Lee Fields has been making music for 50 years, though it’s only in the last decade or so that he’s become widely known, as the retro-soul movement propelled by artists such as Amy Winehouse and Sharon Jones caught up with the gritty, hard-hitting grooves the North Carolina native has been laying down all along.
“To survive in the music business for 50 years, I did something right,” Fields says by phone from Paris, where he is touring in support of his most recent album, “It Rains Love.”
“If you’re going to be in the music business for longevity, it’s best not to try and be a trend. Try to be something that’s going to sustain itself against trends.”
For Fields, that doesn’t just mean singing soul and funk. It means maintaining a consistent message.
“Positivity is what I’m about,” he says. “The same way the body needs good food to sustain good health, the mind needs good words to sustain a solid mind and to know what is right and what is wrong.”
The basis for that, Fields says, is his faith and spirituality. “I believe God is real,” he says.
That doesn’t mean he’s a gospel singer. But there is a song on “It Rains Love” with that very title: “God Is Real.”
“When I first got into the music business, the older people back then used to say, ‘Boy, what you gonna do? You gonna sing for the devil, or you gonna sing for the Lord?’” Fields says. “And it’s still the same principle today: Either you’re singing for what is everlasting or you’re singing for the things that are here for a moment and are gone tomorrow.
“I try to strike a happy medium, soul music being from the spirit, and the spirit is God.”
Across the decades, Fields has had his share of trials. In the 1980s, he dropped out of music for a while after his brother-in-law murdered his wife’s sister and killed himself, leaving Fields and his wife to raise their child along with two of their own.
“I was totally dumbfounded, totally baffled,” he says. “I had to put up the façade of, you know, ‘I got this.’ I had to show my kids a fatherly image.”
He quit music and began investing in real estate, educating himself about contracts in part by reading the Bible.
“This was the King James version," Fields says. “You know, ‘henceforth’ and all that stuff.”
In truth, he made more money doing that than he had making music. But eventually, music called to him again and his wife, Christine — they recently celebrated their golden wedding anniversary — told him, "Stick to what you know."
Their marriage is a true partnership, Fields says. “When we said ‘I do,’ she became part of my flesh, and I became part of her flesh. So when the other side of me comes up with a good idea — like, she encouraged me to go back to music — I thank God (for allowing) me to have the common sense to recognize it.”
Fields doesn’t concern himself much with politics, but one song on “It Rains Love” — “Wake Up” — expresses exasperation with the things going down in the world that he can see “with my own two eyes,” while others claim it’s just fake news.
“Somebody needs to get loud,” Fields sings. “Stand up for yourself.”
In Fields’ estimation, the personal is political, and things you do in your own life have a ripple effect, moving ever outward and affecting the world at large.
“The smaller things become the greater things,” he says. “The smallest thing we can think of is the atom, the molecular structure. And the most dynamic weapon that we have comes from that small thing. The least is the greatest, as it is in heaven: The last shall become the first.
“I try to keep those principles in mind, all of the things that were taught to us in the beginning — what is right and what is wrong? That’s the first step to knowledge.”
Fields says the sweet spot he’s continually searching for in his music is to address all these things — positivity and truth and knowledge — in a way that is still palatable to the public and still has soul.
“To make music that can enhance people’s lives and not be about things that can cause harm and despair — that’s what I’m trying to do.”
What Lee Fields & the Expressions • When 8 p.m. Thursday • Where The Ready Room, 4195 Manchester Avenue • How much $20-$25 • More info thereadyroom.com