Lee Fields began performing as teenager in 1969, earning himself the nickname ‘Little James Brown’. After reinventing himself throughout the 80s and 90s as the musical landscape shifted -- crossing over into disco and later electronic dance music -- the past decade has allowed Fields to forcefully reassert his original Southern R&B sound. But despite changes in popular taste, Fields maintains that his music has always came “from the heart and the spirit”.
And luckily for us he’s not slowing down in his fourth decade as an artist, vowing "if I can get another note out I will." Today, his most recent two albums, recorded with The Expressions on Truth & Soul records, are feted as contemporary classics of the Brooklyn-based, retro-soul revival.
The Huffington Post Canada caught up with legendary soul singer during a recent tour stop in Toronto. Sitting under the stage while The Expressions ran through soundcheck, Fields expounded on his philosophy of soul music and its revival.
How does it feel to have your music heard by a new generation of fans?
It's a great experience, no doubt about it, because the idea of the music being heard is what it's all about. That's what we record for, for people to hear what we do. Now we have another generation, which is a beautiful thing. It don't get no better.
And how is it to play with younger musicians?
Well, it's a great thing because I knew these guys ever since they was about, Leon [Michels] was about 16 when I met him. We started out as the Soul Providers -- which later became the Dap Kings, of course -- but now we're The Expressions. You know, all of the members are like one gigantic family.
Has your music making changed from 1969, when you recorded your first single?
Music never really changes, the process of making music, because it comes from the soul. I'm a soul signer, so I come from that region within, that's sort of synchronized with the spirit. My philosophy is every human being is like two entities, the physical human and the spiritual human. It seems like a lot of people nowadays think we're just flesh, and that's all there is. But there's two portions of us, the spiritual person as well as the flesh. All religions teach that. But a lot of people have forgotten about that, they're so tied up with this mundane world that they've forgot they have a spirit. So when I sing I sing from the spirit, and that makes me a soul singer.
The soul gets the body moving.
That's what animates the body. When a person dies the soul leaves, so the body has no more animation. I mean, the physical portion of ourselves is going to remain here forever; the molecular structure of the human substance, the water, the zinc, the copper, whatever the body is comprised of is going back to what it was. But the spirit goes somewhere else. So what I do when I sing is try to focus on the spiritual aspect of things. The spirit tells me how to move because it's the principal animative force. So I just move with the spirit. I don't know what I'm going to do onstage, but I just move with the spirit. So I have a good time.
Are you growing into your music as you get older?
Well, what's happening is the people who pay close attention to what I'm doing are becoming more and more interested in the music. It's a beautiful thing because it's all about love. We've got enough chaos on this planet, enough people trying to stir trouble up. So what we try to do on stage is spread love. I like to see the audience happy regardless of the energy I have to sacrifice for each show. I don't care if I'm so tired that I can barely lift the mic -- if I can get another note out, I will. It's all about the people, spreading happiness, joy, having a good time.
But a lot of soul music comes from a sad place and painful experiences.
I'll tell you something, a lot of singers sell that sad stuff, and I'm not doubting that it comes from a sad place in their lives. But I look at life as a vacation from somewhere, a spiritual place, and we're in this beautiful Garden of Eden to have a vacation. So I get my energy from a happy place. I mean, I sing a sad song called "I Wish You Were Here" and I go to a sad place in that song. I don't try to go there, but my father passed away around the time that song was being recorded, so when I sing that song I think about him, but it's not a sad place because I think about him in a good way. It was the most wonderful time in my life when I had him. But I feel a little melancholy when I go there just because he's no longer here. But when I think of my father it brings me joy. It's about joy, about happiness; that's what we do, we're in the happiness business. We're in the happy soul business, not the sad soul business.
What is soul music?
Soul music is of the spirit man, is of God, because the spirit came from God. Soul music pleases the spirit. Soul and gospel are very close, except in gospel you're tellin' the story, the good news. Soul music comes from the same place, but we're telling the news of what happens here on earth, here and now, secular things, things that happen in our lives. But not forgetting the spirit. But I'm not in the preaching business. We've got enough people in that business. I just tell people, since we're here, let's be happy while we're here. Doesn't matter why we're here, we just want to have a good time, right?
What's the future of soul music?
I'm still singing the same way. I'm still going from the heart and the spirit. Even if I sing a dance song with Martin Solveig, it's coming from the same place. If I do it with The Expressions, it's coming from the same place. It's really the producer and where he wants to take the song. But it hasn't changed. It changes, but it doesn't change. You know, it's just like water.