In the final days leading up to 2016, veteran soul singer Lee Fields mused about a New Year's resolution from his Plainfield, New Jersey home, ultimately deciding he’d make this year one of unprecedented giving. Be it new projects or more touring, the 64-year-old wants to offer up as much of himself as possible to his fans, many of whom have been following him since his first single dropped almost half a century ago in 1969. As one of a handful of vocalists from that era that's still active today, Fields thinks he owes it to longtime listeners to stay true to a style and sound that’s carried his career well into the 21st century, while at the same time satisfying a younger demographic yearning for throwback sentiments in their tunes.
[jump] “For those with a taste for pure soul, they’re coming to the right place,” said Fields who has garnered the nickname “Little JB” for his physical and vocal resemblance to James Brown. “That’s what I serve.”
Fields, who was born in 1951, grew up singing at his local church in Wilson, North Carolina before building on a string of local gigs that eventually led to him going pro in New York City. He's since released 16 albums that range in style from funk to lo-fi blues to contemporary soul, and claimed he has another album in the works slated to be released later this year.
But what's most surprising about Fields' multi-decade career is that he's perhaps more relevant at this point in his career than he’s ever been. Thanks in part to a change in management and a group of musicians he’s fostered a partnership with, Fields has seen a rebirth in a career that some might say had all but petered out. With the release of his critically acclaimed 2009 comeback record My World, Fields surged to mainstream prevalence in the music industry, gaining new fans and a bevvy of acclaim.
Not only does he have six music videos ascribed to himself these days through Truth and Soul Records – the first ones he’s ever had with him as the star – but Fields’ most recent wave of releases with The Expressions have been widely sampled by prominent hip-hop artists like J. Cole and Travi$ Scott, among others. What’s more, he contributed vocals on the James Brown biopic Get on Up and even provided a track featured in last year’s film Magic Mike XXL.
With a rich, southern-seasoned voice, and resonating conviction of someone who’s lived through all the passion, temptation and heartbreak a relationship can bring, Fields pulls audiences back to the basics with love songs that speak to the masses. More modern tracks like “Faithful Man” and “Honey Dove,” as well as some of his original hits like “Let’s Talk It Over,” cover just about every base of this fundamental human emotion, which Fields attests is at the center of any music he makes.
“I believe all the things in the world today can be remedied by mankind loving each other,” he said. “And to show people the way I feel, I try to bring love when I come. I come with a positive mind, and a belief that love is the answer.”
Despite Fields taking time out of his recently wrapped up touring schedule to begin another Expressions-tied project, he finds himself living up to his New Year’s resolution by stepping up to the plate and out of his comfort zone when called upon by fellow artists who dabble in somewhat similar, albeit divergent realms of music.
Such is the case for Fields and jazz drummer Eric Harland, who will be performing alongside each other, replete with a completely separate full band, at the SFJAZZ Center on Jan. 7.
Slated to be a guest of Harland’s for the night, Fields says fans of his will get a chance to see him do his thing in a different light than what he’s been known for in San Francisco and elsewhere – implying that the clash of genres will be a sound to behold.
“It's going to be another way of seeing me,” Fields said. “People have seen what I do with the Expressions, [and] this time, I want to show another angle. I want them to see that there’s more size to what I do.”
Lee Fields plays with Eric Harland at the SF Jazz Center's Miner Auditorium at 7:30 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 7. More info here.