Amp Fiddler, the storied Detroit musician and singer who played keys in Parliament-Funkadelic before moving into production and mentoring the likes of J Dilla, has died of cancer, according to posts on his and his collaborators’ social media accounts. A crowdfunder last year sought medical expenses for an illness that caused him to spend several months in the hospital. Amp Fiddler was 65 years old.
Born Joseph Fiddler in Detroit, Amp Fiddler played piano as a child and went on to study at Oakland and Wayne State Universities, as well as with the Detroit jazz pianist Harold McKinney. In the early 1980s, he sang with the vocal group Enchantment before replacing Bernie Worrell in Parliament-Funkadelic around 1984. He toured and recorded with George Clinton and his band of some 18 musicians for several years, briefly living with the outfit in Los Angeles; he also joined his bandmates on Prince’s Graffiti Bridge track “We Can Funk” in 1990.
He released his debut album as Mr. Fiddler, With Respect, with his brother Thomas Fiddler, in 1991. His sporadic recording sessions with artists encountered on tour included an appearance on Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite. By the end of the decade, Fiddler had branched into dance music. He spent the ensuing decades playing alongside DJs including Moodymann and Theo Parrish, and, in solo records starting with 2003’s Waltz of a Ghettofly, mixing his funk and soul roots with a progressive interest in house and techno.
Fiddler was also heralded for helping develop Detroit hip-hop and tutoring aspiring artists, partly through his informal production school, Camp Amp. He is credited with introducing Q-Tip to J Dilla, and J Dilla to his trademark sampler, the Akai MPC. He often promoted a production ethos that valued a spirit of collaboration, rather than solitary pursuits. “We get magic when we work with other people, other musicians, as opposed to cats who sit around and do everything by themselves,” he told DJ Mag in 2020.
Upon learning of Amp Fiddler’s death, Questlove paid tribute, thanking him for “mentoring the one who mentored us,” namely J Dilla. Gilles Peterson called him “Detroit royalty … a huge influence on musicians from all sides of the globe.” And Waajeed wrote, “Friend, Brother, Confidant, Mentor, Architect. It’s been a pleasure to share time with you.”