CultureShift: Remembering the great Amp Fiddler

WDET’s Sam Beaubien shares an interview from 2013 with his longtime friend and collaborator, Joseph “Amp” Fiddler, who died Sunday at the age of 65.

Sam Beaubien (left) with legendary Detroit funk and soul musician Amp Fiddler, who died on Sunday, Dec. 17 after an extensive battle with cancer.

Sam Beaubien (left) with legendary Detroit funk and soul musician Amp Fiddler, who died on Sunday, Dec. 17 after an extensive battle with cancer.

Friends, family members and Detroit’s music community at large are still reeling from the news of Detroit funk and soul pioneer Joseph “Amp” Fiddler’s death, including WDET’s own Sam Beaubien.

“Amp was a great friend of mine, and a great musical collaborator,” Beaubien said on CultureShift Monday. “We spent a lot of time together over the last few decades, and this is a big loss for our community and for music in general.”

Fiddler died on Monday, Dec. 18, after an extensive battle with cancer, according to his family members. He was 65.

Ten years ago, in Fiddler’s legendary basement studio — the same studio where J Dilla learned how to make beats; and where George Clinton and many Detroit musicians have set foot and laid down tracks — Beaubien sat down with his longtime friend to talk about Fiddler’s storied career and his many contributions to Detroit’s burgeoning music scene. Use the media player above to listen to the full interview.

SB: Hey Amp, thanks for doing this.

AF: Good to be here, thanks for coming out.

SB: So let’s start from the beginning, man. I’ve known you for a couple of years, and you’ve shared so many great stories with me. But I don’t think we’ve ever talked about you know, your beginning. So how did you start playing music?

AF: Well, there was always a piano in my house when I was a kid and my older siblings, were studying piano before me. My mom bought a piano for my oldest sister. By the time I entered high school, no one was playing it. So my mom was pretty adamant about pushing me into, you know, studying piano and she kept bringing me places I was like, ‘nah that lady’s a little too old.’ I didn’t want to bother with that, it was a lady across the street from the dentist’s office. So one day I was at Grinnell Brothers on Woodward, I don’t know if you’ve ever been there, might have been before your time, but it was beautiful. So my buddy and I were there and we would go there to steal effect pedals for his guitar.

So I decided I’d walk in the back while he was looking to steal pedals and talk to an old lady. Because I saw her go in and I thought ‘Damn, she must be the piano teacher. So I’m gonna go talk to her.’ And she had to be about 87 And that was something against what I thought would work for me. So her name was Miss Whitman and I signed up with her, lessons was $7.50/half an hour. And that was really just how I got started. I was kinda hooked. My mom was happy and I made her happy, and it was like starting from the beginning so I was always in the house practicing. And I guess I was about 16. That’s kind of like when it started.

SB: Who was the first large act that hired you to play with them?

AF: When I graduated from high school, one of my best friends introduced me to, well actually he just asked me to come to the studio he said they were auditioning keyboard players, I was like “Aw man I don’t know if I can do it.’ You know, his brother was the singer for Enchantment. So I got the audition, and I got the job. After I play with Enchantment I got a job with R. J.’s Latest Arrival. After that, I did that for about a year and then later I gotta a gig with Was (Not Was). After things calmed down with touring I started recording with the four-track and all the keyboards that I could find and just building a recording studio, and across the street from me were the Peppers and they were related to Michael “Clip” Payne, who was a singer for George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic. So I met him, I met George Clinton’s sons, who would come by here all the time and I started recording with them. I got the first gig playing with Mallia Franklin, and she used to live in Highland Park. Mallia Franklin was the lead singer of Parlet.

SB: OK, like the female Parliament?

AF: Exactly. She’s like, the God mama. And that’s where I started getting involved. My name was being mentioned more because I was playing with cats who were either in the band with George, or was in conversation with George quite a bit.

SB: So you recorded and performed with George Clinton. You told me you lived with him too, is that right?

AF: In California. My brother got into a jam with these guys, and they were trying to shoot up the house. And the studio was upstairs before I moved downstairs. And he was in the hospital because they had shot him up. And we were here. So it was really stressful because my friends came over and we had a lot of artillery in the house, and it was just not conducive to music at all. And he was the only one that was really involved in the drugs like that, my brother, so he kind of separated itself from the house so that we wouldn’t have to be involved in it. In the interim…George found out so he said “come with me to California, because the other musicians are arguing, they’re not getting along well.” So we started working, he brought me to California and I stayed there for a year with him. In a hotel, Park Sunset Hotel on Sunset and La Cienega there for about a year.

SB: Wow what was that like? We all know the crazy stories about George I mean…

AF: It was so cool man…

SB: After you left George Clinton’s band you became a touring musician and session artist. Was this around the time that you met Brand New Heavies, Prince and Jamiroquai?

AF: It was definitely in the time of me touring with Parliament-Funkadelic that I met, first I met Prince in L.A. at Sheila Escovedo’s birthday, and “We Can Funk” was recorded in Detroit with Bootsy and George.

Listen: Sam Beaubien’s full interview with legendary Detroit musician and producer Amp Fiddler

Read more: Amp Fiddler, Motown’s progressive funk and soul man, connects the dots of Detroit’s rich musical heritage

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  • CultureShift
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