an artist rarely gets in what should be the twilight of their career. When you watch him sing his heart out now, there’s no way this opportunity was going to slip away from him. Having performed, written and recorded music in each of the last six decades, 62-year-old soul singer Lee Fields’ recent musical success is a testament to his patience, persistence and perseverance. Each time he performs, he reaches deep inside his soul to sing and interpret songs with as much raw emotion as one could ever expect a singer to bare to his audience.
“I try to convey the story that I’m telling regarding the song, as true to the lyrics as possible. Although it takes a lot of energy, I’m replenished at the same time because of what the audience is giving back. It’s just a wonderful feeling to give the true essence of what the story is about in each song. I get so carried away, people can actually see in their minds and experience what I’m singing,” Fields emotionally states.
Barely two weeks after taking the stage at one of the world’s biggest music festivals, Bonnaroo, Fields and his band The Expressions, began a short club tour of western Canada to promote his latest release, 2012’s critically acclaimed Faithful Man. The tour brought them to Victoria in late June for the Victoria International Jazzfest and the performance was one of the highlights of the festival; one people were still talking about for weeks afterward. Whether it’s Bonnaroo or Sugar Nightclub, Fields is adamant that the size of the stage makes little difference to him.
“I feel it’s not about the numbers. It’s about people and where they spend their time at, whether it’s 10,000 or 200… people’s time is the most valuable thing that they have and if they decide to spend it with you for an evening—that’s the highest honour an artist can have” he earnestly explains.
Fields, along with his contemporaries Charles Bradley and Sharon Jones, all based in New York or New Jersey, have experienced similar success as part of the soul revival and renaissance which continues to take hold of listeners the world over. It’s not surprising to learn that the three soul singers are all connected and have known each other for years. Gabriel Roth, one of the owners of Daptone Records and architects of the modern soul sound, produced albums for Fields in the 1990s on his first label Desco. It turns out Sharon Jones sang backup for Fields during that period in 1996, though she would be the first of the three to taste success.
For over 40 years Fields has been a tirelessly dedicated working musician who has persevered despite all the obstacles on his musical journey. Fields, always a gracious and thankful man, credits many people who have helped him along the way, including his wife of 43 years, his label Truth and Soul and producer Leon Michels, his band The Expressions and most importantly his fans. He also cannot overstate how important the impact of social media has been in exposing his music to new fans all over the globe.
Despite all of this, he is still amazed and puzzled at his success, which began in 2009 after his album My World was released, garnering many accolades for its fiery and emotional old-school soul sound. Ultimately he believes it is God who may be most responsible for what he has achieved so late in his career.
“I think for him (God) to allow me after all of this time to the main front—I think, you know, it’s for a good reason and I think it’s to spread love. The only logical explanation I can come up with is to spread love, because I think love is the answer,” Fields says.
This love he describes seems to be the key ingredient in this rare, reciprocal relationship between artist and audience. Love for the music and for the genuine experience between them both.
Nathan Ambrose hosts The Music of My Mind every Thursday from 5:00 – 6:30 p.m. on CFUV. Check out his full interview with Lee Fields at soundcloud.com/musicofmymind. You can also follow him on Twitter @musicofmymind