Lee Fields

Daddy B. Nice's #24 ranked Southern Soul Artist



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"I'll Put My Life On The Line"

Lee Fields

October 18, 2011: NEW ALBUM ALERT

Bargain-Priced Treacherous CD, MP3's

*************

June 11, 2011:

Release Date May 17, 2011]
For Immediate Release (courtesy of Soul Patrol)

[New York, NY] BDA Records, New York announced today that it will be releasing a new album from veteran soul, dance, funk, and blues singer Lee Fields. The new release titled "Treacherous" will be the first solo project from the legendary singer/front-man since his last release titled "My World" with his band The Expressions on Truth and Soul Records in 2009.

Earmarked to hit the streets in May of 2011 this stellar new record is without question Lee's best and most original work to date. The new release, which will be available both digitally and on CD, is a compilation of Lee's true-to-heart style and modern original music compositions. Combining soul, funk, pop, blues, and with a major focus on today's most popular genre of music, club and dance, Lee and his new solo record "Treacherous" will quickly show the urban music community that he is here to stay and go at it on his own quite literally.

*****************

May 1, 2011:

In this blessed new age of YouTube music videos, in which at long last the obscure classics of Southern Soul music are being disseminated in their totality for everyone to hear. . .

. . . Lee Fields' "I'll Put My Life On The Line" remains regrettably unavailable.

"Life On The Line" is one of the top twenty-five songs of Southern Soul in the last quarter-century, and easily one of the top five most-unforgettable ballads of the era.

It's just Lee Fields, a keyboard and a rhythm track, and yet it's the purest distillation of concentrated soul since Smokey Robinson's "The Tracks Of My Tears." It must see the light of day.

--Daddy B. Nice

Listen to Lee Fields performing "Love Comes And Goes" Live on YouTube while you read.

Listen to Lee Fields' "Honey Dove on YouTube while you read.

Daddy B. Nice's Original Critique:

The trouble with people today is they are jaded. They believe everything there is to know has been explored. They believe there are no more mysteries, no Shangri-La's, even though chitlin' circuit music, if only they "believed" enough to explore it, could become the musical pot of gold at the end of their rainbow.

When R&B self-imploded in the mid-70's, and promising careers lay jettisoned, strewn across the musical landscape like a hurricane's aftermath, all but a few soul men swallowed the bitter pill of commercial exile. For the soul music audience, reggae and later rap filled some of the void, as did some of the funk, new-wave and club-dance movements of the era. But the saddest side-effect was the mainstream music culture's "disconnect" with traditional verse-and-chorus soul music.

Because only one in a thousand Americans has access to the Deep South radio stations that play Southern Soul-style rhythm and blues, the average music fan thinks of today's adult R&B as a kind of black hole (no pun intended) of disparate forces: an artist here, an artist there, a couple of blue-eyed, guitar-slinging brothers there, and the rest literally a black void.

The hipper fans may say they "know" Johnnie Taylor ("Disco Lady," anyone?) and Bobby "Blue" Bland and Tyrone Davis and perhaps Little Milton and Marvin Sease and Peggy Scott-Adams, but these performers (themselves just the tip of the pyramid of Southern Soul music) are isolated "blips" on the screens of the average fan's musical consciousness.

These thoughts are occasioned by way of bringing up Lee Fields, yet another one of those isolated "blips" on the global musical radar. Fields, a veteran of early-seventies R&B and the music's pre-eminent disciple of James Brown, has held onto a coterie of fans who revere him for extending the J. B. legacy and, more recently, the progressive funk he recorded at the turn of the century on the Desco and Soul Fire labels.

James Brown's influence over the last forty years has been so pervasive hardly anyone remembers that before his emergence a voice like his--shrieking, scratchy, overwrought to the point of seeming "possessed"--was considered hopelessly out of touch with the popular music mainstream, even the black mainstream.

In other words, before JB began his revolution in rhythm and melodic minimalism, he revolutionized the way artists sang popular songs. (Check out his reworking of Tommy Dorsey's "Bewildered.")

Unfortunately (from this perspective), the vanguard rhythmic anthems ("I Feel Good," "Papa's Got A Brand New Bag," "Cold Sweat," etc.) that inspired funk and rap and an entire generation of African musicians have--rightly or wrongly--monopolized all of the attention.

And just as James Brown was not only an innovator--the founder of funk--but an R&B singer-songwriter of the first order, so too is Lee Fields, his most accomplished student, much more three-dimensional than his hardcore funk fans realize.

Lee Fields is cherished by another audience--the chitlin' circuit R&B audience--not only for his stage performances recreating the James Brown experience but for his Southern Soul hits like "Meet Me Tonight," "Let's Get A Quickie," "Honey Dove" and "Trying To Live My Life (Without You)."

"Trying to live my life without you, babe.
Is the hardest thing I'll ever do.
Trying to forget the loving we shared
Is the hardest burden I'll ever bear."

"Trying To Live My Life Without You" was originally recorded by Chicago's Otis Clay, himself one of the forerunners of today's soul. Dave Marsh points out in The Heart of Rock & Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made that Don Frey and the Eagles redid Clay's "Trying To Live My Live Without You" as "The Long Run" on the multi-platinum album of the same name.

These are the kind of facts that make an R&B-lover shake his or her head in wonderment. Wonder, in other words, that the Californians could have made so much more money than their chitlin' circuit counterparts, whom they were emulating. It's said that fellow rocker and Motowner Bob Seger later recorded a more faithful version of "Trying To Live My Life Without You" to make amends.

"I had the worst reputation around,
I'm chasing all the women in town.
I'm going to change my way of living
If it's the hardest thing I ever do."

Lee Fields has a voice that immediately calls up the glory days of soul. It has the ferocity of a leather belt wielded by an abusive father and the vulnerability of a child's fragile arms raised to ward off that beating. Fury and pity, cruelty and sensitivity, roughness and softness coexist in Lee Fields' inimitable vocals in a way that is mesmerizing, and in a way that recalls how revolutionary the vocals of Little Richard, James Brown, Percy Sledge and Wilson Pickett sounded in their heyday.

Fields' "Trying To Live My Life (Without You)" combines so many elements of vintage soul--forgotten soul--that it's nearly impossible not to be seduced. The arrangements bring back an early James Brown and Percy Sledge-type sound that is surprisingly absent from the Southern Soul scene.

The organ is one of the most obvious tools: a deep, reedy sound that washes around the vocals while the tight, bluesy rhythm section and choruses give the songs a gravity that is the perfect counterpoint to Field's piercing, maniacally-strong vocals.

"Meet Me Tonight," Fields' signature hit from his string of Ace albums in the nineties, has the same kind of nostalgic magnetism, dipping into old-fashioned-style choruses and even late-fifties doo-wop to deliver the kind of soul apparently no one believes is being made any more. And yet, we have become so acclimated to R&B in the James Brown style over the last half-century that when we hear Lee Fields' vocals, they instantly call up a "comfort zone" of nostalgia and street-wise grit that makes us smile and, according to our tastes, get it on.

--Daddy B. Nice


About Lee Fields

Brooklyn and New Jersey-based Lee Fields recorded his first single in 1969 at the height of the Vietnam War, the first in a series of singles he recorded for small labels through the early seventies. Fields was an unabashed disciple of James Brown. In this age he would have been called a "clone": he looked like, he sang like, and he performed like James Brown. Let's Talk It Over (Angle 3, 1981), Fields' only LP of that era, and the seventies' singles are so rare they have become collectors' items.

Fields, like most other R&B musicians, couldn't get within a "sniff' of a recording studio during the eighties, but in the early nineties--again like so many other soul artists--he was drawn to the chitlin' circuit and Jackson, Mississippi, where the late Johnny Vincent had revived Ace Records. Along with other new-generation "early" Southern Soul artists like Willie Clayton and Pat Brown, he began putting out solid "blues-soul" records.

He also found an eager audience for his Brown-drenched performances. The single "Meet Me Tonight" (Enough Is Enough, Ace) became a signature tune for Fields during the decade. Albums from those years include: "Enough Is Enough (Ace, 1992), Coming To Tear The Roof Down. (Ace, 1995), Dreaming Big Time (Ace, 1996) and It's Hard To Go Back After Loving You (Avanti, 1998).

Then, in the late nineties, Fields took a major stylistic turn away from Southern Soul, left the chitlin' circuit venues (where, it was said, he felt "tapped out"), and went back to the hard-edged funk and the loyal coterie of funk fans in the Northeast who still looked up to him as "Little J.B." Fields returned to NYC and signed with Desco, a label that specialized in funk, collaborating with their house band, the Soul Providers. The label's first full-length record, Let's Get A Groove On (Desco, 1999), showcased the hard-core funk of Fields with flashback-like intensity, and Problems (Soul Fire, 2002) proved a worthy successor.

Recently, however, Fields has returned to the chitlin' circuit and the traditional soul style he honed on his Ace recordings of the 90's. Working out of a studio in Plainfield, New Jersey (Lee Fields/BDA Records), and without distribution, Fields' "Trying To Live My Life (Without You)" became a chitlin' circuit hit in 2003 and 2004 (The Way We Use To, BDA), and a new Lee Fields single, "Dance Like You're Naked," was showing strong radio response on the Stations of the Deep South in late 2005 and early 2006.


Song's Transcendent Moment

"This is our only chance.
Baby, I'm begging you.
Please don't make me
Wait another day."


Tidbits

1. (Editor's Note: Before the events in the essay below occurred, Lee Fields was ranked #90 on Daddy B. Nice's Top 100 chart. Afterwards, he ranked #24.)


CHITLIN' CIRCUIT TRAVELS, PART TWO: BOOGIE NAILS DADDY B. NICE'S MYSTERY ARTIST.


January 5, 2007. On my recent trip through the Deep South, someone commended your Daddy B. Nice on the Top 100 Southern Soul chart. "But what I want to know," he said. "Is it set in stone? Can it--or will it--change?"

"It can change," I said. "It will. Otherwise I'd have to make a new chart, and I don't think a new chart is necessary yet. So, yeah. Artists can move up or down, or in or out, based on the 'what-have-you-done-for-me-lately?' question.

"Actually, I've got an artist in hand who's going to rocket from the 90's to the Top 20 in one fell swoop. He's going to shoot up about 70 spots. And I just made that decision on this trip."

His ears perked up. "Who's that?"

"Well, to tell you that, I have to tell you about the long search for my ultimate mystery song. It's a recording--no name, no title--that I consider one of the essential songs in all of Southern Soul."

"Tell it," he said.

I had heard the song--heard it more than once, actually--and taped it on one of my pilgrimages through Mississippi in the late nineties, and I had played it for my own enjoyment ever since, always hoping that some day someone was going to tell me who did this record. But I'd never been able to identify it, and I'd never heard it again on subsequent trips through the South.

Quite simply, it was the single most beautiful Southern Soul ballad I'd heard in the nineties. The track boasted a wonderful, swirling, atmospheric background (horns, violins, keyboards?) punctuated by a lone oboe (or similar keyboard sound) and the raw, impassioned, falsetto-ish tenor of the singer, who delivered the lines as if he had nothing else to live for.

"I'll put my life on the line.
Just to be with you for a little while.
Oooh, just to kiss your sweet lips,
Honey, I will gladly go a thousand miles.

"Whenever you want me,
Whenever you need me,
Tell me where to be,
And what time to be there."

The sheer amount of pleading in the song--both in the lyrics and the vocal--were of an intensity that I'd never encountered. Not anywhere, that is, except Sam Cooke's Southern Soul masterpiece, "A Change Is Gonna Come." The song was the epitome of the kind of Southern Soul that had pulled me away from my former musical infatuations.

"Baby, we're running out of time.
If you feel the way you say you do,
I know you'll find a way.
This is our only chance.
Baby, I'm begging you.
Please don't make me wait another day.

"If you really want me,
If you really need me,
Tell me where to be,
And what time to be there.
Tell me where to be,
And I'll be there."

Moreover, the very mystery of the song lent it an allure that familiar, tagged and categorized songs--no matter how special--couldn't match.
When I was building my Top 100 chart, (a process that began years before the website), I thought so much of the song that I had it slotted to go somewhere in the Top 10 or even Top 5.

Later, concerned that featuring an unknown title by an unknown artist wouldn't exactly enhance my credibility among the Southern Soul fans I wanted to impress, I got "cold feet" and dropped the idea. But I never lost my loyalty to the song, and on this trip to the chitlin' circuit, I decided that I was going to play it for everyone I talked to and--once and for all--get to the bottom of the mystery.

That's how I came to Boogie (Jerry Mason of the Boogie Report), toting a boombox with a rough copy. I'd played the track for various people up in Memphis. One guessed it might be early Robert "The Duke" Tillman. Another thought it might be a "demo" by a Jackson-area artist (where I'd found it). Most were stumped by the very maturity and professionalism of the vocalist, which argued for him being someone "known."

I already admired the humble, hard-working Jerry Mason for originating the first website around the turn of the century to have an inkling of the new Southern Soul music coming out of the Delta. "Boogie" had been seasoned by years in Southern radio, and he had what I considered to be the ultimate credentials: he'd worked a number of years for Joe Poonanny, the legendary comic godfather of the chitlin' circuit.

I plugged in the boombox copy and let it roll. The singer was barely into the chorus when Boogie said, "Why, that's Lee Fields."

Your Daddy B. Nice's eyes went as glassy as old-school "pearly" marbles--the kind we called "boulders".

I'd always wondered if the unknown artist would be someone I'd never heard of, or someone from my own chart. My designated song for Fields was "Trying To Live My Life Without You," and I knew immediately that Boogie was right. I was also currently enamored of a new Lee Fields track I was hearing on Chico's Radio, "At The End Of The Day." The voice was the same.

"Who's Lee Fields?" my wife--ever honest and ever-innocent regarding Southern Soul--asked.

Both Boogie and I opened our mouths--your Daddy B. Nice should have deferred. "Lee Fields," I said, "does this James Brown schtick--he's like the number-one purveyor of the James Brown sound, and he goes to Europe and everywhere--but he also does Southern Soul stuff."

Boogie, I noticed with relief, was nodding approvingly. "I'd say Lee Fields." And after I came out of the daze that accompanied this burst of comprehension, I heard Boogie add, "They'll know down at WMPR."

He knew I was going down there. And sure enough, when I subsequently played it for DJ Ragman at WMPR, he confirmed it. Lee Fields. And even later, realizing I had failed, in talking to either Boogie or Ragman, to nail down the exact title, I asked DJ Handyman to listen to it once again. "Lee Fields," he confirmed.

"But what's the title, Handyman?"

"I'll Put My Life On The Line."

"Ahhh. Thank you. Thank you so much."

Now, months later, I only regret that I cannot offer my readers even so much as a sound sample. Too obscure. Lee Fields' "I'll Put My Life On The Line" thereby joins a group of indispensable Southern Soul classics (David Brinston's "Party 'Til The Lights Go Out," Maurice Wynn's "What She Don't Know (Won't Hurt Her)" and Gregg Smith's "Stacked In The Back" (to name only a few) that remain unavailable to the record-buying public.

But as I was beginning this article today (1/5/07), fate struck again--in one of those coincidences that are not merely coincidences. I was listening to DJ Handyman on WMPR and he played a remake of the song. The song was a duet. I didn't catch it at first, the arrangement was quite different. Curiously, the cover downplayed the beautiful chord progressions of the original. But then I began to discern its unmistakable chords, and then some of its words. While summarily punching down the record button, I began to savor the first time I'd heard "I'll Put My Life On The Line" on the radio in over half a decade--remake or not.

It wasn't just the pleasure of hearing the song. I was almost tearfully grateful that, after all, I hadn't been the only one to remember the record. There were other people cherishing the song. DJ Handyman seldom describes his selections, but this time I got lucky, and I was thrilled (the true reward of the music seeker) when Handy said:

"'That's old hard-hitting Tina now, hooking up with Reggie P. Tina! Tina! That's Tina Diamond, heading on down to the E&E!" (A hole in the wall next to WMPR's studio in Jackson, Ms.)

No doubt, this remake will soon be getting air play. Reggie P. is just about the hottest young male artist of the moment. (Your Daddy B. Nice described him as combining "the emotional power of Sir Charles Jones with the vocal chops and intensity of Bobby 'Blue' Bland" in awarding him not one but two selections on DBN's Top 25 singles of 2006.) And Tina Diamond's on the chart--you can look her up.
So this version of "I'll Put My Life On The Line" will surely see the light of day.

Good as it is, it doesn't hold a candle to the Lee Fields original.

DBN.



2.

Author's Epilogue: June 28, 2008

A decade ago, when I first stumbled upon Southern Soul music as I travelled often through Mississippi, the genre's performers were so obscure I can remember searching the Internet--and yes, Napster, and other "peer-sharing" sites--finding nothing--I mean NOTHING--on even relatively important artists like Peggy Scott-Adams and Ronnie Lovejoy, not to mention artists like Roy C. or Poonanny.

Thanks to websites like SouthernSoulRnB and Blues Critic, these artists (who still remain unknown to the greater music-buying public) have become much more widely known and appreciated by a wider niche of the soul music-loving audience.

But even in this age of Southern Soul's ascension, there still remain artists whose material remains almost impregnably obscure, their CD's unlisted and unavailable for purchase.

Lee Fields is such an artist. What little fame has come his way has done so due to his James Brown, funk-style recordings. However, his Southern Soul material (mostly recorded on the little-known BDA label in the early years of the 21st century) remains a mystery, even to those of us who have devoted the last decade to cataloging Southern Soul.

This is an "S.O.S." to Lee Fields or anyone in his circle. Daddy B. Nice (and others like me) want to make you famous. We sincerely desire to apportion you the recognition your overlooked work so plainly deserves.

Readers who scroll down to the "Tidbits" section of this Lee Fields artist guide will find an article I published in 2007 (based on chitlin' circuit travels in the fall of 2006) in which I tracked down one of the greatest Southern Soul songs of the contemporary era, a song whose author until then was a mystery to me.

The song is "I'll Put My Life On The Line." Or perhaps, it's "Life On The Line." No, I have never been able to find a sample or even a CD listing this track for sale. Yes, the song does have the synthesizer-track instrumentation that so many blues purists deride as unprofessional. Every bit of which, right down to the swirling, sustained notes that seem to fluctuate in and out of tune, your Daddy B. Nice loves with a passion and wouldn't change one bit. It adds to the song's ethereal, mysterious ambience.

The revelation, however, is the nonpareil vocal by Lee Fields. Basically, "Love On The Line" is one of the greatest Southern Soul vocal tracks ever recorded--an acapella masterpiece, really--combined with a synthesizer track (with oboes and horns, also synthetic) that oozes more soul than twenty "live" musicians.

I myself have the recording--a number of them, all scratchy and radio-recorded (thanks again to WMPR, whose deejays have taught me most of what I know)--but it is illegal for me to put them on this site.

Neither the song nor the CD is listed on All Music Guide, the number-one reference site for music on the Web. Readers of the article below will learn it has been covered by Tina Diamond and Reggie P., but their version is a pale imitation indeed of the real thing.

So the whole situation reminds me of where I was at ten years ago, in possession of this incredible knowledge (this "gospel," as it were) of this unknown genre named Southern Soul, and today I feel the same compulsion as I did then to spread the word, to shout it from every rooftop. Lee Fields' "I'll Put My Life On The Line" is a song as deep and soulful as Ronnie Lovejoy's "Sho' Wasn't Me" and Johnnie Taylor's "Soul Heaven."

And to Lee Fields and anyone who has worked with him, I beseech you: Get these albums on CD Baby. Market this reservoir of great Southern Soul music.

And to Southern Soul record labels, isn't it obvious that this performer has a back-catalog that with judicious editing in itself warrants a contract--not to mention whatever present or future work might be on the table?

Pundits like your Daddy B. Nice will take care of the rest. It's not hard to do when you're talking about the best pure R&B vocalist in contemporary Southern Soul.

--Daddy B. Nice


If You Liked. . . You'll Love

If you liked Percy Sledge's "When A Man Loves A Woman," you'll like Lee Fields' "Trying To Live My Life (Without You)."


Honorary "B" Side

"Trying To Live My Life (Without You)"



5 Stars 5 Stars 5 Stars 5 Stars 5 Stars 
Sample or Buy I'll Put My Life On The Line by Lee Fields
I'll Put My Life On The Line


CD: Unknown



5 Stars 5 Stars 5 Stars 5 Stars 5 Stars 
Sample or Buy Trying To Live My Life (Without You) by Lee Fields
Trying To Live My Life (Without You)


CD: The Way We Use To
Label: BDA



5 Stars 5 Stars 5 Stars 5 Stars 5 Stars 
Sample or Buy At The End Of The Day by Lee Fields
At The End Of The Day


CD: Southern Soul & Party Blues: Various Artists
Label: CDS

Sample or Buy
Southern Soul & Party Blues


5 Stars 5 Stars 5 Stars 5 Stars 5 Stars 
Sample or Buy Meet Me Tonight by Lee Fields
Meet Me Tonight


CD: Enough Is Enough Cassette Tape
Label: Ace

Sample or Buy
Enough Is Enough Cassette Tape


4 Stars 4 Stars 4 Stars 4 Stars 
Sample or Buy  Do You Love Me Like (You Say You Do) by Lee Fields
Do You Love Me Like (You Say You Do)


CD: Championship Poker Jams
Label: Warlock



4 Stars 4 Stars 4 Stars 4 Stars 
Sample or Buy Honey Dove by Lee Fields
Honey Dove


CD: Championship Poker Jams
Label: Warlock



4 Stars 4 Stars 4 Stars 4 Stars 
Sample or Buy I've Been Hurt by Lee Fields
I've Been Hurt


CD: Treacherous
Label: BDA

Sample or Buy
Treacherous


4 Stars 4 Stars 4 Stars 4 Stars 
Sample or Buy Let's Talk It Over by Lee Fields
Let's Talk It Over


CD: Enough Is Enough Cassette Tape
Label: Ace

Sample or Buy
Enough Is Enough Cassette Tape


3 Stars 3 Stars 3 Stars 
Sample or Buy Dance Like You're Naked by Lee Fields
Dance Like You're Naked


CD: The Naked Truth
Label: BDA



3 Stars 3 Stars 3 Stars 
Sample or Buy Hot And Lonely by Lee Fields
Hot And Lonely


CD: Coming To Tear The Roof Down
Label: Ace

Sample or Buy
Coming To Tear The Roof Down


3 Stars 3 Stars 3 Stars 
Sample or Buy Let Me Be The One by Lee Fields
Let Me Be The One


CD: Coming To Tear The Roof Down
Label: Ace

Sample or Buy
Coming To Tear The Roof Down


3 Stars 3 Stars 3 Stars 
Sample or Buy Let's Do A Quickie by Lee Fields
Let's Do A Quickie


CD: Unknown



3 Stars 3 Stars 3 Stars 
Sample or Buy Problems by Lee Fields
Problems


CD: Soul Fire: The Majestic Collection
Label: Fastlife



2 Stars 2 Stars 
Sample or Buy I Won't Do Nothing You Won't Do by Lee Fields
I Won't Do Nothing You Won't Do


CD: Coming To Tear The Roof Down
Label: Ace

Sample or Buy
Coming To Tear The Roof Down


2 Stars 2 Stars 
Sample or Buy Look Out For Yourself by Lee Fields
Look Out For Yourself


CD: Coming To Tear The Roof Down
Label: Ace

Sample or Buy
Coming To Tear The Roof Down


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