It was Friday morning during South by Southwest, and Lee Fields was gassed. The veteran soul singer told us he'd given his all in a concert the night before, and you could tell that our early appointment at Joe's Crab Shack in Austin, Texas, had left his voice gravelly and raw.
But Fields is an old-school pro's pro — a hard-working, rough-and-tumble singer who's been touring the circuit and getting crowds moving since the early 1970s. Since re-emerging in the '90s, Fields has steadily put out funk-tinged blues and gospel records, crooning love songs and belting world-weary anthems with an expressive voice full of swagger and regret.
The last few years — thanks in part to renewed interest in retro soul — have been particularly good to Fields. His latest album, Faithful Man, is among his best, and new songs like "Faithful Man" and "Still Hanging On" rank among his most honest looks at aging, pushing through hard times and overcoming the challenges of life and love.
So on that March morning, Lee Fields reached deep, fought off the morning fog and gave a passionate, stripped-down performance of "Still Hanging On" with the help of guitarist Vince John. It was a rare peek at a legendary, impossibly gracious singer who proved that, after all these years and even with little sleep, he's still got it.
Producers: Bob Boilen, Mito Habe-Evans, Saidah Blount; Editor: Michael Katzif; Videographers: Katie Hayes Luke, Michael Katzif, Mito Habe-Evans; Audio Engineer: Kevin Wait; photo by Katie Hayes Luke/NPR