Bentley's Bandstand: Lee Fields, The Hobart Brothers with Lil' Sis Hobart, Little Richard

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Lee Fields

Lee Fields, Faithful Man. There aren't many soul men more faithful than Lee Fields. When it comes to riding the back roads and crying, preaching his heart from so deep that it sometimes hurts to listen, Fields is at the very forefront of that wave. His voice still sounds like he just stepped off the chitlin' circuit in 1966, full of fire and spirit and everything else that makes rhythm and blues the calling card of the brokenhearted.

One of the essential ingredients in Lee Fields' mix is an ability to take what he learned in church growing up in the South and project it out into the world. It's not that he's abandoned the spirituals and what that taught him, but rather it's the stage has been extended into the romantic realm. Once there, it was only a matter of time before true believers noticed. And even if it may seem like an endless journey—43 years and counting—there's a timelessness to what Fields does that stops the clock no matter how long it takes. These are feelings from the center of the earth, and there are no shortcuts or underhanded trickery involved. Music this strong will not be denied.

One of the absolute building blocks of an album this solid is a band that hits the groove and doesn't back down, which is exactly what the Expressions do. The way the rhythm section fills space with just enough sound, aided and abetted by punctuating horns and soothing background vocals, speaks to decades of lessons learned at the hands of all the greats, from O.V. Wright to James Carr and beyond. They have learned when to hit it and when to quit it, never overplaying or strutting for strut's sake. Just to show he can come up with some new tricks, Field's nails the Rolling Stones' "Moonlight Mile" like the Glimmer Twins wrote it for him. The singer takes it to the river and washes in the water, like all those brothers and sisters before him, and comes out a clean machine full of desire. They don't come any more faithful than that.

The Hobart Brothers & Lil' Sis Hobart, At Least We Have Each Other. What would it be like if three good friends, each with widely varying backgrounds, got together in someone's backyard and worked out a whole night's worth of songs, the kind of music that gets played when the fun factor is turned all the way up? And if those friends were Jon Dee Graham, Susan Cowsill, and Freedy Johnston, well, the possibilities seem fairly endless. That's exactly what happened here, and the resulting group, fondly named the Hobart Brothers and Lil' Sis Hobart, sound like it was Smile City all night long. Sometimes the real world just needs to be stuffed in a cup and put on a back shelf.

Graham is an Austin icon with a voice that makes sandpaper sound like silk, and over the course of being in bands like the Skunks and the True Believers along with a solo career second to none, he's become a musical treasure in a city full of jewels. Susan Cowsill was a family member of the Cowsills, had actual hits back then and lived to tell about it. As a founder of the Continental Drifters she's been able to explore American music with an eye for openness and an ear for intrigue. Freedy Johnston made his first splash in 1990 and even got named "Songwriter of the Year" by Rolling Stone in 1994. Not a bad bunch by any stretch.

For At Least We Have Each Other, the three named themselves after the dishwashing machine found in restaurants everywhere and set about on a trail of discovery. The place they've landed is somewhere we've all lived, often loved, and sometimes even long to go back to. The group writes about life on the other side of the tracks, full of hardship but also happiness and the ability to let love call the shots. Also included is a free download of the entire demo session for the album, showing how songs first start. The Brothers and Lil' Sis have discovered their own splash of freedom, and it looks like they're going to stay awhile.

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Little Richard, Here's Little Richard. When it's time to go to Ground Zero, the place that just may be the launching pad for rock and roll, start with Little Richards' recordings for Specialty Records in 1955. One listen to "Tutti Frutti," and everything that's needed to make the rocket go boom big time is there: Earl Palmer's gut-punch backbeat, Lee Allen's treacherous tear-stained tenor sax wails, and Frank Fields kicking doghouse bass. True glory lives here, and the way Richard Penniman strips away everything but pure emotion from that gorgeous voice is a discovery right up there with plutonium and popcorn. He even out-pompadours Elvis Presley's righteous 'do. In a word, he is perfection.

The eye-opener on Little Richard's ground-breaking debut album isn't only how undeniable it is, but also how varied. Next to the hammering piano eighth notes and screaming vocals, there's also some real finesse going on. The Macon, Georgia native had recorded before, just not with the explosive New Orleans band at J&M Studios and badass producer Bumps Blackwell on board. Once he found them, lift-off occurred instantaneously. Songs like "Ready Teddy," "Slippin' and Slidin'," "Long Tall Sally" and "Rip It Up" shot straight through the stratosphere. You can almost hear the young future Beatles in Liverpool screaming with delight. Rock and roll was soon enough going to to change everything, and Little Richard was ready to light the fuse.

In a pre-MTV world visuals weren't always that available, but two Little Richard screen tests included in this fine, fine reissue show what an utterly flamboyant star he always was. Nobody had the look and liveliness; it was like being plugged into an electric wall socket. There's also the two early demos he had mailed Specialty Records hoping to get a recording contract, along with a later interview with label founder Art Rupe that helps explain exactly what happened at the birth of rock and roll. Musical history is a never-ending road, and when compilations like this show up it's best to take a deep breath and let that light burn all the way through.

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Bill Bentley got his first drum set in 1965 and still has it. He's been a deejay, record store clerk, publicist, writer, concert promoter, record producer and a&r director, sometimes all at once. He's worked at KUT-FM, Austin City Limits, L.A. Weekly, Slash Records, Warner Bros. Records and Vanguard…

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