From JENNIFER CHANCELLOR – World Scene Writer (Tulsaworld.com):
In a Tulsa World phone interview last week – his last public interview – Robert Wilson expressed joy about an impending return to his boyhood city, an Aug. 28 festival headlining show here and a following tour.
“I can’t wait to get back home,” Wilson said as he commented about the summer heat in California. “It’s hot here, but I’m cool. I hope everyone enjoys me when I get there. I want to entertain them – that’s what I do.”
That’s what Wilson had done with the Gap Band – brothers Charlie, Ronnie and Robert Wilson – since the funk trio formed in 1967.
The “Godfather of Bass Guitar,” Robert Wilson of the legendary Tulsa jazz and funk group the Gap Band, died Sunday in Palmdale, Calif. He was 53, confirmed his publicist and manager, Don Jackson.
Official cause of death is pending full autopsy results, his family confirmed in a phone call to the Tulsa World.
The Gap Band’s funky dance tunes and pop-sweetened ballads include “You Dropped A Bomb On Me,” “Shake,” “Going in Circles,” “Burn Rubber,” “I Don’t Believe You Want To Get Up And Dance (Oops)” and “Party Train.”
“My brother Robert was a bad boy on the bass,” stated brother and Gap Band lead vocalist Charlie Wilson on Monday in an e-mail. “We shared a bond as brothers, musicians and friends. I loved him and losing him is difficult for both Ronnie and I. The music world has lost a very talented man.”
Indeed, before age 20, Robert Wilson had played bass with some of the biggest names in music, including Eric Clapton and Billy Preston. His playing style influenced many, from Victor Wooten and Marcus Miller to R. Kelly, Keith Sweat, Ruff Endz, Guy and Aaron Hall. The Roots member ? uestlove (aka Ahmir Thompson) said on his Twitter social networking site: “My God … The youngest ‘Gap’ brother Robert Wilson passed away. He will be missed.”
His daughter wept when asked about her father’s legacies – family and music.
“I’m daddy’s little girl. What do you say when you lose the one person you really love?” said La’Tina Wilson, 28, during a phone call from Illinois on Monday. They still spoke to each other nearly every day, she said. She also named a son after him, who will be 10 months old this week.
She also admired her father as a musician. “He wasn’t a frontman, but when he picked up that bass, he was front and center and fully funkified. He stroked every note with as much love as he had for any of us.”
On Sunday, Robert Wilson’s family became concerned when they didn’t receive regular phone calls from him. A family friend found Robert Wilson’s body on Sunday afternoon in his Palmdale apartment, said Brenda Wilson, his wife of more than 27 years.
Funeral, burial and memorial details will be shared as they are set, she said.
Robert Wilson was the son of Tulsa bishop O.W. Wilson and Irma Wilson, and brother to Charlie and Ronnie Wilson. All three siblings were raised in Tulsa. As a boy, Robert got his musical start playing drums, then guitar, then bass, in local churches.
In 1973, Tulsa Sound icon Leon Russell discovered the band. The trio was invited for a late-night jam at Russell’s Shelter Records studio (now Church Studio in Tulsa’s Pearl District). “We went,” said Charlie Wilson in a 1983 Tulsa Tribune interview. “And there was Leon. We played music until 2 p.m. the next day.”
The band joined Russell’s tour and worked on his “Stop all that Jazz” album, released in 1974. Russell also produced the Gap Band album, “Magician’s Holiday,” which floundered sales-wise but helped pave the group’s way for future success.
“I was famous at age 14,” Robert Wilson said last week, “but my brother Ronnie always took care of me.” Their parents supported their sons’ music endeavors, too, even inviting Russell over for catfish dinner.
The band of brothers originally was named the Greenwood Archer Pine Street Band. However, the name was shortened to help it better stand out on gig posters, Robert Wilson said last week.
Keyboardist and trumpet player Ronnie Wilson has since left the Gap Band to become a bishop, Robert Wilson said. Ronnie Wilson could not be reached for this story.
Charlie Wilson was nominated for two Grammy awards this year for best R&B solo album, “Uncle Charlie,” and best vocal performance for the tune “There Goes My Baby.”
Daughter Robin Wilson Suttice, 29, spoke of her father Monday during a phone interview. “I just talked to Daddy last week. … The last thing he said is he joked that he was ‘finally going to be a millionaire,’ ” she said with a laugh, then she broke into tears. “He did what he knew how to do. He was living his life as an entertainer. He loved his fans dearly. … I love my daddy for that.”
Her mother, Brenda Wilson, said she didn’t even know who the famous musician was when she first laid eyes on him nearly three decades ago at a music expo in Indianapolis. She soon became his biggest fan.
“I was 18,” she said. “He always said it was love at first sight,” although he had to get permission from her parents before they could even have a first date. By July 1983, however, the couple wed. “There was never a time since I met him when he wasn’t here for us.”