– Amp Fiddler. Detroit is repping heavy over here nowadays. Everybody is connected. From hiphop to jazz and funk, to techno and dance. But who is Amp Fiddler? Can you tell me briefly what your first experience with music was?
Wow, my first experience with music was my brothers and sisters taking piano lessons and me watching as a kid. My other experience is my mom and dad playing their records. Those were my first experiences with music.
– Did you instantly love it, to wanna do it yourself?
I didn’t even love it to wanna do it myself, I was just absorbing because I was young. I had no idea I was gonna be involved in music. I got involved in high school so as a kid I wasn’t really paying that much attention. I was just sponging like “Whatever, I wish I had some new toys.” Hahaha!
– How old were you?
Six or seven.
– So when did you first start to know that you wanted to do music yourself?
Probably at seventeen in high school.
– That’s pretty late. Did you have piano lessons too?
Yeah it is late. No, at seventeen I had piano lessons. I started late. I learned pretty fast. When I graduated from high school I went to college. My mom kind of pushed me. “Nobody is playing the piano, why don’t you play it?” And I said, “I don’t really want to.” I checked it out, I went to my first piano lesson and I really didn’t like it. Then I went back to the music store with my friend, cause he played music, he played the guitar. And we went to the store to steal peddles for his guitar, you know kids, young kids from the neighborhood. I got tired of that, so I went in the back and I met this old lady and she let me study with her. Seven fifty an hour, her name was Miss Whitman, she was 86. I studied with her for the next two years. She was really good though.
– Then you got snatched up by George Clinton.
I got snatched up by Enchantment before them.
– I know, I skipped that part.
Yeah I see you skipping it for real hahahaha! I know you got a lot of questions so I know you skipping fast hahaha! But yeah, because my brother got me listening to a lot of vocal groups like the Dramatics and Enchantment, I didn’t really like it that much. I was more into the rock and roll and funk kinda stuff.
– Then why did you join them?
Because my best friend’s brother told me they had an audition and they needed a keyboard player and I wanted to work so I went and I got the gig. And that year I went on tour.
– So how did you get with George?
With George it was different. My girlfriend and I were working on music together. I was producing songs for her. She took the songs to George and he told her he liked them and to tell me to come to the studio. So I went to the studio and he said, “I like it, why don’t you come back and do some sessions?” And I was like “Yeah aight, I’ll come back.” I came back and we did “Do fries go with that shake” and some other songs.
– I can’t believe you started late, with that lady behind the piano and then you get a gig like that.
It’s amazing. I have been working hard since I started out. I think this is definitely my calling. This is what I’m here for.
– Did none of your brothers and sisters that played the piano, pursue it?
No. My brother was playing bass all the time. At the time I wasn’t even playing keyboard, I was playing basketball, he was already playing bass. I’ll never forget the day me and my brother and my dad went to the department store and I wanted a pogo stick and he wanted a bass guitar. And you know who won. I did not get the pogo stick. Haha. I didn’t get anything I wanted cause I was the youngest and he made sure I wasn’t gonna be spoiled. Like “No.” <crying voice> “Why can’t I get the pogo stick, he is getting the bass guitar dad!” But he got pretty good on that bass though. He learned pretty fast and he inspired me to also wanna learn keyboard.
– The time you’ve spent touring with George. How did that affect your life? How has that influenced you in becoming the artist that you are today?
It changed my life in a lot of ways, cause I was into a lot of different things. Halfway through it, it made me grow up. It made me really stop doing the silly shit that I was doing like drugs and partying, liquor and having a good time for the first 5 years. I was living the life. I wasn’t an addictive personality, cause my brother was a drug dealer, so I’ve been around drugs like “I don’t need this shit.” But every now and then I like to have a good time so I was into that. It was just the life style and the guys that I was with were the same way. I’ve learned a lot though. I’ve learned from George about recording, about touring, about merchandise. The last 5 years when I quit doing everything I was doing and decided to just be clean on tour, I sold merchandise. I said “George can I make merchandise?” I made t-shirts, sweats etc. I made about a thousand dollars a night doing that on tour. So I was making that plus the gig money. He exposed me to a lot of different things and let the door open for any individual that wanted to take advantage of the situation to do that. So it taught me a lot about being in the music industry, being serious about it, taking it as a business and not like some play game like it’s just a party. It’s serious and it taught me a lot about growing up and being responsible. And after a while I kinda grew away from that and I moved on. I said “Maybe its time for me to just move on”. I had a son and I thought I’m just gonna go home and raise my son.
– Most people that may know your music, will put you in the “nu-soul/jazz” category. You have worked with such different type of artists. How did that happen?
I love so much different music and I’ve been listening to so much different music cause of my older brothers and sisters and my mother and my father. I just finished a record of Angélique Kidjo, she is from West Africa. I used to play in a reggae/calypso band when I was a kid and I did a lot of hip hop for Slum Village, then played a lot of jazz, did that jazz project with Carl Craig, The Detroit Experiment, Marcus Belgrave. And then I did the first Maxwell record, I met them when I was in New York on tour with George. They needed me to come and do a recording session. He was playing a little club in New York before he got popular. So everything is about the love for music. I love music and I don’t just love one style of music. And I would be bored if I was locked in just a … whatever they wanna call me. I don’t ever just wanna be that and I am always trying to sing softly over different types of music. And I haven’t even reached the pinnacle* of where I wanna be at.
– Is working with different type of artists in different type of genres of music the same for you?
It’s always different, that’s the beauty of it. It’s a different experience with each genre and each musical experience with each person.
– How would you describe yourself best as an artist? As what type of artist?
I’ve always looked at myself as a representative for Detroit. I’ve always thought of Detroit as Motown. I always thought I have to be a reflective of my surroundings. And I’ve seen so much history. I love soul music so I feel I’m a soul artist. Maybe I’m an Avant Soul artist. Maybe I’m an Electronic Soul artist. Or some other kind of soul artist.
– What happened with the album you did with your brother?
We were signed at Elektra, we were doing something that was so different for the time in 1990, they didn’t understand. So they put us on the shelf.
– But what eventually happened to the album? Didn’t you distribute it yourself? Did you get cut loose from Elektra?
Yeah we got cut loose from Elektra cause the guy that signed us also got cut loose. I wasn’t ready at the time either. I really wasn’t ready. I was still doing stupid shit, drugs and hanging out and partying. I wasn’t ready. My head wasn’t in the right place. To be honest, I think you really have to be focused to do this shit. Once I got focused everything just came up. It’s just late. Everything happens late in my life. Damn!
– Better late than never.
In my 40’s and here I am, working as an artist now, finally hahaha. But I am happy with it. I am thankful. I’m happy to be here, I am healthy and I feel really good.
– But what if I wanna get that album you did with your brother, where can I get it?
I probably would have to send it to you. I don’t have credits or anything but I can send it to you.
– I’ll take a bootleg.
Haha, yeah I’ll send you a bootleg. Haha. Actually, if you listen to “If I don’t”, you’ll hear some of the similarities.
– In a recent interview I did with Phat Kat, he mentioned that your crib was kind of the base of where it all started for them. In your bio, Camp Amp is mentioned as the place where Slum recorded their first demo. Tell me something about that.
That’s my open door policy. Camp Amp is that. If there is any local talent, especially youth that are interested in recording and don’t know how to record or do production. My door was open at that time. I was on tour with George but I love all genres of music and hip hop too, so I knew if there was any talent in the neighborhood, I wanted to help them. I wanted to find some kids that are unique and not typical. They were. They were innovative. And when they came, I said keep coming, the door is open. *knock knock* “Who is it?” “It’s James, can we come over and record something?” “Yeah go ahead.” So they just come in, and they come in with their crew and eventually they knew how to work all the equipment and they started doing the demo’s themselves. I was producing them at first and then eventually Jay Dee took over and was doing all the production.
– It’s funny how I met most of the guys and now I am sitting here with the person who’s crib was being used for all of that.
Yeah it’s a beautiful thing. It’s good to have a workshop for a whole different generation of kids coming up behind you that are hungry like you are. We are all hungry. I was hungry too at the time. I was working on my demo’s like I have now and they work the same as me and they had talent. So it is good to know that I helped some kids to be successful and to learn the craft to get out here.
– How did Dilla’s passing affect you?
It wasn’t as bad as it would have been had he been shot and killed, cause I been to the hospital when he was sick early on in Detroit before he moved to California. When I went to California and worked on his album, he came to see me and his mom, and I could see it in his face but you know we all just have a lot of love for each other so we had to bond for a minute, we hadn’t seen each other in a while. I knew, I had a feeling he was getting closer to it, I could kinda feel it. Because I had another friend who was a kidney patient, it was a similar kind of a look. It hurt. I was sad about it but I know he is in a better place so it’s alright. He lived a good life. He lived his dream and I’m just glad I helped him live his dream. I introduced him to Q-tip when we were on tour with George Clinton. Not only did I help him learn the equipment and produce, but I also helped him get involved with the right people. So it’s a good feeling to have helped somebody live their dream regardless of the fact that they passed on or not.
– You already mentioned that you started late; it wasn’t until 2004 that you’ve released your solo album Waltz of a Ghetto Fly. What was the build up for that?
It’s the same thing, everything is late. And late is good, cause life is right on time. Shit don’t happen until it’s supposed to. Everything happens at the right time. You can’t force something to happen. You can try all you want, it’s not gonna happen if its not gonna happen. So it just happened at the right time. I met the right people. I was actually hooking up with the techno guys in Detroit, they hooked me up with the guy in London. My connect. And I just started sending them music, we started making EP’s and records, the next thing you know we made an album and it worked.
– I can’t find your EP’s nowhere either.
Me either. Haha. I saw a kid last night in Paris with a lot of records. He had about 4 or 5 records from back in the day. The Love & War EP, Dreamin’, he had a lot of stuff. Most of it is vinyl I think.
– What was your inspiration for Waltz of a Ghetto Fly?
I think I was in New York and I saw this guy, he was walking down the street. He was like a damn black exploitation movie in effect. I was in Harlem, he had the hat on, the pants, he just looked like one of the guys when I was a kid sitting on the porch, watching them guys in the 60’s and 70’s, that were passing my house. And I was watching this guy and he was like those guys, he had that walk, it never changes, always sharp. Always ridiculously clean, regardless how high they were. And how higher they were, the crazier they walk. Hahaha! So when I saw him, I thought damn that is crazy, I need to write a song about that. Right here in the ghetto you got that kinda crazy life, almost like he’s waltzing in it and the two came together. Like that classic song, The Flight of the Bumblebee and there is this other song The Waltz or something, so I thought, “The Waltz of the Ghetto Fly”. It’s like Waltz of Supafly. A lot of people think I am talking about a bee cause it’s a fly. It’s not a fly, it’s like Supafly. You know what I mean.
– Well I actually meant the album, not the title/song.
The title is the album haha.
– So you’ve based the whole album on that one person you saw?
I think a lot of it is.
– That’s tight, you see one thing and you can write a whole album off of it.
Not all! But that was the concept of it. Even though not all the songs are about that. “Soul divine” is a song I wrote when I went to a meditation seminar and there was this whole chant we were doing. My brother and me went. And it had a mantra and they had the instruments in the room and it was heavy with incense and I went home from that cause it was so spiritual. And I wrote, “you are so divine I love you, your vibrations touch my soul” from that experience. And “I believe in you” is one of those situations where the woman is like “Pff this shit aint never gonna happen” and I’m like “Ok, you will see. You don’t believe, I believe, you don’t…. what, I believe.” And I just put it together and I wrote the song “I believe in you, if you don’t believe in me, I believe in you.” It’s all just experiences.
– Ok, not to have you break down every song, but what did the whole album represent as far as Amp Fiddler?
My life. My life experiences.
– What’s the biggest difference with the second album “Afro Strut”?
Uhm…I think things were a little tighter for me when I made Waltz of a Ghetto Fly. Things were really tight, it was kinda like a do or die situation. My experiences were deeper. I was home all the time and I was experiencing more. With Afro Strut, I made the record at home, it has some similarities but it’s a little different I think, the experiences I’ve had with it.
– The original song If I don’t was not with Corinne Bailey Rae was it? How did you link up with her?
I did a remix of Enchantment for her, I met her in Dallas and we got really cool, I met her husband, the manager and I said I’d love to do a remix and they sent me the acapella and I did the remix and they loved it. So I said, since you take this, I don’t want money for it, I want a collaboration, how bout you come sing on my record? Or do something with me. Then I sent them the song and they liked it and she put the verses in.
– Why didn’t you do a new song with her?
Cause we didn’t have time to make a whole new song. We were trying to make songs we were already pressing on the album, it would be less work. And record companies are out of their damn minds, they always try to rush. So you try to go with the way they try to make things happen.
– Now I am going to rush you. We want a new album again.
Me too. There’s a new album out in America already. Just came out.
– But I am not in America.
Well you’ll get one soon. It’s coming.
– When is the new album supposed to come out over here?
The new album? Next year.
– When next year?
I don’t know.
– Does it have a name yet?
Nope. Hahahaha! Patience patience hahaha!
– Do you have a new single out already?
There’s a new EP out right now, it’s called “Find my way”.
– Besides you going to work on the new album, what other projects you got in store for us?
I’m working on some stuff with my friend Moodymann from Detroit, dance stuff. I am also supposed to work on some stuff with Basement Jaxx to get a few things, just trying to do some different stuff. Domino from Hieroglyphics, we’re working on new music together. I’m just working as much as I can.
– One last question. You have worked with so many different artists, producers, different music genres etc. Who is the one person/artist that you would really wanna work with, that you haven’t worked with yet?
I was thinking about that, I was in London last week and Prince was in town and I was thinking, “Damn that would be cool if we could hook up and I could do a song with Prince.” I think that would be so funky. I tried but I don’t know, maybe he’ll read/hear your interview and call me haha. You need to get that interview with him and then you tell him.
*the highest or culminating point, as of success, power, fame, etc.: the pinnacle of one’s career.