Everybody has soul. Even if all we have is a dab of it, we’ve all got it. In the case of soul singer Lee Fields, his cup runneth over. Fields and his group the Expressions will be bringing their soul sounds to the Heights Theater this Sunday; though it’s their first time performing in this recently restored venue, it's hardly their first trip to Houston.
Over the phone, Fields almost immediately blurts out, “I love Houston! People were so giving of love and I am so anxious to return, I can’t even explain. The people are warm and they give a lot of love. I feel very sad about the storm that brought so much tragedy to Houston. I’m anxious to get in there and spread as much love as I possibly can.”
Spreading love has been a central theme in Fields' music for decades; the same feeling radiates from the singer. He has had a long career, spanning 48 years of ups and downs in the music business, beginning with singing in small hometown clubs. His dreams for show business grew stronger when a city slicker handed him his business card and suggested he try his luck in the Big Apple. A faithful 17-year-old Fields left his North Carolina home for New York City with the apprehensive support of his mother, a stranger's business card and a $20 bill. Though he only had two dollars left when he reached New York, Fields' dream of sharing his smooth soul songs proved resilient and fruitful.
Through the sometimes turbulent years that followed, Fields was able to keep his faith in God, music and his family. “I try to be as faithful as I can be, it ain’t easy now," he says. "You gotta hold onto the rock of all ages. It ain’t easy and anybody that says it’s easy I wanna see that person.”
Almost 50 years later Fields has released six albums, the latest of which is last year's Special Night; played with countless popular groups throughout the '60s and '70s (including Kool and the Gang); and toured all over the world spreading his message of love. “I love all people, so the world is my neighbor and I truly believe love is the panacea of what the world needs right now," he says. "We need togetherness and to be concerned about each other more than ever.”
When asked about the universality of soul music and his ability to reach worldwide audiences with his buttery voice, Fields explains it like this: “Soul music sings about what is happening today in our lives so it will bring comfort to others," he says. "It’s akin to Gospel, but soul music is about expressing our issues today and doing it in a way that will edify the people, you know, lift people. That’s the reason why soul music has been around and I think will stay around.
“The soul is forever and the body is only temporary," he continues. "I think the reason people feel what I’m saying is because I try to stay focused in regard to the soul. This life or experience is only temporary but the soul is going to be existing until eternity.”
Now in his sixties, Fields has seen a thing or two in his life and come a long way from that young man who got on bus to New York, but the singer says not much has changed in the world since his early days. “The only difference between now and back in the '60s is the change in forms of cars and the dimensions but the basic principle is still the same; it’s all about good and it’s all about bad.
“Like back in the day, people used to say either you singing for the Lord or you singing for the devil," he continues. "It’s the same principle today. People can easily recognize what they are listening to, whether it’s for good or for bad, but we have so many gadgets that we aren’t paying any mind. We are being slowly deceived. But good is always good.”
With the advent of these “gadgets” and social media, Fields has also seen the change in the power and influence successful artists have on young minds. “The artists today are more influential than probably anything else," he says. "The artists have become heroes to these young impressionable minds.”
Fields emphasizes the responsibility that comes with fame. “Artists have a great deal of responsibility," he says. "We have to say things that are in accord with what is going on today, but we have to do it in a manner that shows the young impressionable minds how to do things in a respectable manner.”
He says he prides himself on writing songs that posses not only positive messages but what he calls “quality words." “I try to sing about things that are relevant and try to do it in a fashion where people could play it for anybody," notes Fields. "You could have anybody in the house you can play it for and it wouldn’t offend anyone.”
Fields has been backed by The Expressions since 2009. Comprised of members much younger than Lee himself, the group was the original house band for Truth & Soul Records. Despite the age difference and time it took for Lee to find this band, “I’ve always believed that one day a band will come," he says today. "That’s one of the things that has helped me continue my musical endeavors. When I met The Expressions, there is something about this group that I know that this is the band that I waited for 40 years for.
"When I consider all of the people that I have worked with, this group is definitely is the band for me," adds Fields. "I feel so good with these guys, and they are like my musical sons.”
Watching these guys play together is not a throwback soul-revival show but an authentic soul experience, sharp suits included. The Expressions play seamlessly off of each other’s grooves and Fields' powerful vocals. “It’s a beautiful experience for me when I perform with these guys," says the singer. "I truly enjoy just working with them and doing the show is like the cream on the top. I feel that this is where I am supposed to be.”
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Fields notes that he and The Expressions are working on a new album to be released on Big Crown Records. When asked about a time frame, he says, “We are getting the songs together now. What I am doing is taking my time because it’s very important to me. I know when people are listening they are consuming their time, and your time is the most valuable thing that you have on this Earth. I definitely want it to be the best that I can give them, because I know that they are using their time.”
In speaking with Fields, you definitely get the impression that he is a man of his word. He does give love freely and choose his words carefully; he is not only an eloquent songwriter but a graceful speaker as well. Next Sunday should prove to be a special, soulful night indeed. And as the singer explained the secret behind his long marriage, the same principle could be applied to his long career.
“Make every night a special night," he says. "Just appreciate each other every night and then as time takes its toll on everything that relationship will sustain, it will sustain time if you keep it special.”
Lee Fields & the Expressions and special guest Mia Borders perform Sunday, September 24, at the Heights Theater, 339 West 19th. Doors open at 7 p.m.; $20 to $26.