Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1099

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Amp Fiddler with Sly and Robbie
Amp Fiddler with Sly and Robbie Amp Fiddler Amp Fiddler Amp Fiddler

This autumn finds the German-based Strut label launching a new album series entitled âInspiration Informationâ. Which kicks off this month with Detroit soul maverick Amp Fiddler in a studio head-to-head with Jamaican reggae super-producers Sly Dunbar & Robbie Shakespeare.

With the seriesâ aim being to bring together current artists and producers with their musical heroes for a one-off album collaboration, its emphasis on spontaneity, musicianship and an open A&R brief will see each LP being centred around an intensive five-day writing and recording session. Which - in the case of Fiddler and the legendary Riddim Twins (aka Sly & Robbie) - took place last June at Anchor Studios in Kingston, Jamaica. Resulting in a confident, laid-back set which combines new material like the irrepressibly funky âCrazy Dayâ and the one-drop reggae chug of âYouâ; to reworks of the P-Funk-era political groover âPaint The White House Blackâ and a lilting reggae update of Ampâs own, UK-charting 2003 single âI Believe In Youâ.

Internationally acclaimed for his two independently-released solo albums (2004âs âWaltz Of A Ghetto Flyâ and 2006âs âAfro Strutâ) singer/songwriter/keyboardist/producer Amp - previously best known for being part of George Clintonâs iconic funk collective Parliament/Funkadelic from 1985 to 1996 - enjoys an informative chat about his latest project with âB&Sââs Pete Lewis over a mid-afternoon lunch at Bloomsburyâs media-friendly My Hotel.

How did you come to collaborate with Sly & Robbie?

âWe were contacted by their manager, whoâs a big fan of mine. So, with me having been a fan of Sly & Robbieâs for years - right back to their (early Eighties) Compass Point Studios productions on Grace Jones - I was super-excited about it! So they sent me over some music, and next thing I knew I was on a plane to Kingston!â

So what were the recording sessions for âInspiration Informationâ like?

âTo be in a room with two musicians who you admire and get along with really well is exciting in itself. But then the icing on the cake is actually being able to PLAY together. And - because Sly & Robbie are as much fans of soul, funk and hip hop as I am of reggae, dancehall and other areas of island music - I think we ALL had a really good time recording together in the studio. It was actually the first time Iâve been able to do a complete project with the same musicians being involved in all 12 songs. So to me that in itself makes the cohesiveness of the record really stand out. You know, when you listen to the tracks I think you can really hear the connection.â

So how would you break the album down musically?

âI like to call what weâve created together âfunky reggae and soulâ. One of the things l always liked about Sly & Robbie is the fact that they recorded that reggae-style island music and then had Wally Badarou overdub the freaky synthesizer stuff on top. So yeah, thereâs a lotta elements on this record. Thereâs funk; thereâs soul; thereâs reggae; thereâs dancehall⦠Plus, while some tracks were done with a drum machine, on others the playing was totally live. And to me thereâs something you get out of a live recording that you simply donât get out of an electronic session. The organic interaction in the way the instruments speak to one another and the way the musicians communicate is MAGIC! So Iâm definitely hoping people love this record enough to buy it in sufficient quantities to enable us to actually do a tour around it!â

Why did you decide to cover the George Clinton/P-Funk-era classic âPaint The White House Blackâ and re-title it âBlack Houseâ?

âBecause of the times weâre in right now. Barack Obama becoming the first black person to be nominated for President of The Unites States is BIG, and itâs something we should be glad about. Plus Iâve always liked to write about social issues. You know, reggae music - in addition to its love songs - has always been that way. And I also feel that soul music - at its best - has always been that way, when you think about socially-influenced people like Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye. Because of the election right now, I think itâs important that we do speak about changing the way we see each other. And to me the song âPaint The White House Blackâ does stand out as something special, in terms of what the song says and what it means within the realm of humanity.â

So how do you recall your days as a member of George Clintonâs zany-yet-groundbreaking P-Funk collective?

âWell, it was definitely way out-there! There was no discipline! But, at the same time, there was a good work ethic. You know, they knew what record they had to finish and they knew that they were gonna work all night to finish as much as they could, to get the record done as FAST as they could! They had a real methodical way of bringing in people to record their vocals; some days theyâd get a lotta work done overdubbing; another day theyâd be finishing and creating tracks⦠You know, George would be there overseeing it - âThat first take was GREAT! Gimme another track!â⦠And the whole experience taught me a lot about how to be focused in a session while there are 13/14/15 people in there at the same time talking over you! Iâd be like âTurn the music up louder, âcause they talkinâ too fuckinâ much!â! I mean, thereâd be friends and family standing around, talking and drinking and smoking; thereâd be parties going on and shit... You know, Iâd be in a session and my friends would come in and be like âDamn! How do you record in here with all these crazy-ass people making all this noise?!â! But I guess when youâre in that kind of environment, you do learn to focus on the music itself very quickly.â

How do you feel about the current retro-soul movement thatâs primarily centred around UK female singer/songwriters?

âWhat makes some of these artists unique is that their VOICES are really individual. Duffy, for example, has got a character about her voice that we havenât heard before. ltâs basically a new voice over an old mood. Which is what makes it fresh. So, because of that, I would be open to maybe doing something with some of these people. Though itâs not necessarily where I wanna go as a solo artist myself. Because to me it would almost feel like going BACKWARD! You know, Iâm more about trying to do some NEXT shit! I wanna do NEW soul music - where I sing soulfully over new, different things to where it creates a mood thatâs unlike anything youâve heard before. Which is why Iâve actually been talking to Talvin Singh over here in London. Because for me to make a record with strings and tablas and some electronic shit really would be something groundbreaking that Iâd be very interested in creating.â

The album âInspiration Information: Sly & Robbie/Amp Fiddlerâ is out now through Strut

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