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Gritty soul singer returns to San Francisco

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- R&B veteran Lee Fields brings his backing band the Expressions to the Great American Music in San Francisco Saturday night.

Much like his fellow soul singers Bettye LaVette and the late Sharon Jones and Charles Bradley, gritty funk shouter 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.

Lee Fields ~ "Bewildered" by colbito on YouTube

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.

Wanna Dance by Lee Fields - Topic on YouTube

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.

Lee Fields "Lets Get A Groove On" by DaptoneRecords on YouTube

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 2014Along 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, appearing on the main stage at Outside Lands in 2017 and co-headlining a Stern Grove concert with reggae legends Toots and the Maytals two years later.

Lee Fields & The Expressions - Full Performance (Live on KEXP) by KEXP on YouTube

For this show at the Great American Music Hall, Fields and the Expressions will be joined by a pair of notable local artists. Bay Area multi-instrumentalist Chris Lujan has been making a sweet style of throwback soul and Hammond B-3 organ-powered funk instrumentals for several years with his collective Electric Butter. Lujan would eventually team with R&B singer Andre Cruz, who has been co-writing songs in addition to providing vocals ever since. Their recent full-length album The Real Thing was released on the group's own Black Diamond/Lugnut Brand Records imprint earlier this year with vinyl expected to be available late this summer. Local soul/R&B DJ Harry Duncan will also be on hand spinning vinyl before and between bands.

Lee Fields and the Expressions
Saturday, May 14, 8 p.m. $25
Great American Music Hall

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