Remembering ‘Uncle’ Robert Wilson

Robert Wilson, bassist for the legendary GAP Band, died last weekend of a heart attack at age 53. Music journalist Steven Ivory remembers his friend, affectionately known as “Uncle” Robert Wilson.

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(Soundbite of song, "You Dropped a Bomb on Me")

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

Next we turn to the life of Robert Wilson. He was the legendary bass player for the GAP Band and he too died just last week. Now, you know you remember the GAP Band.

GAP BAND (Musicians): (Singing) You were the girl that changed my world, you were the girl for me. You lit the fuse, I stand accused, you were the first for me.

MARTIN: Now you might not remember this, but the GAP Band was short for Greenwood, Archer and Pine Street Band. It was formed in the late 1960s by teen siblings Charlie, Ronnie and pre-teen Robert Wilson. Robert was just 14 when the band gained acclaim in Tulsa, Oklahoma. By the early '80s it had a number of top ten singles that included "Early in the Morning," "Outstanding" and "You Dropped the Bomb on Me."

Joining us to remember Uncle Robert Wilson is Los Angeles based music journalist and friend of the musician Steven Ivory. He comes to us from NPR West. Steven, thank you so much for joining us and condolences to you also.

Mr. STEVEN IVORY (Journalist): Well, thank you for having me and thank you for saying that.

MARTIN: You know, you don't usually think of Oklahoma as being a hotbed of, you know, R&B and funk talent, I guess.

Mr. IVORY: Watch out now.

MARTIN: I know. I know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: But I am wondering how the forces align that this bass player from Tulsa became known as the godfather of bass guitar.

Mr. IVORY: Well, you know, there is just a lot of music all types of music going on in Oklahoma. There is jazz. There is country and western of course. There is soul, rock 'n' roll. There's just lots of things. And when you're in a place like Oklahoma, where, you know, everything is kind of separated in many ways, you have to take in a little bit of everything. And that's what the GAP Band did.

They, you know, started out working with the country rocker Leon Russell. And they played behind him. But, you know, when they were playing on their own, they were playing R&B and funk. So, you know, they were able to do a little bit of everything.

MARTIN: Let me play a little bit of the 1979 tune "Shake." And then after we play a little bit, maybe you could tell us what makes this track so identifiable as Robert Wilson, okay? All right, let's play it.

(Soundbite of song, "Shake")

GAP BAND: (Singing) I got me a couple of dollars, guess what I'm going to do? Shake, shake, shake, shake my booty at the disco daddy, daddy, daddy. Shake, shake, shake, shake, shake, shake, shake my booty at the disco daddy, daddy, daddy.

MARTIN: So, tell us, what do you think?

Mr. IVORY: Well, at the end of this song, I guess about the last minute or so, this was where Robert came in with just a devastating solo. And that was where he made his mark, when he introduced this solo that he did, he just made that bass sing, you know. Robert had a certain technique that was routed in gospel and what he did was basically make that bass talk with the slapping and thumping sounds.

MARTIN: Now, you knew Robert Wilson in a way that many of us won't have the chance to do. Of course we can all appreciate his music. So how are you going to remember him?

Mr. IVORY: Well, I'm just going to remember him as someone who just loved the music. He loved the funk genre. He liked all types of music. And it's just a shame that he was on his way back. He was in the process of making a new record on his own when he was when he left us.

MARTIN: And we are so sad about that. So, what music should we play? When we want to think about Robert Wilson what should we play?

Mr. IVORY: Well, you definitely want to play "Shake" for that solo. And you definitely want to listen to a lot of the GAP Band stuff. But you also want to listen to someone like DJ Rogers who Robert also recorded with playing bass. DJ Rogers was someone else out of the Lonnie Simmons Total Experience fold in the '70s. And you want to listen to that stuff as well.

MARTIN: Okay. I think, you know what also we'll do in tribute to him is we'll play a little bit of "Outstanding" as we let you go.

Music journalist Steven Ivory remembering Robert Wilson, bass player and founding member of the GAP Band and he joined us from our studios at NPR West. Thank you Steven Ivory, thank you for joining us.

Mr. IVORY: Thank you for having me so much, Michel.

(Soundbite of song, "Outstanding")

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