Call Joseph “Amp” Fiddler gifted, passionate, or eclectic, but whatever you do, please don’t call him old school.
“I don’t want to be associated with none of that old school shit. I want to be associated with some new shit,” says the 45-year-old neo-soul entertainer.
In an era where a lot of contemporary hip-hop and soul music is backward-gazing, the term “old school” has somehow evolved into a compliment, but Fiddler wants nothing to do with it.
“I’m not knocking it, I just don’t want to be considered no throwback,” he says from his Detroit home. “I feel like I’m giving people a new feeling because I’m mixing up so many genres of music. … I’m not being thrown back.”
We are sitting in his subterranean recording studio — by the looks of his empty living room and unkempt kitchen upstairs, it’s obvious that this downstairs sanctuary is the only part of the house that really matters to him.
“I love this place,” he says. “I always wanted a place where me and my family could work and not have to worry about paying studio time.”
Fiddler’s youthful looks speak well for a man who is old enough to remember when gas was 59 cents. Dressed in boot-cut blue jeans, a dashiki, signature Afro tamed by cornrows, the muscular soulman discusses the hoopla behind his image as a sexy front man.
“A lot of these cats don’t know my age by looking at me, and that’s cool,” he quips. “They think I look just like the rest of these brothers out here singing slow music.”
They couldn’t be more wrong.
The keyboardist is the youngest of five siblings, a Conant Gardens native; he says he honed his craft on a baby grand piano his mother bought when he was seventeen. But by his sound — an assortment of techno, Caribbean, R&B, and funk rhythms mashed into soulful arrangements and ballads — it’s clear that his influences stem from a much broader palette than the confines of his childhood home.
While, over the years, Fiddler has achieved veteran status at such local haunts as Henry’s Palace, Bert’s, Bakers and the Keynote Lounge, he has also toured with some heavy hitters: soul/disco outfit Enchantment and George Clinton’s Parliament/Funkadelic, to name a couple.
“It was all work till I got sober and realized that it was time for me to do this a little bit differently,” he says of his decision to try it on his own.
And even though his first solo recording stint, Mr. Fiddler on Elektra Records, completely tanked, Fiddler’s ambition kept him above water. Eschewing the disappointment of the freshman flop, Fiddler moved to London’s Genuine Records, where he would go on to release the EPs: Waltz of a Ghetto Fly, Basementality, Love and War and most recently a full-length CD entitled Waltz of a Ghetto Fly.
American record companies like everything readymade,” says Fiddler of his decision sign with a label across the pond.
He explains, “Europeans just love black music … that’s why I wanted my CD to come out in London first, besides I wanted my money in pounds. The dollar ain’t shit but a bank note based on credit.”
And he is happy to share the wealth.
Since going solo, Fiddler has collaborated with such worthies as Slum Village, Seal, Brand New Heavies, D-12, Charles and Eddie, Maxwell, Prince and most recently with Golden boy (and a girl) hip-hop trio, Lucy Pearl.
But make no mistake, he has not forgotten his roots.
“Detroit is my biggest market in America. I sell more joints here than anywhere else. It feels good to be respected at home.”
See Amp Fiddler Thursday, Aug. 12, at St. Andrew’s Hall (431 E. Congress) with The Platinum Pied Pipers and DJ Houseshoes. Call 313-961-MELT for more information.Kahn Davison is a freelance writer. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org