Soul Singer Lee Fields Wants to Heal the World (and Your Relationship)

Lee Fields
Like most of his music, Lee Fields's latest album, "Special Night," is all about love. Big Crown Records

Lee Fields knows a thing or two about love. He's been married to the same woman for 47 years, and though, as he says, they've had their "ups and downs," the experience has imbued the 67-year-old soul singer with such a deep appreciation for the power of the L-word that it's pretty much all he sings about, especially on his latest album of tender soul jams, Special Night, which Big Crown Records released in November.

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Fields has had a long, if mostly underappreciated, career. In 1969 he released his first record, a cover of James Brown's "Bewildered," and he's been recording and touring ever since. What eluded him for most of his career, however, was a consistent backing band. He found one in 2009 in the Expressions, a group of musicians comprising the Dap Kings (Daptone Records's house band known for their work with Amy Winehouse, Charles Bradley, Sharon Jones and other soul artists) and a group he was playing with at the time called the Soul Providers. A few demos turned into an album's worth of solid soul cuts, and later that year Lee Fields released My World, his first album with his new band. "They're like my musical sons," he says of the Expressions. "That's what I call them. I waited 40 years for this."

Over the course of four albums, the Expressions have given Fields an international audience for the first time, and after a few dates in the United States, they will head overseas for an international tour beginning January 12 in support of Special Night. We were able to catch up with Fields to talk about his new record, the passing of Sharon Jones and, of course, love.

You've been busy since the album came out. How has the touring been going?

It's been so great. The turnouts have been tremendous. People loving it, the record, singing the record along with me. I feel so good, man, when I see that happening. I feel like sometimes just breaking down in tears, I feel so happy.

You started working with the Expressions in 2009. How surprising was it to find this young group of musicians that appreciated the music you made so late in your career?

Being a person that believes in the Bible, I feel that soul music is akin to gospel. The only difference between gospel and soul is that gospel is singing about the when and the then, and soul is singing about the here and the now. In soul music, we try to keep in mind at all times that there is a god, so we're very careful about the choice of words that we use in our songs. We want to be pleasing to God as well as being pleasing to men. So we pray that God likes what we're doing, and we try to write songs that the average person can identify with. But as far as waiting for these guys for this long period of time, I'm a faithful man, so I had faith that they would come one day, and here they are! They're here right now, man!

You've said that Special Night is a good album for the moment we're in right now. What do you mean by that?

For the whole album I sing about what people do in their lives. I sing about experiences people go through every day. "Special Night" is about how a lot of people once they have a relationship intact, they take for granted the other person. If you really love somebody, every night is very special. The more nights you get, the more special it becomes. There's another song on the album called "Work To Do" that I really like singing and that the audience really loves. It's about a person seeking counseling for their relationship. I believe there's a lot of relationships that can be salvaged today, that can be saved, if people would just reach out and try to get some professional help. If the person was so smart, they wouldn't have problems! So if you have problems in your relationship and the two of you can't solve them, reach out to a professional and maybe the relationship will be one of those that will last a long time.

You've been married almost 50 years. Why do you think people give up on relationships now more than they used to?

They give up on love too quick. 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, even if it is seeking help from someone that may know exactly what it takes for them to refurnish...to put more fire into the relationship. You should do anything you can to hold onto someone special in your life...in reason. If seeking professional help can salvage a relationship, then go do it! Go do it!

Other than perserverence, what has allowed you to keep your love so strong for so long?

The first thing is having a spiritual belief. If we believe in just the material...all materials [decay]. If you put a piece of iron out in the open and it stays there long enough, it's going to rust down to dust. The only thing that is everlasting is the spirit. A person that has a spiritual belief has a better chance of keeping a relationship than a person who does not. All materials with time will disintegrate. When you have a spiritual belief, you have something to hold onto that is everlasting.

What about love's role in the world? It seems that the world is filled with hate now more than ever. Do you feel there is hope for love to win the battle in the end?

Absolutely. That record, "Make The World Better," that I have on the album, that's what that record is about. I had a dream, and were two parallels to the dream. One parallel was seeing the world without love, without man's appreciation for this world, and watching the world disintegrate, because of the pollution, because of the bad feelings that people have for each other, and wars and all kinds of unpleasantries that are derived from the lack of love. In the other parallel, people really cared about each other and loved each other and were concerned not only about themselves, but about their progeny and future generations. They kept the Earth in immaculate condition so that future generations would have a beautiful place to live. That dream inspired me. It inspired me to write that song. I honestly believe we can [overcome hate]. Love is the adhesive bond of all human beings. That's what keeps up together for the purpose of protecting this beautiful place called Earth. I'm hoping that people feel that. I'm hoping that people feel what I feel, and maybe we can get a chain reaction going with everybody, so that everybody can do what they can do to make the world better.

Has anyone ever told you you'd make a good preacher?

You know, as far as preacher, I thought about it years ago, but the world's got so many preachers. It has, trust me, an abundant amount of preachers. But what I'm doing through my music, I feel like very few people are doing, because I'm trying to make songs with words that are good, quality words. There is too much music today that has a disregard for what is being said. They're just trying to earn money. My purpose is not just to earn money. I would love to earn a lot of money just like anybody else, but my purpose in my songs is to write something that people get something significant out of, not just for self-enrichment.

As you know, Sharon Jones died earlier this month. She was once a backup singer for you. How will you remember her, and why did she mean so much to you and to everyone whose life she touched?

I will remember Sharon Jones as being one of the greatest entertainers of our time. I will remember Sharon Jones as being a person that I deeply, deeply have a genuine love for. If you met her and knew her, you would love her, too. She was God's gift to us, for what purpose, maybe at this moment it can't be explained. But I believe that she had a gift from God and she used that gift very, very well. I know I was blessed to have the time to work with her and to be with her as she was...I could sit here and talk all day about how wonderful of a woman she was. I'm not going to use words because I do believe that she still exists in another dimension.

I saw you perform in New York shortly after Special Night was released and you were wearing a shimmering silver suit. Why is it important to you to always look sharp?

I think every artist has their own idea on how they want to present themselves. Myself in particular, I like to be a little bit debonair, a little dapper. When you see me come out onstage, you go, 'Wow!' But different artists have different ways of doing things, and that's my way of doing things. Even from way back. I've always liked the nice suits, and I've always liked to be a bit flamboyant when I'm onstage.

What color works best for you?

Blue is my favorite color, but the wife, she picks out most of the suits. I always like to have a woman's touch. A woman knows what another woman would like. If I pick it out, the women might go, 'Why'd he wear that!' So the wife, she does all of that.

Yeah, even though you've been married for almost 50 years, you still want to appeal to the ladies, of course.

Forty-seven years of marriage has been very good. We have our ups and downs, but we hold onto the rock. The rock is the spirit.

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