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Payin' Dues: Lee Fields & The Expressions

North Carolina soul man links soul, blues and country on his fifth album.

The 63-year-old soul singer Lee Fields was dubbed ‘Little JB’ after releasing his 1969 debut 45, a cover of James Brown’s Bewildered. Produced by Kip Anderson for Bedford Records, it set the path for five explosive albums, bookended by 1979’s Let’s Talk It Over and latest release Emma Jean.

What’s the vibe of the new album? 

We wanted to set ourselves a challenge; we didn’t want to make the same record as the last one, so musically it’s a little different, with a more country and western feel. I grew up in North Carolina with soul and country and western playing on my little transistor radio, and I was a fan of both. There’s a real link between country and soul and blues music. It’s got the same passion, the same commitment, it tells the same life stories. That’s why we did the JJ Cale Magnolia cover. I’m a fan. 

 

The album was partly recorded at Black Key guitarist Dan Auerbach’s Nashville studio. 

Dan is incredible, he wrote Paralysed for us. Leon [Michels, Truth & Soul label owner, Expressions’ keyboardist and producer] and Nick [Movshon, Expressions’ bassist] were on the road with the Black Keys, they played my record on the bus and Dan liked it and invited us to his studio. I then supported him in New York, and we got on really well.

 

How did you and Leon Michels work together?

Leon and I were in the studio every day we could be. We would just be trying different things out, going one way, then the next, wherever the inspiration led us. For me, it’s important to live in the moment, play in the moment, sing in the moment. Nothing was planned beforehand and we did it all live.

 

What do you recall about recording Bewildered back in 1969?

I was just 17 and it was an amazing experience being in the studio for the first time and singing a James Brown song. Kip was a big influence, too, so to be recording with him was perfect. 

 

Gospel is a big influence too... 

My parents’ friends would dance to records my dad played, eat food my mum cooked, drank alcohol my dad served up. On Sunday, the same folks, they’d be in church dancing, but holding their hands up about their heads, looking up. I took that gospel spirit and added secular subject matter.

Emma Jean is out now on Truth & Soul.

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