Lee Fields Talks Soul Music, Making EDM With Martin Solveig, and His 43-Year Career
My brother and I started out as a team, when I was about 14. I was doing James Brown stuff and he was doing Otis Redding stuff. We had quite a few outlets to play. But I thought that in order to get great opportunities, I needed to go to New York. I was totally naive.
A gentleman had given me a card and said, "If you're ever in New York, call me. You can make it." Without a second thought, I took that serious. I hadn't called this guy, but when I was about to turn 18, I told my mother I was gonna quit school and go to New York. She cried and begged me to stay. But I had made up my mind. She gave me her last $20 and a bus ticket. And I went to New York.
I was amazed at how big the buildings were. I was like the guy Stevie Wonder was singing about, "New York, just like I always pictured it." I had to get to Brooklyn. So I asked people how to get there and they told me to take the train. "Train?!" I was totally dumbfounded. "What have I got myself into now?" I hadn't even called this guy yet.
I got a taxi. I had that $20 in my pocket and the taxi cost me $18 to get to Brooklyn. So now I got two dollars in my pocket and I don't know if this guy's home or not. I knocked on the door and he was there. But he was cleaning out his apartment because he was getting married the next day. He was so shocked to see me. He talked to the landlady, and the landlady let me stay there for $25 a week.
There's a reblooming interest in soul, funk, R&B with Daptone, Sharon Jones, Charles Bradley. What is your relationship to that wave?
I was the beginning of all of that. Before Daptone was Daptone, they were Desco. And I was [their] first [artist]. Sharon Jones was my background singer. I was on the Southern soul circuit in the '90s, opening up for people like Tyrone Davis and Bobby Blue. But I met [Daptone founder] Gabriel Roth in the mid '90s, and that's when the retro soul stuff was coming up. I attribute all of this to them, not me. They chose me to be on their label. I give all the credit to them. But I was first.
What do you think about contemporary music?
I get down with contemporary stuff. You know Martin Solveig? I had three major hits over in Europe: "Jealousy," "I Want You," and "Everybody." All of them were Martin Solveig featuring Lee Fields. He got me all over the dance scene. I was doing dance music for, like, six years. It was his show. I came out in a black suit, sang, and people went nuts. He sent me all around the world. I hear he's working with Madonna now.
Did you miss soul when you were doing dance music?
I was playing dance music. But I'm a soul man. And I was bringing it to the table like a soul man.
Lee Fields and the Expressions. With Ketchy Shuby and DJ Action Pat. Presented by Sweat Records and M.O. Saturday, December 1. The Stage, 170 NE 38th St., Miami. The show starts at 9 p.m. and tickets cost $10 via sweatshopmiami.com. Ages 21 and up.Call 305-576-9577 or visit thestagemiami.com.
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