[Interview] Lee Fields Fills Nashville With Love and Funk
Lee Fields & The Expressions, accompanied by Alanna Royale, came to Nashville and filled Mercy Lounge on a Sunday night. The crowd was extremely diverse ranging from young hipsters to older rock 'n' rollers.
I had previously seen Alanna at a Nasty Women Nashville event where I had the opportunity to sit down and speak with her. (You can read the interview here.) She gave a great performance and prepared the audience for Lee Fields & The Expressions.
I wiggled my way to the front and spotted my photographer, who was getting berated by a gang of older drunk women. The Expressions made their way to the stage and began playing; Lee was nowhere in sight. They played a nice intro for a few minutes, giving us a chance to scope their talents. Once Lee came on the crowd was full blown grooving to the beat.
Lee played songs from various albums in his career like “My World," songs from Special Night, and he closed out the show with “Faithful Man." He went through the crowd asking if we had soul. Women jumped at the opportunity to hold his hand and came back to their husbands melting. Lee made his way back for a spirited encore and truly closed out the show with “Honey Dove." After the show, we got to sit down with Mr. Fields.
Your live performance is made up of several band members. How did you find the musicians to make up The Expressions?
Well, actually, I always knew it was going to be a band to come along. I had several groups in my music peripheral, but they weren’t the right guys because the guys that I was expecting would know and would feel what I feel. So it took a long time. It took forty years. But they came. So what is happening now, this is the by-product of having confidence and faith. That’s how it came about.
I put my first record out in 1968, and we joined together. Well, actually, it was 1969 when the record was put out. It was recorded in ’68, but it was put out in ’69, and The Expressions and I, we joined together in 2009. So that’s forty years for you.
During your show, you spoke a lot about happiness and soul. You really brought the crowd members out of their shells. How did you learn to put soul into a crowd like that?
Well, soul is actually, when a person has soul they know what is right, and they know what is wrong. So when a person loses their soul they don’t know what’s right and what’s wrong. They just operate blindly.
That’s the reason why I ask people ‘Do you have soul?’ because having soul is knowing what is right and what is wrong. See, in these times we are under today, with so many mediums coming at us, a lot of people are losing track of what is right and what is wrong. Those are lost souls.
Then, what love is about, love is God. Love is God. There is no way… It could be described as… No better than to classify love as being the feeling that God can generate. I’m still an old-fashioned guy like I believe in the old biblical teachings, which I do believe all religions are good if it tells you two things. If a religion tells you to love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and soul and all their mind and love thy neighbor as thy selves, then that religion is all right with me. Because if you do those two things you can’t go wrong. It’s all about love.
What are your passions outside of music?
I’m into a lot of things. I like general business, you know, real estate. I dib dabbed in real estate in the mid-'80s. I wasn’t an agent or anything I would just buy properties and fix em up and rent them out. That was a very very good experience I had. My passions, in general, are watching businesses do well. If I see a business opening up, I pray that the business will do well, but it’s sad that a lot of cases it doesn’t happen that way.
I have a passion for kids. Being given the same opportunities that the last generation had. I’m concerned about the planet. I’m concerned about the perils of which the world faces because of mass pollution and all that. I’m concerned about our future progeny. I’m hoping that they’ll have the same chance and opportunities that we had coming to this great Garden of Eden here. You know, Earth.
My main passion is love because love encompasses all of that. Love encompasses all of that. I feel that if we love and let love be our energy driving forces in our lives then love would become the panacea for future generations. Then all the little creatures out there they gotta have somewhere to go. You just can’t take up all of the land and take up everything for human beings. We have the vastness of this planet. We were put here to take care of this place. So I have a lot of passions, but it all drops back in the same bag. Love. So I would say love is my greatest passion.
Early on in your career, you were given the nickname “Little JB” after James Brown. How did that nickname come about?
It was after the James Brown movie. The resemblance was uncanny. People saw me and they thought that I was actually James Brown’s son. I told them no I’m not and I told them over and over, but amazingly that episode of my life sort of went away. Everybody wanted to be themselves. But I was ignorant.
When I met Mr. Brown I was able to realize that I had to find myself. So when I met him at an early age, which he was a hero to me, but I learned that the world has James. So I had to create my own style, my own music, and be me, which under circumstances of that nature it was more difficult for me. Because when people saw the resemblance that’s what it switched to. Then the voices are sort of similar because I studied James. I studied Sam Cooke and Odis Redding. I studied all of the greats. Thankfully, the world finally recognized me for who I am and that’s a beautiful thing.
Who are your inspirations? Have you ever had the opportunity to work with any of them?
Yeah, I work with most of my heroes. I work with the late, great Johnny Taylor. Late, great Donald Davis. I work with Bobby “Blue” Bland, which were some people I was listening to when I was growing up. I worked with Z.Z. Hill. I work with Wilson Pickett. I opened up for Wilson Pickett a couple of times.
Then I got the chance to work with a lot of groups abroad over in Europe and places because I was singing with a DJ. I was doing electronic music for about five years with a DJ called Martin Solveig. He’s huge over in Europe. He has a huge following over in Europe. So I had the opportunity to work with a lot of people. A lot of rappers. Bow Wow. We did a thing at a Coliseum in Paris. So I got a chance to see a lot of young groups that I work with and a lot of the heroes that I grew up idolizing. Having that opportunity has broadened my perspective regarding the spectrum of music. By being in so many diverse atmospheres. It was a good thing.
But those people that I named in the beginning, those were my early heroes. Tyrone Davis and James Brown. People like that. Fats Domino. I never worked with Fats, but a lot of heroes. The Beatles. The Stones. Porter Wagoner.
In North Carolina, we used to listen to a lot of country western because they have a lot of country western stations. Johnny Cash. Man, I got so many heroes I can keep naming them all day long. Cause good music, if it tells a good story, and it holds people’s attention and the arrangement is good, then it doesn’t make any difference, to me, what genre. I just love good songs.
Like this new guy, Ed Sheeran, I think is his name, I love the things that he’s doing right now. I like, a matter of fact, since Justin Bieber kind of grew up a little bit I’m kind of liking the stuff he’s got right now. He’s doing some pretty cool stuff. If it’s good I try to observe it as deeply as I can cause it helps me as I write. Listening to others is what music is about. It’s about a contribution from all the musicians going into our heads.
Are there any young soul artists we should be on the lookout for?
I think St. Paul and the Broken Bones. (Check out our review of their Charlotte show coming soon!) I like them. I think the Alabama Shakes are going to continue to make good music. A lot of your young artists that I get the chance to see doing festivals and things, it’s a lot. But those that I just named, those are the ones that I think is gonna be shaking the soul scene for a while. Those two artists.
You have been making music for over 40 years. Tell us your most prized memory of your career so far.
You see, I live one day at a time. I prize so many things. It could be any general night. When I maybe see someone who really, really gets what I’m saying. That moment is recreated on a constant basis. So when I look out there and I see the look in their eyes that they’re really, really understanding what I’m saying, that’s the most prized moment. Each night is the same. It resurfaces.
As I said, everything that I’m doing is built around the theme of love and love is God. So every night when I look out there and I see the people where they’re really feeling what I’m saying, that most are recreated over and over. And the sensation that I get I can’t describe. There are no words to describe it because it is so rewarding to see people happy for a moment.
Especially living in the time that we living in today, I mean it’s the craziest time that I’ve ever seen. What is happening now with our leaders and stuff, it doesn’t seem like we’re being led anymore. It’s about love and I try to concentrate on that so every night when I could see the glimpse of people really feeling what I’m saying, there’s my most prized moment.
uy tickets for Lee Fields & The Expressions current tour here.
Photos by Garry Walden for Bullet Music