Daddy B. Nice's #24 ranked Southern Soul Artist
"I'll Put My Life On The Line"
October 1, 2017:
Southern Soul Singer (As Opposed to James Brown Imitator)
Daddy B. Nice notes:
"I'll Put My Life On The Line" was one of the core songs that made me change my life and listen to southern soul. I gave the Chicago music writer David Whiteis a rare copy of the recording I originally made many years ago on a boombox cassette tape in a south Jackson, Mississippi motel room while listening to radio station WMPR.
Now he has returned the favor by finally tracking down Fields, most well-known for his James Brown-like stage show, and asking him about "Life On The Line," to which there is still no commercial access or YouTube page.
Here is what Whiteis relates:
Finally got to ask Lee Fields about it. I was wondering whether "Life On The Line" had ever actually been officially released, since so few people seem to have heard it and virtually no one has ever seen a copy. His (Lee Fields') response:
"That’s because I was on Ace Records, and the contract was up, and Johnny Vincent was focusing on some of his other artists, so he never got the chance to really push that record or put it out there. It was released, but it wasn’t released properly; it was [just] put out. The contract was over. I'd begun to decide it was time to move on."
David Whiteis is the Chicago-based author of Southern Soul Blues.
--Daddy B. Nice
Scroll down this page to "Tidbits" for the latest updates on Lee Fields, including Daddy B. Nice's CHITLIN' CIRCUIT TRAVELS, PART TWO: BOOGIE NAILS DADDY B. NICE'S MYSTERY ARTIST.
To automatically link to Lee Fields' charted singles, awards, CD's and other citations on the website, go to "Fields, Lee" in Daddy B. Nice's Comprehensive Index.
May 1, 2011:
Daddy B. Nice's Updated Profile:
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 singing "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."
Listen to Lee Fields and The Tedeschi Trucks Band singing "Trying To Live My Life Without You" on YouTube.
"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.
Listen to the official video of Lee Fields singing "You're The Kind Of Girl" on YouTube.
--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.
Song's Transcendent Moment
"This is our only chance.
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?"
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
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.
If You Liked. . . You'll Love
Honorary "B" Side
"Trying To Live My Life (Without You)"
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