I am a lover of all kinds of music. As a music lover it is important to me to appreciate music by knowing its history. In my quest to pay homage to the music industry I wanted to seek out those musicians who have been behind the scenes. Without them, we would not have all of the great bands and performers of both today and yesterday. Fred Mills is one of those musicians. If you do not know his name you should, as he was one of the trailblazers back in the 60s and 70s in the error of funk music.
Fred Mills has played with and opened up for some of the biggest acts in funk and R&B music. Fred recalls, “I had the honor to perform on stage with Doug Wimbish, bassist for Living Colour, Dennis Chambers, Cindy Mizelle, Chip Crawford, Aaron Mills, and Marcus Miller. In addition to an opening act for Graham Central Station, Mandrill, Parliament, Bar-Kays, Jimmy Castor, Ohio Players, Mothers Finest, Average White Band, BT Express, to name a few,” stated Fred. “I have also produced, composed and performed on the Atlantic Records album Chops. I was part of the horn section that went on tour with the Police, recorded with The Rolling Stones and Sugarhill Records. I rearranged and recorded Inez and Charlie Fox’ Mockingbird for Tameka Records. There are many more projects… too many to list.” Miles also states, “The work that was done for The Rolling Stones was when I was a part of CHOPS horn section on the Undercover album. I happened to make the horn arrangements for Teddy Riley when he was part of the R&B trio “Kids At Work”, which consisted of singer Clurel Henderson and bassist Timmy Gatling.”
When Fred recalls his musical footprints it was with great pride. According to Fred, “there are not many people who can say they have been part of a historical ground breaking production. I am speaking of the Betty Davis and the Nasty Girl album, I would have to say getting the phone call from Betty’s cousin, bass player Larry Johnson asking if I would come to New York to play with Betty. At that time I had no idea who Betty was. I was in Florida play with a band called Fungus Blues from Charlotte NC. Nasty Gal was the first recording I did with Betty and the first time I sang a little with her. At the time of the recording the band had been together about eight months and we were getting comfortable playing with each other. The unique situation with the band was the fact that we grew up together. Nicky Neal (drummer), and Larry Johnson (bass) are Betty’s first cousins. Carlos Morales (guitar) was a close family friend. We decided to call ourselves Funkhouse. When recording the album we really had no idea we were on to something special, we were just doing what we do. It feels great to know that your work has been recognized as something special all over the world.”
Fred describes his experiences as a musician priceless because it has provided him the opportunity to play all over the world and meet people he admired. “I can recall like it was yesterday, meeting Muhammad Ali, Richard Pryor, Roger Moore (007) Patti ,Chaka and so many others” This includes Betty Davis’s husband jazz great Miles Davis. “Miles was funny, brutally honest, a sick sense of humor, and a genius. He liked working with young musicians such as my homeboy keyboardist, Robert Irving III.
In 1984 Fred founded Sweet Dreams Productions and Band with Michael Porter, who was a member of the band Funkhouse along with Dwain Mitchell, a friend he met at Sugarhill Records who produced an album for the Ojays. The Sweet Dreams band is still working to this day. Through the years different personnel have come and gone, but none with the biggest impact of the death of Big Moore. Larry Moore was a great singer, bassist and guitarist. I really miss him. The members with the longest tenure are myself, James “Coffee” Yourse and Lynn Woods. I am proud that I was able to put together such a great group of musicians that have stood the test of time, and presented good music. Fred is also part owner of Upward Bound Recording Studio in his hometown, Reidsville NC. Upward Bound Recording Studio’s focus for the last year has been recording original and remakes. There most recent production is on local artist Sheika Asail. Sheika Asail first single will feature a rap by the Epic’s new artist Swift, who also has North Carolina roots.
Fred, himself has not been in the studio for some time due to illness. He is eager to get back to making music and we are eager to see what is next for him Fred says “it won’t be long and it’s Funk time.” In the meantime Fred is eager to see what fellow Funk Master Bootsy Collins will deliver. “I can’t wait for Bootsy’s new album to drop.”
North Carolina is rich in musical history with musicians like Fred Mills who has left his musical footprints in the landscape of music from his works with Betty Davis, CHOP, the Rolling Stones and so many others.