AMP FIDDLER (4:30 pm) with Afrodizz (3 pm) performing as part of the hot & spicy food festival at Harbourfront Centre (235 Queens Quay West), Monday (August 2). Free. 416-973-4000.
listen to a sample (mp3 format)
A good funk player knows the value of patience. After all, that groove you're playing might have to go for 20 minutes, so you don't want to blow your wad in the first 20 seconds. Well, Amp Fiddler must have patience in spades. Sprinkling keys in the background of other people's projects, he's been holding in his musical vision for 20 years.
He spent most of his musical career as a session guy playing on R&B, hiphop and house records, as well as playing keys with P-Funk for a decade. Earlier this year, his house connections paid off and he got the chance to release a proper solo album, Waltz Of A Ghetto Fly, which sounds like everything you'd hope a modern soul album by a funk-trained hot-shit player would be.
Technically, this isn't his first album, as there was a mostly overlooked soul album in 1990 called With Respect, but the new disc has suddenly raised his profile from trusty sideman to confident songwriter/producer. But you have to wonder what convinced him to finally give it a go after so long in the shadows.
"A lot of it was watching other people do it - not quite half-assed, but with bad intentions," he drawls lazily from a London hotel room in the middle of his European tour.
"It's disappointing when people don't complete what they set out to do. Meeting the cats at Pias Records gave me an outlet. It made it a lot easier to keep on writing."
My first contact with Fiddler was through sessions he did with enigmatic Detroit house producer Kenny Dixon Jr. (aka Moodymann), but word started spreading some time ago that he was working on an album that was going to blow everyone away.
A look at Fiddler's discography reveals a connection to George Clinton as well as a list of credits that includes Prince, Jamiroquai, Carl Craig, Jay Dee, Raphael Saadiq, Dwele and Maxwell.
Considering the calibre of those names, it's odd that he's achieved more notoriety through his work with much more below-the-radar underground house artists.
"The bigger names I've worked with, other than George Clinton, had no intention of helping me as an artist," Fiddler points out. "The people I work with on the down side, in house music, dance, techno - they're all about creating the possibility for each other and helping other people. It's more like a community.
"Coming from Detroit, we hear a lot of different techno and house music in the clubs and on the radio. I've been working with Kevin Saunderson, I'm friends with Eddie Folkes and Juan Atkins and knew all the guys from UR (Underground Resistance). It's a small city in a sense; everyone knows each other."
Don't expect a house album, though. A better comparison would be classic Sly Stone updated with current R&B sounds and a bit more dirty funk. He's got that sexy growl down pat, and the rhythms swing and drop in a way that only a student of Clinton could pull off.
You can't underplay the influence of his decade with P-Funk. He had already been touring with a doo-wop-style band, but, luckily, one of his demos made it into Clinton's hands just as Bernie Worrell was leaving the group.
"It was my dream to become part of Parliament/Funkadelic, and I did everything I could do to become part of the group. Playing with P-Funk schooled me a lot, everything from the business to the music. When I was doing merchandising for them, I made a shirt that said University of the P-Funk, based on a collegiate design; I felt it was a school for young cats who could come in and learn something about the business."
Most of Waltz Of A Ghetto Fly deals with traditional love themes, but there is an anti-war song. Although Love & War doesn't call out Bush by name, Fiddler - apparently unfazed by the Dixie Chicks' experience - has said in interviews that it's about the Iraq debacle.
"I saw the whole thing coming when Bush got into office, so I started writing about it. I knew Bush wanted a war, and I knew it was going to happen. People in the States were deceived. You have to make statements to let people know what you stand for and what you believe in. I'm not neutral, especially when so many people are being killed."
As we wrap up, Fiddler reveals that the Jay Dee (Slum Village) contributions to the album didn't just happen because they're old friends. It was actually Detroit's infamous crime rate that guided the tracks into his hands.
"A kid gave me some Zip discs to make him a track, and then listening to the discs to find the drum sounds I realized they were Jay Dee's - I recognized them immediately. I called him up, and he told me I could have them, so I found the bits I wanted and put them together with a new bridge and some new parts. Funny enough, the track had already been used by Q-Tip for a b-side, but Jay Dee owns it, so I don't suppose it's a problem."
Let's hope not. After all the build-up, it would be a shame to spoil the moment with a lawsuit.
Amp Fiddler credits his decade with P-Funk for teaching him everything from merchandising to vocal arrangements. He's not the only graduate of George Clinton's university of funk, though. Here are a few other notable veterans of the notorious orchestra.
BOOTSY COLLINS is probably the best-known P-Funk alumnus. He's released at least a dozen albums, but the first three, as Bootsy's Rubber Band, are considered the strongest, while much of his work after the 70s was mired in cheesy synths and repetitive drum machines.
MACEO PARKER is well known in funk circles and has dropped more than a few good albums, but once again you're best off sticking to the early solo albums. The years before 93 are Parker's best.
BERNIE WORRELL was the keyboard player replaced by Amp Fiddler, and he too spent much of his career playing on other people's albums. Blacktronic Science (1993) is his most artistically successful solo album, but if you're looking for that classic Parliament/Funkadelic sound, you might enjoy his 1978 solo debut, All The Woo In The World.