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ACL Festival 2012
ACL Fest 2012

ACL Fest Preview: Soul belter Lee Fields hits the mainstream after 40 years

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Austin Photo Set: News_acl_tom_lee fields and the expressions_oct 2012_2
Lee Fields Courtesy of Lee Fields & The Expressions
Austin Photo Set: News_acl_tom_lee fields and the expressions_oct 2012_1
Courtesy of Lee Fields & The Expressions
Austin Photo Set: News_acl_tom_lee fields and the expressions_oct 2012_2
Austin Photo Set: News_acl_tom_lee fields and the expressions_oct 2012_1

Like Sharon Jones and Charles Bradley before him, veteran soul singer Lee Fields has enjoyed a late-career renaissance thanks to a loving Brooklyn record label (Truth and Soul) and contemporary music's embrace of vintage soul sounds.

Fields got his start on a dare from friends at a local talent competition in the late '60s — his buddies told him to imitate James Brown, the audience went wild, and Fields was hooked. Nicknamed "Little J.B." for his early dress sense and Brown-like vocals, Fields spent much of the '70s touring the Southern soul circuit in Georgia and the Carolinas after scoring a regional hit with the 1973 single "Let's Talk It Over"/"She's A Lovemaker."

As Fields puts it in this video interview, the single scored him a record deal and several years of shows, but by the time he'd finished promoting the record, disco music had effectively put him out of a job. He also missed the boat on an early gig with Kool and the Gang, who cut Fields from the band when the band's hit singles didn't fit his musical style.

Fields then laid low for the better part of a decade, working a real estate job and living a regular life that rarely involved performing.

Fields toured and recorded actively again in the 1990s, but was still mostly known regionally and by vinyl crate diggers for a number of years. The first flashes of buzz didn't appear until Fields began recording with the now-legendary Desco Records in the late '90s, cutting songs like "Let's Get A Groove On" with an early version of the Dap Kings.

Sharon Jones and Fields became Desco's prime discoveries, and while the label shuttered, out of the remnants came greatness: Jones partnered with Daptone Records and Fields with Truth and Soul — both to resounding effect. 

While devoted soul fans had followed Fields for decades, NPR and national media attention arrived in earnest with 2009's excellent My World LP, an album years in the making that brought Fields a new level of acclaim and stardom. This year's release, Faithful Man, was perhaps even better, earning raves from everyone from Okayplayer to the BBC, and drawing comparisons ranging from Al Green to The Delfonics.

Fields' appearance this year at Carson Daly's SXSW showcase at Red 7 had lines down the block and drew raves from the packed audience (we were there, and it was awfully good). To get a glimpse of Fields unique brand of soul magic, watch this SXSW NPR clip from earlier this year. 

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Catch Lee Fields and The Expressions on Saturday at 5:30 p.m. on the Zilker Stage.

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