For a man who likes to funk Amp Fiddler is disarmingly mellow. That should come as no big surprise though. If you’ve been shrewd enough to sample the irresistible funk-inflected soul on the wonderfully beguiling Waltz of a Ghetto Fly (2004) and Afro Strut (2007) then you’ll know that Mr. Fiddler is one cool cat. His is not a contrived swagger, however, because Fiddler’s funk credentials are second-to-none. The former George Clinton and P-Funk musician has been struttin’ his afro stuff for over two decades, first refining his art as a musician before turning his hand to the microphone. “I see myself as an entertainer,” Fiddler says between reflective pauses and philosophical musings on his time in the industry. “I don’t differentiate between being a musician and a singer because they both take a lot of time in order to develop.” When pressed on which aspect of his art he prefers he concedes, “Entertainer is at the top of my agenda right now and, I guess that would be vocally. A musician is second as much as I love music as a musician.” With smoky, seductive vocals that evoke nocturnal thoughts of a carnal nature, Fiddler has put the sophistication back in to soul while cornering the market in twenty-first century funk that’s strictly for the grown and sexy. Is this something he’s happy being credited with? “It’s a conscious thing,” says Fiddler of his unique style. “Besides the fact that it’s my musical background and part of the music that I love, you don’t hear as much funk being used any more. So I think I can cover it with what I do and keep it in the forefront, just to keep people listening and finding other realms of music.”
Fiddler took his time to emerge as a solo artist. During the early eighties and throughout the nineties the Detroit native worked as session musician for some of the world’s hippest acts, jamming with Prince and the Brand New Heavies among others. It was at this time that he developed his own sound, synthesizing his self-confessed eclecticism with the very best of black music through the decades, a hybrid of everything from thirties bebop to seventies funk and beyond. Citing Al Green, Sly and the Family Stone, The Beatles, Aretha Franklin, The Temptations and Jimi Hendrix as diverse influences, Fiddler has achieved a rare musical consistency. “My sister was a hippy so I listened to a lot of blues, rock and roll and psychedelic as well as Janis Joplin and Bob Marley and the Wailers.”
With album titles like …Ghetto Fly and Afro Strut it’s clear that Fiddler is not afraid to assert his presence, wearing his heart on his sleeve in showcasing the full array of sounds that define his music-making. But why did it take him so long to step out on his own? “I guess in creating music and being in this business, just because you have your music ready it doesn’t mean somebody’s gonna sign you and help you release it,” he concludes. “So like most artists that are working towards building their careers it just doesn’t happen overnight for everybody. Through divine intervention I met someone that believed in me and that spurred me to make an album. Everything happens for the right reason at the right time.”
But after all the false starts the end products proved well worth the wait. Afro Strut, in particular, is an exquisite assemblage of classy cuts, combining head-bopping, toe-tapping grooves with all-out, feet-stomping funk. From the laid-back love of Not to the intoxicating elixir of Find My Way to the Marvin Gaye-esque social consciousness of Hustle there’s something for every discerning listener. If I Don’t, a delightful duet with Corinne Bailey-Rae is a subtle piece of sublime bebop that channels Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway, a perfect vehicle for utilizing the talents of the British singer. “I’d just finished doing a remix for Corinne and we’d agreed that we’d exchange services. And then just at the right time she listened to the music and she liked it and we decided that we’d make it a duet. So it was perfect timing because I was thinking about what song I would have her collaborate with me on and that was the one. She bought a woman’s perspective to it and her voice is lovely so it works.”
His favorite song of his own, I Believe in You from Waltz of a Ghetto Fly speaks of maintaining faith in a troubled love relationship and was inspired by a circumstance that was close to Fiddler’s heart. “I was in a situation that I really needed to write about at the time. I was in a relationship that was very frustrating for me and I find that a lot of people are in that situation – friends of mine who are musicians, entertainers or artists – where people don’t understand that it takes time in order to build your career. And they just drop the ball or they stay on and it’s forced.”
Something that’s not forced, however, is Fiddler’s love affair with his hometown Detroit. He remains involved in his local community and is an integral part of its musical history. His relationship with the late J-Dilla, whom he mentored along with other members of Slum Village, helped to nurture one of the greatest hip-hop producers of all time. “There were three kids around the block that would come by my studio and they brought James (J-Dilla) over and we just started working together and developed a relationship. I helped him to make a demo and we became the best of friends,” he says. “I’m proud of his legacy because he was definitely an exception, musically.” Fiddler’s own melodic legacy is still very much in the making with the imprint of a city famed for its creativity firmly embedded in his work. He says he honored to be flying the flag for Motor City soul. “I feel like I’m a soul artist because I’m from Detroit and Detroit has always been known for soul music. It’s important that we should represent it in some way.”
And representing he is. Because he’s a black artist who places substance over style, Fiddler is automatically pigeonholed as a neo-soul singer, something he’s not particularly pleased about. “I think neo-soul is temporary and I don’t like to be in that category. There are elements of it that are too consistent for me,” he explains. “Soul music has always been innovative and I try to use different instrumentation, write in a different way and keep learning about other styles and new things that are happening in order to grow and not to be categorized in that way.” And he’s right. Music this good deserves to be set free.
Knowing Amp Fiddler is like being part of an exclusive club. A thinking woman’s man, he’s both cerebral and earthy in equal measure and with his artistic integrity intact he remains synonymous with understated groovealicious music to funk to. But he won’t be exclusive for much longer because, as even he acknowledges, “Cream always rises to the top.”
For more on Amp Fiddler check out his website at www.ampfiddler.com.