Fifty Shade of Soul
Lee Fields is a legend of soul-funk music and has been working constantly for that since his fourteen years. Fifty years during which he met and sang with the greatest artists. Among them Kool and the Gang, Bobby Womack, BB King or Sharon Jones and Charles Bradley some of his best compagnons since the beginning of his career. Which makes of him a privileged witness of the classic soul-funk era and music in general. After fifty shades of soul in the game, Lee Fields gained the respect of all generations and has never felt so young. For these reasons, Monde De Poche approached him to collect some memories and wisdom just before his concert with his band, Lee Fields & The Expressions, at l’Orangerie du Botanique à Bruxelles. Lets step into his world!
Lee Fields’ interview recorded on the 06.02.2018, at l’Orangerie du Botanique à Bruxelles:
Monde De Poche is thrilled to have Mr Lee Fields, the soul-funk living legend, who spent fifty years in the game, according to his label’s words, Big Crown (Records). A long path that makes of him a living witness of the soul-funk history and one of the greatest voice.
M.D.P.: So, hi Mr Lee.
L.F.: How you’re doing today?
M.D.P.: It’s a great pleasure to meet you, to have you here in le Botanique.
L.F.: The pleasure is mine. I really appreciate you’re taking your time interviewing me.
M.D.P.: It’s just enjoyable time, joyful. And so Mr. Lee, you started your career in 1969 if I’m not mistaken.
L.F.: Actually, the record was released in 69 but I was on the scene prime to my first release. My first release was released in 1969. I’ve actually been in the music business ever since. I was about, singing up professional, around fourteen.
M.D.P.: Fourteen! Young age!
L.F.: So, I already started in North Carolina before I had the release in New York.
M.D.P: So if I remember, you left North Carolina to New York at sixteen?
L.F.: I was around… I think I was seventeen. I got to New York at seventeen. And I met my wife at eighteen and married her at nineteen. We got together ever since.
M.D.P.: Wow! Fast!
L.F.: Everything was moving fast. You know? When people say I’m gonna do this, I’m gonna do this and they pull off, they procrastinate. That’s a bad thing. I was a kid and I knew what I wanted to do. Music was definitely in the game ‘cause when I saw The Beatles on Ed Sullivan Show (The Beatles’ first US TV appearance in 1964, February 9). And then when I saw James Brown. That was it, that was it! This is what I’m gonna do about it! I’m gonna do everything but that! The first release was in 69 but the record was recorded actually in 68. But they released it in 69.
M.D.P.: Since your first record until your last album in 2016, with Special Night. You’ve been like very productive not only in your own career but also in collaborations. You’ve collaborated with The Black Keys, The Dap-Kings, Daptone Records.
L.F.: Martin Solveig.
M.D.P.: Martin Solveig, electronic music.
L.F.: He got is first hit with me. Everybody, that was his first real hit record. And then Good Man, Jealousy.
M.D.P.: Yeah, I remember.
L.F.: Life is being fun. I must say, like a lot of artists would tell you things. How they had a lot of uncanny days. Don’t have to minus sign what I was to tell you. Because what I did was, I believed that God was real when I was a kid and still do. So God made my suffering very, very little. Even though I wasn’t known by many people. In those earlier years, I’ve always worked constantly. And I made a put of that living without being known like I am today. So God sort of like… Thank you God for showing me favour (laughter)!
M.D.P.: Your shield.
L.F.: Yeah! God is good, good all the time, 24/7!
M.D.P.: Even if you gained some credit through imitations of James Brown style.
L.F.: Yeah, in the beginning.
M.D.P.: In the beginning, yeah.
L.F.: Well you know, everybody did. Prince, Michael Jackson… Everybody was influenced by James Brown. And then I got the chance to meet him, talk to him on a personal thing. I truly believe James Brown and Hank Ballard first. *There’s a thrill upon the Hill that had James Brown sound. But I do… I’m not correct, but I believe James has something to do with that sound. There’s a Thrill (up)on the Hill (singing). Now, that sound sounds kind of like a James. And it was on King Records. I haven’t done any research on this but anyone that really know, please, let me know that James Brown had something to do with that! ‘Cause this sounds like James sound but Hank was singing. It sounds like James was on the keyboard and he probably didn’t produce but he has a main force at the sound. That sound like James sound to me. But everyone was influenced by James. Like every rocker was influenced by The Beatles. Maybe the younger rockers. But the people like the Let Zeppelin and all, they were influenced by The Beatles. They had to be! It was known at the time… There’s no way in the world… The Beatles with the foundation of merging soul and rock together. So being influenced by both, that’s what really gave me my style. I think in latter time, I think I’m gonna become a little bit more rocker. I feel like a rocket now (laughter)!
M.D.P.: We will see you later at the concert.
L.F.: But I’ll almost keep the same flow but I’ll put a bit of rock in it man. Some guitar man… I don’t know what it’s gonna be but we don’t want to sound the same all the time. So the next album, I’m gonna see. We gonna just see.
M.D.P.: I cannot wait to hear that!
As long we white this, black that, we divide. We’re all one people. If you live in America, we’re all one. We’re all one bro!
M.D.P.: It’s a little bit political but in the context of Black History Month, could you give some in-dept information about how the soul music and funk started? like around the moment you started.
L.F.: Well you know what? Lets (do) something else. Two things, I’m not political. Two things that really sort of caused me to think when I hear like Black History Month. It should be American History Month. It’s shouldn’t be no White History or Black History. That is keeping everything separate! It should be History. American History and Black attribute, so where we contribute. But it should be history, no black history and it shouldn’t be no white history month. It should be American History Month. Because when you go putting labels on thing – it’s just like Black Lives Matter which is true, all lives matter – we’re not progressing from putting white or black.
Of that, i remember it used to be white bathrooms. All it was white bathrooms, you know? It’s toilet. Instead – of white toilets or black toilets – you separate. It should be toilets. And our history should be… This month is dedicated to what Black people contribute to American history. It shouldn’t be We still putting up wounds. It should be American History Month and this month is dedicated to what native American attribute to America. And this month is dedicated to what the Black American attribute to America. This and the rest of course would be the anglo-saxons. But when I hear black history this and that, what it does to me, I see back in the sixties. That sound white and black restrooms. I see white and black water fountains. So we’re going on in a circle but if everything is built on a circle then it has to be labeled. This is American History. This month is dedicated to what Black Americans tribute. It should be specified like this so we know we’re all one. Because the first thing in the days of colonisation was to divide and conquer. As long we white this, black that, we divide. We’re all one people. If you live in America, we’re all one. We’re all one bro (Laughter)!
It’s not a white music, it’s not a black. It’s one thing, music. And there’s two kinds: either it’s good or either it’s bad.
M.D.P.: Thank you for your specification. But I just wanted to go back to the Blaxploitation because it’s an important movement and universal. The music that came out of that sounds universal. That’s why I wanted to give more context to that. Maybe because people who are enjoying the music today maybe don’t have all the keys. Maybe they don’t need but it’s important to give some little context.
L.F.: But it’s just like when I listen to Otis Redding. He’s a black man. I listen to Otis Redding music. I like that music. When I listen to The Beatles, they are white guys but I like that. Music should be… It is but two kinds. It’s not a white music, it’s not a black. It’s one thing, music. And there’s two kinds: either it’s good or either it’s bad (laughter)!
It’s all about going out there delivery. Going out there and giving all you got and be truly dedicated to giving the people the best show that you can give.
MDP: I totally agree! Another question is about you know? I mentioned before that you collaborated a lot with many artists during all your career. But now especially with young generations of musicians. How does it feel? How do you live these experiences?
L.F.: Well, It feels always the same. It feel just like I’m singing. I feel the same way in the sixties and now we are in 2018. And it feels the same way. It’s all about going out there delivery. Going out there and giving all you got and be truly dedicated to giving the people the best show that you can give. Regardless whether you’re sick or regardless you’re under the weather or what. If you gonna step up on that stage and if you can’t pull it off. If your sickness is too great which I would advise someone, if they’re sick actually to take care of themselves. Because your health is much more greater than that show. Because if you get well you can do more shows. While I’ve been on the stage, in times where I didn’t take my own advise. I felt so bad I felt like man, in a minute I was gonna just fall on down. So in those cases, I just had to just stare at the people, that I’m under the weather (not feeling well). It happened about twice. We’re only human and I think if Michael (Jackson) would have done that, he would probably be still here today. But you get so devoted to your supporters because they drive many of miles to see you. And they owe you such esteem and an artist feeling obligated. I would advise this advice to any artists. If you’re not feeling that way on, then your health should come first.
And I think what soul music does, it brings people back to a time of where the soul of the human being is very important.
MDP: How do you maybe explain the success of soul music, funk nowadays? Do you maybe think that it provides answers maybe to a confused context for young generations, for people?
L.F.: I think that what makes soul music so important today is because everyone can see – by just looking at the television and everybody’s song on the internet now. They see how algorithms are replacing everything that we do. Even in music. It takes a person’s voice through a computer and get a sound that’s appealing to people. Now they’re coming out with cars that are gonna drive themselves. Now they coming up with artificial intelligence to a level of where our purpose here is being slowly but surely dissipated. And I think what soul music does, it brings people back to a time of where the soul of the human being is very important. Because soul music is very much akin to gospel. Gospel, they sing about the when and the then. But what soul music is singing about is the here and the now and hoping that it would be pleasing to the heart. Because that’s what soul music is about. Soul music is about the spirit. Soul is the spirit!
When God put breath in Adam’s nostril, Adam became a living soul. So Adam was the soul man, you know? He was a living soul. And that being said, he had feelings. He had concern about the other creatures of the earth. He had concern about what is right and what is wrong. This is what the spirit is about. It’s connecting us in what is right and what is wrong. I think in latter times that- which was latter mentioned about what is right and what is wrong, we are forgetting about what is right and what is wrong. And that’s very damaging not only for the human being but for the all planet itself. Because once we forget, totally forget, what is right and what is wrong, we are like everything nascent in a mass hysteria.
People are doing crazy things. Things that are just unthinkable because they don’t know what is right, what is wrong.
People are doing crazy things. Things that are just unthinkable because they don’t know what is right, what is wrong. But if you cling to something that you hold. That tells you to love your neighbour as yourself. And love God with all your heart and soul, with all their might. If you just do those two, you don’t have to do all the things that was commanded for us to do. But if you do those two, I think all of what God has intended for us will be completed. You can bet. If you obey those two then they wouldn’t be any of the nonsense stuffs happening today like people are doing. Hurting each other the way they do. They wouldn’t be bombing up cities and people just walking around bombing themselves. You wouldn’t do that to somebody you love.
Love is the answer so that’s what motivates me, the soul music.
Love is the answer so that’s what motivates me, the soul music. Not only soul but any kind of music of that a person sing enough conscious things. Whatever they singing about, you get a positive spin in the song. Whenever they’re singing about. When you got a positive spin, when you still know what is right and what is wrong, the music is all right for me. And the religion that tells me that love your neighbour and love God, that religion, regardless what the religion is, is all right with me. See, I’m deeply… When I sing soul music, I don’t just sing it for the title. I sing soul music because I believe it’s about the spirit man! And the spirit I’ve just got.
When I sing soul music, I don’t just sing it for the title. I sing soul music because I believe it’s about the spirit man!
M.D.P.: Another question. I hope I will not reopen a wound. But we’ve lost last year two of your good friends. Friends from the beginning of your career. How do you remember them?
L.F.: Sharon and Charles. Man, I will never forget them! I’ll see them again, no doubt! But right now when I think of Sharon, all the good times we had and… Sharon, I mean, Sharon really lived for music man! She didn’t have family. Like other than the Dap-Kings family. I mean she had relatives down in Georgia but she didn’t have kids. This was her life! And Charles… Charles was so sensitive. Oh man, Charles was one of the nicest people that you would ever meet. I used to love to talk to Charles and it’s a matter of fact that I saw him about four days before is passing. I had to go down to Texas for about four-five days run and I told him I’ll see him when I’ll get back next week. The first thing I’ll do is come over to the hospital and see him. But sadly, I heard on the radio that he had passed away… Sharon and Charles were very, very close to me. And I was close to them too.
M.D.P.: Great loss.
L.F.: But you know that’s life. We are told since we’re very little that one day, you know, you gonna live so long and one day you have to go. We know that as we live our lives. That’s the reason why I believe that cling into the matter of fact that the body is only a machine. It’s a fleshly machine that we use for a certain period of time as we vacation here on earth. We are not of this earth. All human beings are spiritual creatures. It’s just what separates us. Whatever we did, wherever we were for, we came here. We deserve an opportunity to experience life.
Thank you very very much.It’s been a great honour.
*Thrill on the Hill, original title.