“…I believe, making records is like painting a picture…Picasso didn’t just say one day “Okay let me paint the Guernica,” and start painting and then say “Okay there it is!” You know what he did? He would stand back a little bit and say to himself ” No, I think it should be a little more like this…Yeah! That’s cool!” And then he moved on…That’s the way I cut my records.”
Photo: Courtesy of Siobhan Bradshaw http://www.siobhanbradshaw.co.uk/
With two super soulful albums, “My World” (2009) and his most recent “Faithful Man” (2012) released on Brooklyn’s dynamic Truth & Soul Records, Lee Fields is continuing the tradition of the “Real” old school soul singers and performers. It seems Mr Fields is on a mission to educate and entertain as many people as possible with his raw and velvety vocals; deep and emotive lyrics and retro sound courtesy of his splendid backing band The Expressions. Moreover, as became evident during our conversation, it’s all about T.E.A.M! Together Each Achieves More. Lee Fields’ accumulated years of music experience makes him the perfect foil/ communicator/human conductor of the sweet soul vision of two men, Jeff Silverman and Leon Michels when they founded the Truth & Soul Record label back in 2004.
UK Vibe’s Michael “The Dood” Edwards was granted some quality one on one time with the youthful and gracious soul veteran Mr Lee fields prior to his spell-bounding performance at London’s O2 Academy to discuss his kinship with Truth & Soul Records; his musical influences and much more. Moreover he discovers that Lee Fields is a “Faithful Man” in more ways than one.
Mr Lee Fields. It’s an honour and a privilege on behalf of all true soul music lovers to be speaking with you tonight. Your music has been a revelation not only to me but many people around the UK, Europe and the world.
Lee Fields: Well thank you so much. I’m just grateful and thankful to all of you and for the love and support we’ve received since we’ve been on the road.
The Dood: You’re like the link to the classic Soul artists of yesteryear. You were there in the early days playing all the dives as they called them, plying your trade and now you’re getting your just rewards in 2012 and beyond.
Lee Fields: I appreciate all the radio stations that play my music, the fans and people such as you for helping us in getting the word out on this record.
The Dood: How old were you when you cut your first record “Let’s Talk It over?”
Lee Fields: It was cut when I was 17 and released when I was 18.
The Dood: Wow! So how did you get into the music business?
Lee Fields: I entered a talent show as a dare… And then I was asked to do a song. Once I did my song everybody went crazy! Ever since then I’ve been busy recording or doing shows, although the 80s were kind of slow.
The Dood: The 80s aside, looking back over your career since 1969 and given your constant touring and recording, it seems you’ve taken over the title from a certain Mr James Brown as being the hardest working man in show business?!
Lee Fields: Yeah! I like to keep in shape. What I try and do is give people a good show. I try to give my all and all in every performance. The people take the time to come and see you – Spend their money to come and see you and support you. I think it’s an artist’s duty to give a good show… The most valuable thing people can give is their time, so at least an artist should give the very best that they can do.
The Dood: Wonderful! I wish a lot of today’s artists/acts could hear what you said just then. Who were some of your musical influences growing up, whether vocally or instrumentally?
Lee Fields: The Beatles; James Brown; Sam Cooke; Otis Redding; Wilson Pickett. I like the Stones. I like O.V Wright, Solomon Burke – People like that.
The Dood: Are you aware of the ever increasing groundswell of love, affection and demand for your “Real” kind of soul music that has led to a resurgence of other original soul artist like yourself – Great acts like Charles Bradley; Rick Webb; Jerry Wilder; Stan Ivory; Oliver Cheetham; Al Mason and many more?
Lee Fields: That’s the beautiful thing! I see all these young people coming out and I’m so appreciative. Because it’s just such a beautiful thing; I cannot even find the words to describe how wonderful I feel. The audiences are just so enthusiastic and I get enthused from them. I’m generating energy off the audience and they’re generating energy off of me. It’s such a beautiful thing. I wish i could find the words to describe it, because I really would like to.
Then don’t forget I’ve got The Expressions behind me. The way they play is like The Bar-kays. Many people say that we have a sound similar to James (Brown) or Otis Redding and Sam Cooke. Just to be mentioned in the same sentence as those people is mind blowing.
The Dood: Staying on that theme, the sound that you’ve recreated on both these albums “My World” and “Faithful Man” is like you’ve gone back in time and recorded them in the Stax studios or Muscle Shoals studios. They have that rawness to them. How did you achieve that?
Lee Fields: Leon Michels and Jeff Silverman – these are the producers, and they wanted to get an authentic sound. I have to applaud these guys ability to be able to record such quality, I can’t even describe it. And it’s a wonderful gift to be recording with all of these talented young folks… I’m having the time of my life!
The Dood: Where was the “Faithful Man” album recorded?
Lee Fields: It was recorded in the Truth & Soul studios in Brooklyn, New York. Jeff Silverman and Leon Michels are two of the most prolific producers of this time! Just being in the midst of all this talent man, I can’t even explain to you. I’m like a kid in a candy store man! (Laughs).
The Dood: I know that it’s got to the stage now that when they call you to come to the studio, you say “I’m there!” Because you have such an understanding, whether it’s a song they’ve written for you or one that you’ve put forward yourself. Would it be fair to say they’ve enhanced your musical identity?
Lee Fields: When we get together it’s a treat just to be there recording man! We get so much done, so much accomplished. Everybody checks their egos in at the door and everybody becomes focused. Also I’d like to say that there is a new group on the label too – “Lady.” They’ve got a new album coming out very soon. They’re female group called “Lady.” It’s a female group comprised of Terri Walker and Nicole Wray. In fact Terri Walker is from the UK. And i’ve got to take my hat off; I think the girls are going to have a great record.
The Dood: Excellent. Thanks to the heads up on that one. Back to your new album – I love it! Every track is like an individual masterpiece. One that really gets me every time I listen to it is “Wish You Were Here.”
Lee Fields: I had no idea that when I cut that song my father would soon pass away.
The Dood: Here’s the thing, my mother also passed away earlier this year and the poignancy of that song really hits home.
Lee Fields: I’m sorry to hear that. But you get good a feeling though right?
The Dood: 100%! So I have to thank you for that. You’ve recorded many emotive versions of “Wish You Were Here.” One particular version, which I love, was recorded on top of a building. Where was that filmed?
Lee Fields: That was in Detroit on top of an old motel where a lot of the movie stars used to stay.
The Dood: Studio recording or performing live on stage where you can see the eyeballs of your fans -what do you prefer?
Lee Fields: Really, I like both equally… Because recording gives this me a certain sense of satisfaction – But also when I perform live that gives me another sense of satisfaction. So I definitely like both.
The Dood: The music world recently lost a gentleman named Terry Callier, whose career funnily enough has parallels with yours in that his music was forgotten and then rediscovered by a new genre of music lovers. Were you aware of the man and his music?
Lee Fields: He passed away? I’m so sorry to hear that.
The Dood: Do you agree that there is a similarity between your careers in music? Quality vocalists and writers who aren’t necessarily getting mainstream exposure?
Lee Fields: Yes, I definitely agree and I appreciate people such as you who expose the music so that the young and old can see what we do…We do what we can to make the best music we can make. But it then has to be exposed – somebody has to get the message out to the people. And I take my hat off to everybody that is helping us get the word out about this music.
The Dood: Reverting back to the album, you’ve definitely “Still Got It!” to quote the title of one of the tracks. The feel good song “You’re The Kind of Girl,” where was the video of that recorded?
Lee Fields: The video was recorded in Los Angeles.
The Dood: And that car -where can I get hold of that car?!
Lee Fields: You know I wish it was mine!! (Chortles excitedly)
The Dood: I thought it was one of yours?! It suited you perfectly!
Lee Fields: I was so comfortable in that car. The director said, “Go around the block and come back.” I said “I’ll go around, but I wasn’t planning on coming back!” (Laughs) It was a good driving car.
The Dood: Do you have any plans in the future to record a live album with your producers and The Expressions?
Lee Fields: I’m glad you mentioned that, I never thought about that. I’m going to mention it to the guys as soon as I get back.
The Dood: While on the topic of The Expressions, tell me something about this band? They’ve got previous right, having recorded with Aloe Blacc and Jay-Z to name a few. They’re something special?!
Lee Fields: The Expressions are our in-house recording band and they travel with us on the road. The band line-up varies from time to time because the gigs are coming up so quick now that some of the guys already have themselves obligated. For example, on the UK date we have Mr Benjamin Trokan on bass; Rudy Petschauer on drums; Mike Buckley on sax; Vincent John on guitar; Toby Pazner on keys and Jason Colby on trumpet. So it fluctuates – But the sound never changes.
The Dood: Basically you’ve got a solid musical template in which these guys can interchange and when you hit town it will be 100% in your face?!
Lee Fields: It will be 100% pure unadulterated soul!!
The Dood: And I know you like to put some silky dance moves in there for the ladies. Can we expect to see you cutting-a-dash on the stage tonight?
Lee Fields: It’s gonna be the real thing! We’re going to be down and ready to put it down!
The Dood: Later this month (November 2012) I’m meeting with a gentleman by the name of Robert “Kool” Bell of Kool and the Gang. What was your relationship/interaction with Kool and the Gang from back in the day?
Lee Fields: Listen, I haven’t seen Kool in 40 years man!!! I auditioned as a lead vocalist for them. They’re one of the greatest bands on the planet man! I think I should have been a little bit more serious. Tell Kool i said Hi.
The Dood: No problem. I know you’re a big fan of the Stax record label and the Stax sound from back in the day. Have you ever thought about putting together an equivalent to the Stax reviews of the 60s featuring acts like Sam and Dave and Booker T and the MG’s, but with the current crop of soulful artists like Charles Bradley who I mentioned earlier?
Lee Fields: Well Charles and I went on tour together about 2 years ago!
The Dood: Okay, because those would be hot tickets if they had three or four of you hitting the stage on the same Bill doing a review.
Lee Fields: Yes, it was very successful, so who knows.
The Dood: Can we anticipate any Lee Fields duets in the near future, maybe with your Truth & Soul label mates “Lady?”
Lee Fields: Well hopefully I’ll be doing something with “Lady,” I would love to do something with them. Leon (Michels) mentioned something to me that it might be a possibility. I really would love to do it.
The Dood: Fabulous! I understand you just arrived in the UK from Barcelona via Madrid on the latest leg of your European tour. How long have you been on the road so far?
Lee Fields: Basically, we’ve been on the road steadily ever since May (2012), with maybe a couple of weeks off. It’s been so many cities. We started in Berlin and we’ve been at it now for about 16 days on this tour and we’ve got about eight more days to go, then we go back to the states.
The Dood: Recharge the batteries?!
Lee Fields: Yeah man! My wife and I are going to Virginia to chill out for a minute. But it’s been all go! – Which I’m happy about. I’m not complaining at all! No complaints!
The Dood: Well I can see a youthful glint in your eye, like a teenager!
Lee Fields: I’m very very happy with regards to the things that are happening in my life right now. Very very pleased! It’s hard work, but I have a good work ethic. Continuous hard work, that’s my work ethic. I’m serious!
The Dood: How many tracks did you write on the Faithful Man album?
Lee Fields: I collaborated on three tracks – “You’re the Kind of Girl,” “It’s All over but the Crying” and I can’t remember the third track at this present time. But the rest of it man…! This writing team that we have on this album is so great, that when they come up with a song, there ain’t nothing else to put in there man, I just leave it as it is! When somebody’s got it right, only a selfish person would say, “I want to change this and that.” If it’s right, there ain’t no use in changing nothing.
The Dood: So, there’s obviously been some magic dust sprinkled over the Truth & Soul studios?
Lee Fields: What’s happening with Truth & Soul right now is that they’ve got so many talented individuals over there and everybody is in concert with everybody else. So there’s no one within the organisation stopping things from flowing smoothly.
The Dood: Are you referring to just the artists?
Lee Fields: I’m talking about the whole collective of individuals – artists; press; writers; producers; everything!
The Dood: Would you go as far as to say that the guys at Truth & Soul are creating their own distinctive sound and family vibe similar to what Berry Gordy did with Motown records?
Lee Fields: It wouldn’t surprise me, and not even adding me to the ingredients. Because if the people over at Truth & Soul keep the elements that they have and keep their level minds, it wouldn’t surprise me if they can do something on the level of a Motown. Because they’re young enough and ambitious and they DEFINITELY have the talent!
The Dood: The best compliment I can pay the “Faithful Man” album and “My World” set is that if I was blind-folded and asked to listen to them, I would think they were recorded in the early 60s or ‘70s. They have that raw earthiness to them. Every track is a mini masterpiece. And your voice is amazing! I’m curious as to how you keep your vocal chords in such good condition. Do you drink honey and lemon?
Lee Fields: Yes, I do all of that, honey and lemon, as well as taking throat lozenges. And I drink a lot of hot stuff.
The Dood: There’s something you’re not telling me. I know there’s a fountain of youth that you have access to and you’re not telling anybody where it is?
Lee Fields: Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!
The Dood: It’s amazing! It seems like you’ve got this energy about you which just radiates throughout the band and everyone else in your proximity. You emit this vibe, this soul, this feeling, whatever it is keep on doing it because we love what you’re doing and what your about.
Lee Fields: I truly appreciate that.
The Dood: How many times have you been to the UK to date?
Lee Fields: About four or five times because it each time we play in a different city. And I’m very much looking forward to tonight’s show!
The Dood: Your early recordings from the 60s and 70s have become very much in demand collectors’ items, exchanging hands for some big figures. Did that surprise you when you found out about it?
Lee Fields: Yes it did, because if I knew there were going to become collectors’ items man, I would have pressed up some for myself!!
The Dood: (Belly Laugh!) So are you not receiving any residuals from these records at all?!
Lee Fields: Oh yes! I get residuals from the albums being played. And I’ve made a deal to be compensated for any re-released records. But if I had known they were going to be that popular I would have got a few of them for myself because they’re selling very healthily.
The Dood: When you record a record, do you make it for Lee Fields first and if anyone else appreciates it then it’s a bonus?
Lee Fields: It’s easier for me to make it for myself, because it’s easier to please one person than it is to please a bunch of people – which in this case is me. I want things to be right. And if I can get it to the point where I think things are right then I’m happy. I’m my own worst critic.
The Dood: So in the recording studio are you a one take person or would you re-record until you nail it?
Lee Fields: Sometimes it’s done in one take and sometimes we’d redo it if need be. But you know what I believe? I believe, making records is like painting a picture…Picasso didn’t just say one day “Okay let me paint the Guernica,” and start painting and then say “Okay there is!” You know what he did? He would stand back a little bit and say to himself “No, I think it should be a little more like this…Yeah! That’s cool!” And then he moved on.
So that’s the way I cut my records. I cut my records as if I’m making a piece of art. Like a sculpture – you just chisel a little bit off at a time until you get each song. “Oh man! I captured the mood I was trying to capture in the song according to the lyrics.”
The Dood: Like the deeply emotional “It’s All Over but the Crying,”
Lee Fields: Yes, that’s a very emotional song. As a matter of fact we’re going to put that into the show too! We just put “Moonlight Mile” into the show – Because a lot of people like all the songs on this (Faithful Man) album. And then I’m still doing some of the old album, “My World.”
The Dood: Oh yes! The track “Honey Dove,” is already becoming an underground classic. It’s like a snowball effect. It’s got to the stage now where you can’t do a show without performing it.
Lee Fields: I’m so pleased that people have gravitated to the music this way and I really want to say thank you to all the people that are helping me such as yourself and the public that support us with the record – I’m so happy!
The Dood: It’s fair to say that music has been your life…
Lee Fields: Yes, for sure!
The Dood: …And as the saying goes “There’re only two kinds of music: good and bad and I’m into good.” There’s good jazz; there’s good soul; there’s good funk; there’s good news. Lee Fields you encapsulates all of the above – you have that bluesy Tyrone Davis feel, the funk of a James Brown, the rawness of a Wilson Pickett or O.V Wright or an Otis Redding…
Lee Fields: Yes, all of those guys of influenced me.
The Dood: …Growing up around all this great music, did you get to see any of these acts performing live?
Lee Fields: I had privileged and treat of seeing people like O.V Wright; Percy Sledge… I saw Wilson Pickett. I saw James Brown perform in his heyday!
The Dood: Wow! Where did you see him perform?
Lee Fields: I saw him in about 1964. He came to the Reid Street community Centre in Wilson, North Carolina.
The Dood: How old were you at that time?
Lee Fields: In ‘64 I must have been about 13 or 14.
The Dood: That must have blown your mind!!!
Lee Fields: Yeah man! We were outside when they were rehearsing. They were sound checking. And we could hear the track “Shout and Shimmy” which was hot at the time…
(Lee sings the opening lines of “Shout and Shimmy”: “Here we go! You know I feel all right children!”)
Lee Fields: …When he did that, I was just totally amazed! Listening on the outside and hearing him in a room and in singing that darn hit – that damn song so powerfully! And then later in the night I got to see the show, it was just unbelievable! It’s something that you don’t forget. It was unforgettable!
Otis Redding was a great influence on my life as well. I never got to see Otis though, but I would have loved to have seen him. Never got a chance to see him, but I would have loved to see Otis Redding live.
The Dood: Have you ever thought of throwing a tribute song to one of these artists into your live shows?
Lee Fields: Maybe down the road. I did one Otis tune, I did, “These Arms of Mine.” Like I said maybe down the line, but right now Truth & Soul has so much going on with what they’re doing I wouldn’t want to break the momentum.
The Dood: Do you have any siblings following you into the profession?
Lee Fields: No, I wish I did, but none of the kids are following me into music. I was hoping that at least one of them would follow through into music but none of them did.
The Dood: Tell me about your writing. Have you always been writing since the age of 17/18? What was the first song you actually wrote?
Lee Fields: The first song that I wrote and recorded was “Let’s Talk It Over.”
The Dood: Which is very much in demand, as we discussed earlier?
Lee Fields: Yes. And I write when I get truly in that mood, especially now with so many great writers around me; so many good ideas floating around. I definitely try to be in that mood so I can do my best. Since I’ve been on the road it’s kind of hard to write out here, because we do one show, then leave and then ride all day, and then I give all I can give that night.
The Dood: When is your most creative time for writing and do you carry a dict-a-phone around with you?
Lee Fields: I write any time. And I’ve got my iPhone and I’m writing some stuff now… When I get an idea I jot it down, hit the record and put it down…I’m writing a bunch of stuff now, but I don’t know if we’re going to use it on the new album or not because when we come together as a group, most of the time we seem to be more effective.
The Dood: Like a mastermind team?
Lee Fields: Yep!
The Dood: It sounds like you and the guys at Truth & Soul have another two or three albums worth of material already in the library?
Lee Fields: We’re going to start recording the next album hopefully around March of next year (2013). Right now we’re so busy with a lot of shows.
The Dood: How has the rest of Europe received you?
Lee Fields: They showed much love! As much love as they could show they showed! Most of the night we did about two encores – One encore is sufficient, but if they don’t stop with the chanting and stuff we’ll come back… But they showed so much love I can’t even explain in detail.
The Dood: You recently played in Madrid. Was that the first time that you’ve been on the Bill with the evergreen Mavis Staples?
Lee Fields: That was my first time meeting her. I met her and she’s a very, very nice lady! And she and her sisters were so nice to me. Man, it was so wonderful to see them!
The Dood: I feel a duet coming up maybe? (Laughs)
Lee Fields: I would love to do a duet with Mavis Staples!
The Dood: Staying on that theme; is there anybody else whether young or old you would like to cut a tune with?
Lee Fields: There is a jazz singer called Robin Keller. I think I would like to do a duet with her. As a matter of fact we did one on her album, she is a jazz artist. We did one on her album and released in the summer. She made a high numbers in the jazz charts over in France. But I would like to do another duet with her. There are so many people I would like to do a duet with. As long as it could be something moving which touches the pulse of the public, I’m down.
The Dood: Dipping back into the “My World” album, the track “Ladies” is a real crowd pleaser. What is the background to the writing of that track?
Lee Fields: We had this track and somebody mentioned that it sounded like a summertime track. And we all started talking about summertime and ladies. So we all collaborated and the words just came naturally.
The Dood: It flowed?
Lee Fields: Yeah!
The Dood: And another track from the same album, which is quite relevant at this time is, “Money I$ King.” Can you expand on this track/
Lee Fields: Well, I believe that “Money I$ King” is a message song really. Some people nowadays are holding money as their God… Money is a good thing, but when you worship money, when you think that’s all there is, it becomes your God. And you can’t serve two gods. You’ve got to serve either God or you serve money or whatever your God maybe. But the real God with the big “G,” you’ve got to put Him first. And a lot of people today are highlighting just material things, it’s in all the videos and stuff.
They’re glorifying material things and the things that money can buy to an extent where people can become lost at some point. It’s good to sing about these things and have a good time, but always keep in mind that there is a higher power. That’s what I do! It keeps me level and it keeps me focused. Because it’s so easy to get lost out here in this world man! You get lost in things; all things are going to be here forever, people are not going to be here forever.
The Dood: We’re just passing through?
Lee Fields: We’re passing through! Our purpose is to come here and know right from wrong and do the best you can.
The Dood: Finally, is there anything you would like to say the youth of the world, the up-and-coming musicians and vocalists?
Lee Fields: I would tell up-and-coming vocalist or musicians or anybody who wants to get into the entertainment business – pursue your dream with all your heart and soul, but realise that you’ve always got to keep in mind that there is a spiritual higher power. And if you keep that in mind you’re not going to go wrong. And you probably will achieve your dream. But always keep in mind that there is a spiritual higher power. Don’t get lost in just material things, the material things will be here when you’re not. And finally, a message for the readers of UK Vibe, I would like to tell all the readers of UK Vibe to keep your faith above all things in the higher power and all things will come to you.
The Dood: That is the perfect way to end. Thank you for me giving your time and I am very much looking forward to the show.
Lee Fields: Thank you for taking your time and coming over here to interview me. I really do appreciate it!
Michael J Edwards
NB* Special thanks to:-
Mike Lewis, Arthur Romijn, Toby Pazner ,Toby Harman and of course Mr Lee Fields for their collective efforts in making this interview come to fruition.
Lee Fields – My World (Truth & Soul, 2009)
Lee Fields – Faithful Man (Truth & Soul, 2012)
Essential Radio Shows:
Mick O’Donnell – Soul Discovery Show
Every Sunday 6.00pm – 8.00pm UK time
Sky Digital Channel 0129
Mark Merry – Soul Sermon mix up
Every Sunday 12.00pm to 2.00 pm UK time