Joseph “Amp” Fiddler, the celebrated and revered Detroit musician who played with Parliament and Funkadelic, helped mentor J Dilla, and more, has died. He was 65.
Fiddler’s death was announced in a statement shared on his official Instagram page. He died after “an extensive and noble battle with cancer,” though no further details were given.
“We face the insurmountable responsibility of sharing the passing of Joseph ‘Amp’ Fiddler,” the statement reads. “Our beloved ‘Amp’ Fiddler, Detroit’s own world renowned ambassador of funk, soul, & electronic music, keyboardist, producer, Afro-futurist, and guiding force of light for so many, has transitioned at the age of 65… It would be impossible to encapsulate the gravity of his energy, global impact & contributions. His life’s work, legacy, & most importantly…his LOVE…will far exceed his earthly presence. How blessed are we, to have experienced Amp Fiddler in this lifetime.”
Fiddler’s family is also seeking donations to help cover funeral expenses. Donations can be made through a GoFundMe page previously launched to help cover Fiddler’s medical expenses and recovery after surgery and a long hospital stay in 2022.
Fiddler made myriad contributions to the worlds of funk, soul, hip-hop, and dance music throughout his career. Along with his work with George Clinton in Parliament-Funkadelic, he worked with the likes of Prince, Sly & Robbie, Carl Craig, and Moodymann. He famously gave J Dilla his first Akai MPC drum machine and introduced the future hip-hop legend to Q-Tip and A Tribe Called Quest.
Born in 1958, Fiddler grew up in Detroit, surrounded by music. He played the piano but was also enamored with the rising tide of synthesizers and drum machines. His first big gig came when he joined the R&B/soul band Enchantment and spent several years with them. In the early Eighties, he was also his own music, like a 1980 single, “Spaced Outta Place,” under the moniker of Sundown. Through his growing web of musical connections, Fiddler was eventually brought into Clinton’s P-Funk universe.
In a 2017 Red Bull Music Academy interview, Fiddler called this “the biggest breakthrough in my career, just like a dream come true.” He added: “I think that what got me the job was that I was consistent in practicing and recording and having the right kind of vibe. I just want to keep learning. All the other keyboard players were at [odds] with each other [and] couldn’t get the work done because they were so busy going at each other about egos and bullshit. I was like, ‘Yeah man, cool. Show me what you got, let me learn it. Show me where I need to punch in.’”
During his time with P-Funk, and certainly after, Fiddler became a go-to session musician and collaborator. He played on Prince’s “We Can Funk,” Was (Not Was)’s What Up, Dog?, Seal’s smash 1994 self-titled album, and Maxwell’s debut in 1996, Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite. Fiddler and his brother, Thomas “Bubz” Fiddler, also made a record together, With Respect, released in 1991 under the moniker Mr. Fiddler.
It was during the early Nineties that Fiddler crossed paths with J Dilla, then part of the hip-hop trio Slum Village. Already amazed at Dilla’s ability to craft beats just by looping cassettes, Fiddler introduced him to the MPC and helped open up a whole new sonic frontier for hip-hop.
“He cut so much music together from so many different records to make it magically work like a puzzle or a picture,” Fiddler recalled in that Red Bull interview. “That was some hell of a talent to do that alone. When he started chopping up samples and the loops into beats and making his own beats he had a rhythm like nobody else I ever heard.”
Of introducing Dilla to Q-Tip, he added, “I really didn’t expect anything, because I did that out of the goodness of my heart. I just wanted to see Detroit get on the map of hip-hop. It was something that really hadn’t happened big for Detroit, especially in a way that represented that real shit.”
The 2000s saw Fiddler launch his solo career. In 2003, he dropped the EP Love and War, which was closely tied to the work he’d been doing with house producer Moodymann; and the following year, Fiddler released his debut album, Waltz of a Ghetto Fly. Fiddler released a second album, Afro Strut, in 2006, while in 2008, he linked up with the Jamaican rhythm section/production duo, Sly and Robbie, for the collaborative LP Inspiration Information.
Fiddler remained prolific through the 2010s and 2020s. He released several more solo albums and worked closely with the Detroit artist Will Sessions. Offerings from his long-running Basementality series were collected into a single release in 2021, while just this past June, he linked up with Luke Solomon for a new single, “Come On Over.”
As Fiddler noted in that 2017 interview, his career allowed him to be “part of a lot of Detroit music in different ways.” He went on to capture what makes the city, and its historic musical output, so unique, saying: “We are all passionate and we are a community of musicians that respect each other and love what we all do… I think what creates the love and makes the music so successful is that we are not really tripping about how much we have to pay [each other] to play on something or any of that nonsense, it’s always about, ‘I need you to do this for me, and it’s going to be great.’ Experience is the pay off for it and the music is the pay for it.”
He added: “Our unity is what makes the city amazing, I think that’s the magic of Detroit.”