The resurgence of interest in the grooving Motown/Stax/Muscle Shoals sound has brought some long overdue recognition to vets like Lee Fields, who’s been chugging away in the funk and soul underground for more than four decades. Brooklyn-based indie label Truth & Soul Records is responsible for the elder artist's recent exposure. Producers and co-owners Jeff Silverman and Leon Michels (the team behind Aloe Blacc's excellent 2010 album, Good Things) burnished his sound with the warm analog aesthetic of early '70s soul records, and his well-regarded full-length, 2009's My World, earned praise from Rolling Stone, NPR, and even Pitchfork.com.
I caught up with Fields by phone as he was gearing up for a 32-date international tour. He's a bright soul bursting with positivity, good humor and plenty of full-bellied cackles, and amid his good-natured ramblings, he touched on his career ideology, his forthcoming Faithful Man LP (out March 13), and his use of live shows as a chance to "get in that moment." Fields and The Expressions — his many-piece horn-driven backing band — hit the Gasparilla Music Fest Main Stage at 7:15 p.m.
CL: You seem to be gaining momentum late in your career. Does it feel like a long time coming?
Lee Fields: I guess a lot of artists take it for granted that if they're good, they should just zoom to the top, which, I was naïve like that at one time, in the beginning. But I realized every day out here that I get isn't promised. Nothing’s promised. So my musical career and my whole life is based on the principle that, "Okay I'm here another day. Let me roll with it and do the best I can do for this day."
A lot of entertainers put so much into what they're going to do when they make it. I think every person should just live each day at a time, 'cause there’s enough in each day's time that, if you could just live each day to the fullest, you did the best you could do for that day. Keep your dreams in sight and all the things you want to do, but don't live for them, live for that day.
Tell me about working with Jeff Silverman and Leon Michels.
Leon Michels, there’s no words to describe how deep this young man is! And Jeff "Dynomite," oh, well! Let me tell you something, the two of these guys together, I wouldn't be surprised if Truth & Soul Records, in the future, would be something the size of Motown. These guys are geniuses. And I say that without any, any reservations whatsoever, because these guys got the magic. These guys got the magic, child, do you hear me? I want to make sure your tape recorder is recording, right? [Cackles.] Words cannot even describe how elated I am to be among these young, vibrant and so creative artists. It's a dream come true.
You have a lot of tales of love or heartbreak songs on Faithful Man…
We decided we wanted to go the 360 degrees in relationships: love, love lost, love trying to be obtained, trying to get the love working again, and the type of person that’s trying to reassure themselves, "Yeah, I still got it, I still got it," the doubts. Each song that was done on this album, if we didn’t get the 360 degrees circumference of relationships, I think we came close.
Because the world has so many things, but what the world right now is lacking, I think, and in need of a real, abundant supply of, is love and appreciation for each other.
What can people expect from a Lee Fields show?
When I come out on stage, what I try to achieve, is to take people on a musical excursion. Although they're not going anyplace, while they're standing there, I want to take them somewhere for a few moments, where everything is just like it's supposed to be. I want to get them to a totally, totally euphoric state of mind. 'Cause I'm gonna be there with them, I'm gonna travel right there with them. *cackles* Hopefully, people are feeling it and if not, then I'm gonna work harder to get them there, because that's what it's all about to me.
It's not the length of the show, but if we can hit that moment, that peak, that euphoric feeling, just total bliss, if we can achieve that, oh, wow! *cackles gleefully*