Lee Fields

“… With this album we didn’t plan it that way, because I think if we had planned it that way, we would have ended up with an album where people say, “Hey man, this album sounds just like the first one!” It’s a good thing to hold your sound; I know we still sound like the same group, but we’ve stretched the boundaries a bit.” Lee Fields

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Photo: Courtesy of Sioban Bradshaw

With the latest album project by Lee Fields and The Expressions, “Emma Jean” garnering favourable reviews, and heavy radio station rotation even prior to its official release on June 3rd, Michael ‘The Dood’ Edwards grabbed some “truly precious quality time” with this genial purveyor of sweet Soul music Mr Lee Fields. Mr Fields seems to have taken on the mantle as “The new hardest working man in show business” quite organically. On the day of our meeting he had literally just flown in from performing a gig in Paris the night before and had already conducted three interviews prior to my visit. I rest my case.

The Dood: Greetings, Mr Lee Fields. A lot of positive things have happened to you since our last meeting back in 2012. You’ve been around the world and back again. You must feel truly blessed and thankful?

Lee fields: I AM TRULY BLESSED AND THANKFUL! I think I would like all of that in capital letters.

The Dood: How was the world tour? Australia, New Zealand etc?

Lee Fields: It was beautiful, I saw places that I’ve dreamt of seeing and met so many wonderful people. There aren’t any words I can think of to describe how appreciative I am other than, “Thank You God!”

The Dood: So you are here now back in London town with the imminent release of your much anticipated third album for Truth and Soul Records, “Emma Jean” on June 3rd and an album launch party the following day at Xoyo, London. Need I ask why you chose London?

Lee Fields: Actually it’s Leon’s and Danny’s and Jeff’s suggestion.

The Dood: I know Leon Michels and Jeff Silverman are the founders of Truth and Soul Records, but who is Danny?

Lee Fields: Danny is another partner of the label, but he’s very sharp man; and him alongside Leon and Jeff have been making some very good decisions I think.

The Dood: So they are the reason the show is going ahead in London?

Lee Fields: I try to spend most of my time focusing on how to make better records and how to write better songs.

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Photo: Courtesy of Sioban Bradshaw

The Dood: When we last sat down you were in a heightened creative mode and dictating numerous song ideas into your iPhone with a view to start work on a new album in March 2013. Is “Emma Jean” the fruits of those writings?

Lee Fields: I had some songs that I planned to use the new CD “Emma Jean”. One of the songs I had in mind that I was writing that day was, “Talk to Somebody.” “Talk to Somebody” is on there but regarding the rest of them, Leon and Nick came up with better ideas. What I try to do is run with whatever is the best for the team. Although some guys would say if they had the opportunity they would write every song. Sure, that’s a nice thing to say and I’m sure everybody would love to do that; but in my case I try to make the right decision by going with the best option. And the songs they presented outweighed what I had.

The Dood: You did allude to the fact in our previous interview that you come together as a mastermind team when writing.

Lee Fields: We come together as one mind; one working team.

The Dood: Leading on from that, It’s great to see that you’re still working in tandem with the music industry’s equivalent of the NBA’s Dream Team i.e Truth & Soul Records. It’s evident that the union goes from strength to strength?

Lee Fields: Oh yeah!

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Photo: Courtesy of Sioban Bradshaw

The Dood: So let’s dip into the album. Why the title, “Emma Jean” and why no such titled track on the album itself?

Lee Fields: Well, first of all, it wasn’t planned to be “Emma Jean”. We went into the studio and tried to cut as many good songs as we could to put on this album. We were going by intuition – that’s doing things at random. We would pick days to come in and record at random, and then some of those tracks were chosen for the album. Leon asked me, “What’s personal to you?” It was already decided that we didn’t want a title song on the album, because we had done that before. I’m not going to say we’re not going to do it again but we wanted to take this album to somewhere different.

I think the worst thing an artist can do is to record a record where people say, “Oh man, this sounds just like the last record you recorded!” And the reason there isn’t a song on there called “Emma Jean” is because as I said we didn’t want a title record. We didn’t know at the time we cut the record what the album was gonna be called; we had no idea! So when he (Leon) said he wanted something more personal, I couldn’t think of anything more personal than when my mother passed away, because it left an empty void. And to this day it is still there. So I gave him a title, my mother’s name Emma Jean.
I had named a few titles in the beginning but there was no response from Leon, but the moment I said Emma Jean… I really didn’t want to name it Emma Jean in the beginning, because just the thought of her losing her and that she’s gone. And then to put it as the name of an album… phew! Then when I said Emma Jean, he thought it was a great idea. I was still reluctant until I got the songs and they showed me the album cover… To hear that name on a regular basis, it seems like she’s close by. So I’m glad in retrospect that we did name this album, “Emma Jean”.

The Dood: After repeated listens, I get the vibe that this album definitely has your signature raw Soul and Blues elements with a tinge of country music; a prime example being that of the lead off single,”Magnolia” with its sublime and liberal use of the steel guitar. Would you concur?

Lee Fields: Yeah, absolutely Michael. When Leon presented “Magnolia” to me the JJ Cale version, I thought the song was just great. I was a fan of his prior to his demise, because he wrote so many great people, Eric Clapton and all these people. He played JJ Cale’s track and I listened to it and I said, “Yeah man, why not! Let’s cut this thing!” So then Nick laid down the rhythm track and I went in the studio and cut it. I’m glad I did because I was a fan of his and also being from North Carolina I heard a lot of Country and Western music. Because in North Carolina back in the day when I grew up, you heard Country and Western all day long! Then you might hear some Soul music on the weekends; but every station was playing Country and Western. That being said it fitted right in with who I am.

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Photo: Courtesy of Sioban Bradshaw

The Dood: Your essence?

Lee Fields: Right. And it felt good that Country and Western steel guitar playing, it felt good!

The Dood: “All that they I Need” is an interesting tune; you seem to be throwing the spotlight on the band members. Would that be a correct observation?

Lee Fields: Well, on every album we always have an instrumental, and the Expressions are very skilful musicians. And it gave them the chance to show off their abilities.

The Dood: I love the haunting vocal effects at the tail end of the tune. Can you enlighten us further please?

Lee Fields: Well with that mix for that it was Nick’s and Leon’s idea, because they are true musicians. And being The Expressions, they need to be expressing themselves too.

The Dood: It’s great to see the Lee Fields trademark emotive lyrics and pleading vocals strongly represented on this set via tracks such as “Eye to Eye”, “Stone Angel”, “Don’t Leave Me This Way”, “Still Gets Me down”, and “Just Can’t Win,” and of course “Magnolia”. Are there any individual background stories behind them?

Lee Fields: I must say no, because as I said, our prime objective was to make a good album with good songs on it. In “My World.”, we had a plan of how we we’re gonna to present a 360° overview of things that people do in their lives, you know try to cover every aspect that we can think of with the songs… With this album we didn’t plan it that way, because I think if we had planned it that way, we would have ended up with an album where people say, “Hey man, this album sounds just like the first one!” It’s a good thing to hold your sound; I know we still sound like the same group, but we’ve stretched the boundaries a bit.

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Photo: Courtesy of Sioban Bradshaw

The Dood: Was the album recorded in the same studios as the previous projects?

Lee Fields: Truth and Soul is no longer there. We were out on Ninth Street, now we’re recording at a new studio in Long Island City that Leon has.

The Dood: In a previous interview you also mentioned that you like to record a couple of duets and subsequent album, possibly with your gifted friend Mavis Staples or Jazz singer Robin Keller. Are we any closer to that notion becoming a reality?

Lee Fields: As I said, with the songs that we have on this album, it wasn’t an option; it may be on the next one. I mentioned it to the label and Leon and they weren’t ready to move in that direction. The way we work, if you come up with an idea and everybody thinks is good, they say, “Hey man, let’s do this!” But they didn’t say anything, so apparently they didn’t think it was the right time.

The Dood: I understand you have enough material in the can for at least two or three more albums. Does this mean we can expect another quick Lee Fields Truth & Soul album release on the back of this one?

Lee Fields: Leon and Nick have got like a tonne of tracks, but as far as what I’m going to record next, there is nothing, as of right now this is all that we have. Because the way I like to roll when I’m doing an album, I like to go into that creative mode. But if you cut something today, maybe in another six months or year from now you’re not feeling that way, maybe you’re thinking about something else. So I want the next album to be natural, because everything is subject to change, you feel one way one day in six months from now or year from now, you might feel a little bit different. So I’m letting the creativity match and the moves match, so I’m feeling the closest inside to the album that’s been released.

The Dood: Do you intend to go straight back on the road to promote this album or will you have some time out. Some Lee Fields “Me Time” as it were?

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Photo: Courtesy of Sioban Bradshaw

Lee Fields: We’re going right back on the road as a matter of fact for at least three weeks. I want to keep on working, working, and working! I just want to keep keeping on working.

The Dood: Where haven’t you conquered yet?

Lee Fields: Well, were getting ready to go back on the tour for three weeks for the release of the record. We’re doing Paris, London, we’ve got about twenty-something dates. We’ll be playing around nine cities I think in Europe and then we’re gonna tour the West Coast and we’ve got a bunch of dates coming up.

The Dood: During your recent tour of Australia and New Zealand, did you perform any tracks from the new album?

Lee Fields: We sung none of the new stuff in Australia, but on this tour we’re gonna sing some of the back stuff, but we’re gonna sing mainly what’s on the new album. We’re gonna have songs that people will identify us with from the back stuff, but we’re going to be singing quite a few of the songs on the new album.

The Dood: Which songs from the album that you’re looking forward to performing live personally?

Lee Fields: I love singing, “Don’t Leave Me This Way”, I love singing, “Eye to Eye”, I love to sing, “Standing By Your Side”, I love singing, “Paralysed” – Man, I love singing that whole new album! “Magnolia”, I love singing the whole album!

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Photo: Courtesy of Sioban Bradshaw

The Dood: What can your loyal fans expect from you at your album launch party on 4th June?

Lee Fields: Well, all the people that supported Lee Fields, they can expect me to give my heart and soul. I’ll give my heart and soul; everything that I have within the confines of my energies to making that night a night to remember

The Dood: It’s reassuring and refreshing that you’ve remained grounded and still maintain your faithful man philosophy, given all your recent success?

Lee Fields: Well, I think it’s not in the material as to how a person succeeds. It’s not how many cars or how much money a person accomplishes in life. You’re financially successful, but to be really successful, truly successful, is to be successful within yourself and therefore you must treat the spirit in accordance with that, so that’s true success. So with me it’s all about making good music, but trying to stay on the path where I feel good within myself and within my spirit. But if you’re not successfully treating the spirit accordingly regardless of how much money you’ve got, you’re going to feel just unbelievably miserable. So it’s all about the spirit.

The Dood: Thank you for your time once again Mr Fields, we should look forward to catching up with you on the June 4th and witnessing some more Lee Fields magic. I’m sure it will be a memorable and special night. Lee Fields: Thank you so much Michael and I really appreciate it. Thank you so much for coming out and taking your time and interviewing me today. I’m looking forward to seeing you when we come back here on 4th June.

Michael J Edwards

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Photo: Courtesy of Sioban Bradshaw

Essential Album:
Emma Jean (CD/Vinyl – Released June 3rd 2014)

Essential Album Launch Party:
Xoyo, London – June 4th 2014

Essential Tour Dates: http://leefieldsandtheexpressions.com/tour

Essential Websites:
http://truthandsoulrecords.com/

Essential Lee Fields Interview: http://ukvibe.org/interviews/lee-fields_2012/

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