McKenzie musician/songwriter Derek Fields has dedicated his recently released debut album to the late Dr. Volker Winkler.
MUSIC MAN ON A MISSION — McKenzie musician/songwriter Derek Fields’ four-year-long mission to record his own original songs was recently accomplished with the release of his debut album.
And like many of Fields’ songs, that dedication has a story worth telling behind it.
The story began when Fields, now 41, first started writing songs as a child.
“It was just lyrics. I didn’t know how to play an instrument,” he said. “But when I turned 21, I finally broke down and decided I had to learn how to play guitar.”
Fields taught himself to play, and soon he found himself gigging in local cover bands — mostly of the classic rock variety.
“I was obsessed with guitar icons like Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughn,” said Fields.
Admittedly, he had some issues to overcome when it came to performing onstage in front of a crowd, particularly in regards to singing.
“I had terrible stage fright,” said Fields, adding that he much preferred to just hide behind his guitar and let others take the spotlight. “I wouldn’t even sing in front of people till about eight years ago.”
But playing in cover bands didn’t exactly lend itself to original songwriting, and as time passed, that creative spark he had known as a child began to flame up inside him and demand expression.
“About four years ago, I decided to stop playing in cover bands and concentrate on writing and performing my own stuff,” he said.
Fields started writing, and, to his own surprise, the songs he was creating were sounding very country in style.
“I had avoided country music for years,” he said. “But when I sat down to write songs, they just came out country. Now I’ve learned to just let the songs come and be what they are.”
Fields soon found himself on a mission to record his own material.
“I thought if something happened to me, my grandkids would never know what my music sounded like,” he said.
Fields acquired some recording equipment and put together his first attempts at recording in an improvised studio inside Chapel Hill Methodist Church.
But the technical aspects of making a good quality recording by himself proved daunting.
“It was like trying to learn a whole new instrument,” said Fields.
Then he heard that Bethel University’s Renaissance Program was holding a songwriting contest, and the top prize was to have a song professionally recorded for free at Bethel University Studios.
“I entered it, and I won,” said Fields.
In September of 2015, Fields entered the studio and recorded “In Nashville” — a fun, tongue-in-cheek jab at the money-obsessed music industry — under the technical supervision of John Buteyn, Bethel’s head of studio production, and featuring guest performances by some of Bethel’s top musical talents.
“Me and John really hit it off,” said Fields. “I told him I had more songs, and he said he’d like to record a full album of my stuff.”
Unfortunately, that was going to cost a few thousand dollars — cash he didn’t have to spare at the time.
“So I started saving up money to do an album,” Fields said.
It was about a year later that Dr. Winkler entered the story.
“He [Dr. Winkler] asked me to come and play at a Memorial Day party at his house,” said Fields. “My wife works at McKenzie Medical Center, and she and Dr. Winkler’s daughter are big friends.”
As Fields discovered, Dr. Winkler was a huge music fan, and he took interest in Field’s music right off the bat.
“He pulled me aside and said he wanted to help me,” said Fields. “I told him I was wanting to make an album, and I was trying to save up money to do it. He said, ‘Give me a number.’”
According to Fields, he and Dr. Winkler met at a local restaurant for dinner a few days later.
“He wrote me a check right there at the table,” said Fields. “Up to that point, I had only saved up $400.”
With money in hand, Fields went back into the studio at Bethel — this time with a full album to record.
“John gave me a great price to record it,” said Fields.
But between working full time at AT&T and finding time to spend with his growing family, setting aside time to record proved to be difficult. Months turned into a year, and there were still months of work to be done before the recording process was completed.
“Whenever I saw Dr. Winkler, he’d always ask about it,” said Fields. “I promised him that, besides John and my wife, he would be the first to hear it.”
Sadly, Fields was not able to deliver on that promise.
“On Tuesday, February 20, John told me that he had just uploaded the final mix,” said Fields. “It was that afternoon that Dr. Winkler had his accident.”
The beloved physician died a few days later from head injuries suffered in a cycling accident near his home on Lankford Store Road.
“It was just heartbreaking,” said Fields. “He had been in the back of my mind the whole time I was recording — so I have dedicated the album to him.”
Back in July, Winkler’s family threw an album release party for Fields at the Winkler residence.
“They [Winkler’s family] said how proud he would have been,” said Fields. “And I’ve been getting a really good response from a lot of people.”
Titled “Without Permission,” the album includes an interesting mix of nine original songs that draw from a variety of musical styles, from country to R & B to old school rock and rock-a-billy — all with a quirky, alternative flavor unique to Fields.
“I guess you would call it Americana,” said Fields. “But I don’t place too much stock in defining my music by a specific genre.”
Recorded at Bethel University Studios, the album was co-produced by Buteyn and Fields, mixed by Buteyn, and mastered by Cameron J. Henry.
Featured on the album are guest musical performances by Buteyn, D. J. Culp, Sophia Chambers, Ken Nolen, Aaron Holman, Jake Riggins, Jeremiah Cole, Christian Pipkin, and Keith Herris.
Lyrically, each of the songs tells a unique story that comes more into focus with each listening.
“I love the fact that my music is out there connecting with people,” said Fields.
Looking to the future, Fields said he would definitely like to do a second album (he already has the songs for it), and he plans to eventually put a band together and play some local venues.
But with his wife, Lauren, and their four children: Deven, 15; Greta, 5; Isaiah, 4; and four-month-old Elam — all depending on him to be there as a husband and father — Fields said he can’t see himself commuting from town to town, venue to venue for months at a time.
“I can’t jump on a tour bus and leave my family behind,” he said.
Fields said he does hope to gradually build his fan base via the Internet.
“It’s amazing! I’ve already got people all over the world listening to my music,” he said.
But regardless of where and how far he goes with his music, Fields said he will always remember Dr. Winkler as someone who believed in his talent as a songwriter and performer and who gave him a hand up when he needed it.
• • •