Lee Fields considers himself a Southern gentleman. Born and raised in North Carolina, he grew up listening to Motown, soul, and what he refers to—with old-time flair—as “country-western.” Even though Fields “moved north” when he was 17, this combination of soul and country still defines his music, which includes elements of everything he heard as a youngster, both on the radio and in his everyday life.
“I have a deep appreciation for country-western music because of my upbringing,” he says. “Instead of just being introduced to one kind of music, I was introduced to a whole host of music. In school, they would teach us the classics, like Beethoven, Bach, Chopin and the rest of ’em. My musical appetite, at a young age, was satisfied.”
Fields, who is now in his mid-60s, is part of a soul revival wave that’s introducing young people to the sounds and styles of classic soul. Fields and his band, the Expressions, garner comparisons to the Delfonics, the Stylistics and James Brown’s groups. They’re frequently mentioned in the same breath as Charles Bradley and the late, extraordinarily great Sharon Jones—soul artists who, despite a generation gap or two, attract young audiences.
When asked why he thinks young people are drawn to his music and message, Fields explains that they can feel the “warmness of human beings.” Fields admits to using “a little technology now and then,” but says nothing can top real musicians.
“Technology is a beautiful thing, and I embrace technology,” he says. “But I don’t believe human beings can be left out of the equation. Back in the day, there were tons and tons of young musicians learning to play different instruments. Nowadays, it’s teetering off. You don’t see as many young musicians as you used to. I’m all for technology,” he adds, “and I’m also all for mankind. It’s a happy medium.”
Fields takes an everyperson approach to songwriting. His goal, when crafting a new tune, is to write about things normal people do and think about—“just general life.” His songs include stories of going to work, dealing with family problems, enjoying simple pleasures and even going to counseling.
“I try to write songs about things that people actually do, and that people will automatically identify with—the basic things in life,” he says. “I sort of veered off and got into a Southern soul sound at one point in the ’90s that was more or less blues. I was singing about love and somebody-did-me-wrong songs and that kind of stuff. Now, I try to get as close as I can to getting on-point with what people are thinking and doing at this very moment.”
On his latest album, 2016’s Special Night, Fields makes a call for environmentalism and global compassion with the tune, “Make the World.” The song was inspired by a dream he had where trees were bare, water polluted, and there were “indications of pain everywhere.” When Fields woke from the dream, he was gasping because “it was so bad.” When he went back to sleep he recalls that he was taken back into the dream, down that same road to the future—but with a different view.
“I saw the trees with beautiful foliage, the water was clear, people were getting along with each other,” he says. “It was more perfect than I could ever imagine. By having that nightmare and having that good dream about the future, it dawned on me that it hasn’t happened.”
Fields wrote the lyrics to the song to try to convey to listeners that it doesn’t have to.
“We have time,” he says. “I’m not going to say we have plenty of time, but we have time to act now and show concern about each other and show concern about the planet and not be so selfish and act like this whole world is just about us.”
Fields’ warmth, concern and humanness shine through in his music, his lyrics and in conversation. As he explains, his big-picture perspective is an appreciation of life and a love of humanity.
“Love is the answer,” he says. “That’s what I try to put in my music.”
Lee Fields & the Expressions will perform at 9 p.m. on Friday, June 16, at the Catalyst, 1011 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. $20/adv, $25/door. 423-1338.