DAVE FIELDS: ALL WOUND UP
Though the blues are timeless – some would say even “timely” in 2008 – the musicians and their path to the original and most profound American art form has been remarkably consistent while also evolving. Toiling from sun up to sun down on sweltering plantations behind the “south end of a mule heading north,” with instrumental traditions passed on from family members, gave way to numbing manual labor in the cities and “on the job training” after hours in brutal bar room cutting sessions. Recordings have always been a prime source of instruction going all the way back to Robert Johnson in the 1930s, who was known to snatch music off the radio, as well as big 78 RPM platters.
New York City genre-busting blues guitarist Dave Fields can rightfully boast that he experienced the hip modern version of the blues education. He was born in Manhattan to Sammy “Forever” Fields, the lauded virtuoso pianist, composer, arranger and producer with remarkably eclectic tastes from classic American standards and jazz to rock ‘n’ roll such as the Royal Teens “Short Shorts” and the Capris’ “There’s A Moon Out Tonight.” He was thrilled when his son expressed a desire to go pro and would later show his vast knowledge and awareness of contemporary rock by always replying that the “best” guitarists in the world were Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix.
Dave Fields was raised by a nanny from Macon, Georgia named Olive Nettles Still whom he calls mom and who helped instill a southern-fried flavor in the urbane young man. The first “dues” he “paid” consisted of his father demanding he receive a thorough musical foundation by studying the piano starting at eight, followed later by the bass, before he was allowed to move on to the coveted guitar at age 14. Between an exceptionally stimulating musical environment and his precocious talent, Fields quickly became an accomplished pianist and a skillful guitarist who began playing sessions with his father at 15. With the recording studio as his second home he became familiar with the technology while also meeting all the top session cats and producers. By 16 he had added composition to his ever expanding talents by creating his first big band score. Eventually he would become proficient on acoustic and electric bass, Dobro, pedal and lap steel, mandolin, drums and B-3 organ.
Fields studied performance and composition/arranging at the Berklee School of Music in Boston. Returning to the Big Apple he arranged, composed and produced for various record labels while also plying his trade as a sought after studio multi-instrumentalist. Versed in singing and playing virtually all styles of music beyond the blues, he went on tour with Tommy James and the Shondells and was director for the New Voices of Freedom who performed with U2 in their movie Rattle and Hum. Besides playing with and producing numerous jazz and blues luminaries, Fields was a staff member for Look Music and has written CDs for many music libraries. In 1996 he marshaled his boundless energy, ambition and enthusiasm to start Fields Music that services the radio, TV, web, film and industrial markets.
He recorded his first solo CD, Field of Vision, in 1998 A Wastin’ in 2007. His latest and greatest, All Wound Up (FMI Records), is an expansive 12 song set of originals that span the musical rainbow of the blues. “Train to My Heart” pays homage to Fields’ second biggest influence after his father with a charging, heart pounding riff rocker that Mr. Hendrix would approve. With a tough, swirling guitar hook and a wicked wah wah pedal solo, he expresses to his beloved his locomotive affection that keeps “chugging like a big drum roll.” “Ain’t No Crime” changes direction and groove by getting down with a big hunk of nasty funk. Fields “raps” like a street-wise kid over the booty-shaking progression as singer Ada Dyer aggressively fires back with her gospelly exhortations while harp blower Billy Gibson fills in like a Chicago blues demon. The joyous and jubilant R&B-powered title track follows with Fields showcasing his wry and sly vocals while consummately playing bass, drums, piano and organ, besides guitar, taking the listener on a Cajun journey all the way down to New Orleans. “Let’s Have a Ball” follows and continues with a modified “second line” strut totally in keeping with the party atmosphere of the lyric. Adapting his guitar approach to each new situation, Fields picks clean and percussive while phrasing like a coiled black snake around the syncopated rhythms.
“Still Itchin’” likewise shows the rhythmic influence steaming hot and nasty out of N’Awlins via Fats Domino, one of Fields’ early rock ‘n’ roll heroes. Gibson once again attempts to blow the reeds out of his blues harp while the leader blisters his strings with the saltiest slide this side of Duane Allman. Dynamically changing the musical dialogue, Fields offers up an ominous, heavy slow minor key blues with “Cold Wind Blowin’” that features his most vulnerable vocal. Turning all expectations upside down, he eschews the usual and expected cathartic guitar rave up and soothes his aching pain with a classy and confident jazzy piano solo instead. On a figurative and literal roll, Fields gets all jivey with the swinging “Big Bad Ludus” as he tells a humorous jail tale reminiscent of Louis Jordan’s “Saturday Night Fish Fry.” Over an irresistibly driving shuffle beat he sings with ultimate cool while playing sweet and hot licks on his axe that would have seduced “Caledonia.” Taking a breather from the microphone, Fields shows his further compositional and improvisational skills with the romping up tempo instrumental “Screamin’.” Attention radio DJs: Grab this number as your theme song as it is as catchy and memorable as R&B classics such as “Walking with Mr. Lee” and “The Happy Organ.” Attention guitarists: You might want to take this one, along with the whole CD for that matter, to the woodshed and try to cop the scorching chicken pickin’ licks.
Nimbly shifting his focus, Fields presents the dreamy, hypnotic and easy shuffling “Wanna Be Your Man” to plead his case to his woman vocally and instrumentally with great passion in a way that is intensified by the modulating chord changes. Still trying to soothe his lover, Fields sings to her on the classic Fifties dance beat of “Baby Come Back” with equal amounts of sweet talk and barely restrained demands while bari saxman Rob Chaseman rumbles and thunders in the lower register like a pegged pants rock ‘n’ roll honker. On the sensual and shuffling “Blue Ballad” Fields again plays all instruments except drums, while flaunting his Hammond B-3 roots and snarky guitar lines. Like a younger and smoother Bobby “Blue” Bland, he tries to cajole and finesse his way into his baby’s heart.
Fields’ deeply emotional set, which builds in intensity with deceptive ease and grace, culminates with the dramatic and powerful soul rocker, “Guide Me to the Light.” As on many other cuts, the Hammond organ provides a fat, propulsive pad under his plea for “love and understanding” that is at once a personal as well as a universal message, revealing a spiritual side not often encountered in contemporary blues-based music. Dave Fields is an extraordinarily talented contemporary singer, songwriter and instrumentalist who knows his music inside and out and from the bottom up. The result is an exceptional aesthetic experience for the mind and body.
Staff Writer for Guitar Edge