Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Freddie Lee: Divine aspirations

Freddie Lee
Freddie Lee Freddie Lee Freddie Lee Freddie Lee

The son of migrant workers from Georgia who’d travelled south to pick crops, singer/songwriter Freddie Lee Peterkin began his days in the tough housing projects of Pahokee, Florida. Today best known for power-soul vocals reminiscent of golden-age singers like Bobby Womack and The Four Tops’ Levi Stubbs, he actually first discovered music during his school years, as part of both the Pahokee marching band OD Express plus his hometown’s New Hope Missionary Baptist Church Choir.

Having later gone on to study at The Florida Memorial University (a historic black college based in Miami), Freddie has interestingly lived in the UK since 1998. Since which time his turbulent life experiences have directly inspired the subject-matter of his currently-released debut album ‘Beyond Comprehension’. Which was produced by Birmingham, UK studio bods 5am, previously noted for their production/remix work for the likes of Lemar, Usher and Justin Timberlake.

“Yeah, lyrically what I’m basically talking about on the album is the things I’d gone through in the time leading up to me writing and recording it”, begins an instantly-affable Freddie over his Harvester sausage-and-mash (!): “Like the song ‘Great I Am’ is basically talking about the situation of me being homeless at the time and having nowhere to turn. Like I’d be knocking on doors of people I’d known for years, getting no answers, and thinking ‘Man, I don’t know what I’m gonna DO!’!... But then, once I did eventually get a little help to get me out of that situation, that in turn kinda freed me up to look in retrospect at those experiences and to start writing the songs. I basically wanted to focus on the journey I’d had, and to let people know through the songs that, whatever we go through, if we just stay positive and retain the passion for whatever it is we wanna do, then we can still achieve it.”

Musically, meanwhile, with ‘Beyond Comprehension’ mixing contemporary soul/R&B flavours with a strong gospel influence, Freddie has come up with his own name for his music: “Yeah, I’ve decided to coin my style of music ‘inspirational soul’”, he asserts: “You know, by fusing the different styles together, I wanted to create a blend that’s different from what people are hearing nowadays. So it’s really good that, when I’ve spoken to people like Walter ‘Clyde’ Orange from The Commodores and (Eighties Brit-soul hitmaker) Glen Goldsmith, they’ve both said that the sound on my record is unlike anything else they’ve heard throughout the time they’ve been writing songs!”

Interestingly, Freddie’s initial move to Europe in 1991 actually came about when, after graduating from university, he was working as a teacher of History and Social Studies while also singing in a local gospel group called Message. Indeed, when the call came from a friend who was looking for a soul group to go to Spain to perform on the holiday circuit, he instantly jumped at the chance and packed his bags to start a new life on the island of Gran Canaria as lead-singer, choreographer and show-producer for the aforementioned Message, whom he would later re-name ACES.

“Oh my goodness, coming from Miami to land in Gran Canaria was such a culture shock!”, he recalls with a laugh: “I mean, while the beautiful sunny weather may have been the same, once we got off the aeroplane to discover no-one spoke English I didn’t know WHAT to do! Because coming from such a huge city to such a small location where everyone spoke a different language - plus coming from a gospel background and moving into secular music - was all so totally different! And at first I was SCARED! But then, once I got into the culture, I actually started realising ‘Man, actually it’s safer to be here than it is in Pahokee, because here there are no guns and gangs!’… You know, the people were very nice and the whole experience also afforded us the opportunity to travel to places like Germany, France and Italy paying tribute to Motown and the other soul legends. So the whole thing was definitely a blessing.”

With Freddie and ACES relocating permanently to London in 1998, they quickly earned notoriety as the first American Soul Tribute show to be seen in Britain and immediately began touring, doing over 300 shows a year in theatres, clubs, resorts and festivals: “What happened was, when I got to the end of our contract in Spain, I was like ‘You know, this island is a bit too small and I wanna get into the RECORDING side of things. And I think, if we moved to the UK, it would afford us the opportunity to get on aeroplanes more easily to fly from England to different countries’”, relates Freddie: “So everybody agreed. But then, when we got over here, because - with the British public really adoring soul and Motown - the reception was far greater that it was in Spain, the mentality of the guys changed and they became very big-headed. Which ultimately brought about the downfall of the group.”

Indeed, the final straw came in 2002, when Freddie discovered that one of his colleagues in ACES had been stealing from their company account for a number of years. Which in turn resulted in the group closing down, and Freddie eventually losing his home: “Yeah, when it all boiled down, he’d taken in the neighbourhood of 165,000 to l75,000 American dollars collectively from myself and the other members of the group!”, retorts a still-outraged Freddie: “And that’s what led to the break-up of ACES! I mean, it was a totally bad situation - because I lost EVERYTHING, and I basically had to start all OVER! You know, I was knocking on doors, and nothing was happening… Until I met a lady (his now-manager) called Jessie Tsang, who was working for this company called BCM Promotions. And I don’t know what she said to them but, after she’d been talking to them for at least four-to-five months, they finally gave me an opportunity to showcase as a solo artist. Which was the best thing that could have HAPPENED! Because doing that showcase gave me the opportunity to go back to work, plus a lotta OTHER things ended up happening FROM it.”

“Like shortly after that, BCM approached me to put together the Sound Of The Four Tops show, which they ended up financing. Then, because that became so popular, after a while they approached me to produce ANOTHER show called The Sounds Of The Drifters!”, continues Freddie as our lively chat-over-lunch draws to a close: “So, from the success of those two shows (both of which continue to this day to be the most heavily-booked Soul Tribute Shows in the UK), I was able to start saving enough money to begin putting my own solo ALBUM together! And, because I wanted to share with people everything I’d been through, I began putting all those situations into SONGS… Then, once I’d written the songs and I was looking for the right producers, a guy that Jessie knew named DJ Bigger took me to 5am Productions… And the rest is history, man! ‘Beyond Comprehension’ is the result!”

The album ‘Beyond Comprehension’ is out now through Butterfly Records.

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