Lee Fields and the Expressions | The Honeybears
Ballroom Marfa teamed up with the Capri to welcome these two iconic acts for a legendary night of timeless soul music.
To understand the enduring allure of veteran soul singer Lee Fields, it’s important to recognize the difference between retro and revival, and to understand the real meaning of “grown folks music.”
Lee Fields has been making soul music since the late ’60s, when he was a hungry teenager from the South with a voice like James Brown and a stage presence that won him enough local accolades that he decided to try his luck in New York City.
Fields found success in New York, and released a handful of albums and singles over the course of the ’70s and ’80s. But his music was mostly unknown outside of the enthusiastic crowds he played to on the so-called “Chitlin’ Circuit” of black music venues stretching from Harlem’s Apollo Theater to spaces in Detroit, Indianapolis, Birmingham, Atlanta and across the South. He was also slowly building a reputation among American and European soul and funk music collectors in the mid-’90s, activity in this international underground community of R&B, soul and funk fetishists reached a kind of critical mass. Archives of rare vinyl were distilled into more accessible CD compilations. Live bands like Germany’s Poets of Rhythm and Los Angeles’ Breakestra started playing music that emulated the classic sounds of the Meters and James Brown. It was a conspicuously retro aesthetic that resonated with a new generation who recognized the musical genealogy from the sampled breaks of Golden Age hip-hop producers like DJ Premier and Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA. Chief among these funk and soul revival labels was the Brooklyn-based operation Desco. Their crucial contribution to this narrative was the realization that underground soul legend Lee Fields was still making records and still packing theaters. Fields signed to Desco and released Let’s Get A Groove On in 1999, setting the vintage soul revival into full swing.
The music on Fields’ Desco debut fits the genre’s description, except that there is absolutely no question of its authenticity. This is not a retro tribute, but the revival of a living sound for new ears. Let’s Get A Groove On was met with critical accolades and his follow-up albums on Daptone, Soul Fire and Truth & Soul were equally beloved to the fans who never stopped listening. Upon the release of his 2012 album Faithful Man, Vice magazine declared him to be “the coolest MF to ever sing words into a microphone.”And that’s because this is true soul music, “grown folks music” that speaks to the feelings of love, longing and loss in a way that grows more passionate with age and experience. Openers Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears are a convincing testament to the power of the soul revival driven by artists like Fields. Lewis’ origin story is a classic tale of the power of the blues: At age 20 he picked up a guitar at the pawn shop where he worked in Austin and tried to put his love for artists like James Brown and Lightning Hopkins to good use. Soon he was bawling the blues at drunken open mics in the Texas capital, a grind that paid off when he was asked to open up for Little Richard in 2007.
After hooking up with the Honeybears — described by NPR as adding “a funky soul sound that’s spiced up with a little garage rock attitude” — they set to touring their raucous boogie with indie superstars Okkervil River and Spoon.