One commentator called the success of Jimi Hendrix “the sideman’s revenge”.
Before making it big in the UK, Hendrix had been a demonstrative and flamboyant performer for a host of revue bands touring the chitlin’ circuit around the US. After learning his craft through the tough discipline of the road, and harsh taskmasters such as Wilson Pickett, Hendrix eventually struck out with his own band – with now legendary results.
Keyboardist Joseph “Amp” Fiddler is stylistically a world away from Hendrix’s psychedelic kool-aid acid explosion, but similarly learnt his craft as a respected player for the likes of George Clinton, Prince, Jamiroquai, and a host of others. His album Waltz Of A Ghetto Fly reveals a confident talent, steeped in a rich musical education, equally informed by the electronic sounds of his native Detroit, nu-jazz, and the more adventurous end of ’70s funk.
In situ at Lancaster Gate’s rock ‘n’ roll hotel, The Columbia, musicOMH caught up with the ex-sideman who is now taking centre stage on the eve of a UK tour.
Though weary from a day’s worth of interviews and promotion, Amp was gracious company, and willing to talk about heroes, collaborators, his hometown, and of course Waltz Of A Ghetto Fly.
We were curious to know how Amp achieved a unity of sound on the record despite the involvement of other producers.
“I’m glad it feels that way. That’s the way I wanted it to be. So it feels like one record that you can listen to all the way through – where the production is similar, where it sounds like one artist.”
“I recorded everything in my basement. All produced by me… basically. Other people were brought in, in a kind of co-production. Raphael Saadiq and J Dilla would bring in the basic tracks, and I would sing over ‘em and add something to ‘em. That’s kind of like the way it’s been working for me. I hadn’t had a lot of support, and I hadn’t had the kind of budget to afford a big studio. So I took my time and made it myself.”
This wasn’t the first production with the Fiddler name on it. There was an album released in 1990 on Elektra.
“Yeah, it was called Mr Fiddler. (It was) me and my brother Bubz. We signed that deal with Elektra, but this is my first solo album.”
There are a lot of spaces on the new record…
“I had to do that because I couldn’t afford to hire a big production! I didn’t want to do a big show and tour with that kind of production. It’s good that I made the record the way it is, because it’s basically what we’re using now.”
Interestingly, Amp trained as a jazz musician originally, although he is self-effacing about his qualifications:
“I’m not an accomplished musician. We went straight out on tour, so I didn’t have time for studying like other guys.”
– The self-effacing former George Clinton and Prince sideman, Amp Fiddler.
“Yeah, I studied jazz and classical when I was at college. I trained on piano. I’m not an accomplished musician. For two years I was at college and then I went out on the road. We went straight out on tour, so I didn’t have time for studying like other guys.”
Does Amp still listen to the musical genre of his schooling?“I love jazz. Ornette Coleman, Thelonious Monk, … Aaah, Coltrane, James Carter… There’s a lot of new jazz coming out of Detroit.”
As mentioned, Amp Fiddler toured with George Clinton’s P-Funk All-Stars. He explained how that came about:
“Well, back then I was writing a lot of songs with my girlfriend, and she took a CD to George and said this is my demo, and he said who did the production, and she told him it was me. He asked me to come to his studio and he asked me if I wanted a gig, and I said, ‘Yeah I wanna gig!’”
“… This would be around ’84. I came in late in the game, and things had slowed by then, but I said ah well, all right, but it was cool. I was still doin’ a lot of things. I recorded Cinderella Theory, (George Clinton’s album of 1990), and it was cool. I learned a lot.”
Would he ever have said no to George Clinton?
(Smiling) “Probably, if he’d asked me the wrong question… DEFINITELY!”
Listening to Waltz Of A Ghetto Fly recalls another “great” of funk – Sly Stone circa the Fresh album. Amp described his past meetings with Mr Stone:
“I’m a big fan. When I met George, he took me to California. I stayed in a hotel with him for about three months, and his assistant said, ‘I’m going off to talk to Sly Stone. Do you wanna ride with me?’ So I went in, … sat down next to him and we played for a minute. And then he said, ‘You gotta leave.’”
He made you leave?
“Well if he say it, we gotta do it. There were things he had to do. About a week later, we had to go to the studio, and (George) was going with Sly. I heard some songs, and I hung out with him again, so I got big influence from him. I already got a big influence from listening to his albums so meeting and hearing him was amazing.”
Amp Fiddler grew up in Detroit, a city with an early techno scene which he had some association with:
“I wasn’t part of the scene, but I knew all those guys. A lot of them liked musicians, and a lot of them were musicians. Some of them recorded at the same studio, United Sounds. We got to be friends, so it’s easy to connect with them, and do sessions, and collaborate, and ask favours or whatever.”
Carl Craig is an acknowledged legend of Detroit’s techno scene. Amp collaborated with Craig on his Planet-E project. A bit of a jump from working with Soul Brother No. 2…
“I like going from genre to genre. You know, the versatility, of having an open wide feel, the spice of life as oppose to being stuck in the box.”
– Amp Fiddler on the need for musical diversity.
“I like going from genre to genre. You know, the versatility, of having an open wide feel, the spice of life as opposed to being stuck in the box. (I don’t) like people who say, ‘Well, you know I come from a hip-hop background, and that’s all I do.’ I think that kind of limits you. As a keyboardist, as a lot of people call me, I can’t play on s**t that I don’t like, so it’s gotta be something I love most of the time. In most cases, I love just about everything I play on.”
Having recorded for Grand Central, we were interested to know if Amp found time to investigate the UK music scene.
“Only when I’m over here working. I wish I had more time to hang out here in this city. I would like to get exposed to more music… “
“When I first heard Dizzee Rascal, I thought there’s this zany character, he’s got the voice, he’s got the accent, he’s homegrown, so I bought that record so my kid could hear that.”
– Amp Fiddler on da Rascal’s universal appeal.
“… I tend to hear more remixes of stuff. I worked on the Only Child record (on Grand Central) ’cause I liked the track he was singing on. There’s other stuff I like, a lot of BrokenBeats, that kid Yam Hoo who I just met outside today. And there’s that Dizzee Rascal track that I like… When I first heard that, I thought there’s this zany character, he’s got the voice, he’s got the accent, he’s homegrown, so I bought that record so my kid could hear that. It’s good to hear what’s goin’ on over here.”
Given the quality of Waltz Of A Ghetto Fly, our final burning question was to know if there are going to be more Amp Fiddler albums. Well?
“This is one of the first. I’m sure I’m gonna make two or more records. I like to do collaborations, so I like to play with as many people as I can, and do things that I’m not doing, soaking up more influences and being creative and innovative.”
Amen to that…