By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — R&B veteran Lee Fields brings his backing band the Expressions to the Chapel in San Francisco’s Mission District for two nights, culminating in one of the funkiest New Year’s Eve parties happening in the Bay Area.
Much like his fellow soul singers Bettye LaVette and the late Sharon Jones and Charles Bradley, gritty funk shouter Lee Fields delivers impassioned, heart-on-the-sleeve vocals that hearken back to the music’s classic ’60s era. Fields started his recording career in 1969 after relocating from his home in North Carolina to New York City while still in his teens.
With moves, a sound and even a physical resemblance to James Brown, Fields earned the nickname “Little J.B.” and recorded a cover of Brown’s 1959 hit “Bewildered” for his first single release on the Bedford Records label. He would put out a number of funk 45s for a variety of different labels during the early ’70s while sharing stages with such notables as Kool & the Gang and O.V. Wright. He would work with the label Angle 3 Records during the latter part of the decade, eventually issuing his first full album, Let’s Talk It Over, in 1979.
While his mix of sweaty funk workouts and soulful ballads didn’t find an audience at the height of the disco era (Fields would eventually start working in real estate to support his family during the 1980s) the effort later became a coveted collectors item, selling for hundreds of dollars. Fields would return to music during the ’90s, initially recording a couple of synth-heavy soul/blues albums for Ace Records before connecting with Gabriel Roth and Phillip Lehman and their NYC-based imprint Desco Records for a series of singles that were a throwback to Fields’ earlier James Brown-inspired work.
That label would evolve, splitting into Daptone Records and Soul Fire Records. The two companies would feature Fields and Sharon Jones on a number of 45s and albums, elevating the singers as two of the foremost classic ’60s sound and funk revivalists of the 2000s. Fields has put out a series of outstanding R&B albums, most recently issuing the acclaimed 2016 effort Special Night on Big Crown Records. The singer’s uncanny vocal emulation of James Brown led him to provide the singing voice for the Brown biopic Get On Up in 2014. Along with his talented backing band the Expressions, Fields and company have established a well-deserved reputation as a scorching live act that has become a staple of music festivals across the globe (their main stage set at Outside Lands last year was a highlight of the three-day fest in Golden Gate Park).
For this pair of shows leading up to their headlining New Year’s Eve performance at the Chapel, Fields and the Expressions will be joined by a pair of notable local acts. Bay Area singer and guitarist Quinn DeVeaux mixes soul, B.B. King-style blues and gospel into his unique sound, while opening instrumental band the M-Tet offer up funky tunes that recall the classic hits of Bay Area Hammond B-3 great Booker T. and his MGs as well as the New Orleans strut of the Meters.
Lee Fields and the Expressions
Sunday-Monday, Dec. 30-31, $30-$65 (Sunday sold out)