He’s 65 years old and in the middle of a massive international tour, but when Lee Fields takes the stage at Outside Lands on Sunday afternoon, he’s going to bring energy, soul, funk, and a hefty dose of love to the shivering masses. “I don’t mind / the hustle and the bustle and the grime / ’Cause it’s all worth it / because of you,” he croons on the title track of his latest album, Special Nights. Of all the musicians playing at this year’s festival, you’d be hard-pressed to find one with a longer list of love songs to their name.
“I try to be careful as to what I put in my music,” Fields told SF Weekly in an interview last November. “I try to build my music on strong words, meaningful words, words of hope.”
Love is something Fields is well-versed in: He’s been married to his wife for nearly 50 years, and if his heart-and-soul lyrics are any indicator, their union is still going strong.
He has an old-school relationship with the idea of “til death do us part,” telling Newsweek that people give up on relationships too easily these days: “Love is a precious, precious thing, man! People need to realize how fortunate they are to have someone to care about them. If they realized what a precious thing they have in their midst, they would do whatever is necessary to hold that someone in honor and try to keep that relationship intact.”
Lyrics and romanticism aside, Fields takes great pride in the authenticity of his sound, which comes from using live musicians, and the chemistry that arises between them.
“We have real players. When you hear bass guitar, that’s a bass guitar. When you hear drums, those are drums. When you hear piano or organ, those are real instruments,” he tells SF Weekly. “I’m not using the software and algorithms that everyone is using on the radio today. It’s easy to do that, but it’s very hard to take human beings playing real instruments, coming up with real melodies other than taking a portion of someone else’s song and putting it in your song and claiming that it’s your own.”
Fields’ career started during soul’s heyday, and he released his first song — a cover of James Brown’s “Bewildered” — in 1967. In the decades since, he’s toured with Kool and the Gang, Sammy Gordon and the Hip-Huggers, O.V Wright, Darrell Banks, and Little Royal. But the 1980s — with the shift from bands to producers armed with expensive digital equipment — hit Fields hard, and he almost gave up music for good. In the ’90s, he experimented with a career in real estate, and almost opened a fish restaurant. But after some soul-searching — and the encouragement of his wife — he revived his band, Lee Fields and the Expressions, releasing the album Problems in 2002 to critical acclaim. With three albums since, he’s been on a roll, and he stops in San Francisco once or twice a year to play shows.
And he’s not stopping anytime soon. As DJ Oliver Wang put it on NPR, “In a curious case of musical evolution, the older Fields becomes, the closer he gets to perfecting the sound of soul that he grew up with as a young man.”
Lee Fields plays Sunday at 12:10 p.m. at the Land’s End stage.
Check out more coverage from our Outside Lands issue here:
New York dance-pop duo Sofi Tukker are about to blow up, period.
Fleet Foxes Emerge from Hibernation
Robin Pecknold details the band’s new record and the six-year wait that preceded it.
Future Islands: Perfecting the Imperfect
Despite disparate musical backgrounds, the Baltimore trio make it work.
Solar Imperialism Conquers All
Empire of the Sun was too big for Coachella. Can Outside Lands do them justice?
Belle and Sebastian in Peacetime
Guitarist Stevie Jackson says the band’s best years are yet to come.
Warpaint’s Second Coming
With third album Heads Up!, the Los Angeles art rockers return from the brink.
The Original Noname
Her album Telefone calls and leaves a message with listeners.
Real Estate Lets Good Music Speak for Itself
Avoiding all drama, the band continues to churn out great tunes.
The She’s Take Control
The local surf-rock favorites are determined to build their own future.