"Soul music is of the spirit," says Lee Fields, the North Carolina native raised during the fight for civil rights. "And spirit is of God. I'm a believer. Although I fall way short of being the way a man should be righteous, my faith has not been tarnished. My faith is there."
A struggling soul singer since he first began work on his largely glossed-over 1979 bow Let's Talk It Over, Fields, now in his early 70s, says he reobtained a belief in God soon after his debut failed to garner attention and he turned to the Bible for comfort.
"Every time I'd have a downfall, I'd read a little bit, and it would give me the strength to keep going."
Fate finally rewarded Fields' struggles in this millennium, when Brooklyn imprint Truth & Soul hooked him up with its house band, the Expressions. His second act now counts three albums (2002's Problems, 2009's My World, and 2012's Faithful Man), plus the 2010 re-release of Let's Talk It Over.
Fields says a fourth T&S album's on the way, once again with backing work from the Expressions. A release date's not set, but the album has a name: Emma Jean, in honor of his mother.
"She's the one who got me singing in the beginning," he says. "When daddy turned our house into a speakeasy, momma was the one who changed and started going to church. She's the one who got us up on Sunday mornings."
A year of firsts for Barrence Whitfield. In February, he took part in the 50th anniversary of the Beatles' arrival in New York, his first appearance onstage at the legendary Apollo Theater ("a dream come true"). This week marks the first venture to SXSW by the 58-year-old screamer born Barry White.
Whitfield and his band the Savages had broken up by the late Eighties, when SXSW was just coming into its own. They reunited in 2010, and in 2013 released Dig Thy Savage Soul, one of the rawest, balls-out rock & roll records of the year.
"I was surprised that after all these years people still love high-energy rhythm and blues rock & roll," he says. "I'm also surprised by some of the young people who gravitate to it. The first thing they don't say is, 'This is my dad's music,' or 'My grandfather's music.' They've actually adopted it as their own music."
That over-the-top performing style and nearly out-of-control vocal rasp often draw comparisons to Howlin' Wolf. Whitfield pays tribute to the blues shouter on the cover of Dig Thy Savage Soul.
"That's based on a picture on the Best of Howlin' Wolf. He's got a huge pipe in his mouth with this grin. I thought it was a great picture and that's what we should do."
Berlin's Kadavar made itself known to the international hard-rock underground with its self-titled 2012 bow, but last year's follow-up Abra Kadavar broke out the trio's turbo-charged psychedelic power rock. Drummer Christoph "Tiger" Bartelt credits the roadwork after their debut came out.
"The response we got from our live performances was useful for writing new songs. It's hard to explain how, but I feel you can sharpen your senses for what works well when you play a show. [In the studio], decisions were made naturally and the songs were written spontaneously."
The band brings that Abra Kadavar magik to SXSW once again, despite a caveat.
"South by Southwest is stressful, especially last time. We didn't know how stressful it was until we saw it. But I enjoyed it as well. Touring in America isn't easy and of course we don't have the same status compared to Europe, but it's been a huge motivation to try our best at making people happy so they'll bring their friends next time!"
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