This year’s Desert Daze lineup includes a lot of psychedelic-rock and garage-rock bands—but it also features an impressive array of R&B and soul singers.
One of the R&B/soul highlights is Lee Fields and the Expressions, which will be performing at Desert Daze on Friday, Oct. 13.
Fields has enjoyed increasing popularity in recent years—but his recording and performing career goes back to 1969. Over the years, he’s toured with Kool and the Gang, Hip Huggers, Little Royal and many other groups.
When I called Fields and asked how he was doing, he responded: “Good. I love it when people ask me that, and I can say that I’m doing good, because I know there are a lot of people in the world who aren’t doing good.”
Fields explained how his career started as he was growing up in North Carolina.
“I got into singing when I was about 14 years old—on a dare,” Fields said. “I was dared to perform in a talent show. A friend of mine dared me, and I went up. I actually wanted to be a businessman. … I went up on this dare, and the reaction of the ladies was just phenomenal.
“I got hired by a band to sing the night I went up. It didn’t take a lot of science to figure it out, and I liked it. I started from that point, and ever since then, I’ve been in the music business.”
If you look for any of Fields’ material recorded before 2009, you’re not going to find much of it.
“It’s very difficult to find my records,” he said. “I do know they are on the collectors’ list, and they’re very expensive. I’m appreciative that people think so highly of my old music; that’s the only reason I can think of why you can’t find anything. There’s not a lot of it out there. I made songs that I felt, and I didn’t record just for the sake of getting a hit record. I was trying to make something I truly liked and I felt good about. I always believed an artist should be true to themselves—and I wanted to be from the very beginning.
“There are so many people pointing out the comparison of myself to James Brown with my voice, but I wanted to be me, so I recorded songs at that time … showing what I could do instead of imitating James Brown.”
After Fields and his current band, the Expressions, teamed up in 2009, Fields soon found himself in the midst of a career resurgence.
“I knew that there was a certain kind of band that would come. I believed in searching for that band, and I was starting to lose confidence that they were going to come,” he said. “But they popped up, and the name of that band is the Expressions. They’re like my musical sons. I’m sort of surprised that it took 40 years for that to happen, but at the point when I was about to just surrender, they came. That’s the band I was looking for all my life—the Expressions. The audiences that I’m playing to, I’m not surprised that they’re feeling what I’m doing, because if you do something that’s real, people can tell what’s real and what is not real. People can feel what I do and know it’s coming from a real source. … I’m not surprised. The only thing that took me by surprise is that it took 40 years, but I didn’t give up hope.”
Speaking of James Brown: Fields provided vocals for the James Brown 2014 biopic Get on Up. Fields said that in the world of R&B, Brown was king.
“Everybody from Michael Jackson to Prince borrowed from James Brown,” he said. “It’s very difficult to step out of James Brown’s shadow. It’s a good thing, because it made me try harder. I’m pleased with the outcome, because I’m still touring, and people are giving me a lot of love around the world.”
Many of Fields’ musical contemporaries—including James Brown himself—were derailed by drug abuse. Fields explained why that never happened to him.
“You hear about so many artists who were great, who headlined Madison Square Garden, and now they’re sleeping in vans,” he said. “I can’t say how much I believe in the phenomenon of God, but I do believe God is real—and I believe that without a doubt. That’s how I managed not to fall into the things that other artists fell into. It’s my faith, and while I believe God is real, I’m not one of those holier-than-thou guys. … I’ve realized I accept the fact that I’m just a mere sinner as everyone else is.”
Fields’ 2016 album, Special Night, received rave reviews thanks to a variety of great R&B songs. I asked Fields what he would like to do in the future.
“I want to write better songs,” he replied. “… I think that people watch what they eat for healthy bodies, because everybody wants to be physically well-rounded, and they’re exercising and eating the right foods. But there are two entities that every human being is comprised of, which is the physical entity, and the mental state of the body. People don’t pay too much attention to getting good food for their brains; the songs we hear, the shows we watch and the things we see and hear every day are food for our minds. If we see and hear damaging things on a consistent basis, almost to the point where we don’t know what is right and wrong, we lose the concept. That’s when mass hysteria steps in. … I want to make stable music, sticking by good principles, choosing choice words over vulgarity and negativity. We can sing about the negative things, but do it in a way that keeps us thinking positive. … Everything doesn’t have to be about lust, vulgarity and anger, and it can be sensible and said in a sensible fashion. Artists today have to be more responsible for the words they use to keep us civil-minded without limiting thoughts.”
Desert Daze will take place Thursday, Oct. 12, through Sunday, Oct. 15 at the Institute of Mentalphysics, 59700 Twentynine Palms Highway, in Joshua Tree. Weekend passes are $229 to $450. For tickets or more information, visit desertdaze.org.