“Everything that we do on Earth is meant to be,” Lee Fields tells me over the phone.
It’s the first time I’ve spoken to the soul singer, and we’re already talking about the meaning of life.
Technically, I’m supposed to be asking him about his show this week at Felton Music Hall with his band the Expressions. However, I’m not one to pass up a deep, existential conversation.
“We all have a time when we’ll expire and we’ll do it at the exact time we should. Whether it’s an accident or by natural causes,” says Fields. He pauses for emphasis before adding, with a smile, “But I’ll tell you one thing: I’m having a good time while I’m here!”
At 72, Fields is an entertainer on and off the stage. One minute he’s breaking down the facts of life, tapping into a deeper emotional realm, and the next he’s wrapping up a funny anecdote with a carefree laugh.
It doesn’t just make him a great interview; it’s also part of what makes his music so good.
While popularized in the 1960s, soul music has a certain timelessness.
“In the beginning, most soul singers were actually gospel singers,” Fields says. “And—like gospel—it’s changed a bit. But a good soul song, people can feel that.”
When it comes to soul greats, several names always pop up (and rightfully so): Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin, James Brown and more. It might be time we added Fields to that list. Along with classic artists like Bobby Womack and Betty Wright, he’s worked with many of the new, neo-soul or soul revival players who have solidified their places among the greats. Names like the late Sharon Jones and Charles Bradley, both whom he considered close friends.
It all started when Fields was just 13 years old.
“I wanted to be a businessman, but I got into music when a friend dared me to go on stage and sing at a talent show,” he says, recalling a transistor radio he would bring with him on his daily paper route.
“I knew all of the songs [on the radio] and I always liked to sing. So I took the dare, the girls went crazy and the band hired me that night!”
With an origin story like that, it’s hard not to believe his music career was meant to be, especially after he almost gave it up 40 years ago. By that time, Fields had already cut multiple singles, beginning in 1969, and finally debuted his first full-length, Let’s Talk It Over, in 1979. But he also noticed that the music–and the culture–was different.
“Music changed,” he says. “I had put so much confidence in the music, and when disco and dancing came around, I thought I was doomed.”
During that period, Fields got into real estate and even almost opened a fish restaurant at one point. It was a hard time for him, but Fields credits the Bible (which he also claims as the source of his love for language) and his wife (who talked him out of opening the restaurant) for getting him through.
“She said, ‘You need to stick to what you do,’” he remembers.
It’s a good thing he did. In 1993, his song “Meet Me Tonight” became an underground hit and Lee has been at the forefront of the soul revival ever since.
The prolific musician is currently wrapping up his newest album, a follow-up to 2019’s It Rains Love. It will be released on Daptone Records, which Fields has recorded for in the past. At the beginning of the year, he signed a four-record deal with the label.
“I’m hyped on a bunch of new songs we want to try live, see what the people think about it,” he says. “There’s a lot of emotions in the new album, I’ll put it like that.”
Lee Fields and the Expressions perform Friday, Aug. 5, at 8pm at Felton Music Hall, 6275 Hwy 9, Felton. $25/$29 plus fees. feltonmusichall.com.